Tag Archives: hybrid model

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

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My inspiration

I decided to start writing a blog only recently. The first question was about choosing a topic: innovation, regional development, quality of higher education, corporate social responsibility, just to mention a few ideas that came up. Did these topics have something in common? This question inspired me to have a short period of introspection[1].

Value free science

Protest meeting in Nijmegen 1969

Protest meeting in Nijmegen 1969

In the sixties, I studied human geography at Radboud University in Nijmegen and it took not very long before I got involved in the students’ movement. In one of my first pamphlets I excited myself about value free science, which I renamed into valueless science. We propagated some kind of ‘advocacy science’ in service of oppressed people. When the oppressed, whoever they were did not show any interest in our engagement, fellow students started to read Marx or travelled into exotic places to free their minds. I felt that it was time to quit the ‘movement’.

Education again prejudice

Education was my new passion. Teaching is the way to a better society; you only have to wait long enough. After a short career as a secondary school teacher, I moved into university and wrote a PhD thesis about the contribution of primary education in fighting prejudice. In this post cold war period most children saw Americans as the good guys and Russians as the bad ones. We – the Dutch – of course were considered as the best.

Culture-critical thinking

In my eyes, scientific concepts and theories were powerful tools to free common sense thinking from prejudice. I tried to implement this view in geography education, which meant a radical change. For many years, geography education had been based upon knowledge of facts. I invented the ‘culture critical model’: Our environment can be conceptualized with four different approaches: physical-biological, economical, social and cultural. Each approach is one-sided and children have to learn to construct images of reality based upon tension between two or more approaches.

University education under attack

The conviction that education must be more than the acquisition of knoledge, opened a new battlefield, namely academic teaching itself. As a student, I had spent most of my time with remote learning. My wife and I listened to taped summaries of books all day and subsequently the professors honoured our proficiency. In my view, the lecture was the symbol of bad education. Later, the Board of our university appointed me as educational director of a new faculty in order to prove that things can be done better.

From problem-based to project learning

lifelong learning1I was challenged and twelve hectic years followed. Everybody who is searching in Google with ‘large-scale educational innovation’, ‘low budget’ and ‘massive enrolment of students’ will only find one hit, namely: “Do not”. That was no option and after the implementation of problem-based learning, we developed a ‘hybrid’ model that combined problem-based, project-based and traditional education (Van den Bosch & Kieft, 2001). We managed to implement this system in the bachelor program of the seven educational programs in the Nijmegen School of Management. Thanks to this approach, students learned how to analyse and to solve policy problems with insights from several scientific disciplines.

Active students count

I do not promote one single type of education anymore. The quality of higher education depends from whether students learn to relate theory and practice. Educational programs might arrive at this aim in several ways. Sometimes even a lecture is helpful. As a member of peer evaluation teams, I frequently visit faculties and I can only observe that most faculties share this vision. However, they bother with its implementation.

Scientific research

In 2001, I was appointed as dean of the Faculty of management of the Dutch Open University. My colleagues and I had to improve the quality of research, in which we succeeded. Nevertheless, I started to worry about the direction into which scientific research is moving. Most research is lacking societal relevance. Publishing has become a career instrument for staff. Universities will be marginalized in the long run if they continue like that. I tried to implement ‘mode 2’ research, which proved to be a partial success.

Back to geography

A couple of years ago, I decided to take more time for research myself. The ‘learning region’ appeared to be a challenging theme, because of the involvement of geography, educational science and business administration, the three field of science that I got acquainted with during my career. The relations between institutions of higher education and companies have my first interest. Universities differ with respect to their willingness to play an active role in regional development. I try to find out whether this has to do with differences in their vision at science.

Applied research

van de venStokes_Critics of ‘engaged scholarship’ use to confuse engaged research with applied research. Two publications have convinced me that this view is wrong. In the first place Donald Stokes’ book  “Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation” (1997). This book makes clear that research could be ‘engaged’ and ‘fundamental’ at the same time. The second book “Engagedscholarship; a guide for organizational and social research” is written by

Andrew van de Ven (2007). Each student and scholar ought to read this book. It demonstrates that societal engagement results in better research!

Valorisation

Nowadays, universities have a mouthful of valorisation of knowledge. This is a first step, albeit small. Many scientists believe that thinking about the application of their research is only starting after the research has been finished. Van de Ven rejects this view. In his words: “”Who is asking the wrong questions, must not be surprised when nobody cares for the answers.” Stakeholder commitment from the beginning of a research project is a prerequisite for successful valorisation. During this dialogue, the right questions are raised and sources of data that were closed before are opened.

When all parts fit together

After my short introspection, I knew what is engaging me. The clumsy rejection of value free science, the application of scientific knowledge to fight prejudice, the connection of theory and practice in education by realistic problems, the interest in the role of universities in regional development, the aversion of the perverse effects of the ‘publish or perish’ mechanism in universities and the approval of Van de Ven’s ‘engaged scholarship have the same root, namely the mission to commit science in service of a better society. I hope my blog will contribute to some extend.

Stokes, D. E. (1997). Pasteurs Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation: Brookings Institution Press.

Van de Ven, A. H. (2007). Engaged scholarship; a guide for organizational and social research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Van den Bosch, H. M. J., & Kieft, M. (2001). The hybrid curriculum; the acquisition of academic competencies in the university curriculum. In W. Gijselaers (Ed.), Educational innovation in economics and business administration, part VII. (pp. 41-56). Dordrecht: Kluwer, Academic Press.


[1] Posted in Dutch the 5th of January 2013

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