Thursday, November 17, 2011

There’s a Light at the End of the Tunnel # 1

There’s a Light at the End of the Tunnel # 1 
A recent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education  quoted a Sloan Consortium report released in conjunction with their annual meeting. The headline read “Online-Course Enrollments Grow, But at a Slower Pace. Is a Plateau Approaching?” Upon reading the article and its logic, thoughtfully reported, I was reminded of the famous phrase employed by some national leaders in the mid – 1960s regarding the Vietnam War as an expression of growing hope for its end. Leaders told us, “We can see light at the end of the tunnel”, suggesting that hope and a negotiated victory were, if not just around the corner, at least within our grasp. As the war dragged on, however, another interpretation began to make the rounds, more cynical and, unhappily, more accurate. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel”, it went, “but it’s an oncoming train”. Not good news for those in the tunnel trying to get out.
Admittedly, this is a different time and a dramatically different set of issues with little connection to a failed foreign policy of fifty years ago. But the parallel, the instinct to look for stability in a situation that is churning and out of control, was instructive to me. Most of us have an instinctive need for a rationale that explains things, even when the unknowns and imponderables out-weigh what we can anticipate and rely on. As I have discussed in earlier blogs, how we think about higher education is being jostled and tossed like a stick in a raging river, by unprecedented and growing information abundance coupled with, among other things, the early stage power of what we currently call social net-working. And the notion that “online” learning may be reaching a plateau is difficult for me to understand.
First, if there is a plateau, it is probably temporary and limited to the provision of courses online. When private sector universities like Kaplan (where I currently work) raise the bar for admission and strengthen their academic progress policies, fewer learners matriculate and their numbers decrease, at least temporarily. Also, when declining state appropriations make capital investments more difficult, developing a sophisticated online capacity becomes a more problematic path to follow. And, when faculty governance decisions make these investments and the programs they support more costly rather than pathways to increased effectiveness and efficiency, it reduces their value significantly. It will take time to work through these obstacles. But I predict that some institutions will do so and, downstream, online and blended learning will be the hallmark of many more traditionally focused institutions. For those who do not adapt and adjust, please see my earlier blogs entitled “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind is Blowing”.
Second, online courses are not “the light at the end of the tunnel”. Seeing  online learning (in its current state) as the new paradigm is an enormous mistake. Even as it becomes a mainstream activity and begins to slowly change the way the mainstream academy thinks about their enterprise, there is new action out on and beyond the horizon. While I cannot predict what it will look like, what shapes it will take, I can offer current day examples of the types of mediating institutions that will be centrally involved. They include Open Education Resources like the Global Open CourseWare Consortium (OCWC) spawned several years ago by MIT; the Creative Commons which is emerging as the open source platform of choice; the emergence of the workplace as a place of learning, the ability to “mass customize” learning experiences to the needs of the learner, and the emergence and use of  multiple  types of rigorous assessments that accurately convey what learners know and are able to do as a consequence of their learning activities.
In the next blog, I will discuss the dramatic thinking  which I encountered at the annual meeting of Learning2011  in early November. And I will assess its implications for new disruptive change in the months and years ahead. Finally, in the third blog, I will attempt a more philosophical and abstract discussion of “the light at the end of the tunnel” – new forces and potentials that will further disrupt our institutions and our understandings of how advanced learning can occur.
In the meantime, I hope you have a terrific  holiday.  Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Where’s The Innovation? Part 3

Where’s The Innovation? Part 3.                                  
What’s interesting to some people, and down-right scary to others, about the upcoming (and still largely unforeseen) innovations is that they extend significantly beyond the teaching and learning equation. Although there are many new teaching and learning models, disruptive change is occurring in other areas as well. And as they evolve and improve in sophistication and quality, they permit dramatically different economic and organizational conceptions of how post-secondary education can be organized and offered.
StraighterLine(SL). Imagine courses approved by several accrediting or validating bodies such as ACE and DETC, developed by a leading publisher (McGraw-Hill) and offered at a fraction of the cost of public college  lower division courses. Add in a special tuition scheme through which you can buy courses by the course or complete them more quickly and pay less money. And finish off with a growing consortium of institutions which will accept the credit if presented with a SL transcript. In essence you, have a non-college offering the most popular lower-division courses in America and other collegiate services at an extremely competitive price. The implications for pricing, patterns of attendance, and a dramatically expanding set of choices for how one “goes to” college are enormous.

The OpenCourseware Consortium (OCWC). As the Open Education Resource (OER) movement has taken root, and the web is filled with free courses from hundreds of colleges and individuals, OCWC and iTunes University represent a seismic shift in the post-secondary education world. Historically, colleges and universities are known for the quality of their faculty and their courses. It is an embedded part of their myth structure and current identity. With the advent of OCWC and its 200+ institutional members from around the world with their 15,000+ contributed free courses, however, the role of content has been stood on its head. Now, a learner can access the MIT Engineering curriculum (as one example) and use that content for no charge. If that learner is enrolled in an appropriate higher learning support program where a mentor can work with her in a guided independent study format, you have just created Mark Hopkins sitting on an electronic log in one of the oldest teaching –learning paradigms that we know of. And it is potentially scalable to as many learners as there are who want to participate that way. Common high quality, readily available content flips the traditional role of curriculum on a local campus on its head.
TheIndependent Collegiate Learning Assessment (iCLA). When the Collegiate LearningAssessment program was launched over 10 years ago, it was hailed as a break-through event. The significant value add, released by CLA was the ability to get an assessment of learning gains between the first and last years of college at a low cost with high statistical validity. Importantly, the learning assessed was crosscutting intellectual learning in areas like writing, critical thinking, and problem solving. Institutions like mine (Cal State Monterey Bay, at the time) seized on the CLA as one more objective and third party source of important information about how well we were serving our students. Still, the assessment was an institutional assessment used for institutional purposes. Now think about the Council on Aid to Education’s (C AE) newest product, the individualized Collegiate Learning Assessment Program. When it rolls out in 2012, at a very low price, individual learners will be able document and store assessments that mark their learning gains in their learning portfolios with the iCLA. Historically assessment of learning has been the province of the faculty, almost exclusively. Now, learners can roam their communities or the Internet, learn informally or in programs that are organized but not accredited, and then see what kind of gain they have experienced in their learning. The implications for assessment independent of institutional learning are enormous.
Knowledge  Extension (KNEXT). When the Council for theAdvancement of Experiential Learning (CAEL) was founded forty years ago, the assessment of experiential learning was done randomly and without a core set of principles and standards. Even with the development of principles and standards, the practice remained a boutique practice because of the paperwork and sheer logistical overload involved to prepare a portfolio with proper documentation. What KNEXT, and another similar program called Learning Counts, has done is put the process online, strengthen its rigor and validity and allow it to be taken to scale for thousands of people. Imagine a portfolio assessment process that integrates all the formal and informal learning you have done along with your experiential learning into a single portfolio. You now have a way to track your learning throughout life, drawing on its value explicitly as life’s demands evolve. And, again, the OCWC offerings, or iTunes University become the raw material for learning that can be documented later, and validated by other experts.
These four examples are the tip of an iceberg of innovation that will be revealed over the next few years. They challenge the economics, the academic assumptions, and the organizational structure of most colleges and universities. As Jeff Selingo asks “Where Will the Innovation Begin?” in the October 21 Chronicle ofHigher Education, I answer, “Everywhere”.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Where’s The Innovation? Part 2

Where’s The Innovation? Part 2  
Since 1970, there has been a steady progression of alternative forms of higher education, different ways of assessing learning, and efforts to improve the portability of educational credentials throughout life. So, when Jeff Selingo asks “Where Will the Innovation Begin?” in his Chronicle of Higher Education article on October 21st, the story of these reforms and their collective impact can be seen as a cautionary tale.  Collectively, they give the lie to any assertion that change is not possible. What their existence illuminates, precisely because they have not been duplicated in any serious way, is the quality and durability of the resistance to serious change inherent in our historic “system” of higher education.
RioSalado Community College (RSCC) and The Community College of Vermont (CCV). Established in the mid-‘70s by the visionary Paul Elsner as a stand-alone institution in the Maricopa county community college district, RSCC has operated for over thirty years through learning centers and as a non-campus institution. Drawing the vast majority of their faculty from form the part-time ranks and focusing on technology-enhanced delivery and learning outcomes, RSCC is an educational and economic model there to be duplicated. Equally so, the Community College of Vermont. Operating online and through learning centers strategically placed around rural Vermont to enhance access, and drawing on part-time faculty for their teaching, CCV now serves more Vermonters every year than any other institution in the state. And with a pipeline to the Vermont State Colleges External Baccalaureate Degree program, any Vermont adult can negotiate their way to a BA without quitting work or substantially altering their way of life.
ThomasEdison State College (TESC) and Excelsior College (EC). These are not only fully accredited colleges, but they share an important distinction. They are both “transcribing” colleges, committed, as is WesternGovernor’s University, to giving each learner as much advanced placement (credit awarded towards the attainment of the degree) as he or she can successfully claim through testing or other ways of validating the learning.  For example, they will accept CLEP test credit, Serviceman’sOpportunity College credit, and ACE-validated credit as well as using portfolios to validate experiential learning. These “learning and learner-friendly” policies and programs are there to be duplicated. They are cost-effective, efficient and great education practice. And yet, many other institutions still largely ignore their model and their practices because they lie outside the conventional mainstream of traditional higher education.
KaplanUniversity (KU) and The University of Maryland University College (UMUC). Although newer on the scene than the institutions mentioned above, KU and UMUC make the case, in both the proprietary and non-profit world, for robust, scalable high quality online programs with learning centers at the BA and MA levels. UMUC offers a global outreach, offering online programs in dozens of countries. And, while a unit of the University of Maryland, they operate independently in terms of academic decision-making and decisions like tenure, which they do not offer. KU exhibits a nimbleness and flexibility, both in program and policy that allows them to stay up with market changes on the one hand while improving student services and support on the other. So, as the learning outcomes movement has gained credence and velocity recently, KU was able to re-design all of their courses to include course-level learning outcomes in both professional, general studies, and liberal arts areas. Although it is true that there is more and more on-line learning, too often it is offered piece-meal, as an expensive extra instead of as a core offering. And using the consistency which media-based learning provides to gather metrics on the learning and teaching going on is an even rarer event.
These six examples are intended to do one thing: illustrate the range (and this is only a small sample) of innovations already in play and proven in America today. They are there for all to see and use as they look into amending their models and trying different innovative practices to solve budgetary or educational effectiveness problems. Next week, I will write about some emerging innovations which have the capacity to actually disrupt the higher education landscape from one of campus-constrained scarcity to community-based abundance.