Does technology reduce the costs of teaching?

Can schools use technology to cut the costs of teaching?  I’m one of three consultants consulted by the Chronicle of Higher Education in an article answering that question.

My opening gambit: “Over all, technology usually does not help reduce instructional costs. Only if we take advantage of open access can we really cut institutional costs.”

(Actually, I do mention a few other ways, that are unpopular.)

Posted in interviews | 9 Comments

Storms over liberal education: notes on the 2016 AAC&U conference

Last week I participated in the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) 2016 conference.  It was a powerful gathering of campus leaders and practitioners, organized around a common focus on liberal education.

I was there for a few reasons, starting with having the fine opportunity to lead a pre conference workshop, followed by presenting on two panels, helping out with a Twitter component, and reconnecting with dozens of friends and colleagues.  The event became much more dramatic than expected, once the hosting city, Washington DC, was clobbered by the great snowpocalyspe of 2016.

Let me share some materials here, along with reflections on the conference.

AAC&U logo

  1. Preconference workshop

I helped start the conference with a half-day workshop on “How Technology Can Enhance Liberal Education: The State of the Art in 2016.”  Around 35 professors, deans, provosts, program directors, presidents from several nations (mostly the US) and a variety of institutional types came together, some with very different levels of technological experience.  On the latter score, several younger faculty and program leaders revealed themselves to be serious gamers, while some administrators described themselves as operating with a very basic level of digital knowledge.

A quick round of introductions revealed some interesting trends: a growing number of liberal arts institutions are launched or growing online learning programs; many sought to find the distinct ways liberal arts institutions, and campuses pursuing liberal education, can use technology.  This last point has been a major theme in this quadrant of American higher education as far back as the 1990s.  I also asked each person to specify their role concerning technology, and there were a lot of different roles: someone running a distance learning program, another in charge of a problem-based learning initiative, a prof looking for good examples of technology in liberal education, a provost to whom several tech departments reported, and more.

I kicked things off with a survey of major technological developments in a very top level way, then dived into specific, currently used digital tools (the LMS, ePortfolios, video, robotics, big data, social media, 3d printing, etc.).  I hoped to move on from there to what I called “approaches”, ways of using tech that didn’t depend on a specific platform – i.e., gaming and gamification, blended learning, distance learning, MOOCs, mobile, and digital literacy.

But participants were very, very engaged from the start.  The LMS section, for example, detoured into questions of copyright, FERPA (the major US legal regulations about student information), and privacy, after some contention about which LMS was better or worse than others.  I had two measly slides for ePortfolios, the main thrust of which was “go to AAEEBL!”, but folks were keen on sharing problems they had in integrating their LMS to a specific ePortfolio program, setting permissions in their ePortfolio, questions of ownership, and more.  Our social media section also went over to FERPA, with some audience members arguing for the LMS as superior to the social web for privacy reasons, plus some discussion of personal versus professional social media use.

Bryan on open; photo by Stephen BragawOne participant volunteered a fascinating use of 3d printing: to print objects in such a way as to simulate for seeing people the way blind people perceive the world through touch.  Very interesting!

By the last 45 minutes we’d barely reached my slide deck’s half-way point, thanks to the sheer energy of the audience, so I showed them an outline of what remained, and asked them to determine which topics interested them the most.  Consensus was: next steps, the future of tech and liberal education.  So I told them about the way campus CIOs see the future unfolding (emphasizing security and getting more value out of academic computing investments) and some of the challenges faced by campus IT in trying to grow their services as technology and user demands grow (hiring and retaining the best staff, for example).

It was one of those situations where the audience had an awful lot to ask and express, and it was important and fitting that they do so.  My slides are on the web, shared with you via this post, and with those participants via email; that’s easy to see.  It’s those emergent discussions that are hard to set up, and so rewarding when they occur.  I felt bad for over preparing materials, but am satisfied that we were able to thrash out these issues. Continue reading

Posted in presentations and talks, trends, Uncategorized | Tagged | 7 Comments

Declining US higher education enrollment wounds Pearson

Pearson logoEducation giant Pearson announced it will lay off 10% of its workforce (nice summary from the WaPo). This is interesting and relevant to higher education for several reasons, but I would like to focus on how this brutal riffing draws on a theme I’ve been sounding for years.

The point: declining enrollment in American higher education hit Pearson, and hard.

From their official announcement, which explained the layoffs and restructuring as responses to “cyclical and policy related challenges,” here’s the very first reason given:

Rapid growth in employment and increasing regulation in the United States has resulted in Higher Education enrolments in the US falling approximately 10% from a peak of around 21 million in 2010 to about 19m in 2015 (similar to 2008 enrolment levels)

The other two reasons – changes in British vocational numbers and a drop in South African textbook purchases – are fascinating, but let me focus on this first reason.  Declining US enrollment is not only a real thing, but a thing that causes casualties.  We’ve seen this in campus queen sacrifices, and now the trend is drawing blood in the corporate world.

Moreover, one part of Pearson’s strategy update involves narrowing its efforts within that shrinking American market:

We will… [c]ombine our lines of business for courseware into a single product organisation, rationalise and integrate our product development capabilities to focus more on adaptive, personalised “next generation” courseware in disciplines (for example, STEM subjects, Business, College and Career skills) where enrolments are growing and which lend themselves to this approach. [emphases added]

That’s another echo with the queen sacrifice, targeting disciplines likeliest to grow the most.

Interestingly, Pearson doesn’t see that trend reversing in the near future.  In their “Outlook for [the rest of] 2016”, the firm is not optimistic: “we anticipate US college enrolments will remain subdued given forecast improvements in US employment”.  For the next year, Pearson’s positive vision for American academic enrollment isn’t growth, but a plateau, with (in their analysis) “stability returning to US college enrolments and the UK qualifications market by the end of 2017”.

What other casualties will declining enrollment inflict over the next two years?

(thanks to the eagle-eyed George Station for drawing my attention to this story)

Posted in trends | Leave a comment

Introducing the new Horizon Report in February

The new Horizon Report for technology and higher education is about to appear, freshly created for 2016, and I’m presenting on it twice.  I hope readers who can will consider attending one or both of ’em.

EDUCAUSE ELI annual meeting logoOn February 4th I’ll help officially release the new Horizon at the EDUCAUSE ELI annual meeting.  That starts at 11 am in San Antonio, and will look like this:

Larry Johnson, Bryan Alexander, and Veronica Diaz will explore the trends, challenges, and emerging technologies that will be impacting higher education teaching and learning over the next five years. In the session, we’ll also be announcing the winners of the Horizon Report Video Competition.

Then I head back across the United States, traveling from San Antonio, Texas to Worcester, Massachusetts.

NERCOMP logo On February 26th I will lead a day-long workshop on Horizon for NERCOMP, a northeastern United States educational technology organization.  The College of the Holy Cross will host the day, which lasts from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm.

Head here to find out more, including logistics, pricing, and directions.

I hope I see you at either – or both! – events.

Posted in presentations and talks | Tagged | 2 Comments

Revolution in Higher Education: chapter 12, “Governing in the Age of Internet Empires”

Revolution in Higher Education, coverContinuing with our reading of Richard DeMillo’s Revolution in Higher Education: How a Small Band of Innovators Will Make College Accessible and Affordable (2015) (publisher; Amazon): this week we’re discussing chapter 12, “Governing in the Age of Internet Empires.”

Here DeMillo focuses on what he sees as a dark side to the technologies he previously celebrated.  Social media enables not only collaboration but mob behavior, and that can happen on college campuses.  DeMillo runs through recent cases of disinvited speakers, the Salaita affair, and especially the University of Virginia presidency story.

For DeMillo these stories point to the rise of significant power:

Like villagers storming the gates of a castle, organized labor, political activism, and vested self-interest can easily coalesce into an unelected, unappointed, and unaccountable mob that can effectively make decisions about business issues, such as real estate, institutional assets, and partnerships with service providers and corporate sponsors.(5028)

This links back to earlier chapters’ concerns about faculty governance and management. “These are not merely cases of enterprises run amok.  They represent a way of governing.”(5039)  The AAUP appears again, once more as a weak villain: “[T]oday’s AAUP runs the risk of catering to an increasingly inwardly focused audience – not that… places the desires of professors… ahead of students and the larger society that institutions are supposed to serve.” (5363)

Another recurrent theme is elitism.  DeMillo accuses Virginia faculty of not responding to second-time president Sullivan’s decision to scale back some student aid, presumably to protect a faculty ally (5346).  This chapter also sounds the earlier note of supporting legitimate authority on campus – here, in favor of Virginia’s Board of Visitors.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • DeMillo doesn’t only hit liberal/left “mobs”.  He takes care to mention conservative mobs as well.
  • This is an unusual account of the Virginia-Sullivan case, very supportive of Dragas.

Overall, this is an ambitious chapter, trying to bring together a wide range of arguments.  I was surprised at the emphasis on the UVa story; while I’m impressed by DeMillo’s energetic defense of Dragas, rhetorically, I’m not wholly convinced.

This is a bold and necessary question to ask, though, and I hope more people take this seriously: “What we are left with is the question of how a traditional university can be governed in an age of the vast but unaccountable Internet Empires like Twitter and Facebook.” (5357)

What do you make of it?

Next week, starting January 25th, is the last part of the book, “A Social Contract” and “Epilogue”.

Would you like to follow along?  Simply snag a copy of the book from your library or MIT Press or the local bookshop or Amazon (etc.), and get reading.  I’ll post about each chapter at the start of each week, so you can add comments there.  I’ve set up a tag for all posts: demillorevolution.  Twitter’s also a fine place to chat (I’m @BryanAlexander).  If you’re into Goodreads, let us know so we can catch up (here’s me).

Posted in reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

The new age of inequality and what it means for education: my January talk

What does increasing inequality mean for American higher education?  This was the theme for a talk I gave last week, where I put several years of research together for the first time.  I reproduce and expand on my materials here.

The first part of the presentation surveyed the state of inequality through macroeconomics and a touch of sociology.  If you’re new to the topic, or curious, read these slides, which are much more accessible than the preceding sentence suggests.  If not, skip to the next part. (Sorry about the title page; text glitch won’t go away)

Next I took the audience through the impacts of inequality on education, including K-12 and higher education.  This took 20 slides, touching on two-tier pedagogy, the rise of adjunctification, student poverty, etc:

To drive the point home I offered a very slight, very basic futures exercise. How would academia change if these trends continued into the medium-term future? I asked the audience to imagine a college or university where the faculty was now 80% adjunct (what some call the “neofeudal” campus), and where the balance of institutional attention was directed at rich students. The total amount of student debt exceeds the total amount held in mortgages.

When it came to technology, a tripartite division had opened up. Face-to-face instruction was the privilege of the 1%, while the middle class made do with distance learning, and everyone else had versions of MOOCs. Elite schools offer liberal arts education in this medium-term future, and people studying and teaching there know well that a lack of visible technology is a mark of status. The bachelor’s degree has become a sign of service workers’ quality. Leading majors in these campuses include finance, human resources (to manage the growing complexity of many part-time workers), and poli sci (to handle resulting political challenges).

To wrap up that futures digression, I offered a parody of Beloit’s Mindset List, imagining an 18-year-old who grew up in this hypothetical world and their mental landscape:

A hypothetical Beloit Mindset list for the medium-term future.

Having not depressed and/or horrified my audience enough, I offered this discussion prompt: “Does libel education contribute to, or mitigate, economic inequality?”  I encouraged them to break their answers down by scales: on a single campus; locally/regionally; nationally, as a sub sector within higher education.  Discussion was excellent, and I recommend using this prompt or variations of it. Continue reading

Posted in presentations and talks | Tagged | 5 Comments

Podcasting about the future of education

Here’s an education, technology, and the future trifecta.  Jim Dutcher (SUNY Cobleskill) interviewed me about the future of education for his podcast.

He also interviewed with the indispensable Casey Green.  Casey’s the creator and steward of the Campus Computing Project.

Jim framed this discussions with related thoughts, well worth considering.

Posted in interviews, podcasts | Leave a comment