Bruce N. Chaloux, executive director and chief executive officer of the Sloan Consortium and a longtime leader in the online learning world, died suddenly over the weekend. Chaloux took the reins at Sloan, an association of professionals and institutions involved in digital education, in March 2012. Before that, he directed the Southern Regional Education Board's Electronic Campus, a market place of more than 10,000 digital courses, and previously worked at Virginia Tech and Castleton State College in Vermont.
"It is impossible to adequately put into words what Bruce Chaloux meant personally and professionally to each of us," said Meg Benke, Sloan's president and a faculty member in the Empire State College School for Graduate Studies. "He was more than the energetic CEO of our Consortium. He was our good-humored, kind and generous friend. He was an optimistic and dedicated leader who spent his last days doing what he loved: working diligently for online and adult learning opportunities here and around the world. His accomplishments are many, his networks extensive, and his unfinished business is still at hand."
If we’re serious about improving outcomes for our students, we need to make sure the digital transition happens — and happens soon. As I wrote last year, "I’m not talking about a slight or even gradual increase in e-book adoptions... I’m talking about a total transition from a reliance on print textbooks to a full embrace of digital content and learning systems."
For the most part, I’ve been encouraged by the response to the article – from educators, from the industry, and from the hallways of my own company. Yes, I’ve been told a few times that we shouldn’t view technology as a panacea (I don’t), but by far the most common reaction I heard was, "Three years, sounds great!”
Then: "Too bad there’s no way we can pull it off."
Oh ye of little faith.
With 12 months down and 24 to go until my suggested “digital deadline,” let’s take a look at how much progress we’ve made, how far we still have to go, and what I think the next 12 months will hold for the industry on the journey to our digital future.
Why Digital? Why Now?
The reasons why we need to keep our foot on the gas as we move toward our digital future are clear: Our students aren’t graduating with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful, but they are leaving college with plenty of debt, and in many cases, no degree at all.
As a result, students are turning their backs on higher education. The New York Times recently reported that college enrollment fell 2 percent in 2012-13, and that in 2013-2014: “traditional four-year, nonprofit colleges [will] begin a contraction that will last for several years.” While I fully support the idea of different pathways to success, I don’t think that a major shift away from higher education is good for our students – or our country.
These challenges are complex, but they can be addressed – at least in part – by digital. In addition to improving access and affordability, digital can help instructors deliver the type of personalized learning experiences that have the potential to not only boost engagement but make real improvements in grades and graduation rates. If this type of technology exists, why aren’t we doing everything possible to bring it into every classroom in the country?
At McGraw-Hill Higher Education, we’ve seen usage of two of our biggest digital products, LearnSmart and Connect, increase year-over-year by 43 percent and 29 percent, respectively. We’ve also invested more than $130 million in digital R&D over the past year. And before you say, "You’re only making that investment because you expect a return," let me say that you’re exactly right. Our biggest chance to achieve success as a company is to help instructors and students achieve success. People pay for results, and digital can help drive those results. It’s that simple. And we’re not the only education-focused company making such investments or seeing increased interest in digital products.
"Are We There Yet?" A Year in Review – and a Look Ahead
Last year, I cited a number of trends that illustrate one simple concept: technology is becoming a bigger part of our students’ lives. These trends continue: A July report from Wakefield Research revealed that 99 percent of current students have at least one digital device and 68 percent use at least three devices each day.
But more interesting, I think, is the acceptance of big data in higher education as a positive, disruptive force. Not only have we seen more colleges take a data-driven approach to improving student outcomes, we’ve seen data capture the popular imagination. Just take a look at Nate Silver, the statistician who accounted for nearly 20 percent of the web traffic of The New York Times leading up to the 2012 presidential election.
Ed tech has made similar strides. In general, today's technology is more needs-focused, more thoroughly driven by data and research, and provides a user experience that, if not quite on par with what’s offered by the consumer tech world already, has narrowed the gap considerably.
We’ve also seen adaptive learning become a household term. Not only did the industry’s adaptive learning products become better thanks to system refinements and more student data, but we also saw adaptive technology reach into new areas of the learning experience, including e-books and virtual labs.
It’s also quickly gaining the confidence of educators. A 2013 Inside Higher Ed survey revealed that 66 percent of college and university presidents see the potential of adaptive learning to make a positive impact on higher education. And while presidents and faculty members don’t always see eye-to-eye on every use of technology, Inside Higher Ed’s survey of faculty members on technology found that 61 percent of instructors believe that adaptive learning has great potential to have a positive impact on higher education. With more data, more applications, better user experiences, and demonstrated efficacy, I think that greater usage of adaptive learning is the biggest lock of 2013-14.
And then, of course: MOOCs. It seems hard to believe now, but my first article one year ago made not one single mention of MOOCs. MOOCs have been a major story for the past year, for better and for worse. The future of MOOCs is still very much unwritten, but the important thing is that we saw a come-from-nowhere technology disrupt higher education, and instead of running away from it, many colleges decided to embrace it.
Over the next year, the hype around MOOCs may fade a bit, but their quality and credibility will increase. MOOCs shouldn't be faulted for not always living up to everyone's hopes in Year 1. Now, with the spotlight a little dimmer, we'll see them better-position students for success by integrating results-driving technologies like adaptive learning and ultimately become a more viable alternative for higher education.
Finally, we've seen institutions use technology to help rethink the very idea of how a higher education institution should operate. I love how Southern New Hampshire University is using technology to shift to a competency-based model, and I expect many more institutions to follow suit over the next year. We've only just started realizing how technology can impact not just the learning experience but the entire structure of the educational system. We might even see top students earning degrees in as little as a year. It’s amazing how the digital transformation can accelerate when colleges begin to think about technology as an organization.
The Road Ahead
When I think about what stands in the way of the shift to digital, I keep coming back to seven deadly words: "We’ve never done it that way before." It’s a type of thinking that is, unfortunately, still too common in education, and one that we must break away from in order to move forward. Because if we hold on to the past we must realize that we're holding onto something that's broken.
One thing, however, should not change, and that's the importance of instructors. There are some who see an inverse relationship between teaching and technology; who believe that adopting technology necessarily means marginalizing the role of the instructor. I just don't see this to be the case. Technology's goal is to help instructors provide more efficient, effective instruction. It's the means, not the end.
A few more things I think we’ll see over the next 12 months:
Major learning companies offering some print products only through a custom or "on demand" model. I can say for sure that this will be the case at McGraw-Hill Higher Education. And one day in the not-so-distant future, we won’t offer those print products at all.
New models for affordable, accredited education. MOOCs won't be the only game in town, as a slate of new players will find a way to deliver high quality, low cost (but not free) higher education that leads to a degree.
More colleges institutionalizing data collection and analysis. These capabilities can't be developed overnight, but in 2013-2014, we'll pass the tipping point of colleges and universities using data to drive what we at McGraw-Hill Education refer to as The Big 3: results, recruitment and retention.
The continued relevance of content. As Peter Kafka of AllThingsD recently tweeted: “Tech guy to content guy: You're screwed! Now, please help me build my business.” Even the best technology in the world still must be paired with trusted, proven content in order to be effective, and I think the future of our industry belongs to companies who can provide the best of both worlds.
Twenty-four months out from the digital deadline, our progress is good. As an industry, we have a clear understanding of the problems we face and how digital technology can help solve them, and there’s a general spirit of collaboration among colleges, learning companies and start-ups that is moving us, together, in the right direction. It’s inspiring, and it’s something I can’t say I’ve ever felt before.
They say that you never notice change happening and then one day it just hits you. Consider this your friendly 24-month warning.
Brian Kibby is president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
The chancellor's office of the California Community Colleges has adopted a rule requiring all publicly funded grant and contract work funded by the chancellor's office be covered by a Creative Commons license, which authorizes use by others provided that acknowledgement is provided to the creator of the work. This means that academic or financial tools created with grants from the chancellor's office will be produced in ways that one college could use another's work. A statement from Chancellor Brice W. Harris said: "The tax-paying public shouldn’t be required to pay twice or more to access and use educational materials, first via the funding of the research and development of educational resources and then again when they purchase materials like textbooks they helped fund. So, ultimately this decision to change the board’s regulations will save taxpayers money over time."
Submitted by Ry Rivard on September 12, 2013 - 3:00am
After months on the fence, Wake Forest University officials decided to join a partnership created by the company 2U to access a pool of for-credit online courses offered by more than a half dozen universities.
The effort, known as Semester Online, proved controversial at Wake Forest's North Carolina neighbor, Duke University, where faculty shot down the idea in April. Wake Forest took its time before joining and at one point questioned the Semester Online business model. But following a faculty vote on Monday that gave the green light, the university announced Wednesday it will join the consortium, which includes the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Northwestern University and the University of Notre Dame.
“We have engaged in an ongoing campus-wide dialogue about how Wake Forest might best utilize online tools and other technological innovations to effectively enhance our high-touch, face-to-face educational experience," said Provost Rogan Kersh in a statement. "Semester Online is the first online program that is able to offer this level of engagement to our students and faculty.”
I know! I know! Everyone is sick to death of debating the pros and cons of MOOCs, the massive online courses that, depending on your viewpoint, will be the downfall or resurrection of higher education. But what's getting lost in all the noise is that MOOCs are far from the only game in town when it comes to online education.
Key in determining the effectiveness of a course, both online and on the ground, is how actively it is being taught and how effectively it is engaging students.
Educators are creating and tweaking a number of very different learning models to engage students in "active learning," both in the physical classroom and the virtual world – often in intriguing combinations.
Based on innumerable conversations with faculty, students, administrators, staff, and the general public, the following are the three most important things I know about the role distance education plays in higher education today and about how to create high-quality programs.
Distance education is not a singular thing.
Educators and administrators often use only the terms "synchronous" and "asynchronous" to differentiate among distance education models. But the most critical descriptor of distance education models has nothing to do with the extent of live instruction; rather, it is the extent to which a course is "actively taught."
On one side of the active-teaching spectrum is a "course-in-a-box" -- a course with pre-built media assets meant to stand alone, with minimal or no involvement or intervention by the faculty. MOOCs, for instance, often consist of pre-recorded high-production video and automated assessments. If the faculty member were to disappear or otherwise disengage from the course, the course would still exist. The thousands of students in the MOOC could simply press the play button on the screen, answer automatically graded test questions and otherwise enter input as appropriate. And, of course, the size of the MOOC is nearly limitless, subject only to technology capacity constraints.
On the other side of this spectrum is the very actively taught class. Independent of media assets available to students, faculty teach. They communicate with students, lead discussion, provide feedback, and otherwise engage. If a faculty member were to stop teaching, the class would cease to exist. Typically, such actively taught courses are smaller and require that faculty know and interact with students much more intimately, more like a seminar than a lecture hall.
Some MOOCs employ teaching assistants, striving for modest interaction with students. However, in most cases, the scale of MOOCs overwhelms even multiple instructors; plus, TAs are, by definition, not faculty. Thus, while MOOCs may be great for personal enrichment, most are not yet appropriate for college credit, given that they are largely unresponsive to the learning needs of any given student.
The questions being asked about effective distance education aren’t all that different from those concerning "traditional" teaching models.
Just as with traditional education, one the greatest challenges of distance education is how to better engage students. Traditional educators often discuss the role of lecture, discussion, feedback, group projects and peer assessment. Today they also talk about "flipping the classroom" so that lectures and other didactic material are recorded and made available to students outside of class. Class time can then be reserved for discussion and application.
Understanding that student engagement is highly correlated to active teaching, distance educators are addressing the very same issues. The "course in a box" model is rarely engaging - many MOOCs create very passive experiences for students, who are required to watch hours of video and answer machine-graded multiple choice questions.
That said, some "course in a box" exceptions come close to rivaling substantive live interactions. Simulations, games, and other online modules in which students must solve problems and make decisions within an automated environment can be very effective teaching tools that adapt to students’ varying levels of skill and mastery. Fully adaptive learning technologies may, in fact, be more engaging than traditional teaching, given that students’ learning experiences may be customized to individual needs.
Of course, not even all traditional education is "active." A professor’s recitation of pre-written 75-minute lectures twice a week for an entire term would hardly be more active than simply recording those lectures and posting them on a website. An actively taught traditional course, like a distance education course, would require the faculty member to engage much more intimately with students through discussion, feedback, and more.
While some asynchronous models have no active teaching element -- including many MOOCs -- others rely on highly active and present faculty to asynchronously engage with students. Asynchronous communications, including group discussion boards, blogs, and wikis, can lead to more substantive exploration of course material than live, in-person conversations. Some faculty report that asynchronous communications allow students to better digest and consider others’ opinions while constructing their own beliefs, and can lead to deeper and more robust discussions.
Putting aside the aforementioned adaptive and interactive learning technologies (which are still relatively rare), an active teacher can better understand the needs of each student and differentiate instruction, customizing discussion and explanations as appropriate. Non-active teaching -- whether through distance or traditional education -- tends to be inflexible and monolithic.
Faculty conversations about distance education are shifting markedly.
Faculty today are less interested in debating the quality of distance education and how much a student can learn. Perhaps the launch of edX by MIT and Harvard opened the gates -- suddenly high-profile, top-notch universities were committing to distance education with significant resources, searching for new ways of teaching and learning.
For whatever reason, today’s conversations by faculty focus less on quality and more on the qualities of distance education. Many express concern that a distance course may be deficient at enhancing cognition, emotion and interpersonal relationship-building, or at developing the "whole student." These are reasonable concerns. No serious distance educator would ever suggest that distance education fully supplants the benefits of a live in-person experience. Rather, we argue that the loss of face-to-face benefits in a classroom can be mitigated in a distance learning environment if students achieve the intended learning outcomes while benefiting from convenience and increased access to higher education.
Faculty are also keenly interested in the impact of distance education on higher education broadly and the faculty workforce specifically. Given that distance courses can be taught by faculty anywhere in the world to students anywhere in the world, they question whether distance education will result in a sort of standardization of curriculum, fewer faculty at their home institutions, and lower standard of quality.
While not unreasonable, such questions must be considered within the context of how distance education is evolving. If today’s MOOCs become widely available for credit, concern would be merited. However, if most credit-bearing distance education is "actively taught," then the risks are lessened, if only because the costs of actively taught distance education can be just as great as the costs of traditional education.
Besides, without dramatic change, institutions of higher education, many of which are in financial distress, face a highly uncertain future. The question to ponder: how a future with distance education compares to all other possible futures for higher education.
Joel Shapiro is associate dean of academics at Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies and has taught in and led distance education programming at Northwestern for more than six years.