Davis has experienced periodic LMS outages for years, ever since it began to outsource maintenance of the system. But it is hardly the only university to suffer from this type of outage, and it is certainly worth considering what higher education institutions can do to avoid such situations. One of the first steps should be rethinking the role and position of IT professionals on campuses.
The people who choose, order, install, build and maintain IT systems on campuses usually have job titles like IT (maybe network) specialist or instructional (web) designer, and are in some branch of the campus org chart under the chief information officer. Such IT service staff almost never have the title “professor,” which means they are unlikely to have tenure.
We think that's unfortunate, because people who make decisions about ed-tech infrastructure need to hear from experts who have the freedom to speak on behalf of what's best for education, not just what's best for a university's bottom line. After all, if ed tech really is the future of education, these colleagues of ours will play a vital role in determining what that future will look like. That means they need the protections of academic freedom, which means they need to be able to earn tenure.
Of course, not all IT staff do the kind of work that justifies the possibility of tenure. The IT professionals who do hardware and network installation, repair work, and other support tasks shouldn't be faculty members. But other IT workers who choose and set up complex systems, work with students and faculty members on pedagogy and research, have advanced and highly specialized training, and who are expected to research and develop new systems for their universities should be faculty and should therefore be eligible to earn tenure.
The situation is similar in university libraries. A library, be it one with miles of stacks housing blocks of wood pulp or simply an air-conditioned server room full of electronic resources, is an essential component of any true university. Librarians affect education, even if they don't run their own classes. The American Library Association's Core Values of Librarianship closely resemble the values codified as academic freedom for more traditional faculty. Some library personnel who do tasks like reshelving books do not qualify for tenure, but certain IT staff could have an expectation of scholarly output, would be given positions in faculty governing bodies, would receive support for attendance at conferences, and so on.
Why should universities extend tenure to a new class of workers at a time when they're taking it away from so many other employees? Quite simply, it will save them money in the long run. If Davis had given its IT specialists tenure, they might have been much more likely to speak out against outsourcing their LMS maintenance. And if there hadn’t been so many outages, perhaps that institution wouldn't have required as many people to respond to each one.
Similarly, at a recent conference, a university IT professional (whom we leave anonymous to protect his job), told us that it would be impossible to use free, open-source software on his campus because the administration liked the control of having a contract with a commercial software vendor. Free software is said to require more and more qualified IT staff, but it still might be cheaper than a paid approach, because it doesn't require expensive licensing fees. This would also leave those IT staff free to customize the open-source software and to innovate with other members of the university community.
Industry generally pays much better than academe, so it can be highly competitive for a higher education institution to hire skilled IT professionals. But the job stability that comes with tenure could be an employee benefit for universities to offer those employees with skills in high demand. This is, in fact, a problem that universities have already solved: they attract people to faculty positions in law, business and the many other fields where there is lucrative employment outside academe by offering other incentives, such as job stability and the possibility to take risks, innovate and expand human knowledge.
Now, however, without the ability to speak freely, campus IT staff can as often be an obstacle as an aid in finding the best solutions that use IT. They usually enforce the use of the particular tools that the administration has purchased or licensed, with minimal regard to whether those tools actually solve the real problems of education or research.
It is unclear to us whether a change in perspective is at all possible with such IT professionals located where they now are on most campus organization charts. That's the main reason why we think the decision makers in IT merit tenure and the academic freedom that comes with it. Giving them protection and stability would co-opt them to work on behalf of scholarship and research, making of them allies of the rest of the faculty and not enforcers of a particular IT regime.
Without extending tenure to IT professionals, campuses will continue to spend money on expensive commercial IT systems and the inferior ed-tech tools that generally come with them. Moreover, the people who tend those systems will not be the kind of innovative individuals that institutions generally try to hire for positions on their regular faculty. Since IT professionals will play an ever-growing role in educational decision making in our increasingly wired campuses, giving them the same protections as regular faculty members is both economical and logical. To do otherwise is to risk forfeiting all the educational benefits that technology can bring.
So, with all the controversy swirling around students’ use of laptops in the classroom, have you decided to prohibit them or not?
Advocates of allowing laptops took a took a punch in the gut with a recent study out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finding that students -- unable to resist the Sirens of the internet during class -- performed better when laptops were not permitted in the classroom.
Of course, as with critical-thinking courses and outcomes assessment, everyone and their dean has a theory on the subject. As a longtime advocate of permitting laptops, my intuition has been that we who took notes by hand back in the age of pens and paper simply can’t appreciate that keyboard note taking is more efficient for today’s students weaned on computers. I concede the high distractibility quotient of laptops and can accept the MIT study’s claim that they depress performance. I’m just not persuaded that our students are scampering around cyberspace at a much higher rate and to a significantly worse effect than in the days of yore when we daydreamed, doodled and passed notes in class.
And I’m not convinced that, at the level of higher education, efforts to enforce attention aren’t a bit too paternalistic. Perhaps banning laptops deprives the internet surfer of the important life lesson that, in the end, cutting corners has consequences.
Given that, why have I now changed my mind and defected to the opponents of laptops in the classroom?
Because, almost without fail, when I call on a student who’s been clacking away taking notes during class to apply a rule or concept under discussion, their eyes instantly dart down to the laptop screen in front of them as they scroll through the notes they’ve just taken to find the answer. One would have thought I’d asked a court reporter to read the last sentence back. Since the question normally requires the student to use, rather than simply repeat, material they’ve just typed into their machine, they do not find the answer and set off on a futile treasure hunt through all their notes to locate it.
My best guess is that today’s students’ keyboard skills are sufficient to allow them to mindlessly record what’s said in class, like a secretary too hurriedly taking dictation to think about what’s actually being said.
I haven’t been a student myself lately (as the allusion to secretaries taking dictation makes pretty clear), but I don’t recall being able by hand to record verbatim what was being discussed in class. Instead, I believe we were forced -- due to the relatively slow rate at which one can take handwritten notes -- to grasp, paraphrase and summarize in more or less outline form the information we were taking down. Laptops may, in other words, convert students into tape recorders whereby learning is postponed till whenever the transcript of a class is reviewed, corrupted by imperfections in the transcripts and impeded by the resultant inability to ask questions in class. Paradoxically then, inefficiency in the speed of note taking may help infuse an understanding of the subject matter into the notes.
I will break the news of my defection to the dark side of the laptop issue to future classes in the following way: effective note taking is not a one-step process where classroom content travels directly into your laptop via your hands, which, it appears to me, is the natural route of laptop note taking. Instead, it is a two-step process where the material must first travel through your mind, to be inspected and rewrapped, and only then recorded via your hands.
A neuroscientist may well cringe at my explanation. On the other hand, without the benefit of the better of the two note-taking methods, he or she may have had a harder time becoming a neuroscientist in the first place.
Jay Sterling Silver is a law professor at St. Thomas University School of Law.
Over the past two decades, and across the nation, the university has been undergoing profound changes. These structural changes underpin an emergent philosophy of the new university today -- one that should give pause to anyone concerned about the direction of higher education.
For much of the 20th century, and especially after World War II, the university served as the vehicle of upward mobility, the principal pathway to securing a middle-class and eventually upper-middle-class life. Yet that prevailing 20th-century model of the university began to give way in the late 1980s, slowly at first and then more dramatically and visibly with the onset of the new millennium.
Beginning in the early 1990s, conservative and vocal state legislatures began increasingly questioning the use of public funds by state universities for specific “liberal” courses, programs and hires. The mounting attack on affirmative action admissions and hiring in higher education, as one example, coincided with stagnation in middle-class wages brought on by an increasingly anemic American economy. One recession after another (1993 to 1995, 2002 to 2004, and 2008 to the present) further stimulated a downward spiral of public funding for higher education.
The result? Once seen to be an investment in a reliably upwardly middle-class life for millions, higher education is no longer viewed as a presumptive public good. Instead, we have seen the demonization by conservative politicians and public commentators of the university as the bastion of liberal values. This has been accompanied by an ideological “imperative” of austerity, a centralizing of administration and board oversight at the expense of faculty governance, and a focus on the professions and work preparation (STEM, technology, business and law) as the dominant if not singular goal of higher education at the expense of the human sciences and the arts. All these trends have profoundly transformed how the university is understood and how it conceives and organizes itself.
It is perhaps completely understandable that higher education would be fiscally impacted and forced to adapt to trying economic conditions. Moving beyond the shortsighted extent of the state budget cuts, however, what is most disturbing is the way the fiscal challenges have been tied to a radically new and largely implicit -- let alone thoroughly untested -- concept of what and who the university is for and how it should be run.
Indeed, too many universities have been reorganized to privilege revenue-generating ventures and restructured along contemporary corporate lines. Administrative staffing, planning and oversight have outstripped academic faculty and intellectual imperatives and appointments. Faculty governance is being hollowed out, more frequently replaced with top-down organizational mandates with less and less substantive faculty consultation. The logics of an accounting and audit culture have assumed a central place in organizational purpose.
At the same time, administrative functionality on the ground has shifted more and more to the shoulders of individual faculty members and their departments, as too have an increasing proportion of the ordinary operational costs. Room rentals, cleaning, after-hours heating or air-conditioning and, in some cases, increased bandwidth all come with a fee structure to be borne by the academic units initiating the requests. Faculty phone lines have been cut in the interest of savings, relying instead on personal cell phone accounts. Mandatory unpaid holidays -- over end-of-year breaks, for example -- have become a matter of course. In short, units and individuals are being held responsible for covering the costs of their own infrastructural needs.
In this shifting landscape, entrepreneurialism has tended to outrun critical pushback from faculty and students. Consultancy work, spin-off start-ups, corporate ventures and the pursuit of outside grants are emerging as the main means of supporting and supplementing academic work, costs, even salaries. Indirect cost recovery now makes up an increasingly significant proportion of annual university budgeting, both institutionally and individually (in the latter instance, paying for the research and graduate student and postdoctoral support, as well as to cover operating and material costs, such as phones, computers, academic support staff and so on). Perhaps the most visible examples of profit-seeking companies that have been successfully spun off from faculty efforts are the MOOC ventures, Udacity and Coursera -- both created by Stanford University faculty. But they are far from alone.
This logic of faculty enterprise impacts undergraduate teaching, too, now disproportionately provided by adjunct or contingent instructors. Contingent faculty members, including adjuncts, have increased from 43 percent of the teaching force in 1975 to more than 70 percent today. And the growing erosion of tenure at major universities, as represented most notably by the Wisconsin university system, along with irregular salary increases and dwindling research support from within public institutions, suggest the creeping “casualization” of work conditions for ladder-rank faculty, as well.
These developments have gone hand in glove with spiraling competition both for research funding and tenure-track positions. A recent open search on my campus in a highly ranked traditional social-science department produced more than 400 applications for a single appointment. And faculty members constantly feel like they are under surveillance -- both in the classroom and out, on the campus and off -- from administrators, legislators, political lobbying groups and issue advocates, as well as students and their parents. Morale has sunk like cement in water.
All this has had significant consequences on the learning side of the equation. As students increasingly stress certification and job placement, educational institutions are responding by highlighting the college “experience” -- as much socially as intellectually. Tuition costs have escalated as the social experience -- dorm living, recreational and social networking opportunities -- has spiraled in importance in the selection process of students and their families. Students as consumers have fueled the move to personal-interest learning -- more often than not a function of perceived marketability -- at the cost of a common body of knowledge. That is not to deny that both are important, but the former is eclipsing the latter with growing alacrity.
Instant Delivery Over Lifelong Learning
Taken together, then, these trends amount to uberizing the university. How so? Broadly conceived, Uber represents on-demand access, a claim to a flawless experience with minimized hassle, immediate gratification, all at the best going rates. It provides the digital platform drawing together the elements necessary for instant delivery while hiding from view some of the significant delivery costs, such as maintenance and operations, health care and Social Security. In other words, Uber U offers, to larger or lesser extent, a platform and experience rather than the foundation for lifelong learning, conceptual and critical thinking, methodological and analytic rigor, listening and clarity, coherent argumentation and engagement. It privileges in-time, on-demand vocational skilling for the task at hand rather than the capacity for deep thinking.
It also increasingly turns to data-driven managerial imperatives. That means fewer opportunities to interact with managers for thoughtful discussion and feedback about one’s work. Operators -- whether drivers, professors or administrative staff -- are considered not employees but service providers, managed through monitoring and rating systems in semiautomated loops of big data and messaging.
Just as one can follow in real time on the platform map the progress of the Uber car approaching the pickup point, so one can map out and monitor the timeline of the student working through the training modules for which he or she has registered. Faculty members too are being subjected to mandated trainings regarding sexual harassment, inventory handling or, in the case of faculty and staff supervisors, the applicable rules and regulations by which the institution operates. Broken into modulated sessions, the platform regulates the minimal amount of standardized time to be spent on each module, mapping progress through the learning session.
But the system also regularly maps each of the clients or customers -- the new learners, the uberlearners -- to ensure they are spending the minimal time necessary to complete the lessons offered. While there are test questions to complete each module, there often may be no passing or failing. All this means, in principle, that instructors can be monitored for the time they take both to prepare and oversee online learning modules, and students can get certified (now digitally badged) with no assurance they have learned anything. The certification autogenerated by the platform, much like the Uber receipt on one’s smartphone, is more about customer service, liability and immunity from potential litigation than it is about the acquisition of consequential knowledge.
Similarly, the current culture of crowdsourcing is upending traditional modes of assessment. Uber accompanies the electronic ride receipt with a persistent request for an evaluation of the ride: one can then check the rating of one’s assigned driver as the car approaches. Analogously, real-time teaching evaluations are becoming the new mode of review. The University of California, Davis, has experimentally introduced a clicker system that allows, if the professor programs it, in-class student assessment of the lecture in progress. Much like CNN voter-viewer ratings of political debates in progress, the system registers student ratings of a lecture module as boring or interesting, informative or obtuse. That way, the instructor can adjust immediately within the class to the students’ thumbs-up or rotten tomatoes. RateMyProfessors is so yesterday!
This reduction to purely transactional economies has a series of ripple effects. The university aspires to be a brand -- and to become a branding institution. The perceived value of the brand underwrites the price of the certificate awarded. Ranking, of the student experience and the major sports teams, at least as much as academics, becomes the driving logic of institutional life and reputational capital. Some knowledge areas consequently get occluded, to the point first of irrelevance and then ultimately nonrecognition as even valuable. A well-placed physicist recently complained to me that in undergraduate physics courses today, for example, the conceptual thinking key to advancing knowledge in the field and once central to learning physics has increasingly disappeared. It has been replaced by heightened training in the technical and mathematical skills necessary to the discipline. Rote over reasoning.
Uber U faculty members, where necessary at all, amount to brokers in the knowledge economy, hedge-account managers whose function is to network students to those marketplace skills and social competencies necessary to get ahead. Much of the base-level training -- what should be foundational -- is outsourced to adjuncts who are expected likewise to bear a large part of the self-sustaining and reproducing costs. As those costs are passed on to less resourced and unprotected individuals, so too is responsibility for any misdirection, wrongdoing or failure. The institution washes its hands of any malfunctioning agent, the marginalized bad apple.
All these trends are now spreading across the academy, fundamentally reshaping institutional priorities and dispositions. They are disproportionately in play across a broad range of institutions, restructuring some more deeply than others. As with Uber, taken discretely rather than systemically, these developments at their most positive respond to existing needs and unsettle sedimented and often outmoded systems and structures. Just as the Uber platform makes getting a ride easier, often less expensive, easily shareable and cashless, so the Uber U platform potentially simplifies getting credentialed and is supposed to drive down costs and render higher learning more accessible. These new developments no doubt can challenge us to think anew about higher education, opening up creative opportunities to refashion pedagogical and operating practices, advance student learning and transform knowledge production across a broad swath of areas.
Yet we should not be naïve about the costs or touted benefits. Universities are not principally service providers. In addition to training grounds in a given field, they provide the foundations for thinking, both instrumentally and critically, for how to read and write, and for civic engagement. In addition, for many people, they still offer a gateway to adulthood as well as reasoned citizenship.
Meanwhile, Uber-inspired service platforms across a broad range of enterprises -- restaurants, groceries and package delivery, parking services, personal car rentals -- are seeing higher operations costs, lower service-provider wages, declining service quality and even bankruptcies. Platform control hides behind the anonymous technological neutrality of algorithmically produced, crowdsourced data inputs and recommendation outputs, none of which has reliable checks and balances.
The immediate future for academe is one of the growing robotification of basic skills and service delivery and smart algorithms autogenerating their own code. The pressures to downsize the human interface of learning, to limit faculty determination of what and how things are valuable to be learned, and to discount critical knowledge and thinking capacity in every sense of the term will only intensify.
Uber has announced its plan to develop and purchase driverless cars, so it is now joining the roboticizing of the workforce. In higher education, we are increasingly facing the distinct possibility of a faceless future, teacherless courses, online everything. We should confront this intensifying prospect of Uber U with eyes wide-open, counter clickers firmly in hand.
David Theo Goldberg is the executive director of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub and a professor of comparative literature, anthropology and criminology, law and society at University of California, Irvine. He is also the director of the systemwide University of California Humanities Research Institute. His latest books are Are We All Postracial Yet? (Polity, 2015) and Between Humanities and the Digital (co-edited, The MIT Press, 2015).
I treasured the hours between the time I got a letter and the time I answered it. I loved ordering my thoughts and savoring the agenda. How would I arrange fact and impression to let my friend know how things were with me: describe a mood, pass on information, think out loud about a book or an event, build an atmosphere on the page larger than the facts. Writing a letter was a greater pleasure than receiving one: yet a shared excitement.
-- Vivian Gornick in The New York Times
Not too long ago, a lady in my literary circle remarked that she found the irony of Hester Prynne, protagonist in The Scarlet Letter, interesting, in that the character wore the letter “A” as a symbol of scorn -- not as a badge of honor as it would be worn today. She was more right than she realized: young people would be particularly impressed by Prynne’s ability to express herself in just one of the 160 characters she could fit into a text on her mobile phone.
The job of an English teacher, in high school or college, has become exponentially more difficult over the last 15 years as the phenomena known as texting and tweeting emerged as primary forms of written communication for most of the civilized world. New challenges abound in cultivating young writers, as professors must now override students’ instincts to ignore grammar and punctuation, use emoji in place of human descriptions, and instantly share their unfiltered thoughts without a moment’s reflection.
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man … kids these days.
The texting generation of today, and its partner in crime, the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram crowd, have all but eviscerated the concept of contemplative thought. Perhaps if students texted and tweeted for the sake of expediency, mindful of its intended purpose, the tolerance levels of English instructors such as myself would be higher.
Sadly, this is not the case. Generation Y, or the digitally minded techies, have adopted these new-age tools as a way of life and all but lost the concept of confronting and pondering ideas as it has been taught for centuries. Students have been seduced into believing that these immediate exchanges are the CliffsNotes for the challenge of critical thinking, when, in fact, such mediums are not even up to those humble standards.
Even for preteens, it is virtually unthinkable to be untethered to their phones, not unlike Linus and his security blanket. The angst suffered by those who are not included in Facebook’s roster is akin to losing one’s sense of self, brought on, in my opinion, not by a desperate desire for human interaction, but a cathartic need for approval. For better or -- as this writer believes -- worse, we have traded down from the precious rewards of personal pride to the hollow recognition of others.
It’s apparent by the time students reach high school -- if not before -- that these shortcuts and outlets for mass communication have compromised their mechanisms of creativity and, more importantly, analytical thought. Our pedagogic predecessors never encountered this modern dilemma, and therefore, as self-appointed champions of the English language, it is our responsibility to devise new methods to enable our students to overcome this modern-day threat to literary artfulness and flair.
The goal here, then, is to wean the students off their electronic devices, convince them of the precious time lost to the use of their cell phones and then impart to them an appreciation of the transmission of ideas through the classic use of the written word. Aside from requiring students to power down during lessons -- this should be a universal requirement in all classrooms -- here are some suggestions to open their app-filled eyes:
Permit students to use their cell phones for a new assignment: texting a friend about a recent experience, one emotional in nature. Then assign them to do it again, but this time in essay form.
Using a 15-minute time limit, have each student text and then write a Dear John letter to a partner, real or imaginary.
Give them a hypothetical do-over. Assign the students to share personal thoughts -- first via text, and then in a letter -- that they feel should have been said prior to the passing of close relatives or friends.
Set a timer for 10 minutes and have the students compose a 100- to 200-word Facebook status update about a recent enjoyable experience -- such as a vacation, night out or weekend plans -- with the intention of putting it on their walls. Rather than submitting the posts, they should hand in the updates.
After the first three assignments, the students should compare the text and essay forms and evaluate which messages served as better reflections of their feelings, which form of communication captured the essence of what they wanted to convey. For the fourth, return their unedited assignments the following week, have students examine their words with a critical eye and ask if they are comfortable posting the status updates with no changes whatsoever.
My hope is that these exercises will shine a light on the shortcomings of our modern forms of communication and demonstrate the potential of the deliberately crafted written word. We must reveal that the inherent depths of language convey a power stronger than a combination of abbreviations and smiley faces that culminates with send.
Ronald Neal Goldman is a professor of English at Touro College and University System.
Submitted by Lev Gonick on January 3, 2013 - 3:00am
Those reading this column or any of its annual predecessors (in 2012,2011, 2010, or 2009) are invited to reflect that the historic challenges facing universities and colleges are less related to technological disruption or market evolution and more causally related to self-induced bruising, glacial cycles of adaptation, and torturous processes that pass for decision-making. Creative destruction, as I've written before, reflects the incessant dynamic and mutation of our network-enabled era of global and virtualized capitalism. Many within the academy, from our “risk adverse” faculty to our “rating agency-fearing administration and boards of trustees,” fear that creative destruction destroys more than it creates.
The irony of course is that while many in the academy live with a collective psychology of scarcity, ours is an era of abundance. History, until the mid-20th century, has largely been a series of narratives about the human condition in which everything from the metaphysical to the mundane has been constrained by a worldview informed by scarcity. Most of the enduring institutional anchors defining our cities, our urbane lifestyles, and yes, our universities are themselves products of a bygone historic era premised on scarcity. As the mutations of the network effect continue to erode the underlying economic structures of that earlier era of scarcity, the explosion of data and the dynamics of knowledge diffusion in the emergent era of abundance challenges all of the received wisdom of the 20th century and its attendant institutional character.
The adaptive capacity for higher education institutions to remain relevant deep into the 21st century is a topic of continuing debate, in books such as Ronald Barnett's Being a University and Clay Christensen's and Henry Eyring's The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from Inside Out. As petrified and ossified as the academy may appear to some, the generative and fertile opportunities for discovery and knowledge development afforded to learners, young and old, continues to grow in exponential fashion.
The learning enterprise for students is changing, most likely forever. A long historical epoch of scarce knowledge and the pursuit of mastery of relevant domains is nearing its final dusk. Competency is less about comprehensive recall, a function that machines and search engines do pretty well. The French philosopher, theologian and technological skeptic Jacques Ellul, asked nearly 50 years ago what role educators will have with the rise of autonomous expert thinking machines.
The most remarkable predictions concerns the transformation of educational methods … Knowledge will be accumulated in “electronic banks” and transmitted directly to the human nervous system by mean of coded electronic messages. There will no longer be any need of reading or learning mountains of useless information; everything will be received and registered according to the needs of the moment. [The Technological Society, Vintage Books, NY, 1964: pg. 432]
Ellul challenges the likely consequence of this technological “imperative” and is skeptical that it is possible that “what is needed will pass directly from the machine to the brain without going through consciousness.”
The emerging learning enterprise is about designing and creating experiences that provide opportunities to discover and gain 21st-century competencies based on assembly, synthesis, perspective, critique, and interconnected systems thinking. It is precisely the role anticipated by Ellul to create opportunities for conscious self-reflection.
The mechanisms for certifying competency, along with the persistence of learning communities, in varying degrees of proximity to the received assumption of the centrality of the physical brick and mortar campus, represent the value, brand and opportunity of universities in the 21st century. And while the university’s once near-monopoly on the credentialing of a certain set of valued and relevant skills in the post-war era is all but over, the emergent competitive landscape will lead to adaptation and creative destruction.
The year ahead will remain turbulent for universities and opportunistic for learners. The top 10 IT trends impacting the future of higher education in 2013 will enable more learning opportunities. The 10 trends outlined below will also afford those universities and colleges committed to reinvigoration an opportunity to leverage technology to advance university mission and the pursuit and re-dedication to relevance in the year ahead and well beyond.
1. Open Learning Is Dead! Long Live Open Learning!
Much of the oxygen in the world of technology and higher education in 2013 will continue to be consumed by headlines around MOOCs. This is a positive development. The current instantiations of MOOCs are unlikely to have a long and enduring impact but they have catalyzed conversations on the future of higher education in the United States like little else since the GI Bill (The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944). Punctuated equilibrium is likely to set in some time this year and with it, hopefully, an opportunity to assess the pathways forward.
“Open education” once referred to repositories of nonproprietary, repurposable, and reusable learning materials and experiences. And yes, for most earlier iterations, open education also meant free. Over the past 12 months, open education has largely metamorphosized and been reduced to proprietary and closed educational content offered at no charge. MOOCs have been cast by headlines in newspapers, blogs, and in invitation-only venture capital meetings as a new arms race to give away the once-assumed crown jewels of universities in the form of free classes. The pioneers of the new open learning movement like Coursera, Udacity, and very likely a handful of new, well-funded entrants will continue to provoke angst among university boards of trustees and at the same time catalyze maturing and evolving models of instructional design, course creation, and the pursuit of high-quality online offerings to meet the evident demand in the global marketplace for elite-branded education.
Among market forces, expect to see both open universities around the world and a renaissance of old-fashioned open education offerings attempt to grab some of the reverberation of the overhyped MOOC world. Most of these open educational resources originate and will serve online learners, but over time student use of this content will blend both synchronous and asynchronous online use along with self-directed learning and a multiplicity of face-to-face learning environments. Today, millions of students are experimenting with first-generation open content. Within the next year or two, more than 50 million diverse open educational learners will find compelling motives to access the single largest, dynamic body of student-centered learning materials available.
The thirst for accessing globally available open online learning environments will evolve from a focus on efficiency to a broader and more diverse set of offerings informed by effectiveness. As this transition occurs, new and quite possibly sustainable business models will emerge. Like Hamlet’s famed response to Rosencrantz beseeching that Hamlet tell him where the body is and go with him to see the king. Hamlet says in response, “The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body. The king is a thing.” The same is likely the case with the arc of activities associated with open learning. Open learning in the current overhyped environment is one kind of learning experience but it is not the same thing as a high-quality and sustainable form of learning and inquiry, even when it has elite branding.
2. It Takes a Village to Flip a Classroom
The dominance and near-monopoly of text-based learning is being sublimated by a hybrid of video and supplemental learning materials. The $5 billion textbook industry continues to overwhelmingly resist and impede the emergence of the rich media learning platforms of the future. Over the past century higher education has linked the textbook with a culturally constructed use of time in the form of a lecture as a convenient mode for information transmission. In today’s emergent rich media screen culture of video, games, hyperlinks, and simulation, inverting the traditional classroom time is both logical and inevitable.
Flipping the classroom sets expectations that learners take greater responsibility for their own learning by coming to “class” prepared in advance having viewed and assimilated assigned preproduced video materials. Scheduled class time now affords faculty an opportunity to adopt problem-based, challenge-based, or case-based teaching, enabling learners to become more actively involved in the learning process. And while the convenience of lecture and textbook model produces little evidence of learning that lasts nor transforms the learner, the emergence of high quality video-based learning materials affords even the most reluctant lecturer an opportunity to revisit their pedagogical goals.
In 2013 three models of flipping of the classroom will likely emerge. Following on the pioneering work of the Khan Academy, other solo efforts will continue to emerge across the curriculum. Some of these pioneering efforts will prove to be sustainable. However, rare is the university or the faculty member prepared to make the investment of resources required to support such undertakings over time.
A second path forward could very well be the future of publishing with enlightened publishers leveraging their editorial and production core competencies. Pilot projects among leading publishers suggest some interest in investing video-based content, together with highly integrated hooks, into textbooks in their catalogs. And while Chegg and Amazon Textbook rental models extend the half-life of the traditional book, the new frontier for publishers is to take a leadership position in the creation of 21st-century learning content.
At some point in the future, but not in 2013, textbook publishers will realize they are in the design, production, and distribution-of-education business. The Internet is the medium of dominant distribution and it is, overwhelmingly, a rich, media-centric medium. Public broadcasters might also play a role in the production and distribution of flipped learning content either collectively and/or in partnership with publishing groups or others. They too face the challenge of reconceptualization their collective future while at the same offering value to their current audiences.
A third path for flipped content will be from academic societies. There is a powerful motivation for academic professional associations with strong teaching centered traditions to seize the opportunity and provide an alternative model for the co-creation, and co-production and distribution, of high-quality learning materials. While some professional association might choose to partner with traditional publishing, it is also possible that in the next year we will see the first large-scale collaborations of academic society members creating their own offerings. Math and Science teachers have collaborated to support http://flippedclassroom.org/ and the International Society for Technology in Education has played an interesting convening role among different disciplinary traditions interested in inverting their learning models.
While we were focused on how to contend with laptops in the classroom a funny thing happened. Laptops and personal computers, which we’ve largely thought of as “new” technology for the past 25 years, became largely irrelevant. In the far rearview mirror, we can now recall with nostalgia the era when desktop computers and laptops were more pervasive than smart mobile devices and tablet computing.
No more. On a global basis and among many of our current students and certainly our future students the reality is that they live, work, and play in a world that few in the academy, including many academic technologists, recognize. Twice as many smartphones and tablets will have shipped in 2012 than desktops and notebooks put together. In 2013 the ratio may be as much three times as many. Over the next year more data will move from smartphones and tablets than computers and laptops in countries like India. And this is just the beginning. Even in economies like the United States, saturated with legacy workplace arrangements and installed infrastructure, nearly a third of adults own an e-reader or tablet, up from 2 percent less than three years ago.
The form factor of choice is a smart phone and/or a smart pad/tablet. But it’s not only the form factor. The user interface of choice is no longer keyboard, mice, and graphical user interfaces. Touch, voice, and gesture represent the new navigation and invitation to explore. More than 2 billion Bluetooth devices and sensors are in circulation this year, and there are more than 1.5 billion Wi-Fi devices, growing between two- and eightfold a year, year over year. And soon we will have wearable computing devices in everything from nanotechnology threads in our clothing to smart and connected wearable eyewear as part of our everyday life. Our campuses are now always on and connected. From infrastructure investments to service models, the always-on university is our new reality.
4. Learning Analytics Meet Learning Sciences
For nearly a decade, the Purdue University “Course Signals” project (and its immediate antecedents) led by John Campbell was a beacon to the higher education community of the value of designing a research program to leverage digital artifacts of student engagement and formative assessment to support student success. A confluence of factors around student success, including demands for accountability, funding formulas based on successful completion, timely remediation and intervention, and the broader social value of a more educated population have converged and the result is a growing expectation of institutional responsiveness.
There has been an explosion of “big data” in research science, consumer behavior, and health care. Framing efforts by the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SOLAR), notable single institutional efforts like Austin Peay State University and multi-institutional data collection efforts led by WICHE’s Predictive Analytics Reporting framework are exemples of important early efforts. In 2013 new and promising initiatives will contribute to greater student success and a better understanding of the ways in which our models of learning experiences can be tested. The e-content and e-textbook program launched by Educause and Internet2 is among the important projects to watch in 2013. Well-designed e-content strategies allow for the possibility of understanding when, where, and for how long students engage on their own, with others and with learning materials.
A more robust learning science informed by both progress in brain research and well-designed learning analytics are prerequisites to the more alluring goal of a learning genome project and the pursuit of a meaningful personalized learning strategy for everyone. Personalized learning ventures like Knewton and startup ventures like Always Prepped and Ontract suggest that in 2013 the market grows more mature and ready for intelligent and savvy use of data for supporting student success.
5. Net+ and University Collaboration in a Cloud-Enabled Technology Era
If ever there was a Tower of Babel in the world of information technology, it would be around “the cloud.” In its most generic sense, the cloud is any aggregated service offering that leverages the Net. As our university networks have become more reliable (but not infallible), robust (but not impervious to denial of service attacks), and resilient (but still subject to the wrath of Mother Nature), the network effect has led to unprecedented efficiencies, economies of scale, and new sources for substantial investment.
After a number of stalled efforts, the higher education community led by Internet2’s Shel Waggener has embraced the value of highly scalable services enabled over our regional and national research and education networks. Net+, as the service is known, offers two kinds of services. The first is the aggregation of demand from among members of the Internet2 community and collective engagement with various ‘cloud’ service providers. These include dozens of vendor offerings, all of them leveraging Internet2’s dedicated research and education network resources. For many vendors, partnering with Internet2 and leveraging the research and education network actually reduces the cost of delivering commercial services and savings are being passed on to universities participating in those offerings.
In 2013, a second set of offerings is likely to take center stage. These will be services aggregated and led by universities and consortiums of universities. Building on important existing interuniversity identity management services, the new offerings will include cooperative telephony services, enhanced video collaboration services, data center services, and library and research services all leveraging collective action among Internet2’s university members to enhance the portfolio of services offered and increase the efficiency of the delivery of those services.
While debates at many universities will likely continue to be informed by the division of responsibility between central IT and in other parts of the university, in reality many of those legacy debates are growing increasingly obsolete. The value of investing in next generation networks is less about access, speeds or raw throughput. As Net+ is demonstrating, the value of our investments is in the enabling and provisioning of service offerings above the campus network to advance the missions of our institution, including research, teaching, and service.
6. The End of ERP (as We Know It)
Some CIOs still wake up in the middle of the night with recurring nightmares, now 15-20 years old, associated with the implementation of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). Some presidents and boards can still point to continuing and extended payment schedules for the tens (and in some cases hundreds) of millions of dollars spent on implementations. Indeed, having resisted, avoided, or otherwise deferred the decision, there are some institutions that are still in decision mode on whether to implement ERP for their financial, HR, and student information systems.
ERPs are bloatware and remain more closely linked to a genus of troglodytes than to anything resembling a modern transaction and decision support system. Universities (and most every other large enterprise business) continue to invest precious resources in these large, complex, and highly profitable software environments. A pioneering generation of university campuses has broken with the pack and has chosen to join other industry leaders in helping to shape and implement administrative systems as a service.
Software as a service hit the major leagues more than a decade ago with Salesforce.com. Salesforce has announced work.com and of course this past year Workday went public with great fanfare. Both of these are examples of administrative systems as a service. Modern interfaces (and underlying code) are immediately tantalizing to those who are exposed to them. No hardware, databases, or separate data warehouses on campus. Full mobility offerings are supported from day one. With debt payments still fresh in the minds of many university CFOs, the year ahead will see important but not overwhelming numbers of new university customers joining these efforts.
There are two key service lines that could well accelerate the adoption of administrative systems as a service at universities. Some will wait to see what, if, or when Oracle, SAP, and SCT will have meaningful software as a service offering.
In 2013 university leaders should continue to press Salesforce.com and Workday to deepen their collective and common commitment to higher education by co-creating a working group in what might be called a student life cycle product. A platform strategy for leveraging administrative systems as a service, the student life cycle initiative can start as early as the prospect phase, but more likely would begin (for now) with the traditional registration services. Like many traditional student information systems there will need to be a core offering in course selection, academic advising, student records, and grades management. New offerings linked to assessment, forms of authentic evaluation, and embedded learning analytics would all represent value-added features.
The second missing service line would address the faculty life cycle. A faculty-centric initiative can build on the workflow of HR and finance systems. Such a project could likewise begin from the recruitment phase but would most certainly start with the onboarding of a new faculty member and include teaching, research, and service mission-related data elements. Faculty reports, web pages, personalized research grants, customized library resources, and a full suite of benefits-related services would be the foundation for such a project. Both Salesforce and Workday have flirted with such nontrivial undertakings. 2013 is the year for accelerating a go-to-market strategy. The market is ripe and ready.
7. Learning Spaces – The Final Frontier
I often use historic images to outline the continuity of experience of student learners from the 19th century through to the present. While most of these historic images show only male students, they are otherwise very reminiscent of faces and spaces we know, namely the lecture hall filled with students distracted, conversing with one another, “texting” (sending notes to each other), bored, and oftentimes not exactly riveted by the lecturer. Beyond inverting the class with preproduced video content, there is much to be done in re-imagining and re-inventing the physical learning environments. And while creating a replicable, cost effective immersive adventure in the likeness of Universal Studio’s Harry Potter Forbidden Journey may be ambitious, the era of defining technology-enhanced classrooms as a PC and a projector is past..
The serious conversation about the redesign of learning spaces and the incorporation of technology is a decade old. The empirical evidence affirms that well-designed new learning environments can lead to more active learning that supports both engagement and reflection. These in turn lead to a view shared by students that they are learning more as well as to positive learning outcomes. New opportunities exist for partnership between student learners, faculty instructors, and facilities and learning technologists to create a deployable mix of learning spaces that blend and afford flexible and repurposable furniture, technology, and tools to support a range of learning environments.
The transformations occasioned by scientific visualization and gesture-based screen technology have crossed over into our popular culture, from “Minority Report” and “Matrix Revisited” to dynamic weather maps and election night results. We also have multiple experiences associated with interactive immersive technology like Microsoft’s Kinect. Almost all of those common representations miss the key for scientists and their experience in using large scale visualization and gesture tools. This form of learning by doing is actually about a hybrid of science and play. Full-body interactive learning is now entering the world of visitor experiences in environments as diverse as museums to STEM education. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative has raised the visibility and efficacy of further exploration of these immersive, interactive, and responsive wall and room-sized environments for learning.
In 2013, look for the first number of these next-generation enhanced technology classrooms to be instantiated and available for replication and adaptation in partnership with a wide range of partners.
8. Extending the Boundaries of the University: Gig.U and US Ignite
In their e-book, The Politics of Abundance: How Technology Can Fix the Budget, Revive the American Dream, and Establish Obama’s Legacy (Odyssey Editions, November, 2012), Blair Levin, the author of the National Broadband Plan and Executive Director of Gig.U, and former FCC chairman Reed Hunt make the case for creating what they call a national broadband advantage. The catalyst for creating a national broadband advantage is leveraging our nation’s universities and colleges. As the authors document, students, faculty, and staff -- long the progenitors of much of the economic growth and productivity associated with technology -- have unique opportunities to accelerate the deployment of next-generation networks in communities around the university campus.
These city-university partnerships afford more than infrastructure services. Across the United States 25 cities have partnered with US Ignite to support the building of a next generation of applications that will leverage gigabit network infrastructure. Born in 2012, the coalition of the willing led by US Ignite is catalyzing network scientists, imagineers, hackers, app developers, video engineers, software programmers, switching engineers, and others to build rapid and working prototypes of a new generation of products and services. With support from NSF and a blue ribbon group of technology partners, US Ignite is at the center of next-generation application development.
In 2013, US Ignite will both invest and promote work across the country to support never-before-seen (or imagined) solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing challenges around health and wellness, STEM education, neighborhood and national security, advanced manufacturing, and energy (among other drivers).
Initiatives like Gig.U and US Ignite are important to creating opportunities for innovation and disruptive technologies that have long been produced in dorm rooms and research labs in our universities and colleges. Gig.U and US Ignite are also important to catalyze the United States and the economy for sustainable growth and new jobs. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a jobs and economic strategy into the 21st century that doesn’t depend on their success.
9. Open Data Models for Campus
Open access data repositories are growing among researchers in higher education. Major funding agencies like the NIH require (within 12 months) that peer-reviewed articles be made available through open access. Unprecedented access to data from dozens of federal and state agencies has helped to usher in an era of greater openness, transparency, and growing accountability. An integrated open data framework for universities has been relatively slow in coming. Clarion calls like those issued in 2012 at the University of North Texas are important but do not go nearly far enough.
Open data needs to be a universitywide commitment. Facilities data are valuable not only for paying the electricity bill; they can be used by students and faculty researchers working on everything from smart buildings to local sustainability efforts. Data collected by librarians are important not only for knowing the number of patrons who use library facilities, butalso for understanding trends in the adoption and use of online and on-shelf resources across disciplines to interlibrary loan borrowing trends and local library portal search terms. Wireless access points data are important not only for network managers, butalso for everything from digital art to understanding patterns of work and study across the university. Institutional research data are not only important for reporting to funding agencies; they can also be used by students to understand their own institution.
In 2013 look forward to a number of leading institutions following the pioneering work at Aalto University in Finland in designing a comprehensive and integrated open data environment for their university.
10. IT as a Service and the Future of IT on Campus
Michiavelli noted in The Prince (1532) that “[t]here is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." The rollback of public investment in, pressure for access to, and indeterminate impact of globalization on postsecondary education all contribute to significant disorientation in our thinking about the future of the university. Couple those externalities with the commodification of many technologies once thought to be core to the service catalog on our university campuses and the dilemma is at once clear and confounding.
As technology leaders in higher education assess how to align our organizations to these twin challenges, the time has come to consider discontinuous organizational change. Tinkering and tweaking with traditional organizational issues like the federated models for technology support across the university or whether or how to merge academic and administrative computing are inadequate and unlikely to help the institutions we serve with strategic value-add. Expensive external consulting groups can tell our executives what we already know. Our IT organizations (and many other parts of the university) are products of a legacy environment that has, to varying degrees, become calcified and nonresponsive to the needs of the university going forward.
Resistance to the secularization and commodification of IT as a service is futile. Collective and cooperative action in the form of shared service models is one pathway that is well-worn and will necessarily lead to the requirement to re-architect our information technology strategies. New skill sets like vendor relationship and service level management, portfolio and project management, and business analysts are the new IT jobs for the shared services economy of the future.
More fundamental re-examination of our organizations is in our immediate futures. Multiple IT organizations across the country are rethinking the inherited functional organization. The functional IT organization is layered following a traditional stack of services from underlying infrastructure like network engineering, servers and storage, data base and application services, academic and administrative technology subject matter experts, and customer support. Over time, the logic and reproduction of the functional organization has squeezed out innovation in favor of core operational services. In many organizations 90 percent or more of the IT staff and financial resources are allocated to daily operations. Over time, the functional organization model will suffocate and strangle itself. Many IT professionals are as passionate about the academic and research missions of our institutions as our faculty. The functional organization model makes it increasingly more difficult for IT on campus to be a meaningful partner and contributor to the strategic future of the University if and as it gets painted into the corner of being an expensive infrastructure cost center.
The alternative models to the functionally organized IT organization are many. The challenge for IT leaders is to cede a modicum of control and embrace the need to experiment in new, more porous, organizational models that facilitate and support the co-production of innovative solutions that meet the needs of higher education moving forward. Becoming a solutions-focused and internal consulting organization is at the core of what I take to be the opportunity for IT in higher education.
Partnering with third parties wherever and whenever possible to support commodity services is vital to being able to redistribute internal resources to be able to lead the new change agenda. Recruiting a cadre of designers with multiple skills, including many with deep and hard-core technical skills, to engage directly with faculty, students, and staff colleagues is at the heart of the new service delivery model. As every CIO knows, no organization will tolerate the pursuit of fanciful ideas, even if they are “good for the organization,” if the basic utility features of the IT service catalog are unresponsive and nonfunctional. The IT professionals responsible for operations must be the “A” team and at the same time fully aligned to the broader vision and mission of the new IT organization.
No matter what kind of higher education institution you are affiliated with, the year ahead is predictably full of trepidation and constraint. If the organization becomes paralyzed through the psychology of scarcity we will have failed in our mission as IT leaders. The abundant and transformational contribution that IT can make to the mission of higher education is less about resource availability and more about leadership vision and commitment. Leadership in the year ahead is no longer like captaining an ocean liner but more like whitewater rafting that calls for flattened organizations that can change rapidly and with significant agility, embrace decentralized decision-making, and motivate employees, and inspire relationships.
Success is hardly a foregone conclusion. This is distinctly contested terrain. Good luck on the rapids.
Lev S. Gonick is vice president for information technology services and chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University. He blogs about technology at Bytes From Lev.