The flurry of late 2011 news has certainly made making predictions about technology and higher education fun.
The announcement about MITx -- MIT's plans to offer certification ("for a modest fee") for open courseware -- was the year's final shot across the bow of higher education. Beware, it seemed to indicate: things are changing. No doubt, 2011 was a year of shrinking government funding for education, rising student debt, rising unemployment among college grads (gasp! people questioned the value of a college diploma!) and growing private sector investment in education companies. 2012 will likely bring more of the same.
As such it's both easy and difficult to make predictions. "There will be more integration of technology into the classroom" is an easy one. "This will be fraught with privacy and security and pedagogical concerns" is another. But in many ways, we've had these same sorts of conversations about education technology for years now. Will things be different in 2012? If so, why? (If not, why not?)
I do think we're at a point where we could see great change in education -- at universities as well as at the K-12 level. Those are driven by technology, true, but also myriad other economic factors. The predictions I have to make about higher education for 2012 occur at that intersection: new technologies, new economies, new business models … and the fallout therewith.
Accreditation: As I noted, MIT's announcement about a credentialing program for an online class was a significant one. It comes on the heels of Stanford's successful online engineering courses this fall. Both offer informal learners the opportunity for "credit" -- or at least a form letter from a professor or program. Alongside these developments come Mozilla's Open Badges project, an alternative model for recognizing skills and mastery that comes with an open source, open technology infrastructure. Add to that, the ability now for people to create their own online portfolios, where they can demonstrate what they do, what they do -- with or without the blessing of a college diploma. What will "count" in 2012 as "higher education"?
Peer to Peer: "Social learning" is nothing new. Social networking and social media have highlighted its potential, however (ah, such is the power of the "social" adjective), particularly when it comes to online learning opportunities. Much emphasis has been put into getting educational content online. But I think learners are going to demand more than just "content." They want community. They want fellow learners that they can chat and work and interact and compare themselves with.
Robot Grader / Adaptive Learning: The investments late last year in Knewton and Grockit were an indication of big things to come in 2012 for adaptive learning. It's the promise of big data and machine learning -- that the millions of students that are taking computerized courses that get their lessons gauged to their skill-level. It's the promise of a personalized education, so the story goes. WIth the interest in these sorts of algorithmic answers to grading and content delivery, there'll be a lot of efforts this year to refine these approaches to instruction and remediation. The online Artificial Intelligence classes at MITx and Stanford will be at the forefront of new tools for assessment -- the first robot grader
Labor Issues: Oh wait, were you (are you) a grader? Did you get a small stipend as a TA or graduate student to grade papers and exams? Feeling replaced by artificial intelligence, by a system that can scan student homework and autocorrect it? Ouch. If so, I'm sorry. Honestly, I don't want to color academics here as a group of Luddites, fearing their replacement by industrial systems. I think it's important to ask: how does technology change "the work," the labor of teaching -- that includes teaching online, maintaining online forums for student engagement, being available/accessible to students online (i.e. 24/7) versus offline, etc. etc. I think we'll see a lot more upheaval around this topic in 2012, particularly in a tough economy, in an institution increasingly reliant on adjuncts and robots.
OER: The quantity and the quality and the momentum put open educational resources in a strong position for 2012. One area in particular to watch is how the publishing industry responds. After all, the textbook as we know it seems particularly vulnerable to the disassembling that OER can provide. Students are already angry about textbook costs, and I don't believe we'll find them too loyal to the printed textbook. But the alternative has to be cheaper and "better." It has to suit their needs for note-taking and sharing. But openly licensed content doesn't just mean the materials that professors assign and students read. How will the inhabitants of academia (professors and students) license and share their own work? Will we see more open content in 2012? Or will academic retreat to its tower?
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