Distance education

Essay predicting radical change for higher education over next five years

Rising tuition, declining government subsidies, stagnant endowments, and increased competition are challenging higher education like never before. College and university leaders are struggling to understand where these changes will lead and how they can make higher education more affordable, more accessible, and of greater quality for an increasingly diverse and aspiring student. Based on our interaction with university leaders and policy makers, we believe that the timeline for transformational change has shortened to five years.  During this time, higher education will have moved from a provider-driven model to a consumer-driven one and, in so doing, upend a system that had endured for centuries.

Half a decade from now, almost all universities will offer their students the option of undertaking their coursework in high-demand degree programs online. However, online offerings will no longer be the competitive advantage they are today. Most online enrollment will be open or provisional and more than 80 percent of professional degree programs, such as MBA, RN-to-BSN, and M.Ed., will be earned online.  Additionally, by 2018, new types of widely accepted degrees will have emerged that are less time-consuming, less expensive, and more relevant to 21st century jobs.

The vast majority of on-campus students will be enrolled in some online courses, a movement already afoot, with the Sloan Consortium’s 2012 Survey of Online Learning finding that approximately a third of all U.S. college students took at least one online course during the fall 2011 term.  The increase of nearly 10 percent in online enrollments over the previous year is particularly meaningful given that overall enrollment declined in the United States for the first time in 15 years, and continued its decline across the developed world.

Foreign universities with growing stature and competitive pricing will be aggressively recruiting U.S. students for their online programs. With thousands of universities in the United States and around the world online, students will have more choices in higher education than in any other consumer category.  This unprecedented competition and the availability of many high-quality, low-priced options will have caused the tuition bubble to burst and the cost of attending college to tumble, putting even greater pressure on institutional budgets.

While the relative cost of instruction will have declined due to increased scale, the incomes of many professors providing online instruction will have risen sharply.  Some of these professors will have become the free agents of academe, with their courses widely accepted at both public and private universities around the world.

While some international students will continue to come to the United States to study, we expect that almost all enrollment growth at U.S. universities will come from international students enrolled in online programs. Some public and private universities will have reached iconic status, ushering in a new breed of multinational educational organizations. These large multinational universities will provide curriculum and instruction in multiple languages and offer competitive pricing designed to suit local markets. Capitalizing on their reputations, they will have become leading global brands with student bodies well in excess of 100,000 choosing from many newly added degree programs designed to meet demand in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and India.

As a result of greater use of technology in the delivery of higher education, construction of new buildings on the campuses of tax-supported institutions will have slowed significantly. At the same time, we expect that over the next five years university systems will be consolidating campuses at an increasing rate as trustees and legislators come to understand the economics of online learning and how vastly it can expand the reach of an institution. Companies like ours —  Academic Partnerships — are helping universities respond to this transformative moment in higher education.

Critics of the current university ranking system abound — and rightfully so. With metrics such as class size and alumni giving determining a university’s placement, these rankings will become even more antiquated amidst the fundamental changes we are now observing.  By 2018, we expect that the university ranking system will focus on consumer choice vis-a-vis growth as a key criterion, along with completion rates, the employability of a university’s graduates, and their subsequent job performance.

Universities will have become more transparent, publishing meaningful standardized metrics that permit consumers to better assess which university is right for them. The relationship between universities and employers will have changed as well, with these groups routinely working together to develop content for degree programs that is aligned with specific jobs and career-related competencies.

At the same time, we expect that a majority of college-bound students will graduate high school with some college credits and that several states will have converted the last year of high school to the first year of college. Entering college with a head start on credit hours and exposure to online programs, by 2018 most full-time students will be completing a four-year degree program in four years, compared to just 60 percent of students who do so today in six years.

We believe that public universities that have moved with urgency to embrace this new reality will thrive. And so, too, will the students they serve. By 2018, higher education will be truly globalized and we will see greatly expanded access, reduced costs, more virtual campuses, and, most important of all, the increased competitiveness of our universities and our students. That’s a future we should all embrace.

Randy Best is chairman of Academic Partnerships. Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, is a senior adviser to Academic Partnerships.

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Conference highlights culture and language as obstacles to higher ed reform

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Enough with the tsunami metaphors. At a conference on faculty work and student learning, attendees say language, not technology, is holding back efforts to change the liberal arts.

Stanford teams up with edX

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Stanford University, birthplace of two MOOC companies, decides to work with a nonprofit started by MIT and Harvard.

Florida and New York look to centralize and expand online education

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Florida and New York try to expand their online course catalogs while consolidating authority.

Noodle buys Lore LMS to help colleges take programs online

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Company established by founder of Princeton Review buys nascent e-learning platform, as part of plan to help colleges use technology to lower tuition.

Pulse podcast features interview with undercover online student

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This month's edition of The Pulse podcast features an interview with Gwen Burbank, an administrator at St. George’s University in Grenada, West Indies, who went undercover as an M.B.A. student in the university's online program.

Learners largely left out of digital bill of rights (essay)

A bunch of educators, several of whom I know and respect quite a bit, got together last month to write a "bill of rights" for online learners. Viewable and editable here.

They included the rights to access, privacy, openness, to create public knowledge, to "pedagogical transparency" (to understand the ways you are being taught and the value of any credentials offered), "financial transparency" (Where is my tuition money going? How will this “free course” be paid for?), to have great teachers, and to become teachers.

I can’t find myself disagreeing with anything much that they had to say, except for one screaming contradiction that brings the whole thing down.

"All too often, during such wrenching transitions, the voice of the learner gets muffled," this group wrote in their introduction.

The problem is, this group didn't include any learners. Of the 12 signatories, I count 8 Ph.D.s or Ph.D. equivalents. They didn’t reach out to any learners on public forums. They didn’t ask any learners what they wanted to put in the document. The voice of learners is absolutely silent.

Sure, we’re all lifelong and informal learners in some sense, but let’s draw a real distinction here. Let’s talk about people who don’t have a bachelor’s degree and need one or the equivalent to make a decent living and participate in society on an equal footing.  I’m not asking why the group didn’t poll Udacity users in Pakistan or Colombia, or YouMedia high school students in Chicago, or middle schoolers around the globe making their way through Khan Academy math videos, and find out exactly what their concerns are and how they would prefer to have them represented in such a document. Although really, it wouldn’t have taken much time or many resources to do this kind of research. I’m asking why they wrote a “learners’ bill of rights” without including one actual learner in their little group of 12.

I’m not going to be tendentious and draw parallels with other bills of rights. I’m not going to ask about the advisability of men writing a feminist Bill of Rights on behalf of the women they care about so deeply. Or of the North writing a bill of rights for Southerners after the Civil War.  Or of employers writing a bill of rights for their employees.

Suffice it to say that educators are in a historical position of no small authority over learners. And when one group of people with authority over another makes up the rights for the second group, they tend to get some things wrong.

The fact is, this isn’t a bill of rights for learners at all. It’s a set of principles to support the interests of a group of educators, who share concern for learners, blended with concern for their own group. They tip their hand in the eighth principle, “The right to have great teachers.”

“Students should expect -- indeed demand -- that the people arranging, mentoring and facilitating their learning online be financially, intellectually and pedagogically valued and supported by institutions of higher learning and by society. Teachers’ know-how and working conditions are students’ learning conditions.”

I am in favor of all who work with learners being fairly paid, and I am definitely in favor of great teachers. But I am not in favor of students being drafted onto the metaphorical or actual picket lines. Students in state four-year institutions are paying more and more of the salaries of their instructors and going into sometimes-extreme debt to do it. There’s an uncomfortable moment where the interests of the learners actually diverge from the interests of the career academics, and it should be discussed openly.

But enough. The authors intended this to be a living document, and I respect that there’s time to revise and collect comments from the hundreds of thousands of online learners out there. It’s not going to be that difficult.

When I first found out about this bill of rights, I posted it to OpenStudy, the online learning community. I got this response from an undergraduate computer science major within 45 minutes, which reads in part:

“you deserve education BASED ON WHAT YOU WANT TO DO IN LIFE..

Teach kids real world problems, and have them enjoy it…

Teachers/professors who care. In my time I have met a lot of wonderful professors, mentors, teachers, coaches, and a ton of HORRIBLE ones…

The job market sucks, and with students being taught the same thing, and not really learning what they wish it's hard to distinguish someone from the rest of the pack. If we want to succeed we need to produce students who enjoy learning, and have the tools to learn what THEY WANT TO LEARN."

Another wrote: "The rights I want in the ever-growing digital era are not anything different than what I would want outside of it. We have to expand these rights to be applicable into the digital world."

That’s a good start. Now there’s time to come up with a set of amendments -- a real learners’ bill of rights.

Anya Kamenetz is a writer and author of DIY U.

Essay on what professors can learn from MOOCs

Educators create online courses for the same reasons that they became teachers to begin with: to educate students, broaden their awareness of the world and thereby improve the students’ lives. And with massive open online courses (MOOCs), educators can now reach many more students at a time. But MOOCs offer many other benefits to the education community, including providing valuable lessons to the instructors who teach them.

Online courses inherently allow students to create their own pathways through the material, which forces educators to think about the content in new ways. And MOOCs offer professors fresh opportunities to observe how their peers teach, learn from one another’s successes and failures and swap tactics to keep students engaged. This is, in turn, makes them better teachers.

MOOCs are still the wild west of higher education, and there is no “one size fits all” approach to building one. At Coursera, we’ve been working with educators as they experiment with designing courses for this new format, and for a student body of unprecedented proportions. (For example, Duke University’s Think Again: How to Reason and Argue by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Ram Neta has more than 180,000 enrolled students.) We’re reimagining many aspects of what it means to teach a course, ranging from lecture delivery, to assignments, to strategies for engaging the online community of students.

While there are many resources for teachers to learn from when approaching online education, we’ve become aware that there is still a need for a central space for professors to share successful practices, ask each other questions, and showcase examples of what’s worked and what hasn’t in their online classes. Recently, we launched a course called Teaching a MOOC, open to all of the professors on the Coursera platform (we’ll be launching a free, public version soon). It functions like any of the courses we offer, including video lectures that offer guidelines for developing an online course for the first time, discussion forums and a gallery where professors can see examples from other classes. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

An educator who’s been teaching in a traditional classroom format faces many challenges and unknowns when creating an online course. The lecture creation process is different. The peer-graded homework is different. The process for managing your “classroom” is different. Even the copyright law requirements are different. Jeremy Adelman, a Princeton University professor who teaches A History of the World Since 1300, explains, “When you lecture into a recording box, it’s different from lecturing to students in person. I have a teaching style that relies on energy from students, and I had to figure out strategies that would transcend [that style] for my class on Coursera.”

Adelman discovered that in putting his course online, he became more focused on what students are experiencing, even though he wasn’t in direct contact with them. “When I lectured, I had to ask myself at all times ‘What is it that I want my students to learn?’ In the old-fashioned lecture hall I was an entertainer, more self-focused rather than teaching-focused, but I was not conscious of this dynamic until I put a course online for the first time,” he says. “For me, the lectures alone were a source of continuous learning and adaptation.”

Throughout the entire MOOC creation process, educators must constantly be student-focused, figuring out what is the most useful content for their students to experience next. With no admissions office, online students are vastly more diverse than the students in a typical college classroom. They vary in educational background, learning ability, and culture. Students are also at different points in their life, and range from teenagers to working professionals to retirees, and may have different learning goals. Educators have to make classes accessible without underestimating student ability.

Stanford professor Scott Klemmer was pleasantly surprised by his experience teaching a Human-Computer Interaction course. His class was the first to use peer grading (in fact, he worked with Daphne Koller and me to design Coursera’s current peer assessment system). After using self-assessment for six years in his class at Stanford, he thought there was “no way” that he could expect students to handle self- and peer-assessment online.

“But it worked amazingly well,” Klemmer explains. “When we surveyed students at the end of class, one of the things they rated highest, in terms of what taught them the most, was the act of assessing peers -- they found it extremely valuable. I put a huge amount of time into designing course materials based on rubrics and assessment techniques that I taught in my Stanford class on campus; I had no idea what it would mean to translate that into the online world.”

There has always been a tendency in distance education to focus on the physical barriers -- the distance between the professors and the students, and between the students themselves. Many people, including those in academia, believe there to be a broadcast quality to online lectures, with one person delivering lectures to students behind screens, where they can’t engage directly with the professor. They wonder, “If the professors don’t see their students, how can it be teaching?”

But through today's technological advancements, online courses are very much alive. They are part of an ecosystem that, if nurtured through community discussion forums, meetups, e-mails, and social media (like Google+ hangouts), can flourish and grow. This allows each class’s community to take on a life of its own, with a distinct culture that’s defined at least as much by the students as the instructor, and which even skillful instructors can only guide, but not control.  Nearly every instructor that I’ve spoken to has been surprised by the  deep desire of students to connect with each other as well as with the teaching staff and professor. 

University of Michigan professor Eric S. Rabkin found his experience teaching Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World incredibly enriching. “I had not anticipated the kindness and excitement I see in this large body of participants. Despite the potential for impersonality, I have received emails of thanks, of enthusiasm, of discovery. I have replied to some of those and some of my replies have been re-posted to the forums by the recipients. The community knows I care and, at first astonishingly to me, cares back. They care enough not only to spend time with each other but to share their experiences, some even through blogs of their own, with the wider world,” he says. “Amazingly, this feels somehow like a family. Not like a nuclear family, but like a suddenly discovered distant city brimming with eager cousins one had never known before.”

“I have been [teaching] the same way for years -- for decades and decades -- without being mindful of the changes in technology, the changes in our students. Online courses blow up the old conventions. But I think it will take us a while to figure out what works and what doesn’t work,” says Princeton professor Jeremy Adelman.

University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis, who teaches Modern & Contemporary American Poetry, says that teaching online has given him his “most extraordinary pedagogical experience” in 30 years of teaching. “The course is rigorous and fast-paced, and the material is difficult, but the spirit of curiosity and investigation among the students produced very good results,” he says. “Several eminent poetry critics joined the course to rate the quality of the students' critical writing and came away very impressed -- and surprised. We discovered that a qualitative, interactive humanities course can indeed work in the MOOC format."

With MOOCs, there is so much more potential for educators to go into each other’s classrooms and share resources with their peers.  We’re seeing this happen more and more, especially when it comes to professors adapting online course structures from other professors.

“Online education means that I have shared more stories with fellow professors about teaching than I had in the eight years I’ve spent teaching on campus,” says Stanford professor Scott Klemmer.

We might not have an answer to the question “What defines a high-impact MOOC?” just yet, but universities and professors who have taken the plunge are constantly learning and growing from their experiences. And what we’re seeing emerge from the trenches is an exciting new breed of education.

Author/s: 
Andrew Ng
Author's email: 
info@insidehighered.com

Andrew Ng is a co-founder of Coursera and a computer science faculty member at Stanford University. He is also director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, the main AI research organization at Stanford. In 2011, he led the development of Stanford University's main MOOC platform, and also taught an online machine learning class that was offered to over 100,000 students, leading to the founding of Coursera. Ng's goal is to give everyone in the world access to a high quality education, for free. His Twitter handle is @AndrewYNg.

Group drafts bill of rights for digital learners

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12 scholars and experts on technology and education propose a "bill of rights" for those who study online -- a first draft, they quickly emphasize.

Kirschner and Stimpson debate pros and cons of digital courses

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A stalwart of humanities and an online learning pioneer -- Catharine Stimpson and Ann Kirschner -- debate the pros and cons of technology-enabled higher education.

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