Anya Kamenetz: DIY U: The Coming Transformation of Higher Education

The solution to the upcoming fall of higher education is openness of content and sell the services beyond the content. Lower the cost by sharing. Will be interesting to see whether higher education would actually go in this direction.

Instead what I have seen is colleges trying to figure out how much of a premium to charge completely online classes over the normal tuition. The boundaries were in-state and out-of-state tuition. Charging less than in-state tuition was seen as crazy because the assumption was no in-state students would take a class online when they lived close enough to show up in class.

Please Don’t Write Off the LMS Just Yet

Found the Educational Technology Trends 2010 quite interesting. Especially the part which predicts yet again (still?) the death of the LMS.

Both learning and learning content are moving away from traditional centripetal models, in which everything happens at set locations and is controlled at the institutional/publisher level (top-down), and moving toward centrifugal models that are learner-focused (bottom-up) and in which learning happens wherever a student happens to be. This means new platform models for learning (post-LMS), greater mobile access, more flexible e-commerce models, and a renewed explosion in generic online learning.

I suspect the relationship between the LMS and what is next is more like  LMS : post-LMS/PLE/DIY U :: book : Internet. The Internet has not as of yet killed off the book. We still have plenty of books available. Even books are shifting towards digital. The Internet just moved into greater prominence and changed how we think. Similarly, new platforms may result in something which we will think of as how students learn in higher education, but the LMS will still be around for a very long while. (Which is good because it means I still have a job for a while.)

Smart Groups

We started in a conversation about an interesting grant seeking to help students from low-income families through OpenCourseWare and providing them better information. An Open Source LMS != open coureseware. OSLMS is running students through online classes. OCW is providing the content so anyone can download and use it. The better information section sounded to me suspiciously like SHERPA, which uses preferences students have previously made to guide them to resources and classes. George pointed out in the past people predicted the death of universities in just a few more years over people being able to learn the information for any course just by downloading it. Unfortunately, only some people can just take texts and videos then naturally know how to build upon them. The more powerful method to reach students seems to be making the content relevant to solving real-life problems, especially one where the learner benefits over or with another.

Next, I diverted the conversation off on a tangent about how a book recommended managers build teams by evaluating the attitudes, habits, and personalities and then place the members so they cover each others weaknesses. This article about social cooperation skills trumping intelligence has been mulling about in my head for a couple weeks.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that collaborative groups who conversed easily with equal participation were more efficient at completing sets of given tasks — and produced better results — than groups dominated by individuals.

It occurred to me what universities should try towards solving retention is to devise methods of helping students build teams. Take something like eHarmony which is based on helping people find others with similar values, but instead have it look at traits useful for learning and solving problems and cooperation. Then make it easy for students to meet each other in classes and work together. The student who is good at locating lots of information from research but weak in logic is paired with one who is weak in research but strong in logic. Learning together, maybe they would end up better students, more engaged, and more productive.

Failure to Improve Online Retention

A former coworker, Cat Finnegan, worked on retention of online students. Recent articles about online students having higher drop out rates than face-to-face caught my eye. Especially the rationales. The recent articles all are about the work done at KSU (whose online class system we host, well one of them: Blackboard) which will be published in the International Journal of Management in Education as “The Impact of Student Retention Strategies: An Empirical Study”.

Online courses cover the same material as traditional classes. The tuition costs are the same and they’re are on the same semester system as bricks-and-mortar classes. But some online students struggle because they can’t keep with the material, get distracted by work or family or miss interacting with professors and other students.

Faculty use different strategies to combat this problem — calling students at home, sending e-mails, even asking students to sign contracts pledging to stay on top of assignments. Campbell and five other professors at Kennesaw State’s Coles College of Business wondered whether these methods work and tested them during the spring 2009 semester.

I am eagerly awaiting publication of this paper. I’d like to understand what actually was tried and failed rather than depend on these summaries.

The former coworker’s paper references a paper called “Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” by Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson which addresses what are the things which help students. This seems like exactly the kind of thing Campbell et al should identify how their faculty members are addressing each in their online classes.

  • Encourage student-faculty contact,
  • Encourage cooperation among students,
  • Encourage active learning,
  • Give prompt feedback,
  • Emphasize time on task,
  • Communicate high expectations, and
  • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

I’m curious if some equivalent was used, how they identified the struggles of the students, and how they determined to try these methods to solve the issue.

Georgia Gwinnett College, another school in our system provided faculty smartphones so students can call. While KSU had the faculty call the students, these seem like similar approaches to improve retention.

Replace You With A Simple Download

Here is an interesting Governor Pawlenty interview from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Towards the end the governor says something like:

Can’t I just pull [course lectures] down on my iPhone or iPad whenever the heck I feel like it, from wherever I feel like it? And instead of paying thousands of dollars, can I pay $199 for iCollege instead of 99 cents for iTunes?

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What he says should exist arrived at least 4  years ago. Instead of being named iCollege, it is named iTunesU. Even better is MIT’s OpenCourseWare. Instead of being $199, these are FREE! If iCollege / iTunesU / OCW was the solution to eliminating higher education, then it should be on its deathbed. Instead, during the same period, the number of students attending universities has exploded. Why? The information isn’t why students attend higher education. Like the governor says, that is cheap.

Parents and students think to get a high paying job, these kids need a degree to allow them to be qualified. Higher education isn’t about an information dump. Its about kids getting vetted so employers have something to select the people mostly likely qualified for their job openings. That’s what Apple or someone will need to create in order for iTunesU to replace higher education.

Since jobs dried up, kids went to college to improve their qualifications so when jobs flourish again, they will be better situated to get one.

The Chronicle of Higher Education coverage.

Frontline: College, Inc.

This piqued my interest because well… I work for public higher education running an online class system. There are twin subtle pressures to both compete and remain aloof depending on people’s assumptions about money and quality. I personally just hope we do whatever is necessary to provide the highest quality service for students.

This was an interesting comment in a Chronicle of Higher Education jobs forum about this episode. Lots of people dislike traditional colleges, especially those which teach job skills. Colleges of Education often teach future K-12 and technical school educators the occupational skills necessary for becoming successful.

I have no problem with a program of this nature. I just wish they would also focus on cash cow programs within traditional universities. I don’t see a huge difference between colleges of education and the Phoenixes and Trade Schools. You know the difference between State University X and an online or for profit school? No beer drinking frat-boy imbeciles pissing away their parents money supporting what is essentially an academic front for a football team. I suppose you can feel morally superior in some way to these programs if you’re able to ignore the gigantic mascots that adorn every facet of your institution, symbolizing an assemblage of nearly illiterate students that represent the public face or your institution by stuffing a ball into a hoop or kicking it.

The Frontline press release (bold added by me):


College, Inc.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS

Twitter: @frontlinepbs

Even in lean times, the $400 billion business of higher education is booming. Nowhere is this more true than in one of the fastest-growing—and most controversial—sectors of the industry: for-profit colleges and universities that cater to non-traditional students, often confer degrees over the Internet, and, along the way, successfully capture billions of federal financial aid dollars.

In College, Inc., airing Tuesday, May 4, 2010, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith investigates the promise and explosive growth of the for-profit higher education industry. Through interviews with school executives, government officials, admissions counselors, former students and industry observers, this film explores the tension between the industry—which says it’s helping an underserved student population obtain a quality education and marketable job skills—and critics who charge the for-profits with churning out worthless degrees that leave students with a mountain of debt.

At the center of it all stands a vulnerable population of potential students, often working adults eager for a university degree to move up the career ladder. FRONTLINE talks to a former staffer at a California-based for-profit university who says she was under pressure to sign up growing numbers of new students. “I didn’t realize just how many students we were expected to recruit,” says the former enrollment counselor. “They used to tell us, you know, ‘Dig deep. Get to their pain. Get to what’s bothering them. So, that way, you can convince them that a college degree is going to solve all their problems.’”

Graduates of another for-profit school—a college nursing program in California—tell FRONTLINE that they received their diplomas without ever setting foot in a hospital. Graduates at other for-profit schools report being unable to find a job, or make their student loan payments, because their degree was perceived to be of little worth by prospective employers. One woman who enrolled in a for-profit doctorate program in Dallas later learned that the school never acquired the proper accreditation she would need to get the job she trained for. She is now sinking in over $200,000 in student debt.

The biggest player in the for-profit sector is the University of Phoenix—now the largest college in the US with total enrollment approaching half a million students. Its revenues of almost $4 billion last year, up 25 percent from 2008, have made it a darling of Wall Street. Former top executive of the University of Phoenix Mark DeFusco told FRONTLINE how the company’s business-approach to higher education has paid off: “If you think about any business in America, what business would give up two months of business—just essentially close down?” he asks. “[At the University of Phoenix], people go to school all year round. We start classes every five weeks. We built campuses by a freeway because we figured that’s where the people were.”

“The education system that was created hundreds of years ago needs to change,” says Michael Clifford, a major education entrepreneur who speaks with FRONTLINE. Clifford, a former musician who never attended college, purchases struggling traditional colleges and turns them into for-profit companies. “The big opportunity,” he says, “is the inefficiencies of some of the state systems, and the ability to transform schools and academic programs to better meet the needs of the people that need jobs.”

“From a business perspective, it’s a great story,” says Jeff Silber, a senior analyst at BMO Capital Markets, the investment banking arm of the Bank of Montreal. “You’re serving a market that’s been traditionally underserved. … And it’s a very profitable business—it generates a lot of free cash flow.”

And the cash cow of the for-profit education industry is the federal government. Though they enroll 10 percent of all post-secondary students, for-profit schools receive almost a quarter of federal financial aid. But Department of Education figures for 2009 show that 44 percent of the students who defaulted within three years of graduation were from for-profit schools, leading to serious questions about one of the key pillars of the profit degree college movement: that their degrees help students boost their earning power. This is a subject of increasing concern to the Obama administration, which, last month, remade the federal student loan program, and is now proposing changes that may make it harder for the for-profit colleges to qualify.

“One of the ideas the Department of Education has put out there is that in order for a college to be eligible to receive money from student loans, it actually has to show that the education it’s providing has enough value in the job market so that students can pay their loans back,” says Kevin Carey of the Washington think tank Education Sector. “Now, the for-profit colleges, I think this makes them very nervous,” Carey says. “They’re worried because they know that many of their members are charging a lot of money; that many of their members have students who are defaulting en masse after they graduate. They’re afraid that this rule will cut them out of the program. But in many ways, that’s the point.”

FRONTLINE also finds that the regulators that oversee university accreditation are looking closer at the for-profits and, in some cases, threatening to withdraw the required accreditation that keeps them eligible for federal student loans. “We’ve elevated the scrutiny tremendously,” says Dr. Sylvia Manning, president of the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits many post-secondary institutions. “It is really inappropriate for accreditation to be purchased the way a taxi license can be purchased. …When we see any problematic institution being acquired and being changed we put it on a short leash.”

From Chalk To Bytes: The Digital Classroom

My favorite quotes:

  1. “[Blackboard is] a one-stop shop where students can come and get absolutely any access to me, any access to the teaching assistants.” — Philip Wirtz
  2. “[Open source] classroom management systems [like Sakai and Moodle] are becoming increasingly popular because they allow schools to adapt the software to meet their needs.”
  3. “Even though Blackboard continues to grow through acquisitions, Klopfer says the company could face competition from Google in the collegiate market.”

It would have been good to have more points of view such as from schools using open source products. At least they were not completely ignored.

The Google angle seems more of a stretch. There is no reason why the existing Google Apps for Education or other similar cloud tools could not not be used for the purpose of interacting with students. Reasons for why not to do so depend on distrust of the cloud.

Digital Natives

In ten years (by 2020), the goal of the Obama administration is to have 60% of the American population hold at least a 2-year post-secondary degree and graduate college-ready high school students. I’m hoping the first, stated as “We will raise the proportion of college graduates from where it now stands [39%] so that 60% of our population holds a 2-year or 4-year degree,” really means 60% of 22-25 year olds hold these degrees rather than the entire American population.

Supply and Demand

Here is a shocking idea. People get college degrees because graduates are valued. This leads to parents sending more kids to college who get degrees. Eventually higher education reaches the point where the overabundance of graduates decreases the value of a degree.

Weak students have been admitted for years. Universities struggle to identify who will become the strong students so the net is cast a little wider than it ideally would be. The weak students drop out of school. Somehow it became the school’s fault the weak students were dropouts. So people scrutinize retention numbers and implemented programs to identify the under performing students and help them graduate. Now the schools are at fault for letting so many people graduate.

This concept that a college degree didn’t automatically prepare me for a job was brow beat into me by my advisor my freshman year of college over a decade ago. The prescription then was to spend every summer working an internship so I would have experience upon graduating. Of course, my major at the time was engineering where only the retirement or death of Baby Boomers would result in getting a job.

Naturally if most to all college freshman are getting experience for graduation, then that means employers will need to find something else to still be selective.

I’m tempted to make the same mistake as the Social Darwinists: Over time kids will have to get more and more education in order to be competitive. For my grandparents, 8th grade was the baseline of education to get a decent job. For my parents, a high school diploma became the new baseline. For me it was a bachelor’s degree. For the kids born today will it be a Master’s degree? This reminds me of the Red Queen concept in that one has to perform faster and better just remain in place.

Students First

Yesterday Gina, a coworker, joined me for lunch. She asked about where GeorgiaVIEW‘s attention is focussed since we recently completed our upgrade to Blackboard Learning System Vista Enterprise 8.

She pointed out students are the most affected by and most important constituent for any decisions we make. Yet the student point of view is almost never considered. Capturing what is good for students might mean installing all the possibilities where students and faculty could compare. It might mean surveys, however, I think self-reporting provides so much erroneous data we could do without it.

My job’s focus is more toward what is the most efficient, least problematic system for me to start/stop, install, upgrade, and review logs. I am still mulling what job position we have who would focus on ensuring whatever we do will provide for the best student experience. Guess really that should be all of us.