Summary of my priorities
1. A requirement for all newly appointed full-time instructors in public Canadian post-secondary educational institutions to have a formal certification in teaching in post-secondary education, to be in place by September 2012. This would include both pedagogical and technological content. Probability: <1%
2. Establishment of at least one hybrid digital university. Probability: 20-30%
3. Establishment of a Canadian open content consortium. Probability: 60-70%
4. Development of educational apps for mobile learning. Probability: 50%
5. Establish a national centre for digital learning, with responsibility for policy development, research, and industry-university liaison. Probability: 20-30%
6. Shared provincial software and services for administration and teaching: Probability (in at least one province): 70%
I was going to do a simple post about trends for 2010, but then found myself (thanks to an idea prompted by a discussion with Maxim Jean-Louis, President of Contact North/Nord Contact, Ontario) drifting into priorities as well as trends. So here is the first, focused on priorities for Canadian e-learning, to be followed by a second posting on international trends in e-learning, for 2010.
For readers outside Canada, please be aware that there is no national educational policy, framework or department – all educational activities except university research and some forms of student financial aid are the sole responsibility of the provinces.
My priorities are driven by my belief that the post-secondary education system as a whole (internationally) is failing to provide the high quality undergraduate or college education that will fully meet the learning requirements of the 21st century. Each of these priorities is meant to address this situation in some way.
1. Certification for post-secondary teaching.
This would be a priority targeted at the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada. The argument for the training of faculty in teaching in universities is now so strong that it probably doesn’t need to be repeated. Just let me point out though that there will be no significant change in universities in Canada (or anywhere else) until instructors and eventually senior management have an understanding of modern educational teaching methods and an understanding of the strengths, weaknesses and potential of technology for teaching. Because of the pressure to be excellent in research, any voluntary scheme for training in teaching is doomed to failure or to be insufficent.
Second this is a systemic problem. No one institution or even province can change on its own, because this will make it impossible to hire top quality graduates who will go to those institutions and jurisdictions that allow them to focus on research. (It will be argued that this will still not work, because top graduates will go the the USA instead. However, maybe we should be looking for allies in individual US states and the federal Department of Education, which is about to start pouring millions of dollars into educational technology as part of the stimulus package).
My plan would be to get CMEC to agree that funding for public post-secondary institutions will be dependent on each institution having adopted a provincially recognised 15 credit program of training for all intending new faculty by September 2012. Most of the programs (there would be several to choose from) would be provided online and would run in parallel for instance with research activities for a Ph.D. The programs would be open on a voluntary basis to all existing tenured and and adjunct faculty as well. Some provinces already have professional development programs for two year college instructors. These will need to be reviewed and in some cases re-designed to take account of developments in digital learning.
I have given this priority a probability of less than 1%, because the universities – particularly the large, prestigious research universities – and the faculty unions will mount an unstoppable campaign against this proposal (interference with academic freedom, government control, and ‘managerialism’), and because we have only one or two provincial premiers at the moment with the guts to take this on. Nevertheless, this is by far and away my first priority in terms of importance for improving undergraduate teaching in universities.
2. Establishment of (at least one) hybrid digital university.
We need more experimentation, more new organizational models, to find the right balances between digital and face-to-face learning. My proposal then to provincial governments anticipating increased post-secondary education enrolments (and most Canadian provinces with reduced budgets face this challenge over the next few years) is to ask for proposals from existing institutions to take on extra enrolments with extra funding, but using hybrid delivery methods (i.e. at least 50% of the program will be delivered online).
From the government perspective this would mean using funding that otherwise would have gone into extra buildings and facilities to support increased digital learning activities. To ensure applications, a government could limit all increases in institutional funding in a particular financial year to such a project. (There is a precedence for this – over 1993 and 1994, the BC government withheld a total of 2.5% of universities’ operating budgets for an innovation fund. Institutions got their ‘share’ by developing innovation project plans.)
The most likely candidates are second-tier suburban or regional universities looking to enhance their status through being innovative and leading edge. It may also enable them to widen their ‘natural’ catchment area.
I give this a slightly higher probability – 20-30% – because the scope for expansion of the post-secondary system will be limited due to the tight finances of provinces over the next few years, and this proposal would enable a province to push for innovation within existing budgets, without directly interfering with the autonomy of universities. (‘If you want more money, you have to do something different. You decide.’)
3. Establishment of a Canadian open content consortium
This would have two main purposes. One would be to help increase the development of shareable high quality digital resources. The second would be to develop design strategies for open educational resources. This would include how best to create open content so that it is more likely to be re-used; and models for how best to apply existing open content in teaching. This consortium would cover the whole range of education, from k-12 to lifelong learning. It would address the problem of poor uptake and poor quality (in terms of re-usability) of existing open educational resources. It might also focus on innovative assessment strategies, such as the use of e-portfolios based on at least partial use of open educational resources.
The consortium’s activities would be partly research, partly developmental (most open content would be developed as part of the partner institutions’ normal activities, but working to agreed or emerging design standards.) The consortium would seek some research funding from national research agencies and the Hewlett Foundation, but would be mainly self-financing though institutional membership fees.
Athabasca University would be a natural partner, as would other members of the Canadian Virtual University, but membership would be widened through a co-operative association model to bring in conventional universities, colleges and school systems. The consortium would have close links with other open educational resources agencies in other countries.
I give this a higher probability rating (60-70%), because there is already a potential core base in place, and already there have been contacts between various Canadian institutions at conferences regarding collaboration on open educational resources. The new part of this proposal would be greater focus on the design and application of OERs, and some earmarked funding for this activity.
4. The development of educational apps for mobile learning
Canada is a leader in mobile technology (Research in Motion, Nortel’s merger with Avaya, etc.), the Canadian mobile networks have just been opened up with a new carrier (and possibly more to come) and there is a massive market in mobile communications in countries such as China, Brazil, India and South Africa that also have huge unmet demands for education. This represents a great opportunity for Canada to become a leader in mobile learning. The proposal then is to develop a partnership between industry and education for the development of educational applications of mobile learning.
I have also given this a fairly high probability ranking (50%), mainly because it is not dependent on (but would be facilitated by) government spending, and the market is there. My probability ranking would have been even higher if I had confidence that the right educational partner could be found in Canada. Without the right partner I fear that the initiative would be largely technologically rather than pedagogically driven.
5. A national centre for digital learning.
The USA has the educational technology division in the Federal Department of Education, the United Kingdom has JISC, the European Commission has the DG Education and Culture, Lifelong Learning, Australia has the Flexible Learning Network – and what does Canada have in the way of national strategies, research or evaluation of e-learning? Nada, nothing, zilch. The Canadian Council on Learning has already disqualified itself from this possible role as a result of its shameful report on e-learning. So we need a new initiative, but one that builds on existing centres of excellence in e-learning.
I am picking up on an idea first proposed by David Ticoll. The proposed centre would focus on policy development, leadership training, educational software development, building relationships between industry and education, innovation, and evaluation of e-learning. It would be a virtual centre, linking e-learning experts, government agencies and industry across the country. It might take leadership responsibility for some of the other priorities already listed.
This could be an initiative funded by at least Industry Canada and/or HRDC, although it should have an independent board. If there is no stomach for a national centre, perhaps a province will take leadership on this, as it could get a big bang for little cost (most of the people working on initiatives will be doing so part-time, being employed full-time elsewhere). And I would hope that the Director would be from and located somewhere where e-learning is actually being done in a systematic and consistent manner, which would take it out of Ottawa (with all due respect to the excellent work being done by the University of Ottawa), i.e. somewhere in the west, although this would not be a deal breaker for me.
I put the probability of this happening at 20-30%, based mainly on the likelihood of at least one province taking some kind of initiative on this, and ‘upward’ pressure from those working in Canadian e-learning. It would be higher if the financial context was not so difficult.
6. Sharing of networked services across a province or inter-provincially
Cloud computing – the location of services on servers outside a particular organization – offers major opportunities for cost savings and efficiencies. For instance, small colleges within a province could each have their own Moodle-based courses (which each college would design and manage), but a larger university or college running its own Moodle service would also be paid to maintain and update the centralised software and provide technical training and support for the smaller colleges. The same rationale could be used for commercial administrative software, such as financial systems, student information services, etc. (i.e. a province wide licence and service). An alternative would be for institutions to join Kuali, a consortium of universities providing open source administrative systems.
Why would a provincial government want such sharing of services to be managed by a provincial institution or agency, rather than a cloud computing company such as Google? Quite apart from cost (the money stays in the educational system), one major reason is security and privacy issues. Canada has different privacy laws to the USA, and the U.S. Patriot Act does not provide the privacy guarantees that are covered under Canadian law. (In other words, the US government can demand access to data on servers located in the USA and can access any data on Canadian students held on that server.)
Security and privacy of student information is a growing concern (for more on this see the next blog on trends in 2010). When data is located on servers outside the institution or province, there are concerns over who has access to the data. This will grow as digital information on individual students grows, through identity management, one-password log-ins, etc. It will be difficult for many small or even medium sized post-secondary educational institutions to provide the level of security now being demanded. Providing fewer and more centralised software facilities to higher provincial-wide security standards could save buckets of money while providing a higher technical standard of service, especially for the smaller colleges.
And although this does touch on institutional autonomy, it does not impinge directly on academic issues. Cost pressures on provinces and institutions over the next few years though are likely to win out over ensuring that each institution ‘owns’ its data, which is why I give this a probability ranking of 70% for at least one province moving in this direction in 2010.
Obviously, this is a very personal list of priorities. I am sure you have different priorities. I’d be really interested to know what your priorities would be for e-learning in 2010, and what issues those priorities would address. If you are getting this as a Twitter or e-mail message, please go to the blog post at http://www.tonybates.ca/2009/12/20/six-priorities-for-canadian-e-learning-in-2010/ to comment.
I will post the blog on international trends in e-learning in the next day or so.