Taking Credit (out of the equation)

I note that my last three posts have all been about MOOCs. I think I’m MOOC-d out, although the combination of the M-word and the V-word (Virginia – as in University of) have, for me, totally confirmed that Higher Ed. change is afoot. There can be no turning back. Stuff is happening, things are changing, the only real question that remains as far as I see it, is What’s stopping us all really hitting SEND?

The UVa case brings up the G-word – Governance: more pertinently preceded with the word Shared. Shared Governance; the amazing concept that people with totally different agendas, world views and degrees of ethos, will collaborate collegially and set the course for their institutions according to their bylaws, history and mission. On that front my advice to a newcomer to an institution would be simply: work out how it works – in all its dysfunctional glory. If the real discussions happen around the water cooler or at the football field – be there. If the provost’s admin assistant is the real power broker on campus and donuts get you in her good books, go Dunkin’ on her/him. Whatever it takes…

Governance is impervious to being fixed. Somehow it works and no degree of AAU guidance will make it uniform or rational. A university’s governance works only at that university. Where one university takes 12 minutes to approve a new concept, another may take 12 years. Good concepts that genuinely benefit the institution (academically, fiscally, politically, aesthetically) all will go through. Some will lead, others will follow, a few will kick, scream and moan about how it was way better in a mythical golden age. Deal with that – you signed up to be Associate Vice President  For Innovative New Ventures and Annoying the Faculty – now make it work…

So – I think I’m saying that all change is possible while nothing is simple. Given that, let’s take on a decent challenge. Not technology, not price, not incrementally changing senior administrators, not that life isn’t fair as MIT have deeper pockets. Let’s take on Credits. In my opinion Credits are the enemy.

Credits are artificial packages of pretend competencies. They are charged at way too high a rate, they complicate transfers, they encourage academic silos and they prove nothing or worth to employers or society at large. They are a means of billing, price inflation and encapsulate all that is wrong and inefficient in higher education – Credits are evil.

Employers don’t look at credits – they look at the degree. They don’t want the pretend competencies that 3 or 4 credits supposedly represent, they want real competencies. In a traditional general ed. program the credit boundaries simply dissuade collaboration and the creation of efficiencies between departments and hence for students.

Look at Lumina, LEAP, The Institute of the Future and almost any organization that has analyzed critical skills needed in 2020 society, and you’ll see remarkable alignment around six or seven key elements.

Inquiry/Analysis, Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking/Problem Solving, Information/ICT literacy and Quantitative Literacy.

Look carefully at academic undergraduate / associates level syllabi in terms of (when you scratch the surface) how many courses and faculty do actually have these elements addressed. If I were a student looking to master these key skills I might query why having demonstrated that I am a brilliant critical thinker in FIVE classes, do I need to keep jumping through that same hoop, again and again, in a sixth, then a seventh, often in new contexts, evaluated in incrementally different ways by first a historian, then by a mathematics instructor, then by a lit. professor?

Unbundling syllabi with their (often) poorly written learning outcomes and aligning concrete materials with focused assessments provides the context and connections for improved learning. Independent graders and/or standardized tests can confirm that students REALLY DO GET these core elements. Separating curriculum from term times would mean that students can practice then demonstrate competencies clearly and repeatedly at their own pace, building on prior learning, working in areas that provide intrinsic motivation for them personally. It is super that in a typical Gen Ed / General Studies course students will be exposed to the literary giants and will learn (some) key dates in the history of Rome? Europe? The US? (as dictated by faculty whim), but isn’t the bigger goal the competencies? What will make the student succeed in the world? If (s)he is able to develop passions for certain aspects of the general curriculum then that’s great but realistically they don’t have to be passionate about every aspect that a Gen Ed committee patches together to placate seven different departments.

Compare and contrast: as a provider of education which is a better “product”? One where you separate out essential skills, provide practice, feedback around those key competencies (the 6 listed above). And when all are done –a degree that really reflects a valuable skill-set. No more having to graduate the student who hung around for six years and wearied enough faculty members to be shuffled off with a number of credits – maybe not even enough to amount to a qualification, tens of thousands of dollars in the hole.

A focus on credits mean high charges, slow pace, and inefficiencies.
A focus on competencies allows for greater efficiency, leverage of prior learning, real support, real achievement and clear motivation (these skills will help me in my career and in my life).

Employers will still see a degree from institute X, the pleasant surprise will be that it will represent a skill-set rather than a worthless measure of endurance. Learning constant, time variable not the other way around.
Time to graduation, costs and inefficiencies all reduced, motivation, retention and actual competencies all up, registrars with less to worry about, faculty less angst-ridden having to pass students who haven’t really “got it”

Death to Credits! – makes true innovation feasible, even palatable, reduces barriers to change and heck, could even make MOOCs worth talking about (again).

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MOOC-washing

A colleague of mine sent the following Inside Higher Ed article this morning,entitled Without Credit it speaks to the search for a viable model to generate revenue out of MOOCs

In response I mentioned that I’m claim the phrase “MOOC-washing” (for disruptive Education wannabes) which so reminds me of Greenwashing in the sustainability movement 10-15 years ago..

– The article merely demonstrates that there IS no real game changer until someone works out a revenue model that is neither (100,0000 enrollments  x free) nor this model of  an “Enhanced MOOC” – Emperor’s new clothes anyone – guess what ?- It’s an online class  for credit costing $300-$400-$500 per credit. Known in some circles as traditional online.

The entrenched, perceived value of the Credit as THE proxy for learning is the real brake on much of this innovation.

There are two key possibilities regarding the CREDIT and it’s centrality to all things.

  • Option 1 – Alternative to credits (Certificates / Badges etc) – these will only succeed if there is some recognized norming or development of an Industry Standard. Something tangible that employers will recognize as currency – this is a long way off in my opinion
  • Option 2 – completely decouple competencies from credits and have all students forced to “show and tell” competencies in a very Open format that proves to employers (undeniably) their employ-ability – this would likely be portfolio or third party standard testing (or a blend)

Given that Option 1 is glacial and outside of anyone’s clear control, I vote Option 2 as the viable game-changer within the next 18 months or so. There will be issues – lingering vestiges of “seat-time” although most people seem to be beyond that now, and the need for collaboration between faculty / departments to get them to agree on what ARE core competencies and how they can be demonstrated.

This model may work better at lower levels (associates rather than Graduate), but I believe that with fresh set of eyes and open rather than turf-war mindsets, we could really produce something innovative and truly disruptive. I LOVE MOOCs but they will not transform Higher Ed. “Enhanced MOOCs” sounds like an attempt to be “down with the kids” without actually doing much of anything innovative at all.

Let’s think outside the box, blow it all up and start again – just pretend you’ve never heard of CREDITS…

Angry Birds – again

Clearly I am connecting with Mindflash today on many levels. David Kelly has a great post on What Angry Birds can tell us about Instructional Design. If you only have 1 minute to skim his paragraph headings do so – I agree 100% – as evidence see my many posts and the fact that many colleagues roll their eyes as I have discussed gamification (game principles rather than simulations) one too many times over the last couple of years…

My earlier posts on this subject:
January 2011 –  Game theory applied to online
Gamification January 2012

 

BTW – assuming he’s not THIS David Kelly – although that would be awesome !

The instructor role in a FLIPPED class

I blogged about this a while back – how the instructor role can be reinvented, rather than threatened by effective application of technology and process.
I was, obviously, more focused on an online or hybrid class environment, but I believe the same applies to instructors who embrace, rather than run from, elements that allow them to focus on the “what’s really cool about teaching (and learning)…. insert discipline here
Ian Stewart’s post today references instructors who value class time so highly that they would not dream of doing drill and kill or lecturing to a passive audience.
He writes: “By focusing that valuable face-to-face classroom time on exercises that put the lessons learned during lectures into actual practice (doing the homework at school), instructors are supporting the part of the learning process (the “doing”) that students really retain. That is, since students learn the most by implementing theories they’ve learned into real-life work, it makes sense to use as much of your 50-minute in-person session on that as possible.”

My recent work at SNHU has been focused on what we’ve called transitional text that is going to help provide students with the guidance and hopefully some of the impetus to get them from OER resource #1 to #2 and #27, then back to take a self-check quiz or post an assignment. Interesting (flow-inducing) resources and the students’ own intrinsic motivation may get some of them down that path to success, but the main? challenge for online can, and indeed should, be how to convey that passion that a true scholar in the field has developed – how to ignite the fire, illustrate the end point, and viscerally engage the drowsing? student…

Stewart, in what is looking like a pact among Scottish-sounding ed-theorists, references Andrew Miller, who writes that a “flipped” classroom still requires instructors to demonstrate the value of their content, whether online or offline. “Just because I record something, or use a recorded material, does not mean that my students will want to watch, nor see the relevance in watching it,” he writes. ” … If the flipped classroom is truly to become innovative, then it must be paired with transparent and/or embedded reason[s] to know the content.”

Both these posts confirm for me that there is a great opportunity in “unbundling” the instructor role – allowing technology and online (peer-to-peer) communities to deal with some of the things that they can take off an instructor’s plate, allowing her/him the chance to get back to inspiring, motivating and Captain-my-captain-ing.

Stewart’s post here: In ‘Flipped’ Classroom, the Emphasis must be on support, not video”

Can Apple “fix” textbooks?

Big announcement coming January 19th in New York City – Steve Job’s legacy to “fix” or “save” the publishing industry in the same way that he “saved” the music industry.
Those of us who gave up illegal downloading of music back in 2001-2 have fond memories of the likes of Kazaa, before people with viruses (a.k.a. Music company executives) – started to embed them in Eminem tracks… Those days seemed to have both potential and threat; a whole industry was feeling cornered, lines were drawn and the no-man’s land between was one that even Michael Morpurgo* couldn’t see a way through (* somewhat obscure reference explained below)

Then came iTunes and Jobs’ brilliance was to develop a business plan that solved a social problem and made BILLIONS of dollars for his company before anyone else saw the possibilities.
Fast forward and for Music Industry, read Publishing Industry; for expensive CDs, read (ridiculously) expensive textbooks and for 99 cent songs, read 99 cent chapters…

To be fair to them, the (traditional) publishers have given it a go but they have been labo(u)ring with a model that is no longer sustainable and they seemed to miss, or were in denial about, the cultural and societal shift from the Yahoo model to Google (expert opinion to wisdom of the crowd). As Clayton Christensen observes, it is difficult for a successful industry to disrupt itself. The tipping point in this case had to, and did, come from the outsider – Open Source / Open Courseware / OER / Open Publishers that have sprung up and the demand for that particular “Bag of Gold” (Gardner Campbell)

Here’s what Apple need to announce:
1) we are partnering or soon will with every publisher on the planet (I know that’s ambitious, but this is the big Apple in the Big Apple)
2) we will have a drag and drop, platform agnostic interface that will allow anyone to select chapters from any texts and turn them into a custom text
3) chapters will cost 99c a time – no exceptions
4) texts that are produced will be immediately accessible by any student, on any device, from anywhere, for $10
5) we will get society away from print as that kills trees – hey, they got us off CDs and into e-songs
6) the texts will be able to incorporate OER and self-published elements at no charge

Flatworld Knowledge are the best model I know and already achieve many of the above, but I fear that they may just get swallowed up by a major publisher who assimilates their content and charges 3x the price. (and on a personal level, all the guys I have worked with at Flatworld will be super rich and won’t return my calls anymore)

Apple might just be the one giant player with the power – and the spirit of Jobs – to get this, no pun intended, job done.
January 19th happens to be my son’s 12th birthday –  perhaps I can give him (notice of) affordable textbooks as a gift – I can see his little face light up as he says, “what do you mean no DS games??!!”

GO APPLE!

ps – Michael Morpurgo wrote Warhorse – Spielberg’s new movie – involves, war, a horse, the trenches in Europe, no-man’s land and some illegal downloads of MP3s…