August 30, 2014

Welcome back and a review of online learning developments in July and August

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UBC campus fall

Here in Canada, tomorrow is the start of a new academic year. I know, because our garbage cans are full and the back lane is full of discarded furniture as the new students move into new lodgings behind our house and all the garbage and awful furniture left by the former student residents is thrown out. Next week the student parties will start.

On a more positive note, I hope you all had a wonderful summer, turned off your digital devices for as long as possible, and enjoyed the fresh air. So for those who are mentally healthy but feeling a little lost about what may have happened in the blogosphere in July and August, here is a quick summary. (Just click on the links for the articles of interest).

Productivity and online learning

With governments everywhere concerned about getting more for less in education, the focus is turning increasingly to whether online learning can improve productivity in higher education. The mania around MOOCs is largely driven by the promise that these will enable higher education to reach the masses at a much lower cost. But for every action there is a reaction, and MOOC mania is resulting in some hard questions being asked about what productivity in higher education really means.

I started a conversation about this with a post about the need for more theory or, as Stephen Downes suggested, clearer models of productivity in online learning, and followed it by looking at whether flexible learning leads to more productivity, and if so, how it would be measured. Sir John Daniel provided a review of William Bowen’s book that aims to answer the question: Could the growth in online courses slow the rising cost of college and help solve the crisis of affordability?

Thus the publication in August of Tom Carey and David Trick’s report for HEQCO (the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario) on productivity and quality in online learning was very timely. I reviewed and critiqued the report, and Tom Carey has used this blog to provide some thoughtful reflections that were more speculative and hence not included in the report. In particular, Tom has raised the important question of what elements of online learner support can be scaled up without loss of quality, and what should not or cannot be scaled so easily. (There will be more discussion of this issue in later posts on this site).

Lastly, I questioned why many universities and colleges charge more for online courses, arguing that if done properly, online learning should cost no more and indeed can be done less expensively than on-campus teaching..

The issue of productivity and online learning will be the topic of further posts on this site through the fall, as I strive to identify models and principles of educational productivity and the role of online learning.

MOOCs

The mania continued during the summer, with San Jose State trying a new model to improve – somewhat successfully – their completion rate for MOOC-based credit courses. What the research shows is that learners taking MOOCs are often very different demographically from those taking credit courses in state universities (surprise, surprise).

WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies) has published a series of blog posts over the summer reflecting experiences in MOOC development, delivery and accreditation.

In a very thoughtful paper, Michael Peters attempts to set MOOCs within ‘a wider set of socio-technological changes that might be better explained within a theory of postindustrial education focusing on social media as the new culture.‘ This is one of the best papers I have read about where MOOCs fit into the broader ecology of education and society.

Copyright

Michael Geist reports that AUCC (the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) has just developed guidelines ‘that offer more detailed, specific recommendations for many common copyright uses within education environments.‘ I argue that through its legal action against York University, Access Copyright is deliberately clouding the clear principles around fair dealing laid down by recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions, and that as a result the AUCC guidelines appear to be more restrictive than necessary.

Building successful consortia

One way in which productivity could be improved is by avoiding waste and duplication in online learning, with universities and colleges working together rather than in competition. Two publications came out in the summer that looked at what made for successful collaboration or co-ordination across state /provincial systems.

WCET’s e-Learning Consortia Common Interest Group collected profiles and contact information for 48 consortia in both the USA and Canada (more are likely to be added.). For each consortium that responded, the profile includes their mission, a brief description, services that they offer, initiatives and interests, organizational documents, and contact information, including websites and social media.

University Business published an excellent article in August that sets out how four states in the U.S.A. – Georgia, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Florida – are co-ordinating their higher education online offerings from state institutions. I provided an extension of examples in Canada.

And apparently there was a meeting in Toronto in July between Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MCTU) bureaucrats and university and college presidents at which the setting up of a not-for-profit consortium to develop and deliver online degrees and diplomas across the province was discussed. However, this is strictly a rumour – there has been to date no official announcement about this.

iPads

Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the USA, will hand out to students 31,000 free iPads in September under a new $30 million program launched by the district. The plan is that all 640,000 students in the LAUSD will receive their own iPad by 2014.

Calls for papers

Two interesting calls for papers came out in the dog days of summer:

Forthcoming conferences

Myself, I’ll be speaking at:

End note

There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Now you can get on with your real work: educating students and changing the world. Good luck!

And if you have anything to add to significant developments over the summer – this is a very personal list – please do so. Sharing is good.

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