July 29, 2014

Guest post: a review of the Ontario government’s discussion paper on transforming post-secondary education

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Ontario (2012) Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge Toronto ON: Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

in the ides of summer (June 27), the Ontario provincial government published this very interesting discussion paper about the future of the Ontario post-secondary/higher education system.I am delighted to have a guest post from Dr. Tom Carey that reviews the paper.

 Tom is a Research Professor at San Diego State University and a Visiting Scholar and Adjunct Professor at the Technology-Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute of Athabasca University. Tom was formerly a professor, faculty development leader and Associate Vice-President for Learning Resources and Innovation at the University of Waterloo, and recently completed a term as Senior Partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching  in Stanford, California. Here is his post:

Purpose of the discussion paper

“As our government begins the process of transforming the higher education sector”…well, that line in a discussion paper from the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is sure to motivate interest from institutions, faculty, students and anyone else connected to higher education in the province (even if the discussion paper was released just before the Canada Day holiday weekend, typically a dead zone for attention).

 “This paper and the resulting consultation process seek to identify ways to improve productivity through innovation in the Ontario PSE system. Increased innovation…will improve student learning options, meet the needs of lifelong learners, enhance quality, and ensure long-term financial sustainability…in addition to addressing the priorities of acceleration, productivity, technology, quality and student choice.”

Context

Let’s start with three bits of context. First, the current government in Ontario has been a strong supporter of post-secondary education, sparing colleges and universities – along with the schools and health – from the worst of the trimming applied to other expense areas in the 2012 budget. The stated goal is to maintain a leadership role for the province in post-secondary education: while other regions in North America strive to catch up to where Ontario is now, the government intends to move the goalposts to a rate of 70% of Ontario’s adult population attaining some form of post-secondary credential.

Secondly, no amount of good will from government can insulate the colleges and universities from the reality of unsustainable costs. Annual cost increases greater than growth in the economy can’t go on, and the discussion paper cites a number of global trends requiring that the sector provide access for more students and raise the bar on student outcomes for higher quality.

Finally, the discussion paper emphasizes Innovation through Productivity, reflecting a theme appearing across the government. The paper references the larger agenda to realize the goal that “Ontario’s economy is an Innovation Economy” and the words Innovation and Productivity each appear on average once per page. Often they appear together: “How do we further strengthen the culture of innovation in the sector in order to enhance quality and productivity? What are the barriers and roadblocks to innovation and productivity today?” By linking these terms so strongly, the discussion paper may have managed to secure the dreaded P-word a place in the discussion with college and university faculty.

Implications for online learning

Let’s focus now on the implications for online learning (others have commented elsewhere on the wider issues).  The section Around the World in Post-Secondary Education highlights the growing importance of online learning. Two excerpts will convey some of the tone:

    • Technology-enhanced learning…can enable new ways for students to learn from and interact with faculty and each other…digital delivery of course content can free faculty in traditional institutions to engage in direct dialogue and mentorship with students”.  Notice the finesse around the issue of non-traditional institutions, and the stubborn persistence of a delivery metaphor for education.
    • “Technology is driving world-wide changes in education, and it is important that Ontario recognize and respond to these changes so that credentials from Ontario PSE institutions hold their high value.” 

This could be interpreted in many ways. On one level it may be saying that if Ontario institutions fall behind in their use of technology to support learning, their image and credibility internationally will suffer – witness the rush of elite institutions jumping on the MOOC bandwagon (well, content delivery MOOCs at least, not a more connectivist model) to stay in step with their aspirational peers.

On another level, the point being made could be around productivity gains in order to preserve value in high quality outcomes as enrolment expands without commensurate funding increases. And on another level yet – OK, I don’t really think our friends in the Ministry are going this far – the point may be that we need to prepare students for a world where personal networks, online communities and fluid, opportunistic learning will be the norm for developing capability in our careers and in our lives as community members and global citizens.

Consultations

The last half of the paper then sets the stage for the ongoing consultations with the sector, which have an aggressive timetable for completion over the summer. Each of the major discussion topics gets a page to tweak interest: Expanded Credential Options and Supplements, Credit Transfer and Student Mobility (an area where the discussion paper acknowledges Ontario’s trailing-edge position), Year-Round Learning, Quality Teaching and Learning Outcomes, Technology-Enabled Learning Opportunities, Tuition Frameworks, Entrepreneurial and Experiential Learning.

Is this a radical change for online learning in Ontario?

Readers of this weblog will recognize that online learning actually has a role to play in advancing each of these areas: we can’t talk about supplements to a transcript, for example, without delving into e-portfolios. So it is a bit disappointing that the page of discussion issues specific to Technology-Enhanced Learning is limited to impacts on traditional modes of instruction: capably done, as far as it goes, but does it go far enough? There are a couple of issues that may suggest the government is prepared to think about more radical change – sharing course development services across institutions, a degree-granting Ontario Online Institute (still with no budget more than two years after announcement) – but overall this is not a report that rocks the boat where online learning is concerned.

And that is the concern I am left with after digesting the discussion paper: however realistically it may reflect life on the ground in the province’s post-secondary sector, however worthwhile it may be to discuss these suggestions, there is no radical innovation (let alone anything disruptive) and nothing that has not already occurred in other jurisdictions. If a discussion paper emphasizes the need for innovation but restricts itself to only incremental change, will it ultimately refute its own argument?

Tom Carey

 

A new blended model for a for-profit/not-for-profit college aimed at Latinos in the USA

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Fain, P. (2012) New college, new model, Inside Higher Education, May 7

This is a nugget for those interested in new business models for universities.

Ameritas, launched last week, blends for-profit and nonprofit elements and has a singular focus on Latinos who are working adults. It is part of Brandman University, a private, nonprofit institution with 26 campuses in California and Washington. Co-located at four campuses in Southern California’s Inland Empire, Ameritas will offer relatively low-cost, accelerated associate and bachelor degree tracks. Its curriculum is designed to “crack the code” of helping Latinos get to graduation, administrators said.

The fees are pitched slightly higher than state universities, but the aim is to improve the graduation rates for Latino students in the USA: the goal is for two-thirds or more to graduate from a four-year program within 6 years. The collegewide standard will be a three-hour, in-person class each week, with roughly 2.5 hours of additional online classwork.

What makes it particularly interesting though is the business model. You will need to read the article in full to understand what is in reality a complex funding arrangement. Ameritas is a subsidiary of a not-for-profit private university (Brandman) but the start-up costs are coming mainly from venture capitalists who will expect a return on investment. (How is it possible for a not-for-profit college to own a for-profit subsidiary? Did I hear you say: Only in the USA?!).

Why am I interested in this? Well, just south of the USA border, some state universities in Mexico, such as UNAM, are turning away 90% or more of applicants. There is a huge gap in Mexico between supply and demand. Mexico in fact has a high proportion of private universities, some of them excellent, such as Tec de Monterrey, but their fees are at the high end. The new emerging lower middle class, the sons and daughters of the new automobile and manufacturing companies in Mexico, are demanding post-secondary education, but the Mexican states aren’t building new universities fast enough, and this lower middle class cannot afford the high fees of top private universities. In any case there is a shortage of qualified academic staff to fill such positions (many state university professors in Mexico do not have a Ph.D.).

Mexico is not alone – other BRIC countries such as India, China and Brazil, and other countries such as Indonesia, are facing similar problems. If some entrepreneurs can find a way to provide quality post-secondary education at a cost this emerging lower middle class can afford, this will ease the pressure somewhat, especially in countries where tax revenues follow rather than lead economic growth.

However, a business model that will provide fully cost-recoverable quality education from ‘affordable’ fees alone, will also need new models of teaching that maximise the use of the scarce resource of qualified professors. If we are to see reform in higher education, it is likely to come through this kind of initiative rather than from the MITs and Stanford’s use of OERs, or from MOOCs, which don’t deal with the demand for full degrees. This is not an argument for the privatization of higher education (or a criticism of MOOCs or edX), but for new models of teaching and learning for the formal post-secondary education sector.

I think these new models are increasingly likely to come from the private sector, because the rewards for innovation are greater there than in the public sector. Or maybe the public sector will respond and innovate faster – what do you think?

Designing online learning for the 21st century

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Quebec students demonstrating against higher tuition fees

This being the time of year when many Canadian post-secondary institutions offer faculty development opportunities, I have been busy the last two or three weeks giving lectures at the Université de Sherbrooke and Université Laval in Québec, and also at Vancouver Community College. Although the presentations have varied a little depending on the context, the main theme of my presentations has been fairly consistent.

A new paradigm for post-secondary teaching

I have been talking about how new web 2.0 technologies are beginning to change the dominant teaching model that has been around  in our post-secondary institutions for the last century and a half. The slides are available as pdf files, in both English and French. Because of the size of the files (31 MB), you will need to access them by Dropbox. Please send me an e-mail and I will give you access.

I provide below a short summary of the main points. The slides provide many examples drawn mainly from post-secondary institutions in British Columbia and Ontario.

Drivers of change

I suggest that there are several forces driving change:

  • a move to a system of mass higher education, that results in greater diversity of the student body, larger classes, and less funding per student
  • consequently higher fees which in turn drive students to part-time work and hence a need for more flexibility in access (this ‘driver’ was particularly pertinent in Québec, where massive student demonstrations and strikes against proposed increases in tuition were occurring while I was speaking)
  • the development of a knowledge-based society with a strong demand for what might be called 21st century skills
  • rapid technological development and adoption outside the academy.

Despite these changes though our campus-based teaching has changed very little, mainly adding new technologies such as lecture capture to the traditional model of teaching, thus increasing costs: we’ve added GPS and stereo sound to a horse and cart, but it’s still a horse and cart. Meanwhile, distance education has rapidly advanced, and is grabbing an increasing share of the post-secondary market.

The challenge then is for campus-based teaching. What is the best way to use the campus experience when students can learn mainly online? How can we make the best of both worlds as a teacher?

21st century skills

Although I don’t like the term, it is a handy way of describing the kind of skills that need to be embedded within a discipline area, if learners are to function effectively in 21st century society. I argue that these are not generic skills but skills that need to be directly adapted and integrated within a particular knowledge domain. For instance, problem solving in medicine is different from problem-solving in business. Skills require opportunities for practice and development. The core 21st century skill is knowledge management, the ability to find, evaluate, analyse and apply information, although almost as important is independent learning. These are skills that can be taught, or perhaps more accurately, facilitated.

A small design team contracted by Volkswagen

Changing technology

I described the following changes in technologies:

  • LMSs are changing, moving from a ‘course in a box’ to a loose collection of tools from which an instructor chooses (see: Why learning management systems are not going away)
  • examples of the use of the following:
    • WordPress, blogs, wikis and e-portfolios for learner-generated content;
    • video and audio to help learners move between the concrete and abstract and back again;
    • open educational resources, which challenge our conception of curriculum and ownership of content; and
    • virtual worlds.

Features of web 2.0

  • learner authoring and control
  • collaboration and sharing
  • collective intelligence
  • low cost, adaptable software
  • rich media
  • portability and mobility

Educational implications

  • learners have powerful tools
  • personalization and individualization of learning
  • open access, content, services
  • development of knowledge management skills
  • a power shift from instructors to learners

A new paradigm for learning: from e-learning 1.0 to 2.0

Stephen Downes’ articulation of e-learning 2.0:

  • learning managed by the learner
  • peer-to-peer collaboration
  • access to open content
  • learning demonstrated by online multimedia assignments (e.g. e-portfolios)
  • development of 21st century skills

© Tony Bates, 2012

Role of instructor

Three possible roles (at least):

  • none (Downes; Siemens): students are autonomous/self-directed
  • guide on the side
  • in control

What kind of course? How to decide

Four deciding factors:

  • teaching philosophy
  • students you want to reach
  • nature of subject matter
  • resources available

© Tony Bates, 2012

‘Advanced’ online course design

  • knowledge management
  • open content within a learning design
  • student-generated multimedia content
  • assessment by e-portfolios

Who decides what kind of course?

  • instructor; program team; senior management?
  • decisions at program level; a progression from dependent to independent to inter-dependent learning
  • could we design one course/program for all types of learners in various delivery modes?
  • what process/mechanisms does the institution have for making these decisions?

Conclusions

  • we know how to teach well online; follow best practice
  • however, we also need to innovate: incrementally and evaluate
  • innovation in teaching needs to be rewarded more
  • systematic training of both instructors and senior administrations is essential for success

Lastly, in all the institutions I went to the audience in general agreed that:

  • we are not teaching in ways that fully engage learners
  • instructors are not fully leveraging the potential of technology for teaching
  • instructors are not adequately trained or skilled in using technology for teaching.

There are clear signs though that the revolution is beginning to happen: vive la révolution!

New resources for online educators from Contact North

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Over the last few months, Contact North has been gradually adding an impressive range of online resources to its Educator Portal. As well as the numerous articles already available for free downloading or online access, there are several more in the pipeline. Each has been developed by leading experts in the topic area who are collaborating with Contact North.

 The resources are organized under the following headings:

Resources

Beyond learning management systems?: This study examines recent developments in LMSs and the impact of new web 2.0 technologies on LMSs. The introductory paper is already posted, and the main research report, the executive briefing, and the summary will be posted soon.

Cloud computing – education will never be the same discusses the opportunities and risks that cloud computing presents for the post-secondary education sector, what we can learn from how some are already making use of this technology, and how we proceed from here. This is the first in a series.

Ten guiding principles for the use of technology in learning is already available. This is a set of guiding principles, which has informed Contact North’s planning and served its network well over the past number of years.

 Open educational resources (OER) – Opportunities for Ontario is already available and discusses how can we leverage OER and what are the obstacles to moving forward.

A Template for Strategic Planning in Online Learning in Ontario Colleges and Universities is already available and provides a template in the form of a check list that can help institutions to frame the planning process.  The template consists of specific questions that need to be addressed if an institution has decided to make a strategic commitment to online learning.

 Publications on Technology in Education is a ragbag of different papers (some from secondary sources) on various topics related to the use of technology in learning.

A border simulation in a virtual world from Loyalist College, Ontario

Innovation

Pockets of innovation is very interesting. Currently it contains 25 case studies of innovation in online learning within individual Ontario post-secondary institutions, with another 25 at least to come. It provides a unique insight into what is actually happening at the grassroots level in Ontario post-secondary education. This group of articles on innovation will be reviewed in detail in a later post, but there are some excellent examples in this list.

Share your story invites Ontario instructors to share their innovative practices by contacting Contact North and being a case study for the series.

Research 

Online learning researchers (in Ontario) is a searchable database of almost 160 researchers working at public educational institutions conducting research in the fields of online and digital learning. The database is also searchable by research topic. The web site for each researcher is also available.

Tell us about you and your research invites Ontario researchers in online learning to join the database and collaborate with other researchers

Training

Faculty and instructor training programs showcases the current 70 faculty and instructor training programs at Ontario’s public colleges and universities and provides opportunities for institutions to collaborate and build on current training programs. The database of programs is also searchable by topic.

Professional development is a dynamic online repository of nearly 300 worldwide professional development opportunities that support skills and capacity of faculty and instructors with respect to the innovative use of technology in post-secondary education and training. Events are posted from around the world, where the primary language of interaction will be in English.

Learning platforms training lists training opportunities for instructors on Contact North’s web conferencing, audio conferencing and video conferencing systems

Training resources provides a range of downloadable training documents for the effective use of Contact North’s web conferencing platform, Saba Centra.

Trends and directions

This section provides up-to-date and relevant information on trends and directions in online learning, some from secondary sources. They include:

My own 2012 Outlook for online learning and distance education

Three videos from Sir John Daniel that challenge what we think we know about post-secondary education

Fast Forward: how emerging technologies are transforming education and training

Five critical challenges with far reaching consequences for online learning

Lifelong learning as a key driver of innovation in post-secondary education in Ontario

Perspectives on Online Learning by [12] Ontario College and University Presidents

Strategic Directions for e-learning in Canada (by me)

The top 10 reasons why Ontario is #1 in online learning in Canada (not by me).

News Room

News on developments that affect online learning in Ontario are posted by month

Comment

This is a very quick overview of a wide range of resources, and I hope provides enough information for you to go in and pick and choose what you are interested in. Further resources will continue to be added to the site each month. Although some of the resources are specific either to Contact North partners or to Ontario, many are generic and will be of value for most online educators.

As mentioned earlier, in subsequent posts I will be going into more detail regarding some of the articles, especially those that are provocative, and also in some cases I will ask the authors to do a guest blog on their topic..

Happy reading!

MIT to develop new Open Learning Enterprise unit for online learning

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Reif, L. (2012) Letter to the community on appointment of Open Learning Enterprise director MIT News, March 16

News Office (2012) Anant Agarwal named director of new unit to advance MITx, MIT News, March 16

There are some interesting developments in online learning at MIT, following on from the launch of their MITx initiative.

The main instructor who developed the first MITx course, Professor Anant Agarwal, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has been appointed by the Provost to set up a new unit:

‘an Open Learning Enterprise (working title) at MIT, which is charged with developing a robust, open-source technology platform for interactive, pedagogically effective online learning, and working with MIT faculty to create content to be hosted on the platform.

Dr. Agarwal’s initial goals are the rapid organization of the enterprise, the rapid development of a technology platform for online courses and the development of high-quality MITx subjects.

MIT will make the open-learning software available free of cost, so that others… can leverage the same software for their online education offerings.

MITx will be coupled with an Institute-wide research initiative into online learning that will study how students, whether on campus or part of a virtual community, learn most effectively.’

Comment

First, I welcome the fact that MIT is putting time and resources to creating an organizational structure to support and develop open courses that will be widely available. This is a welcome extension of the successful MITx initiative.

However, I am surprised that MIT finds the need to develop yet another open source platform. I’m wondering how this will differ from say Sakai or Moodle or the host of new cloud based open source LMSs now hitting the market?

I would have thought the main priority would be to build a long term, sustainable business model for MITx, or will this be dependent on the very generous endowments and charity foundations that MIT has access to? (If so, then that’s a pity, since it’s not a transferable model).

My second priority would be to get more courses out the door. Only then would I look to see if I needed to develop a new platform.

I was also surprised to see that MIT will now be doing research into how students learn most effectively. Again, I welcome this, but will this be carried out by electrical and  mechanical engineers (as is implied in the press release), and will they take account of the great deal of research that has already been done on this – or is this another case of MIT hubris? (I look forward to qualified but unemployed philosophers designing and building free bridges for cash-strapped US states. The principle is the same.)

Underlying all this is the question of who ‘owns’ online learning, engineers or educators? Most people won’t care, as long as it works, but in general, I am against the principles of both reinventing the wheel, or making big mistakes in teaching which result in learners suffering.

My suggestion: get MIT to appoint some professionals with experience in online teaching and research to work with the subject experts. Then we may have excellent innovations in online learning that work for everyone. Maybe this is happening already, but if so, these other professionals aren’t getting the recognition in MIT press releases.

In the meantime, I wish Professor Agarwal and MIT the best of luck in this new initiative. I hope it is truly successful.