Public universities have a long history of adapting to technological change, but they must speed up their embrace of online education -- and work together to do so -- to remain at the forefront of educating the citizens of their states and the country, argues a new report from two Washington research groups. "State U Online," from the New America Foundation and Education Sector, traces the history of public universities and of online education and suggests that major public universities have been slower than other sectors -- especially for-profit higher education -- to incorporate digital learning into their offerings. The author, Rachel Fishman of New America, argues that the institutions are best positioned to offer a high-quality, affordable digital education that is "grounded in public values," and offers a roadmap for doing so, including creating a clearinghouse where state institutions can "collaborate to provide an easy-to-search library of online courses and degrees," sharing contracts for digital platforms and online support services to meet multiple institutions' needs, and sharing credentialing beyond state borders.
The Minerva Project, the San Francisco-based "hybrid university" trying to appeal to top-tier students that plans to open in 2015, announced Monday that it has joined with a Nobel laureate to offer a $500,000 prize each year to a distinguished educator. Roger Kornberg, a Stanford University professor who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, is governor of the newly created Minerva Academy, which will award the prize. The prize is "designed to recognize extraordinary advancements in teaching excellence and impact" in higher education.
Sometime in the next few months the Digital Learning Lab that I manage at Howard University will survey the websites of the 105 officially designated historically black colleges and universities, just as it has done in previous years, in order to determine which HBCUs are offering online degrees that are based on credit courses that deliver at least 80 percent of their content via the Web.
The higher education media have interpreted our previous reports as showing that HBCUs "lag" non-HBCUs in their production of online programs -- which is true.
The media have then explicitly stated or strongly implied that this "slow" pace was "bad" and that HBCUs should produce more online degrees at a faster pace -- which, IMHO, is a highly counterproductive value judgment.
Contrary to the torrents of hype about how online programs will save higher education that have filled the media in the last year or so, especially in the wake of the MOOC tsunami, online courses -- i.e., courses that deliver more than 80 percent of their content over the Web -- and online degree programs aren't good enough for everyone... yet.
Please note the qualifiers "good enough" and "yet." Even the best-designed online courses still require students to have higher motivation, a greater capacity to study alone, better time management skills, stronger fundamental math and language skills, and stronger study skills -- e.g., organizing notes during reviews for homework and tests, extracting correct interpretations from reading texts, listening to audio, viewing video presentations, etc. -- than do face-to-face or blended courses.
These prerequisites for online success will surely fade in the coming years as adaptive e-learning technologies enable online courses to be tailored to the prior knowledge, aptitudes, and learning styles of individual students, and as social media and other support tools become as effective as office hours and face-to-face tutorials. But at the present time colleges and universities should actively discourage students who lack these prerequisites from taking online courses and actively encourage them to take blended or face-to-face courses.
Given their historic commitment to providing opportunities for higher education to black students who have been academically handicapped by circumstances beyond their control, HBCUs should deliberately "lag" non-HBCUs that have not made such commitments with regard to the percentage of HBCU courses and degrees that are offered in online formats. This is not to say that HBCUs should not produce online courses and degree programs, just that they should not be as quick to do so as non-HBCUs because they have deliberately enrolled a higher percentage of students for whom online formats are not good enough ... yet
HBCUs should invest a higher percentage of their limited resources to provide training and financial incentives for their faculty members to upgrade traditional face-to-face courses to blended/hybrid formats. Recent research confirms expectations from common sense that blended courses are more effective for a higher percentage of students than either traditional face-to-face courses or courses offered in online formats.
Online courses and programs are the most advanced segments of a broad array of rapidly evolving e-learning technologies that are generally characterized as "disruptive." The descriptor is apt, but misleading. Too often the term is used to describe profound innovations that organizations fail to adopt, rather than strategic opportunities that were seized. Existential threats are nothing new to HBCUs. Each generation of HBCU leaders has taken office with a clear understanding that their success or failure would determine whether their institutions would survive into the next generation.
So the current leaders understand that they have no choice but to act on the certain knowledge that their HBCUs must disrupt or die. More specifically, they must embrace the mix of new e-learning technologies that will work best for their HBCUs as fast as possible, but no faster -- regardless of what Harvard or Stanford or MIT is doing.
Roy L Beasley is a member of the senior staff of Howard University, but the views expressed here are his own.
Harvard University secretly searched two e-mail accounts of a resident dean, not just one, as the university previously admitted, The Boston Globe reported. The university acknowledged the additional searching Tuesday in a meeting with faculty members. University officials said that their goal was to protect the confidentiality rights of students caught up in a cheating scandal. But the e-mail searches have angered many faculty members. Drew Faust, the president, announced that she has asked a lawyer to study the full extent of the e-mail searches, and that she is creating a committee to develop recommendations about the issue of e-mail privacy.
Harvard University on Monday sent a letter to thousands of alumni, asking them to volunteer to serve as discussion leaders for a new massive open online course based on a class they took at the university, The New York Times reported. The professor who teaches "The Ancient Greek Hero," said he was thrilled with the idea of a MOOC reaching many more students than he could in Cambridge. But Claudia Filos, editor of content and social media for the course, said that there was a need for more help with discussions. She said that, in some MOOCs, discussions "tend to run off the rails." Alumni who volunteer will be screened before taking on duties monitoring and helping to guide discussions.
The University of Melbourne is a member of Coursera, one of the primary (and U.S.-based) platforms for massive open online courses. But an all-Australian MOOC platform was launched today, The Conversation reported. Several universities are already signed up to offer free courses through the platform, called Open2Study.