One classroom for one kind of future

Greetings, readers.  I’ve been quiet of late, due to a frenzy of traveling: Providence, Washington, Helsinki, Pennsylvania.  Now I’m back in the bloghouse.

And what brings me out of jet lag and a towering pile of emails, back to the Add New Post box?  This article about Harvard Business School’s “classroom of the future.”  It’s a fascinating piece, with useful indications of where education, technology, and coverage thereof are headed.

I admire the initiative of rethinking distance learning, and of engaging seriously with video.  But there are so many strange and dismal things in this account!

To begin with, HBX Live seems to recapitulate the sage-on-the-stage pedagogy we know from lectures and xMOOCs.  I say “seems” because there’s no real discussion of student interaction in the article (which is revealing, eh?), but this photo really suggests isolated students, communicating only with the faculty member:

Obviously good lecturing can work. But this seems to collapse learning entirely into the prof-centric mode.  Can students even see each other?

The production setup seems to echo this pedagogy as well:

Crew members toggle between dozens of cameras trained at the professor, lingering only a few seconds on each angle. One worker roams around the professor with a hand-held camera, aiming to give students a sense of movement.

Speaking of production, the creators of HBX Live designed it based on… tv sports shows and reality television?

Although the idea isn’t entirely new, Harvard put a twist on it by approaching the project like a live television production.

To learn the trade, school officials visited NBC Sports studios in Connecticut and studied reality TV shows.

The school hired a production crew that sits in a control room above the studio, broadcasting the class to students with the cinematic polish of a cable news show.

To begin with, and setting aside questions of technical competence (which I assume Harvard can simply purchase at a high level), are these really the best sources for inspiration?  Are there formal aspects to sports and reality tv that go beyond the subject matter’s distance from tertiary education?  I see little of both, so I’m ready to be persuaded, but am skeptical.

Moreover, the similarly skeptical reader may at this point wonder about cost.  After all, setting up nearly 100 separate video feeds, a videography crew, a production suite, and, presumably, a post-production team doesn’t come cheap.  Let HBX put your mind at rest: “Harvard hasn’t disclosed how much it spent on the classroom and its crew.”

As Barbara Pittman notes on Twitter, ” I guess it won’t be in one of those “free” community colleges anytime soon, then.”

Barbara Pittman tweets: " I guess it won’t be in one of those “free” community colleges anytime soon, then."

I bet you could set up a Shindig instance for much, much less.

Is HBX Live creating a prototype in a way that other, less enormously wealthy campuses can copy or at least be inspired by?  I can’t find any signs of an open source software commitment (if they are making code), or sharing designs, or of making class content open.

Unless there are countervailing accounts out there, HBX Live seems to be a classroom for a very specific future.  That’s a time when pedagogy is asocial and prof-centric, where geographic distance becomes interpersonal separation.  It’s a future where the wealthiest academic institutions can erect such structures for themselves, increasing another kind of separation: between socio-economic classes.

The project’s fawning coverage in this Associated Press article suggests another element of that future.  We can count on uncritical journalism to celebrate it.

Where are other signs of this HBX Live future?  And where are its opponents?



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The emerging three-cornered K-12 computing ecosystem

What computers are American K-12 schools using these days?  It’s a three-way battle at the moment between Apple, Google, and Microsoft, according to an IDC report, summarized in the New York Times.

Each has about one third of the market, at least for devices purchased over the past couple of years. iPads are popular, apparently because of apps.  (Anecdotally, I’ve heard they appeal to elementary schools, where typing isn’t as crucial as in secondaries)  Chromebooks are growing in demand because of low cost and ease of use.  And Microsoft has a two-pronged strategy, getting both tablets (Surfaces) and laptops into schools.

What can we learn from this latest iteration of schools’ computing ecosystem?

Chromebook in school, by Laurie Sullivan

Cloud computing is no longer a big deal.  Chromebooks rely on persistent internet connections and off-site storage.  It’s an interesting note in the development of educational computing that many (not all) schools can now count on reliable internet access.

The Chromebook’s keyboard leads some to choose it over the iPad.  Despite the latter’s attachable keyboard, its reputation (and probably major use) is as a touchscreen device.

Price matters a great deal, especially for low-resourced K-12s.  Hence another source of the appeal of Chromebooks and low-cost Windows machines.

Microsoft remains a major player, despite its anti-buzz. (“In terms of the sheer numbers of devices sold, however, Microsoft remained in the lead. In 2014, about 4.9 million Windows devices, including notebooks and desktops, shipped to schools, giving Microsoft a roughly 38 percent market share in unit sales, IDC said.”)

That Microsoft reach does not include the prominence of the Office suite.  But that’s another aspect of this 3-cornered competition, as Office, both in desktop and 360 versions, dukes it out with Google Apps.

Chromebook versus iPad can also appear as an instance of the apps versus Web struggle.  Some teachers and administrators prefer iPad apps for their diversity, their creativity, and their existence away from the much-feared Web.  Others prefer the Chromebook because they value the Web and/or see the value in teaching students how to use that crucial communication channel.

From the IT side, comments on the New York Times piece and on HackerNews claim that it’s easier to configure many Chromebooks than iPads.

So I have two questions.

First, how will experiencing this device tripod shape the next generation of traditional-age college students?

Second, will this threesome maintain, as each device set meets scholastic demand, or will one player win (or drop out)?

(link via HackerNews; photo by Laurie Sullivan)

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Another queen sacrifice in Ohio

Ashland UniversityA “bright future”: that’s how Ashland University‘s president described what lies ahead for his campus as a result of laying off 23 faculty members.

Kellie Woodhouse reports for Inside Higher Ed on this latest example of a queen sacrifice:

32 of roughly 240 full-time faculty positions are being eliminated: nine through attrition and 23 through layoffs… Fourteen tenured faculty were laid off, along with three tenure-track faculty members.

How big is this cut?  “[T]he changes amount to a 15 percent reduction of the faculty personnel budget.”  Affected departments: “The disciplines affected are wide-ranging, from communications to music and computer science to business management.”

The rationale?  As you might expect, serious financial stresses:

[president Carlos] Campo says the institution has experienced financial difficulty since 2008.

Faculty members, for example, have not received a raise for five years and have had their benefits significantly reduced. And in December 2014 Ashland received a junk bond rating from Moody’s. The rating agency characterized its outlook as negative, citing variable operating performance, debt (Ashland that year had nearly $70 million in debt) and a failure to hit its 2014 enrollment target. Moody’s no longer rates the institution.

Unlike other queen sacrifices, declining enrollment doesn’t seem to be a problem, at least this year, according to Woodhouse:

At Ashland, enrollment is on an incline. The university had a total enrollment of 5,430 in 2014, up from 5,150 the year before, according to federal data. And this year enrollment is looking positive, Campo said.

I wonder how 2014 and 2015 compare to 2012 and earlier years.

Said president Campo has only been in that position for a little over two months.

An earlier news report (only freely available in part) anticipated this move.  Note the emphases:

Ashland University administrators concluded that the school needs to reallocate $3 million to keep tuition low, restore campuswide priorities and maintain the quality of an Ashland education. The money will go toward the online education program, campus safety and the reinstallment of various campus activities, including a junior varsity men’s basketball team.

Where will that money come from?

To formally restructure programs and reallocate money, another round of faculty and staff cuts are possible. A committee will look at areas to reduce faculty, tenured and nontenured, in programs across all four colleges.

Does that really suggest AU will cut faculty to grow a sports team, among other things?

Across American higher education, queen sacrifices continue to appear.

(thanks to Dave Mazella and  Carrie Schroeder for pointing out the link on Twitter; logo via Wikipedia)

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The future of everything for higher education: an upcoming NERCOMP event

logo.jpgNext month a group of us in New England will discuss the future of education, under the ambitious header “The Future of Everything: Multidimensional Forecasting for the Next Campus.”  For a day (September 28th, 2015) we’ll delving into a series of topics, including the futures of media, archives, intellectual property, and publishing.

Presenters and discussants at this NERCOMP-hosted event include Ruben Puentedura (Hippasus), Oliver Goodenough (Harvard and Vermont Law), Mark Edington (Amherst), and Sheila Morrissey (Ithaka).

Here‘s where the shindig will be.  It starts at 9:00 am and should careen to a halt around 3:15 pm.  We’d be happy to see you and hear your thoughts.

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A community college sacrifices many full-time lecturers

bergenlogoA New Jersey community college ended the positions of 64 faculty members.  Two weeks ago Bergen Community College decided to cut these non-tenure-track but full-time instructors.  That’s around one month before fall term begins.

It’s really another queen sacrifice.  As usual, the institution cites declining enrollment. Bergen also blames declining revenue, which in this case means lowering tuition and state support.  “Bergen’s enrollment has declined by more than 1,900 in [2010] to 15,651 in Fall 2014…”

Bergen and all but one of the 18 other community colleges in New Jersey have had to rely on stagnant county and state funding while tuition revenues dropped because of declining enrollment…

Funding from the county has increased – it went up by $500,000 this year over last year – but state funding stayed the same for the past few years and has declined over the last decade, [school spokesman Larry Hlavenka Jr.] said.

It’s not the first cut Bergen’s now doing, as it comes right after “150 part-time staffers either had their hours eliminated or reduced earlier in the month in an effort to save $1 million more”.

Community colleges saw enrollment boom when the Great Recession began, but decline in recent years as the “recovery” proceeded.  Which is a shame, given that CCs have the best prices in American higher education.

And yet for many in academia this won’t count as a queen sacrifice, because the instructors aren’t tenure-track.  Listen to their (now former) working situation:

The lecturers carry a full teaching load – about five courses each semester – and are paid $38,600 a year plus benefits. They must reapply for their jobs each semester and are considered temporary employees…

Five classes a term, for under $40K in a state that isn’t cheap to live in.  And what now for these people?  They “are being asked to reapply as adjuncts, who make about $2,100 per course and have no benefits…”

In the hierarchy of American higher education, these lecturers are far down in the pecking order.  For some, they aren’t real professors.  But to hell with that.  I’m counting this as a queen sacrifice.

(via Recession Realities in Higher Education)

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Valdosta State conducts a queen sacrifice

Valdosta State UniversityValdosta State University in Georgia will fire a group of faculty and staff in what looks like a standard queen sacrifice.

Colleen Flaherty reports that VSU will be “laying off 33 staff and faculty members, including some on the tenure track”.  Announcements went out this week.  I think that means impacted staff and faculty get to work and look for work for the next academic year, rather than being unemployed immediately.

Last week, non-tenure-track and tenure-track faculty members affected by the cuts received calls or emails asking them to meet with their dean. In 15-minute appointments, one after the other, the faculty members were notified that declining enrollment and related budgetary concerns made it impossible for the university to retain them. The university has not released the exact number of tenure-track professors it’s letting go.

The article outlines some familiar features, such as campus leadership’s argument that declining enrollment and reduced state support have caused financial problems.

Cecil P. Staton, interim president, blamed the cuts on a 17 percent enrollment decline since the university’s peak in 2011.

“In preparing the budget for 2016-2017, Valdosta State University’s enrollment decline translates into a state funds decline of $2.4 million,” he wrote. “Loss of tuition income results in a further $1 million reduction in revenue. Both must be accounted for in the new budget proposal.”

According to one local report, 18 open positions have gone unfilled this year, “meaning the total number of positions eliminated by VSU is actually 51.”

Interestingly, VSU’s president has only been in the office a few weeks, since this July 1st.  Perhaps making these cuts is his charge.

The IHE article suggests these cuts might not occur in the usual queen sacrifice setting:

There was talk of declining enrollment since 2011, but no sense of crisis and no declaration of financial exigency. The cuts also seemed haphazard, since some laid-off faculty members in the sciences said they actually made money for the university in external grants.

There hasn’t been a declaration of financial exigency, but institutions doing queen sacrifices rarely claim that status.

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The queen sacrifice in education fiction


Photo from IHE article. Not sure where this is.

Inside Higher Ed ran a column yesterday on a plan to overhaul a hypothetical small college.  In “The State of St. Bridget’s, July 2017” Aden Hayes describes this plan in detail, including a queen sacrifice move.

These are putatively “fundamental changes”, also known as “streamlining”.  They include a variety of practical steps to save and/or generate money: outsourcing some operations; selling a campus building; entering a purchasing co-op with other campuses; going after adult learners; going after online students; joining a library consortium.  I note the canny shift of overseas attention from Britain to China.

The queen sacrifice, cutting academics, is also here.

We have closed two academic programs that had been underenrolled for years — including the interdisciplinary program in Northeast Studies, which competed directly with a similar program at the nearby state university. Three departments had their majors eliminated — German, anthropology and creative writing — and were merged into one service department providing 100- and 200-level courses to fulfill the college’s general education requirements.

These means axing faculty:

Nine faculty positions were eliminated, and some of these faculty members found other academic jobs outside St. Bridget’s. For six who did not, the college contracted a professional counseling and coaching service specializing in transitions from the academic to the private sector.

But wait, there’s more!  Or less.  Coming up next:

We will be merging all foreign languages into a single department. At least two foreign language majors will be eliminated, and these languages will become service departments. They will take the initiative to partner with stronger departments to add language skills to business, education, psychology, criminal justice and possibly other majors.

That’s classic queen sacrifice, starting with targeting academic programs that enroll too few students (or are perceived as doing so).  These are humanities departments, too, which is fairly typical.  There’s also a shift of resources to expand programs that generate better student numbers.  Criminal justice and business are fairly typical.

Here’s an extra spin, focused on the research-teaching connection:

The provost, the Academic Affairs Committee and I will begin to look at the research interests and production of faculty members, particularly in the humanities, with a view to encouraging these interests to become more closely aligned with teaching duties. We want research to result in more effective teachers, and research at St. Bridget’s should be aimed, first and foremost, at improving instruction on our campus, and these priorities will be taken into consideration in tenure and promotion decisions.

Research and publication will benefit faculty members at other institutions only insofar as their aims, like ours, are laser focused on the highest-quality teaching performance.

This is one trend not widely discussed, a drive to repurpose research as part of teaching.  It also appears as a desire to separate the two.  How many campuses are currently doing something like this?

It’s a fascinating piece.  It’s akin to design fiction, offering a possible template for others to experiment with.  And it further establishes the queen sacrifice as part of the campus leader playbook.  It’s also a work of education fiction; how big is that subfield these days?

I don’t know Hayes’ outfit, the Foundation for Practical Education, so I can’t comment on their background here.

(photo from IHE story)

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