A consortium of small colleges and universities in developing nations around the world is collaborating on a multidisciplinary course that delivers many of the merits of MOOCs but also provides experiential education directed at pressing local needs. The desired result of this pilot is a powerful blend of multidisciplinary scholarly perspectives, global insights from direct interactions with academics around the world, and applied experience such as comes from helping host communities confront barriers to their sustainable development.
Massive open online courses are invaluable sources of knowledge delivered to every corner of every continent. One can hardly overstate the revolutionary and potentially empowering contribution of MOOCs toward human development as they stream information across recently bridged digital divides. However, what’s missing from this Internet-delivered treasure trove is the focused insight and skill that comes from analyzing, understanding, and working on issues of local importance.
MOOCs from major universities in the United States or Britain are necessarily sweeping in scope – and often laced with informative case studies – but they rarely if ever speak to the specific conditions and challenges that a given student experiences every day. In this respect, MOOCs are geographically generic, lacking the capacity to drill down to the granular details and nuanced elements of a regional issue. So while institutions of higher learning will do well to tap MOOCs for their powerhouse instructors and insightfully articulated content, they should also look to the development needs of their host communities for learning opportunities that provide direct experience, not to mention the rewards that come from confronting, analyzing, understanding, and surmounting a local challenge.
American University of Nigeria (AUN) is trying to reconcile the efficiency of MOOCs in knowledge-sharing with the skill-building experience that comes from community service that is directly tied to local needs. In the pilot course described here, we are introducing a third element, which has an intimate connection with local issues in other parts of the world, not just in reading or videos, but through the receipt of tailored content from and interaction with participating faculty from around the globe.
The subject matter for the pilot course is water; the venues are Africa, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Lebanon, and the United States. The course, entitled Global Explorations of Water, is multidisciplinary, exquisitely relevant, and locally originated, albeit from multiple communities. Water is of course supremely important in all the venues, but in different ways that call for a breadth of understanding and versatility of analysis.
The course grew out of the work of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA), a Great Lakes Colleges Association-based initiative dedicated to supporting liberal arts in higher education and fostering global connections among faculty members in both teaching and research. For several years, GLAA has hosted workshops that convene professors from many disciplines and countries for training and facilitated interactions. Last summer’s three-day workshop at the College of Wooster focused on water in the fullest spirit of the liberal arts tradition, with a rich potpourri of lectures, exhibitions, performances and field trips in art, faith, science, policy, technology, and management. The attendees from the countries listed above spoke to their region’s most pressing issues surrounding water. For instance AUN’s representative described desertification and flooding that arises from deforestation; Forman Christian College’s (Pakistan) attendees discussed agriculture and biofuels.
The faculty member from Earlham College addressed environmental justice in the Great Lakes region. Other colleges brought forth similarly diverse and pertinent issues and perspectives.
The course’s design and delivery is straightforward, requiring no special software. Faculty members select, develop and post their content in one of a number of places on the web, sometimes videotaping classroom lectures and other times simply speaking into their computers and referencing accompanying presentation slides. The online materials are available to students and faculty members at any of the participating institutions. Several faculty members have taken themselves or their classes into the field, videotaping hilltop mini-lectures, discussions, and interviews with stakeholders on local water issues.
The switchboard for the course is a website that provides basic information and points to the pertinent content on the web, be it faculty-posted materials, TED Talks, or literary readings.
Videoconferencing is another, powerful element of the course. The interactions between African students and faculty from abroad add a dimension that reading or videos never could. For instance, we at AUN have had students briefly describe their assignments to faculty from widely varying disciplines and geographies to receive feedback and perspective that a single local instructor could scarcely offer.
As mentioned above, this fall’s pilot offering is driven by AUN, whose faculty and students post the lion’s share of content. Faculty from other countries and disciplines who participated in the GLAA workshop are also posting content on regional water issues that speaks to their expertise, addresses their local challenges, and tailors itself to the overall themes of the course.
Although AUN students are the only ones participating in this pilot course, the content and lessons learned will be available next spring to the faculty in Pakistan, Lebanon, Bulgaria, and the U.S., as well as a possible sequel at AUN. It will be the instructors’ prerogative to select among the already available web-posted content, to develop and post their own, and to assign their students the appropriate community-based learning experience. To access this content, the instructor may choose to develop his or her own switchboard website. The instructors will also have the chance to arrange video conferences with their colleagues from afar. Looking forward, Global Explorations of Water will likely become a “cumulative course,” updated each semester with new content while drawing retrospectively on content from earlier offerings. The richer and more diverse this content – and the greater the selection available to a given instructor – the more the course will assume the merits of a MOOC, although never at the expense of local relevance and experiential learning.
Charles C Reith is interim provost and director of sustainability at American University of Nigeria.
The study abroad provider Living Routes will close its doors after the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, citing health and safety concerns, suspends its affiliation agreement with the organization.
An agreement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will pave the way for more collaboration among the universities in both parts of Ireland, Times Higher Educationreported. The Northern Ireland government will provide some financial support to the Republic of Ireland's research grant program. Going forward, Northern Ireland universities will now be able to apply for support for joint research efforts as long as they also involve an Irish university outside of Northern Ireland.
In a new requirement, applicants to the Rhodes Scholarship must attest that they received no outside help at all in writing their personal essays, certifying at the conclusion of the essay, “I attest that this essay is my own work and is wholly truthful. Neither it nor any earlier draft has been edited by anyone other than me, nor has anyone else reviewed it to provide me with suggestions to improve it. I understand that any such editing or review would disqualify my application.”
The new requirements also speak to the responsibilities of universities in endorsing candidates for the Rhodes, asking that university officials likewise certify that, to the best of their knowledge, the institution did not provide any editorial review of the applicant's essay.
In a letter explaining the new requirements, Rhodes officials wrote, “For many years, we have required U.S. applicants to attest, with their signature, that their required essays are their 'own work.' But it has become apparent that this attestation is not taken as we have intended. Many essays are now edited extensively and repeatedly by advisors, fellowship offices, university instructors, family and others. We are no longer confident that the essays reflect the writing ability and style of the applicants, nor, even more important, that they reflect accurately applicants' true personal goals, values and aspirations.”
The letter also states that “In an age of grade inflation and resume burnishing, the essay – and the unassisted and candid letters we directly solicit from referees – are very important ingredients in our effort to make a fair assessment against our criteria of selection.”
A Chilean university affiliated with the for-profit education company Laureate International Universities has lost its final bid to appeal the revocation of its institutional accreditation. The university reported on its website that the National Education Council has rejected its final appeal, a decision that means that new students will be ineligible for government-backed loans.
In deciding not to renew the Universidad de Las Américas' accreditation in October, the National Accreditation Commission cited the 34,000-student university’s unsatisfactory graduation rates and its rapid enrollment growth: while the number of students rose by 36 percent over three years, the increase in instructors failed to keep pace. The commission also raised concerns about the finances of the university, finding that while spending on academic salaries was low, the amount spent on leases and educational and administrative services provided by companies related to Laureate was substantial. Under Chilean law universities must be nonprofit but they may be affiliated with for-profit entities like Laureate that they contract with for services.
UDLA plans to reapply for institutional accreditation but must wait two years before doing so.
“For more than 25 years, UDLA has played a significant role in expanding access to quality higher education for tens of thousands of students who would otherwise not have had the opportunity to pursue a university degree,” Laureate said in a statement. “As institutional accreditation is voluntary in Chile, this ruling will not stop UDLA from continuing to provide its students with strong academic and career-oriented programs."
A judge has ruled a taped interview of an alleged killer conducted as part of a sociology study off-limits to Montreal police, The Globe and Mailreported. Luka Magnotta, a stripper and porn actor accused of killing and dismembering a 33-year-old Chinese student, participated in a study on the sociology of sex work conducted by two University of Ottawa professors in 2007, five years before the alleged murder took place. After reviewing a transcript of the tape, Justice Sophie Bourque of the Quebec Superior Court ruled that while the right to confidentiality in academic research is not absolute and must be weighed against other societal goals, in this case the harm to academic research done in releasing the tape would outweigh the benefit.