Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Universities?

On June 8, Harry Keller shared Philip E. Auerswald’s article, “First Newspapers, Now Universities: It’s Transformation Time” (Washington Post, 8 June 2010), with the ETCJ staff. As a result, Harry and two other ETC writers, Judith McDaniel and John Sener, submitted articles responding to Auerswald:

Harry Keller, “Universities Vanishing?
Judith McDaniel, “View from an Online Classroom
John Sener, “Chill Out at a Tailgating Party

Here are the opening lines from Auerswald’s article:

The commencement season that has just drawn to a close has been, once again, a wonderful time to celebrate our enduring rituals of collegiate education.

Now prepare to say goodbye to them.

This isn’t to say that traditional four-year colleges are going to disappear overnight. They won’t…not any more than major-market newspapers have. But leaders in higher-ed have reason to pay serious attention to the disruptive changes technology has forced upon journalists and other knowledge workers: our industry is next.

[click here to read the rest of Auerswald’s article]

Sloan-C’s Virtual Attendance Option: Real or an Afterthought?

encountersIntroduction: The 15th annual Sloan-C Conference on Online Learning will be adding a new virtual attendance option to its October 28-30 event in Orlando, Florida. Hmmm. Will this online “addition” be anything to write home about? Or is it just an afterthought, a pale reflection of the “real” conference? -Jim S

John SenerJohn Sener, ETC writer, on 15 Oct. 2009, 3:54 am:

Sloan-C’s virtual conference option at its San Fran event in June was very well received by its participants. It’s certainly not intended as an afterthought; Sloan-C is very consciously and deliberately moving into this space of virtual conferences, which is driven in part by the high cost of travel and the budget crunch.

Whether or not it’s a pale reflection of the “real” conference depends on one’s perspective about virtual vs. f2f events, I suppose. Recently I’ve been hearing ads by British Airways touting the necessity of f2f contact to conduct business effectively. I interpret that as meaning that virtual meetings must be starting to cut into their business if they feel the need to counterattack the trend in their ads…

claude40Claude Almansi, ETC editor, accessibility issues and site accessibility facilitator, on 15 Oct. 2009, 5:08 am:

I agree with John Sener. Based on participating in 2 virtual conferences recently:

1. Oct. 3: about digital natives, both real-life in Lugano and online.

positive: brilliant moderator for the online part, quick in accepting chat messages, good at drawing speakers’ attention to them (they were all a bit too old and above all set in their ways to know how to multitask between their in-presence do and reading the chat)

negative: the do was only transmitted in streaming video, and at too high a definition, meaning that the moderator kept sending messages: “If the streaming stops, reload the page.”

2. today: work meeting between folks in Lugano, Luzern, Zurich, Brig and Geneva. Real virtual conference, say like Elluminate but as Web app, so no java applets to install.

positive: again, the moderator was good (though there was no connection to be made with a real-life meeting as there was none, and we were all used to video conference softwares, so her job was easier)

positive: the software allowed folks to indicate their connection type (hence speed), and actually everybody used just written chat and audio (not video)

positive: nice whiteboard for slides etc: much better than having them filmed onscreen in a video streaming

negatives: none

So based on these 2 recent experiences (and some older ones) I’d say that when offering an interactive conference both in real life and on the web, success depends on

  • having a separate moderator for the online part
  • using a real online conferencing software rather than just video-streaming the live event + a text chat.

thompson40John Thompson, ETC editor, green computing, on 15 Oct. 2009, 5:12 am:

A growing number of heretofore F2F ed tech conferences (e.g., TCEA, FETC) are now including a virtual attendance component. I suppose it provides another way to reach out to the ed tech community, and perhaps can be seen as a marketing tool, especially when the virtual conference is free. It also attracts attendees who might not otherwise have participated and provides another revenue stream for conferences, many of which are seeing the effects of the strained economy.

Having F2F conferences offer a virtual choice is similar to print media also offering an online edition. And there you’re seeing a gradual shift to online editions being more like the print edition, not “pale” versions. USA Today has recently initiated a free electronic edition for subscribers that is exactly like the print edition, plus add a reduced size Saturday electronic edition to subscribers. The NY Times and Chronicle of Higher Education are two other print pubs that now offer electronic versions to subscribers that are exactly like the print editions.

Interesting to see Sloan-C charging a registration fee for its virtual component, albeit at a significantly reduced level from the F2F conference registration fee. These are changing times for long time institutions such as print pubs and F2F conferences, and those times are exacerbated by the current difficult economic situation. At the very least, Sloan-C needs to be congratulated for taking the initiative.

Disclaimer – I’m presenting at the Sloan-C conference this month.

Are Online Programs Growing or Dying?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Judith McDaniel, in her response (28 May 2009) to John Sener‘s article, “The Recession Is Affecting Online Higher Education – Duh…,” points us to an article that appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Rocky Start for Colorado State U.’s Online-Education Start-Up” (28 May 2009). She gives us a paradox to think about. As we receive glowing reports on the growth of online programs, we’re also seeing signs of their possible demise.


I did a quick google and found two more articles that suggest a decline. Citing “low and declining enrollment,” Butler Tech is eliminating one of its three online learning programs (Lindsey Hilty, “District to Revamp Online Programs,” JournalNews 5.31.09). The Navy, in response to a lack of funding, is dropping nearly 4,000 online courses (David J. Carter, “Navy Cuts Online Business, Technology Courses,” Stars and Stripes 6.2.09).

Which is it? And perhaps more importantly, why are we getting these mixed messages?

How Is the Recession Affecting Online Higher Education?

John SenerBy John Sener

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched the 11 o’clock news on television. My recollection is that it consists of an endless series of deaths, accidents, and other disasters, relieved only by the commercials and an occasional human interest story. Ray Schroeder’s blog “New Realities in Higher Education” is the 11 o’clock news for higher education — except without the heartwarming human interest stories or commercials. The stories are pretty much one hair-raising signal of impending doom after another — make sure you’re in a reasonably good mood before tackling this one.

Once the train wreck/auto crash voyeuristic feeling wears off, inevitably when reading New Realities I find myself wondering: Is the recession helping speed the adoption of online higher education, or slowing it down, or some of both? On the one hand, many community colleges are reporting the increases in enrollment demand that economic downturns typically bring, North Carolina being one example. On the other hand, many (often the same) community colleges are also reporting budget cuts which force them to cancel classes and otherwise reduce offerings, North Carolina also being one example.

One school of thought is that the recession will drive adoption of online learning as a cost-saving measure or as a way to provide access to education for cost-conscious students. A counter-argument is that initial implementation of online education requires investment in infrastructure, faculty development, culture change, etc. and that such funds are not available, hence online education adoption is being slowed down.

So far, I haven’t been able to find anything other than speculation about this topic. By contrast, one of Ray Schroeder’s previous blog efforts, Fueling Online Learning, showed pretty clearly that last year’s astronomical gasoline prices had a strong correlation with increased enrollments in online higher education. (The causal connection is less clear, but a case can be made that there was one.)

Anyone have any concrete evidence on the recession’s effect on online education?