APLU Panel: Effects of digital education trends on teaching faculty

Last week I spoke on a panel at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) annual conference. Below are the slides and abridged notes on the talk.

It is useful to look across many of the technology-drive trends affecting higher education and ask what that tells about faculty of the future. Distance education (DE) of course is not new, and the first DE course came out in the mid 1800s in a course from London on shorthand. These distance, or often correspondence, course have expanded over time, but with the rise of the Internet online education (today’s version of DE) has been accelerating over the past 20 years to become quite common in our higher education system.

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Dammit, the LMS

Count De Monet: I have come on the most urgent of business. It is said that the people are revolting!

King Louis: You said it; they stink on ice.

- History of the World, Part I

Jonathan Rees discovered a post I wrote about the LMS in 2006 and, in doing so, discovered that I was writing about LMSs in 2006. I used to write about the future of the LMS quite a bit. I hardly ever do anymore, mostly because I find the topic to be equal parts boring and depressing. My views on the LMS haven’t really changed in the last decade. And sadly, LMSs themselves haven’t changed all that much either. At least not in the ways that I care about most. At first I thought the problem was that the technology wasn’t there to do what I wanted to do gracefully and cost-effectively. That excuse doesn’t exist anymore. Then, once the technology arrived as Web 2.0 blossomed[1], I thought the problem was that there was little competition in the LMS market and therefore little reason for LMS providers to change their platforms. That’s not true anymore either. And yet the pace of change is still glacial. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the LMS is the way it is because a critical mass of faculty want it to be that way.

Jonathan seems to think that the LMS will go away soon because faculty can find everything they need on the naked internet. I don’t see that happening any time soon. But the reasons why seem to get lost in the perennial conversations about how the LMS is going to die any day now. As near as I can remember, the LMS has been about to die any day now since at least 2004, which was roughly when I started paying attention to such things.

And so it comes to pass that, with great reluctance, I take up my pen once more to write about the most dismal of topics: the future of the LMS.

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  1. Remember that term? []
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Kuali, Ariah and Apereo: Emerging ed tech debate on open source license types

With the annual Kuali conference – Kuali Days – starting today in Indianapolis, the big topic should be the August decision to move from a community source to a professional open source model, moving key development to a commercial entity, the newly-formed KualiCo. Now there will be two new announcements for the community to discuss, both centering on a esoteric license choice that could have far-reaching implications. Both the announcement of the Ariah Group as a new organization to support Kuali products and the statement from the Apereo Foundation center on the difference between Apache-style and AGPL licenses.

AGPL and Vendor Protection

Kuali previously licensed its open source code as Educational Community License (ECL), a derivative of the standard Apache license that is designed to be permissive in terms of allowing organizations to contribute modified open source code while mixing with code with different licenses – including proprietary. This license is ‘permissive’ in the sense that the derived, remixed code may be licensed in different manners. It is generally thought that this license type gives the most flexibility for developing a community of contributors.

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A New e-Literate TV Series is in Production

We have been quiet about e-Literate TV lately, but it doesn’t mean that we have been idle. In fact, we’ve been hard at work filming our next series. In addition to working with our old friends at IN THE TELLING—naturally—we’re also collaborating with EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) and getting funding and support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

As we have discussed both here and elsewhere, we think the term “personalized learning” carries a lot of baggage with it that needs to be unpacked, as does the related concept of “adaptive learning.” The field in general is grappling with these broad concepts and approaches; an exploration of specific examples and implementations should sharpen our collective understandings about the promise and risks of these concepts and approaches. The Gates foundation has funded the development of an ETV series and given us a free editorial hand to explore the topics of personalization and adaptive learning.

The heart of the series will be a series of case studies at a wide range of different schools. Some of these schools will be Gates Foundation grantees, piloting and studying the use of “personalized learning” technology or product, while others will not. (For more info about some of the pilots that Gates is funding in adaptive learning, including which schools are participating and the evaluation process the foundation has set up to ensure an object review of the results, see Phil’s post about the ALMAP program.) Each ETV case study will start by looking at who the students are at a particular school, what they’re trying to accomplish for themselves, and what they need. In other words who are the “persons” for whom we are trying to “personalize” learning? Hearing from the students directly through video interviews will be a central part of this series. We then take a look at how each school is using technology to support the needs of those particular students. We’re not trying to take a pro- or anti- position on any of these approaches. Rather, we’re trying to understand what personalization means to the people in these different contexts and how they are using tools to help them grapple with it.

Because many Americans have an idealized notion of what a personalized education means that may or may not resemble what “personalized learning” technologies deliver, we wanted to start the series by looking at that ideal. We filmed our first case study at Middlebury College, an elite New England liberal arts college that has an 8-to-1 student/teacher ratio. They do not use the term “personalized learning” at Middlebury, and some stakeholders there expressed the concern that technology, if introduced carelessly, could depersonalize education for Middlebury students. That said, we heard both students and teachers talk about ways in which even an eight-person seminar can support more powerful and personalized learning through the use of technology.

The second school on our list was Essex County College in Newark, New Jersey, where we are filming as of this writing (but will be finished by publication time). As you might imagine, the students, their needs, and their goals and aspirations are different, and the school’s approach to supporting them is different. Here again, we’ll be asking students and teachers for their stories and their views rather than imposing ours. We intend to visit a diverse handful of schools, with the goal of releasing a few finished case studies by the end of this year and more early next year.

With the help of the good folks at ELI, we will also be bringing together a panel at the ELI 2015 conference, consisting of the people from the various case studies to have a conversation about what we can learn about the idea of personalized learning by looking across these various contexts and experiences. This will be a “flipped” panel in the sense that the panelists (and the audience) will have had the opportunity to watch the case study videos before sitting down and talking to each other. The discussion will be filmed and included in the ETV series.

We’re pretty excited about the series and grateful, as always, to the support of our various partners. We’ll have more to say—and show—soon.

Stay tuned.

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Michael’s Keynote at Sakai Virtual Conference

Michael is giving the keynote address at tomorrow’s (Friday, Nov 7) Sakai Virtual Conference #SakaiVC14. The virtual conference is only $50 registration, with more information and registration link here. The schedule at a glance is available as PDF here.

Michael’s keynote is at 10:00am EDT, titled “Re-Imagining Educational Content for a Digital World”. At 4:30pm, there will be a Q&A session based on the keynote.

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