Thoughts on ‘Innovating the 21st-Century University: It’s Time!’

Tom PreskettBy Tom Preskett

I’ve read and re-read Innovating the 21st-Century University: It’s Time! by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (Educause, 2010) to try and absorb its key messages. Here are some quotes from the article, followed by my comments.

Universities are losing their grip on higher learning as the Internet is, inexorably, becoming the dominant infrastructure for knowledge — both as a container and as a global platform for knowledge exchange between people — and as a new generation of students requires a very different model of higher education. Continue reading

An Interview with Terry Anderson: Open Education Resources – Part I

boettcher80By  Judith V. Boettche

This is my first experience with doing a formal blog posting, although it has been on my list for a while. Jim Morrison suggested that this format, the new blog area for Innovate, might be a good way to more quickly share a recent interview on open education resources with Terry Anderson, director, Canadian Institute for Distance Education Research, and one of the keynoters at the 14th Annual Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning in Orlando, Florida, on 4 November 2008. Terry’s keynote title was “Social Software and Open Education Resources: Can the crowd learn to build great educational content?

One of my goals in going to the conference was to interview Terry about his perspectives on open education resources, and I was not disappointed! Terry was very gracious in meeting me over lunch the day of his keynote in the Caribe Royal restaurant. We had a broad-ranging conversation that included his personal experiences with making the book, The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, now in its second edition, freely available on the web. But more on that later.

So here goes. I hope you enjoy it!

terry_andersonJB: Terry, the abstract for your keynote emphasizes the promise of open education resources (OERs) to radically reduce the cost of educational content production and availability. Yet you seem to indicate that educators are not making much use of these resources. Why not?

TA: I don’t think that the availability of OERs has had much impact as yet. Lots of people download content, but how many people use it for serious academic work?

JB: Why do you think that is? What do you think has to happen before the adoption of OERs becomes more widespread and thus more of a force in keeping educational content costs down?

TA: I think there are two issues in the adoption and use of OERs: credentialing and the social support of learning experiences.

People work hard when they are motivated, and most people are motivated by credentialing or earning some kind of a certificate. What is needed for broadening the impact of open educational resources is to provide a pathway for credentialing. For example, with the open courseware from MIT, they provide the courseware resources, but no credentialing. It is up to other institutions to provide the pathway to credentialing. For example, at Athabasca University, a significant number of our Athabasca courses have what we call a “challenge alternative.” This means students can elect to writing an equivalent final exam or completing the final requirements of a course — without actually taking the course.

The second issue is that of social support. Many students find it difficult to learn on their own independent of a social environment. They like to struggle and engage with other learners as they learn. So one of our future tasks is likely to focus on developing educational experiences that include interaction with other students. For example, a learning experience that says, “Go to this site and do this with others who have started at about the same time.”

JB: What about the financial model for OER? How is this going to work? How do we ensure that people with expertise, talent get some compensation for their time and resources?

TA: What we have here, I think, is the same issue that exists with television, music and other creative industries. I think that micropayments are one approach that will work. We see this in the model from Apple with iTunes. Rather than buying a whole album, people select and pay 99 cents for one track of a CD. We need to experiment with additional different models that include reaching out with micropayment models to the long tail of the net —where there are millions of people on line today. We need to begin doing more looking out beyond the 200 or so million people in the U.S.

terry_anderson_sbJB: What about faculty members? Is the micropayments model going to be important for them?

TA: For many faculty it is not an issue. Even today, writing educational materials generally does not mean a lot of money coming back to faculty. And it does not matter as faculty are paid by the state or by the institution! Faculty may dream about writing a textbook that becomes a nationwide top seller, but it doesn’t happen very often.

I think we should move away from a production model where textbooks are written by one or two superstars to a production model with a much larger group of folks. Or move to a co-production model such as we do for research journals.

[Note: Terry’s thoughts on content production models made me think about the Wikipedia model. Maybe we should consider a Chemistry or Physics Resources Wikipedia? -JB]

JB: Terry, what bout the current costs of textbooks and educational materials. Are the costs for educational materials really a big deal?

TA: It really depends a great deal on where you are. When I am working on my campus I have access through our institution’s library database agreements to almost any resource I am interested in using. And this is the same for most of my colleagues in the academic community. So, we start to forget that materials may not be similarly “available” to others. If you go to Africa where the tuition is $45, and the libraries do not have access to content and the textbook is $90 to $100, it’s a very big deal!

JB: Let’s return to the question in the subtitle of your keynote presentation. Terry, do you think the “crowd” can learn to build great educational content?”

TA: Oh, I think “yes!” A colleague and I have been working on a book that is in a long gestation period. The book focuses on the “three aggregations of the many.”

The third “aggregation” is the collective, which is the “crowd.” A lot of people are using the net for many purposes. As they are doing this, they are all leaving traces of their activity, explicitly by voting or buying or doing something; or implicitly by which sites they are visiting and how long they stay on a site. Data mining and data capture techniques include tools that match what some people are doing with what other people are doing with some automatic filtering going on. We are at the early stages of that. Collectives are being used as learning resources without enrolling the class. This means if you use the net fairly frequently, it will reward you.

[Continued in Part II]

The 375-Billion Dollar Question. And the New Agora

eskow_tnBy Steve Eskow
Staff Writer
3 November 2008

I’m a chronic reader of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Part scholarly journal, part  newspaper and gossip column and help wanted advertising, each week its reporting brings to me the doings and thinking of faculty, students, academic administrators and education officials and accrediting agencies and all the shapers of academia in the colleges and universities in the US and around the world.

Lately I’ve been bemused by that 375-billion dollar question asked in the October 3, 2008 issue:

“The 375-Billion Dollar Question: Why Does College Cost So Much?”

The article itself never really gets around to answering the question. But each issue of the Chronicle provides pieces of the answer—and often analyses that are quite convincing.

Here is the answer of Honor Jones, a student. Her piece in the May 8, 2008 Chronicle is titled “Invest in People, Not Buildings.”

eskow01“Everywhere I hear the sound of dump trucks. It’s my fourth year at the University of Virginia, and they haven’t stopped building since I got here. A new commerce school, a new theater. If  UVA is any example of the state of public education in general, we need to evaluate our priorities before another brick gets bought.”

In his “Meditation on Building”  in the October 20 Chronicle faculty member David Orr paints this grim picture:

“It is estimated that the construction, maintenance, and operation of buildings in the United States consumes close to 40 percent of the country’s raw materials and energy and is responsible for about 33 percent of our CO2 emissions, 25 percent of our wood use, and 16 percent of our water use. In 1990, 70 percent of the 2.5 million metric tons of non-fuel materials that moved through the economy were used in construction.

“Further, by one estimate we will attempt to build more buildings in the next 50 years than humans did in the past 5,000. Most of this development will be driven by individuals operating in a market system that does not account for losses of farmland, forests, wetlands, or biological diversity — or for the human need for community.”

So: to students—some thoughtful students—and to faculty—some ecologically sensitive faculty—the university invests in buildings, not people, not the environment. The counter, of course, might well be: how else does the university house its students and the apparatus it needs for learning? How would the critics provide spaces for instruction, for housing, for study, for recreation? Are there alternatives to the buildings, or are the critics beneficiaries of the structures they deplore?

Which brings us to the question of the new information and communication technologies and how to bring their benefits to the university.

Xavier University’s answer is typical: build a building around the new technologies, and have the students come to the building to use them.

From the Chronicle, January 1,2008:

“A $28-million building called the Learning Commons will be erected to house the organization and serve as a center for various educational programs. Users will be able to get technical help, use multimedia software at any one of a bank of computers, view the library’s online holdings, and have their reference questions answered.

“The library, which will be attached to the new building, is being refashioned as simply a warehouse for books.”

eskow02The Xavier officials, of course, could not have seen the October 17, 2008 issue of the Chronicle and the story headlines “Colleges Struggle to Keep ‘Smart Classrooms’ Up to Date,” which  describes such a “learning commons” shared by the University of Colorado at Denver, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and the Community College of Denver.

“Professors who hold classes there say that years of financial neglect have left the smart classrooms nearly unusable.”

Xavier, then, might find that its $28-million is only the beginning of its commitment to keep its Commons smart and usable.

We need—need desperately—a new Learning Commons: a new Agora.

There are those who point out that we already have such a commons in the Internet itself. It is a worldwide commons that need not be enclosed in buildings: indeed, its possibilities for serving students and teachers and researchers are limited when it is enclosed.

The new Agora of the Internet is classroom, lecture hall, library, and students can take the Agora with them and listen to lectures and read books and engage in dialog with teachers and students who are scattered in time and space.

MIT, Yale, Stanford, Rice have put syllabi and lectures online.

David Wiley, then at Utah State, let unenrolled students take one of his online courses, and gave them his own unofficial certificates to show employers: this as a public service. And Stephen Downes and George Siemens allowed more than 2,000 unofficial students to take their online course “Connectivism and Connected Knowledge.”

There is a new Agora in the process of creation, a new Commons. And it will flourish free of the constraints of buildings, and, if we let learning move to where it is needed, we will enrich the lives of all those who can’t find their way to our buildings, or can’t afford the price of admission.