Thoughts on Kevin Carey’s University of Everywhere

Kevin Carey photoKevin Carey has a forthcoming book on the future of education, which I’m looking forward to.  The Washington Post offered a taste of it with an overview article, “One vision of tomorrow’s college: Cheap, and you get an education, not a degree“, which I’ll summarize here.

Carey envisions colleges and universities transformed primarily by distance learning (although he doesn’t call it that).   They will be joined by as-yet unformed, competitive nonprofits, including “start-up college[s].”  They will also be complemented by outsourced student life: “a thriving ecosystem of nonprofit and for-profit organizations will develop around the core education providers…”

The combination of free online course content (the article resists the “open education” term, curiously), MOOCs (also not named), the modular nature of digital media, and the demands of learners drives the creation of broken-down course bits, a/k/a unbundling. These course segments will be made by distributed teams and consist of rich multimedia.  Learners using them will rely on social media and video to collaborate in the learning process.  The result is the University of Everywhere.

Assessment will involve increasingly strong AI, open credentialing, and open badging, relying on a mix of texts and digital projects.  Proctoring will become a big business.

Costs will be lower than tuition prices now run, sometimes free, depending on the provider and service/content offered.  One business model: “free courses, inexpensive assessments”.  “The total cost of college for many students in the University of Everywhere will be a small fraction of the current market price of higher education.”  Funding will come from whichever entity wants to invest: “[p]rivate businesses might create these new learning organizations, or governments, or philanthropists.”

Face to face learning will occur, sometimes:

Imagine a small group of buildings or spaces run by people with a particular educational philosophy and open to anyone who’s interested in learning. The educators there focus on mentoring students and helping them form relationships with one another. There are places for people to work person-to-person, or to engage electronically with peers in other cities, states and countries. Some of the students live nearby and spend hours there every day, learning full-time. Others come in from their families and homes.

The book should have much more along these lines.  Without access to a copy, let me offer a few thoughts.

  • The online-only part of this sounds like cMOOCs + AI, scaled up massively.  That’s because of the essential social component.
  • I wonder if we’ll see the current Two Cultures divide play out further in Carey’s world.  Obviously quantitatively intensive fields (the natural sciences, some math-using social sciences) will have an easier time integrating AI into their assessment than will their opposite number (the humanities and arts, plus non-math-using social sciences).
  • The AI component is likely to grow beyond assessment, as applications become capable of serving as tutors.
  • Dave Heth pointed out in a LinkedIn group that this description of tertiary education misses a great deal of universities’ research mission.  It’s also silent on the library’s role of preserving and rendering access to the corpus of information.
  • Academic libraries seem to fade away, in fact.
  • Dave also wondered about college sports in this world.
  • I fear that academics will be even more poorly compensated than the majority now are.  There are no faculty unions in Everywhere, nor tenure that I can make out.  At worst it’s an Uber academy, staffed by Alfreds.

There’s a utopian flair to this, which becomes open at the article’s end:

The future of higher education is one in which educational organizations shrink back to a human scale. They will be big enough to form authentic communities and not so big that interpersonal connections are overwhelmed.

Carey also celebrates increased access to education, especially on the global stage.  I am in deep sympathy with the latter point, and am impressed by the former.  It’s important to hear this utopian tone in the article, as it indicates the argument is not just analytic, but prescriptive.

Naturally these are all provisional comments, based on a smidgen of a book.  I look forward to reading the latter.

(thanks to Gary Schuckman and Paul Hanstedt for the pointer; Kevin Carey photo lifted from the New America site)

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