On February 16th we held the second Future Trends Forum. Richard DeMillio and I, along with some thoughtful participants, explored several major forces shaping education. Campus Technology shared some reflections. In this post I’d like to share some notes and a recording of the session.
In fact, here’s the whole recording right now, embedded from YouTube:
And here are my notes from a very intense hour.
1: Revolution in Higher Education
We discussed Rich’s recent book, which we’ve been reading for months, anchored on these blog posts. There’s an historical argument involved – well, several, but one we focused on, namely that we’re in the early stages of a major reform movement within higher education. Revolution sees 2012 as a critical year (“the Magic Year”) when forces really came together, including, but not limited to, MOOCs. DeMillo sees MOOCs still developing, with their audience unclear, and plenty of room to introduce good learning practices: mastery learning, active learning, formative assessment, “the stuff we know that works”. Bloom’s two sigma research came up.
Access to higher education is really Revolution‘s central theme, including how to use technology to expand access without breaking anyone’s bank. This also means using sound pedagogy. DeMillo offered a contrast between tv pedagogy and sounder principles; I compared xMOOC and xMOOCs. We also discussed new forms of online learning that don’t reproduce the classroom, including the example of a physics class using a basketball experiment, which was videod and shared: a video lab report.
I asked about another theme from DeMillo’s book, the persistence of the classic institutional pecking order. The author repeated his criticism, saying “linear rankings are an enormous waste of time and energy and money”. I followed up by asking which strategies the academic elite will use to maintain the system it presides over for the next decade. Rich noted that some of the elite have also been the most forward-looking and egalitarian, citing Chuck Vest at MIT and the OCW initiative. He also emphasized non-elite schools doing great work that do not enjoy lavish media coverage, such as Jackson State, which is implementing new and better means of supporting students,in line with its HBCU (historically black college and university) mission.
We pursued change on another front, looking at transformations in academic labor. I raised the tenure system, adjunctification, and unionization. DeMillo responded by arguing that tenure as an institution for guaranteeing academy freedom is on the decline. It won’t fully disappear, but will become rare, replaced by other labor modes, such as medium-term contracts. Rich also mentioned the rise of team-based teaching; we discussed digital humanities practice as an instance of this.
2: The 21st century university
We then changed course to explore what the Center for 21st Century Universities, where DeMillo works, is seeing for the medium-term future of American higher education.
Several points flowed quickly from this prompt. One question to explore: who will benefit from a Georgia Tech education over time? Related: where will new students come from? This leads to online programs, such as their online master’s in computer science, which apparently expanded the global graduate CS market in a single year. “we expanded the market for degrees by 8% in one year”. If successful, this approach could be applied to the undergraduate level, then perhaps high school, and even middle school.
I asked when the majority of teaching will be done online, and Rich surprised me by saying “never.” Instead he saw blended learning as the mainstream of learning for the foreseeable future, for most people. I followed this up by asking for my interviewee’s favorite sources for learning and thinking about the future of education? Once again he surprised me by preferring… field trips, especially to a range of institutions.
3. General Q+A
I stepped aside to bring in the audience, who was champing at the bit.
Q: Greg Britton asked, “The MOOC classroom shifts to be an enormously collaborative prospect. This raises interesting intellectual property questions.”
A: DeMillo prefers an open content, open access approach, citing the activity of young people in remix culture.
Q: Leah MacVie: “I guess I am concerned that our views of higher ed reform are limited. It doesn’t include higher ed as a leader in society. It doesn’t include higher ed taking a systems, futures, and sustainable approach to assisting society in achieveing its preferred future. It doesn’t include the lifelong learning needed in society today, and higher ed playing a role in it. “
A: DeMillo thought the United States was too distributed (in higher education and state politics, I think) for such a model to work. He did see the possibility for specific institutions to offer new ways of thinking that deviated from politically acceptable ways, offering an example of universities in Francophonic Africa teaching economics against the concepts local state orthodoxy required. He also cited by queen sacrifice research, seeing 100 institutions per year cutting academics. Overall, Rich thought a realignment around missions was going on, as institutions that used to be broad-ranged becoming narrowly focused, and some narrowly focused ones are becoming broad. He did fear homogenization, as in a big move to make all schools look like R1s. A countervailing tendency to this: universities considered not for global, but for local needs.
Summary: a rich, rapidly-paced, broad-ranging discussion, enhanced by great audience questions. Once again the Shindig platform and support staff worked well to keep everything flowing smoothly.
Coming up this week: notes and recording from last week’s discussion with Casey Green about campus technologies, plus a new Forum with Will Richardson. The latter is this Thursday at 2 pm EST.