The lecture is the iconic symbol of wastage in higher education

Close your eyes and imagine a large industrial site at the end of the 19th century. 1000’s of laborers are sitting behind sewing machines. Still keep your eyes closed and imagine a lecture hall, again rows and rows of students who hurry to copy the words of the teacher.

The resemblance is clear. The difference too: The industrial site is history. The lecture hall is present-day[1].

_MPP7919

My thesis is: The essence of higher education is under pressure. The reason is that universities failed to adapt their educational methods to the large growth of the number of students. As a consequence, the small classrooms of the past made room for the lecture halls of the present.

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge – who largely stayed unchanged – demonstrate what the essence of higher education might be. Once or twice a week students meet their personal tutor. During each meeting, tutors challenge students with assignments based upon scientific or societal problems. Subsequently, students read a lot and they write down their findings. In a next meeting the tutor is giving feed back, elucidates new viewpoints, suggests additional reading and occasionally initiates research projects, relating theory and practice.

Unknown

The description above allows me to define two essential pillars of scientific education:

  1. The active acquisition of scientific knowledge, which goes far beyond the capability to reproduce it.
  2. The growth of students’ competence to analyse, reflect and solve real live-problems, and to think and judge in a critical way

Onderwijs - academically adriftThe majority of contemporary universities are realizing these outcomes only partially. Research in the US has revealed that about 40% of college students did not make any progress with respect to analytical and critical thinking skills in four consecutive years[2].

As far as universities are aware of their own failure, the usual reflex is blaming government because funding largely stayed behind the growth of the number of students. I do not expect any substantial change in this respect. And maybe it is better that universities economize themselves first.

So, universities face the challenge to improve the quality of their education and to deal with a growing and ever more differentiated student population, while funding is remaining largely the same. If they fail, they risk disruption in the next decade. This challenge will be solved only, if universities innovate, in particular by deploying ICT.

Availability onlineUniversities can economize by flipping their classrooms radically and supporting their students in choosing appropriate open educational resources like MOOCs (= massive open online courses). At this time, MOOCs cover any part of scientific knowledge. The best scientists are involved in their development and educational technologists have designed the best visual support. The only expenses relate to delivering feedback at student’s assignments.

MOOCs or other digital sources are able to contribute significantly to the active acquisition of knowledge, the first pillar of higher education. But what about the second pillar; developing the competence to analyse, reflect and solve real live-problems and to arrive at critical thinking and judgment. This pillar definitely goes beyond the capabilities of open educational resources.

Onderwijs - Aalborg 5

The one way to develop this competency is engaging students in independent work, like writing theses and doing projects. Projects might be executed in small groups and students learn to deal with real problems and their owners. This independent work must cover a substantial part of students’ time. Of course students need expert teachers’ supervision. After having reduced their activities with respect to knowledge transfer significantly, teachers will have ample time to act as project supervisors and most will love it.

Finally, government might play a role the transition of higher education. This is supporting the execution of transition plans to be submitted by higher education institutions.

[1] This blogpost is based on my contribution to a round table discussion about innovation in higher education at August 30th in Maribor (Slovenia) in presence of the minister of education.

[2] See my blogpost Why universities underachieve http://wp.me/p3lna5-4n

 

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Will Self-management replace managerialism in higher education?

Onderwijs - schaalvergroting ROC Leiden
The megalomaniac building that paved the way of a Dutch educational institution into bankruptcy 

In the eighties of the 20th century managers started taking over power in educational institutions[1]. Their ambitions were towering: More well paying foreign students, higher scores at international rankings, monitoring systems to control the duration of studies, institutionalized quality control systems. Numerous mergers, ostensibly for reasons of efficiency, impressive buildings and private drivers fuelled the egos of the new managerial class. New Public Management offered the exquisite administrative instruments they needed: integral management, hierarchical leadership and performance indicators to control middle management, teachers and students.

Meanwhile, the results have become visible: Occasional successes but many failures: Towering debts – often as a result of real estate projects – rising admission fees, calculating and consumptive students, overloaded – mostly not tenured – teachers, dominance of research over education, and growing organizational clutter[2] and overhead. Traditional well-known small-scaled colleges, where teachers and students formed close-knit communities, went lost.

Change is in the air. Students and teachers are revolting against the commodization of the educational system, universities in particular. They fear one-sided vocational orientation, uncritical collaboration with commercial firms and decreasing academic quality. Besides, a long row of scientific publications gives strong evidence that the mergers and acquisitions are increased costs, rather than bringing savings[3].

More democracy and autonomy must be paired

Worldwide students and academics ask for more democracy. More democracy often is identified with empowering representative bodies, without necessarily easing the regulative power of the government of universities. If this is all, the lack of freedom in the workplace and the pressure of bureaucracy will persist. As a consequence, democracy at institutional level must include a satisfactory level of autonomy in the workplace, where research and teaching are organized.

Onderwijs - rendementsdenkenHierarchical personnel management and extensive planning and control systems enabled late 20th century companies to produce massive volumes at low prices for relatively stable and continuously growing markets. Nowadays, the environment is changing at high-speed, requiring flexibility and development of new products in short notice. The labour force is well educated and prepared to take or share managerial responsibility. At the same time most workers feel disengaged under conditions of vertical control.

The demand for self-management is growing worldwide and goes beyond educational institutions. A growing number of publications have created an inspiring picture of the 21century organisation. One of the first protagonists of self-management was Ricardo Semler, who asked for more happiness and relaxation at work[4]. Lars Kolind has disclosed his own experience in a self-managing company[5], Brian Robertson has described his creation of holacracy, an elaborated model of self-government[6]. The absolute bestsellers of Laloux[7] and Getz[8] offer descriptions of companies and other organizations that have implemented self-management.

The ultimate goal of the transformation process of educational institutions, as part of a broader movement, is better education and research under responsibility of teachers, researchers and students practising distributed management, supported by a capable staff and enabled by engaging leaders. Less bureaucracy and overhead will increase money for education and research.

[1] Wikipedia is describing managerialism as belief in the value of professional managers and of the concepts and methods they use. It is associated with hierarchy, accountability and measurement.

[2] Decluttering higher education is a challenge. Read my last blogpost: http://wp.me/p3lna5-5G

[3] Ben Martin: What’s Happening to our Universities? From: Science Policy Research Working Paper Series, University of Sussec 2016. https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=2016-03-swps-martin.pdf&site=25

See also: David Matthews: Centralising Universities ‘ignores evidence of what works best’ in Times Higher Education February 15th 2016 https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/centralising-universities-ignores-evidence-what-works-best

[4] Ricardo Semler: Semco style, 2013

[5] Lars Kolind & Jacob Botter: Unboss, 2014

[6] Brian Robertson: Holacracy, 2015

[7] Frederic Laloux: Reinventing organizations, 2015

[8] Isaac Getz and Brian Carney: Freedom, Inc., 2014.

Decluttering higher education

Some time ago, The Economist published a column entitled Decluttering the company[1]. Over the past 25 years quite a few companies have successfully introduced lean. Still, many organizations ignored the transformation to lean and they are starting to suffer from organizational clutter[2]: Countless meetings, lots of emails, expanding regulations and an increasing number managers are keeping employees from their work and inhibit their creativity. Harvard professor Teresa Amabile: Clutter is taking a toll on both morale and productivity. Creativity felt markedly if working days were punctuated by meetings.

Organisatie - complexiteit 7

The publication of the column in The Economist resulted in a flood of consenting comments[3]. According to Katharina Watson the situation is even worse in education: The most debilitating form of clutter is organizational complexity. The Boston Consulting Group approves her view by asserting that the organization of schools has become six times more complicated over the past 50 years: The number management layers, the number of managers and the number of coordinating bodies have increased, the bureaucracy has been strengthened, the number of objectives to be achieved simultaneously is doubled and the demand for internal communication has exploded.

Organisatie - complexiteit 2Ask any university teacher who is her or his boss. Some – probably those who have been employed the largest number of years – shrug their shoulders as though the answer matters. Others might count ten bosses at least: the chairman of the department, the head of the school, the managing director, the program director of the bachelor, the program director of the master, the director of education, the director of research, the chairman of the faculty council and the dean. Not to forget the chairmen of the education committee and the board of examiners. And we’re only talking about bosses at faculty level.

In the 80’s many educational organizations implemented a matrix structure. At that time, advisors warned to be aware of its complexity. In the meantime, three or four-dimensional matrices have become normal.

Organisatie - complexiteit 3The strong increase in complexity of higher educational institutions is accompanied by the diversity of tasks that academic personnel are performing simultaneously. Ask any university teacher to write down her or his tasks during an average week. The result: six to ten lectures or working groups in bachelor and master programs spread over three to five courses, the development of new courses, supervision of bachelor and master theses, meetings of committees, discussions with PhD students, delivery of information to prospective students, participation in teacher training, attending meetings and consulting colleagues, regional contacts, deliberations with foreign universities, tutorials with students, answering emails, and joining social media forums. They also do research, which involves various activities as well.

Universities can learn from lean. In essence, these six principles might help:

  • Concentration of academic staff members’ work in two programs in the same time at most, for instance the bachelor and a research project. After a couple of years, these programmes might rotate.
  • Collaboration with a limited number of colleagues to built a tight team that is responsible for as many as possible activities associated with the program in order to reduce external dependencies.
  • Granting responsibility to these teams with respect to the majority of program-related activities and budget.
  • Enabling the team to self-organize their work and to chose a leadership style, for instance the election of a team leader or the deployment of distributed leadership.
  • Frequent organizing by the team of deliberations with students to maximize their participation, and engagement and to learn from their opinions.
  • Strengthening of team member’s engagement by spending of a certain amount of time to quality improvement and innovation.

Education yearns for simple structures: less managers and more content-related collaboration between teachers. The quality of education and employee satisfaction will be the winners.

[1] http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter

[2] http://ccweek.com/article-4083-communications-clutter:-the-enemy-of-creativity.html

[3] http://info.chromeriver.com/blog/bid/353773/What-s-Organizational-Clutter-and-Why-Should-You-Care

Teachers: Be educators!

The number of competency-based education programs within universities in the US has risen to more than 500. Recently, a manifesto was published, featuring the ten most important design rules for competency-based programs[1]. One of these rules will be highlighted here, because of it relevance for all forms of education.

This rule is: Teachers reflect and discuss in depth how graduates are supposed to behave professionally, intellectually and socially. With other words, which competencies students ought to reveal upon graduation. In still other words, what is the role of the school and its teachers in educating young people?

Onderwijs - frontaal onderwijs 2

The rule mentioned above seems obvious; still common practice differs: Many schools cherish their traditional subjects and the autonomy of the individual teachers in their classrooms. Here teachers transmit the same subject matter year after year, mostly with the help of textbooks whose content is traceable to decades-old and often out-dated scientific knowledge, if any. This kind of teaching is accompanied by a reproduction-oriented learning style aimed at attaining the exams. After leaving school most content will be forgotten. Beyond the classroom it appears to be a load for the memory and not a light for the mind.

Fulfilling the above-mentioned rule requires that teachers engage actively with the redesign of the curriculum. This is a collaborate effort and cannot be accomplished by individual teachers alone within the context of their own discipline.

Onderwijs - silos in onderwijs

This does not mean that teachers have to abolish their subject-related expertise. The design of the curriculum has to balance the acquisition of disciplinary insights by students and their integrated use in the analyses of real-life problems. Students cannot be left alone in this process of integration, as it is the most difficult part of the educational process by far. Problem-based and project learning, community-based learning and role-play are in place; activities that can only be accomplished by collaborative work within teaching teams. As a consequence, teachers must collaborate also in the supervision of their students. Their role in the governance of schools will change as well. An inspiring example is the Evangelische Schule Berlin-Zentrum, Teachers developed the curriculum and the governance structure of the school is based on self-management[2].

Onderwijs - ESBZ

In secondary education in Finland subjects have been abolished in order to enable a debate on what education is about. Before the University of Maastricht opened its doors, the same happened and teachers collaboratively designed a new curriculum with future competences in mind.

The worst that could happen to teachers is the assignment of a state-commission to this job. In that case, the profession of a teacher is reduced to a classroom executive playing a statutory role. Unnecessary to say that under these circumstances improvement in student’s learning outcomes will be minimal.

Teachers must instead take responsibility for the whole educational process within the school and as a consequence recover their authority and leadership not only as individuals but also as a team.

 

[1] The report is called: Shared design elements and emerging practices or competency-based education programs. http://www.cbenetwork.org/sites/457/uploaded/files/Shared_Design_Elements_Notebook.pdf

[2] See for an extensive description of the school and its educational principles: Frederic Laloux: Reinventing organizations, p. 93. Visit the website of the school at: http://www.ev-schule-zentrum.de/aktuell/

 

No democratization of universities without self-government

In February 2015 long smoldering discontent with the administration of the University of Amsterdam erupted in the occupation of its administrative center, the Maagdenhuis.

This discontent has many sources:

  • Considerable cuts in the funding of education and research, partly due to the university’s real estate policy.
  • The position as temporarily employee without tenure prospects of most(!) members of the staff
  • The complicated and fragmented organization, which prevents staff and students having a say in major policy topics, as the relation between research and education.
  • The domination of the university’s policy by principles of efficiency and centralization, which is impairing smaller programs of study.
  • The loss of a feeling of ‘ownership’; staff and students no longer consider their university as a place for academic discourse and critical reflection
Onderwijs - Maagdenhuis bezetting 2015
Maagdenhuisbezetting 2015

The Maagdenhuis has been occupied before, nearly fifty years ago. At that time, staff and students revolted against the hegemonic power of the professors. Then, within two years, parliament ratified a new law, which created councils at university and faculty level. In these councils staff and students had substantial influence. This structure eroded when the harsh political climate in the eighties drove university administrators in hearty embracement of New public management principles.

Fifty years ago, staff and students revolted against the hegemony of the professors; now managerialism is targeted. For many persons who are involved in the ongoing protests, the cure is the same: a significant extension of the legislative power of the councils at university and faculty level. Members of parliament – albeit in opposition’s seats – try to pave the path, as I sincerely hope with success. However it is not enough.

The new legislation in the seventies brought another novelty, the departmental structure. The department – often below faculty level – was meant to be a group of professors and other staff members who were responsible collectively for the education and the research within a certain field, for instance sociology.

Onderwijs - Maagdenhuis bezetting 1969
Maagdenhuisbezetting 1969

In a certain degree the departmental structure represented quite a number of principles of self-government. I guess that I never have seen my colleagues as happy as in those years. At the same time, many of them did not feel much affinity with the discussions in the academic councils[1].

In the nineties, responsibility for education and research was allocated to independent institutions, so called schools. Departments lost their formal power and became capacity groups who lend staff to directors of research and education, losing much of their formal influence. Apart from the brake-down of the relation between education and research, many staff members felt alienated, especially when the compensation in hours they received for their work got worse year after year.

What to do? Rehabilitation of the power of the university and faculty councils is one thing; rehabilitation and strengthening the autonomy of the departments – students included – is something else, which in my view earns priority.

Principles of self-government have been introduced successfully in quite a number of organizations. In the nineties I was involved in a rather successful process of implementation of self-government in my former university. It represents the best that I have accomplished ever professionally and many colleagues regained happiness in their work. There is no best way to implement self-government and all organizations, universities included – have to go through a process of redesign and deliberation.

It is of utmost importance that a university that enters the path of redesigning its governance starts at the bottom-end, probably the department level. The question how to redesign the higher levels (faculty and university) should be raised only after the agreement of a satisfactory solution at the bottom-level. In the end, the result probably is a significant decentralization of power and as a consequence a more light governance structure at faculty and university level.

Science fiction? You should read Laloux’ account of the implementation of self-government in 12 companies and institutions[2]. What nurses, employees of a construction company, teachers and consultants have accomplished, must be feasible in organizations like universities with so many smart people on board[3].

[1] Which was my thing in those days…….

[2] Many ideas about self-government come together in the highly praised best-seller of Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker 2014. This book is nominated as the best management book of the 21th century.

[3] The author of this blogpost is a member of the committee ‘Decentralization and democratization’ of the University of Amsterdam. This committee is installed to develop principles for a new governance structure of the university in close connection with the academic community.

Universities neglect the role of experience in learning

Dit kunnen jonge studenten waarschijnlijk beter
Here young students probably perform better

I have been working for a long time with initial fulltime students and with full-employed adult students as well. A bigger difference cannot be fancied. For young students encountering each other at the campus and participating in student’s life is mandatory and time-consuming. Most elder students enter university for work-related reasons, varying from curiosity to the need to compensate missing knowledge or to be graded higher. But they want to be spared of the bustle of campus life.

The role of experience

Besides differences in motivational background, differences in experience play a significant role. Adult students excel in practical experience and tacit knowledge. Smart use of this knowledge allows a significant faster progression through the program. Unfortunately, this seldom happens because most teachers usually are not acquainted with this kind of knowledge.

Onderwijs - Knowles Adult LearnerAccording to pragmatist philosophers both reason and experience are involved in becoming acquainted with the world. Educators like John Dewey and Eduard Lindeman have studied the impact of this vision on education. The best-known contemporary theorists of adult learning, Malcolm Knowles (1990) has build on the shoulders of these giants.

Elaborating on students’ experience is subordinated to learning of concepts and theories. This practice is rooted in the rationalist mainstream in western thinking about knowledge and education, As a consequence the seminal work of Knowles is relatively unknown, hence a brief explanation of his thoughts.

Knowles’ theory of adult learning can be summarized in six learning principles:

  1. Adult learners are internally motivated and self-directed in the first place. The most occurring motivations are job-satisfaction and self-esteem and occasionally, the acquisition of better income.
  2. Adult learners will use their own experiences and prior knowledge as frames of reference while acquiring new knowledge. Their experience is the most important source of knowledge but they highly appreciate new knowledge that brings additional insight in and structure of their experience. They expect a personalized approach in order to cope with their own experience and learning needs.
  3. Adult learners are goal-oriented: Their eagerness to learn correlates with the satisfaction of their self-defined learning needs.
  4. Adult learners are relevancy-oriented: Learning is functionally related to cope effectively with real-life situations in the present or near future. In case of lectures, they expect a prior account of their relevance.
  5. Adult learning is practical: Adults prefer a task-centred or problem-centred approach in learning, directly related to better performance of their own tasks.
  6. Adult learners want to be respected and trusted. They appreciate if teachers tune their teaching with their situation and they hate being put-down and not taken serious.

A dedicated curriculum for adult students will improve the efficacy of their learning taking into account these characteristics. However, in most universities students are mixed or curricula for fulltime and parttime students are copies. How will a curriculum for adult learners look like?

The attainment of higher education objectives by adult learners

  1. Knowledge and application
Dit is zelden een goede opstelling voor onderwijs aan volwassenen
This arrangement seldom supports adults’ learning

Taken into account Knowles’ learning principles, learning of scientific concepts and theories occurs in the context of application. As a consequence, the attainment of the first and second Dublin descriptors (knowledge and its application) is an integrated process, starting with meaningful cases reflecting students’ experience. Subsequently, scientific concepts are introduced as conceptual tools for structuring and deepening experience. This does dot imply that each student’s experience always must be made explicit. Curriculum developers can suffice with interviewing a sample of prospective leaners and collect a set of relevant experiences. A variety of didactic models can be deployed, like problem-based learning, case studies and group discussions. Short lectures will do to introduce concepts and theory. Teaching can take place in classrooms or at distance.

  1. Critical thinking

The development of critical thinking skills (third Dublin descriptor) requires a different approach: Here a learning sequence starts with a real life problem that has to be analysed, evaluated, or solved. In the beginning students do not have any clue, which theoretical concepts might be helpful. Adult working students will recognize the problem because of their tacit knowledge.

Projects offer the best opportunity for students to go through this process.  Adult students might be allowed to elaborate problems that they have encountered in their own practice. For them, the conceptualization of the problem with scientific concepts is new and exiting. The supervision of projects is challenging as knowledge of one or more disciplines, methodological expertise and in-depth knowledge of the working environment are required. The combination of these abilities in one person is rare in an academic environment.

Developing business education capabilities in learning networks

Met mijn (volwassen) studenten op bezoek in een operatiekamer
Visiting a hospital with my adult students

Ability to bridge the gap between theoretical, practical and tacit knowledge is a major requirement for viable business education. No single university or other organization has the capabilities that are needed to achieve this goal. Collaborative learning networks have to come in place and universities might be able to contribute significantly. The development of a learning network with participants from different angles (companies, not-for profit organizations, consultants, government and universities) is a necessary step to develop and supervise dedicated academic education and for doing research and initiating innovation as well.

Knowles, M.S. (1990). The adult learner. A neglected species. Houston TX: Gulf Publishing.

Why universities underachieve

European universities consider the Dublin descriptors as their objectives for about 20 years. Consequently, they claim that upon graduation:

  1. Students are acquainted with the knowledge base of one or more fields of knowledge, research methods included.
  2. Students are able to apply the acquainted knowledge, which means that they can relate concepts and theories with related phenomenon in practice (near transfer)
  3. Students are able to think critical about real problems, making references at proper concepts and theories and – if necessary – by gathering and elaborating empirical data (far transfer)
  4. Students are able to communicate at several levels of complexity about scientific knowledge and its application
  5. Students are increasingly able to master their own learning

Having been a member of evaluation panels for more then 10 years, I must say that programs that have realized these objectives are rare.

Insufficient critical thinking skills
Insufficient critical thinking skills

The first (acquisition of knowledge) and the second (application of knowledge) Dublin descriptor dominate the curriculum. Learning to cope with the other three Dublin descriptors stays behind in most programs. I repeatedly asked representatives of programs under evaluation to explain the meaning of the third Dublin descriptor (critical thinking). Unfortunately, I seldom discovered any vision or strategy with respect to the attainment of this qualification, let alone that students were trained in it. The same applies to the fourth and fifth descriptors. The stepwise acquisition of critical thinking, communication and learning skills require that students participate regularly in collaborative research, tackling real-life problems, resulting in papers, presentations and discussions and thorough feedback.

Onderwijs - Underachieving collegesMy observations coincide with Derek Bok’s – former president of Harvard – critical review of higher education in the US. In his book Our underachieving colleges he has collected ample evidence that universities fall short in educating students as critical thinkers, able to judge deliberately and prepared to deal with diversity within the US and in our globalizing world (Bok, 2008).

Virtually no institution that I have been visiting is able to deliver serious proof of the attainment of the outcomes of their programs. Mostly, the thesis is considered as a proxy, which is questionable. Some institutions asked students to indicate the degree of mastery of the objectives of the program themselves, which is better than doing nothing. Some programs have introduced portfolios, but until now they do not convince as proofs of the attainment of the Dublin descriptors.

Onderwijs - academically adriftMeasurement of educational outcomes is not deployed in the US either. The publishing of the seminal reports of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (Arum & Roksa, 2011, 2014) changed the scene. Both authors – employed as professors in US universities – wondered how universities ground their claim that they enable students to think critically, reason analytically, solve problems and communicate clearly. As research to validate this claim is absent, Arum & Roksa deployed the Collegiate Learning Assessment-test (CLA-test). In this test students write a short essay about a real problem. These essays are evaluated from a critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving, and communication skills angle. 2000 freshmen participated in the experiment and repeated the test after 18 month. 45% of the participants did not show any progress. Four years after the second run, a significant part of the original participants participated for the third time and 36% still did not show any significant progress. The authors conclude: Limited or no learning for a large proportion of students characterizes American higher education. The authors also collected data with respect to the average time students spent to their study. In the well-known University of California this appears to be 13 hours, compared with 43 hours for leisure and social activities.

Onderwijs - academically adrift 8The research of Arum and Roksa has been criticized from a methodological point of view. However, it has contributed to a growing awareness that something is terrible wrong in higher education in the US. More in particular if alumni’s debts (more then $1,1 trillion) and unemployment are taken into consideration.

Unfortunately many universities are over-complacent and over-focussed on their ratings, their publications, their enrolments, their patents and endowments. Deep engagement in education, critical evaluation of their programs and determination to realize their objectives stay behind.

Arum, Richard, & Roksa, Jospina. (2011). Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Arum, Richard, & Roksa, Jospina. (2014). Aspiring adults adrift: Tentative transitions of college graduates Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Bok, Derek. (2008). Our underachieving colleges. A candid look at how much students learn and what they should be learning more. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Stop publishing in journals!

Kennis - bibliotheekThis is a plea for radical innovation of the disclosure of research outcomes with the help of ICT[1]

The Publication is the sacred cow of scientists. Number of publications, reputation of journals, number of citations and impact scores have become crucial in their career. Therefore most academics are eager to publish as much as possible.

Because of the growth of the number of publications, publishing in scientific journals is losing its  meaning for the dissemination of research outcomes[2]. Most readers limit themselves to browsing a few journals and reading a couple of summaries.

Many publications are not worth reading at all. The excessive use of references – intended to demonstrate erudition – limits their readability. Research populations are often small and the conclusions lack significance, especially for readers who look for relevance in practice. Worldwide, these publications cost taxpayers billions each year.

Good and relevant research deserves to be widely distributed by a more effective channel than scientific journals. These journals have existed for hundreds of years in their current form; the potential of ICT is largely unexploited. Apart from digital distribution, improved options for search and doubtful options for the calculation of impact scores.

Deployment of ICT enables a radical innovation in the communication of research outcomes. My proposal below is based on two principles, which I will mention in succession.

1. Layered presentation of research outcomes

The research outcomes are presented concisely on a dedicated website accompanied by research questions and methods. Anyone is allowed to react immediately. This summary is containing a set of hyperlinks to the underlying layer. Here, readers who are interested will find an analysis of the literature and the research data. A third layer is disclosing the original literature, data, interviews, protocols and encryptions. Further options are a log of the progress of the research, earlier versions and commentaries.

The image below, the pyramid of originality, shows the three layers mentioned above. The first layer will be sufficient for the vast majority of readers. It is conceivable that the author offers different versions for different groups of readers in different languages too. I short TED-like presentation might be added.

Pyramid of originality
Pyramid of originality
2. Presentations at team level, not by individual researchers

The approach mentioned above will improve the readability of the information but not its abundance. Consequently, research teams report their findings instead of individual researchers. Besides, the units of disclosure have to be sufficiently large. Apart from reducing the number of publications, this procedure will stimulate cooperation.

The first layer will become a platform where teams exchange and compare their research outcomes. The availability of the raw data in the third layer will foster the comparison and replication of research outcomes. External reviewers might be invited to comment, if necessary in a part of the site with restricted accessibility.

Reports from individual group members might be made available optionally at the second layer. This is also the place to unveil discussions between the members of the team.

Nothing prevents individual researchers from composing for private use a portfolio that unveils their contribution to research projects. This portfolio might include critical reviews of literature studied, contributions to discussions, comments upon other research, articles for (remaining) journals and publications for the general public. Interviews, blog posts and so on.

In order to summarize, the proposed innovation of the presentation of research outcomes is based on six ideas:

  1. Publications are findings of teams instead of outcomes of individual research.
  2. Presentations are made available on dedicated websites.
  3. The presentation of the research is layered deploying the pyramid of originality.
  4. The top layer is disclosing the conclusions of the research. These are hyperlinked with underlying insights, data and discussions.
  5. There is ample room for discussion and comment
  6. Individual researchers might compile a portfolio for own use.

The emphasis on research as a collaborative process and the removal of the incentive for individual scientists to produce as many journal publications as possible, will contribute to strengthening focus, mass and quality of scientific research. The layered presentation of results enables the readability and the accessibility of research outcomes.

Van den Bosch, H.M.J., & Bolluyt, J. (2001). The use of hypertext in the writing of group papers. Journal of Computer-assisted Learning, 17(4), 355-362.

[1] The content of this post is rooted in an article that I wrote quite a number of years ago with Jeroen Bolluyt (Van den Bosch & Bolluyt, 2001). I never forwarded to develop my thoughts about alternatives for the derailed institution of scientific journals and their content. Last year I was urged to do so repeatedly. Hence this blog post. The original article can be found here: http://goo.gl/zv33RP

[2]  See http://goo.gl/UkQbtj for a conservative calculation of the increase in the number of publications. The result of this calculation is that since 1950 the number of publications is doubling every nine years.

Innovating forwards and backwards

I am a follower of #innovation, resulting in an all-day parade of tweets about self-driving cars, intelligent robots, business models, CO2-neutral buildings, growing efficiency in solar energy and smart gadgets. I feel at odds with those ‘experts’ who applaud innovation as the Holy Grail for our society’s future without making any difference.

In this post I will introduce a distinction between innovation forwards and innovation backwards. Innovation will become a matter of choice! At first, three different types of innovation will be identified. Each of these types has its technical and social variant.

Technical innovation

Lopende bandType 1 innovations intend to increase labour productivity: Mechanisation and IT have enabled mass production at low prices by automation of assembly lines, warehouses, administration and bookkeeping. Besides, technical devices are replacing conductors at trains, cashiers in supermarkets et cetera.

gadgesType 2 innovations occur when companies replace products by attractive alternatives in order to escape the downward spiral of price competition and decreasing margins. To be successful, public has to perceive the new products as contributions to the quality of their lives and be willing to pay accordingly: PC’s, iPhones, iPads, digital camera’s, navigation systems et cetera

biobased economy2Type 3 innovations intends to secure life and a decent level of prosperity in the long run and do not result in major financial rewards at short-term: Sustainable energy, bio-based economy, clean-tech, biological farming, reuse of materials et cetera.

Social innovation

Lopende bandType 1 innovations include huge improvement of labour productivity under humane conditions, based on large-scaled production, task-differentiation, assembly lines and flexible payment, albeit at the cost of the total destruction of craft[1]. During the last century, Frederic Taylor’s principles have been refined by competence management, lean production, ICT and sophisticated planning and control systems, which have extended to medicine, accounting and teaching.

Mondragon3Type 2 innovations are aimed at the restoration of challenging job content. Improvement of labour-productivity is accompanied by an increasing number of low-strain jobs and by disappearing engagement. In the meanwhile, engagement is decisive in knowledge-intensive companies. Consequently, smart companies skip intermediate management levels, introduce servant-like types of management, create flexible work conditions and diminish differences in compensation between managers and professionals. Besides, a growing group of former employees is creating networks of collaborating self-governed and owned companies.

BuurtinitiatiefType 3 innovations partially replace representative by direct democracy. People are taking responsibility for their own neighborhood. Employee ownership and cooperations are reviving. Financial institutions, healthcare, assurance and social care will redevelop bottom-up. Social enterprises will replace not-for-profit bureaucracies. These new ventures will operate from a welfare perspective in the first place. The rebirth of the civil society will partially replace the eroded welfare state. An already uncountable number of initiatives are moving already into this direction in many countries[2].

Innovation forwards and innovation backwards

The distinction between two pairs of three types of innovations each enables me to explain the difference between innovation forwards and innovation backwards

The purpose of innovation forwards is a ‘livable existence for future generations worldwide. Type 3 innovations (technical and social) are its main driver, supported by type 2 and type 1. Innovation forwards does not exclude improving productivity, for instance by deployment of robots, but it will enforce procedures safeguarding autonomous and challenging jobs for all[3].

Forwards and backwards innovationThe purpose of innovation backwards is growth of company turnover and shareholder value. Type 1 innovation (technical and social) is its main driver. Types 2 and 3 are supportive. Innovation backwards might include the acceptance of so-called corporate social responsibility, but only if it contributes to profit, reputation and shareholder value.

Currently, innovation backwards dominates innovation forwards. Overall indicators are: the on-going increase of CO2-emissions[4] and the increasing differences in between rich and pour countries and between its inhabitants[5].

At the same time, the power of innovation forwards is increasing. The Deloite report The Big Shift is unveiling global changes during the last decades includes many hope-giving details[6], the following trends particularly:

  1. big shiftThe connection between technology and information science (Internet of everything);
  2. The distributed character of knowledge and the emergence of the independent knowledge workers and Makers;
  3. The collapse of large multinational organizations, favouring a globalized network economy;
  4. The growing power of self-governance and local autonomy.Societal transition
Societal transition

Publications about societal transition and change are abundant. For instance, in The Netherlands, influent authors like Jan Rotmans and Marga Hoek motivate thousands of change-making groups and individuals and are inspired by them. Here, I will spend a some attention to the new book of the well-known organizational scientist Henry Mintzberg, titled: Rebalancing Society. Radical Renewal Beyond Left, Right and Center [7].

societyMintzberg offers ample evidence for the dominance of innovation backwards. From 1980 on, the multinational corporations have increased their global and national power[8]: The economy of free enterprise has become societies of free enterprises. Except for maximization of their own profits and shareholder value, private companies have encouraged consumption[9] and borrowing large amounts op money. They have externalized their costs and evaded paying taxes. The ever-weakening government lost its countervailing power[10]. However, restoration of the power of the state is no option. A repetition of all well-known arguments between social democrats and liberals will occur and will not generate any change. The on-going growth of the plural sector is Mintzberg’s hope for the future. The plural sector has always been of utmost importance, for instance by the emergence of cooperations and associations. In the US, in average, each citizen is a member of two associations. There is a myriad of new initiatives by citizens in every field, varying from health, education, neighbourhood, and environment.

In addition, education, health and transport are parts of the plural sector, although these sectors have been weakened by privatisation. The growing group of social enterprises might be added too[11].

This leaves us with the question what each of us can do to promote innovation forwards. Henry Mintzberg: The place to start confronting the exploiters of this world is in front of our own mirror.

You and I are called on stage. Find your character in the table below

Rollen innovation forwards

[1]Less humane practices can be found in the apparel, mechanical engines and in construction in emerging countries. These activities are all parts of the supply-chains of western (and Chinese) companies.

[2] See Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken (2007)

[3] Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne (University Oxford, UK), The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerization (September 2013)

[4] See for details until 2014: http://infographics.pbl.nl/website/globalco2-2014/

[5] See for details Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21e century.

[6] The Big Shift http://goo.gl/QaNXdy is edited by ‘The Edge’, Deloite’s research institute.

[7] An earlier version of this book (2014) can be downloaded here: http://www.mintzberg.org/sites/default/files/rebalancing_society_pamphlet.pdf

[8] Withdrawing by the US of the Bretton Woods Agreement, meaning the decopling of the value of money and gold was a first step in the financialization of capitalism.

[9] With respect to food and beverages: In 2014 two of three adults in the US are overweight or obese (69 percent) and one out of three is obese (36 percent) www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/an-epidemic-of-obesity/

[10] In1952, companies paid 32% of all tax incomes in the US. This percentage is decreased to 9% now.

[11] This article unveils the objectives of social enterprises: https://www.se-alliance.org/what-is-social-enterprise It clarifies why this type of enterprises fits into Mintzberg plural group.

[12] Het Defence Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is an excellent example of public support in the development of industry and educational institutions.

[13] The representatives in the US are virtually unable to increase taxes for the rich: Nearly all members of the Senate and most members of the House belong to the 1% top-earners of the US.

Higher education in US is ready for disruption

Changes in higher education in the US are worth looking at, because they will turn up worldwide in due course [1]. Higher education in the US is ready for disruption[2]: During the past 30 years, fees have increased 538%, which is 4 1/2 times more than average. Until recently, the earnings of alumni allowed them to repay their loans. The past five years saw a dramatic change in their prospects. As a consequence, debt has quadrupled in 10 years to $1,1 trillion now.

At the same time, employers complain about alumni’s lack of skills. According to Gallup[3] 95% agreed with the statement Graduates are woefully underprepared. 40% of all vacant jobs cannot be realized.

distance educationThe number of students who combine study and work is almost 50%. These students prefer programs that are beneficial for their careers and utilize their work experience. They do not fall for the charms of campus life but feel attracted by the flexibility of distance learning.

The problems mentioned above are not new. However, higher education institutions, fearing disruptive innovators, seem more willingly than ever to act.

Higher education policy has always cherished three aims: affordability, accessibility and quality but failed in realizing these aims simultaneously. Exactly this happens right now. Educause, together with Next Generation Learning Challenges launched a call inviting institutions to co-develop bachelor and master programs with fees that do not exceed $5000 a year[4]. Many institutions hurried to redesign their educational offerings, the most prestigious universities of the US among them.

Solutions for the problems and challenges mentioned so far come from four different directions: competency-based learning, flexibility, e-learning and specialization.

Competency-based learning

One of the first institutions that offered competency-based learning in the US is the Western Governors University (WGU) [5]. Its courses of study are based on specified competences and they are preceded by a pre-assessment. This is screening students’ deficiencies resulting in a dedicated offering of materials[6].

New culture of learningImproving the alignment between education and labour market has many other implications. In their book ‘A New culture of learning’ Douglas Thomas and John Seeley Brown introduce entrepreneurial students. They assemble their own curriculum by taking courses from several universities. In addition, they opt for intensive skill trainings like DevBootcamp, Hackbright en General Assembly[7]. The Apollo Education group has developed the program ‘Balloon’ for this kind of students. It offers 15.000 courses, grouped by learning objectives, level, price and type of education. Many universities facilitate this explorative behavior of students and a variety of experiments are set in place[8].

Organizations like Degreed and the Mozilla Open Badge Platform are able to validate students’ extra-curricular activities. They map students’ competences and also how these competences relate to existing grades and diplomas[9].

One of the most fascinating ideas is Stanford’s imaginary Open Loop University. It will enable students to interrupt their program of study with two years of extra-curricular activities that have potential relevance for the core-curriculum, like work, externships, voluntary activities and studying abroad[10].

Open Loop2Competency-based learning, combined with personalization will dismiss the notion of fixed seat-time. This is weighting the workload of a course by the number of class hours. It will even go beyond the system of credit-points that express nominal study load. What counts is the mastery of competencies irrespective of time and effort to realize these.

Flexibility

Flexibility is connected with competency-based learning. Focussing on mastery of specific competencies, students are free in the choice of course materials. Tutors or consultants are available to help them selecting the most appropriate ones[11].

FlexibilityThe Western Governors University allows student to start a course of studies nearly each day of the year and to take as much time as they need. Students pay $6000 per year, an amount of money that allows them taking as many courses of study as they want.

e-Learning

e-Learning is seamlessly connected with competency-based learning, and is enabling flexibility and affordability at once. In fact we envisage a second e-learning revolution. The beginning of the 21th century gave birth to the first Internet universities. Though, their programmes were technology-pushed, their supervision was unsatisfactory, they were too expensive and above all, their status was low. Now 15 years later the landscape has changed dramatically.

The initiative came from the well-established universities, like MIT, Harvard and Stanford. They started with Open Educational Resources, useful for teachers in the first place. Then MOOCs showed-up, valuable learning materials, though without credits. But change is ahead. MOOCs become integrated in regular education of both high-end and low-end educational institutions. Most of the first mentioned ones opt for blended-learning. For instance, Harvard is considering one year online learning, resulting in the selection of an elite group of students who will be on campus for two years, followed by a combination of work and study[12].

Availability onlineMIT believes ‘modularization’ will be the solution and plans to disaggregate courses in small packages, which can be combined. MOOCs provided by EdX will help students acquire the basics. In addition, they visit learning villages. Here practicals and other group activities take place[13]. The same applies to Duke University, in cooperation with Coursera.

The prestigious Georgia Tech University is moving into another direction in cooperation with Udacy, another supplier of MOOCs[14]. Together they offer a $7000 master program in Information science that results in the same grade as its $40.000 equivalent on the campus. The university feels that the difference in target groups will prevent cannibalization of the expensive programme by the cheap one. The free courses of Udacy are available too but without additional assignments and credits.

Specialization

Specialization is another strategy to survive. Institutions like WGU are able to offer an affordable programme because they renounce the development of learning materials of its own.

Learning materials like MOOCs are developed by well-known universities and distributed by companies like Udacy, Edx and Coursera. Publishers, like Pearson are developing and delivering e-learning programs too. Google plans with MOOCs.org to become the YouTube for MOOCs.

Many universities in general and community colleges in particular will survive as campus universities only if they deprioritize research and cease competing with Harvard or other high-end institutions. Their niche is training for the local or regional labour market in tight collaboration with local or regional companies.

Lastly, institutions like the Pacific Gas & Electric Power Pathways and the Clemson University International Centre for Automotive Research opt for topical specialization in order to educate dedicated labour force.

The higher education landscape will change fast. Students will build unique portfolio’s combining a diversity of resources. Specialized institutions will validate their competences and probably even reward them. Sometimes, these grades will match with existing programs  However, the most distinguishing students will prefer unique profiles that might not be academically recognized but that will be priceless for employers. Guess who is better off!

[1] Comprehensive essay about the development of higher education in the US. It inspired me to write this blogpost. http://dupress.com/articles/reimagining-higher-education/?id=us:2sm:3tw:dup758:eng:fed:111914:du_press:sxswedu

[2] See the publications of Clayton Christensen and colleagues. After ‘The innovator’s dilemma'(1997) and ‘Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary'(2011) http://goo.gl/ogr5r is ‘Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution’ (2014) a description of ongoing desruptions: http://www.christenseninstitute.org/publications/hire/

[3] See: https://chronicle.com/article/The-Employment-Mismatch/137625/#id=overview

[4] Overview of winning initiatives. http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/NG1233.pdf

[5] See: http://3jrru23si058xyg03oiyzu9p.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/The-engine-behind-WGU.pdf

[6] See https://www.edsurge.com/dreambox-learning

[7] See http://devbootcamp.com

[8] In particular, universities try to improving labor marked-oriented skills of students in cooperation with companies and other organizations.

[9] See: https://degreed.com/about

[10] See: http://natalie-whearley-a9si.squarespace.com/open-loop-university

[11] Short video about Flexpath: http://youtu.be/A4GMc71RGHg

[12] interview with director Edx Anant Agarwal https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/11/25/massachusetts-institute-technology-names-edx-key-component-educational-strategy

[13] See: http://web.mit.edu/future-report/TaskForceOnFutureOfMITEducation_PrelimReport.pdf

[14] Massive (but not open): The motives behind the new online program of Georgia Tech: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/05/14/georgia-tech-and-udacity-roll-out-massive-new-low-cost-degree-program