The following is a rough transcript of my presentation at the 20 Million Minds conference on January 7th.
Thank you very much, and thanks to everybody for coming to the conference.
We seem to be in a unique situation. I had someone remark to me in the hallway discussions leading up to the event that we have quite a unique group of people here, both in terms of the online educational programs and in terms of statewide system administration and faculty.
Jeff Selingo pointed out very well some of the major forces affecting higher education and affecting where we’re going. A lot of people understand this current situation is not a temporary setback, not a temporary change where we can pull back to the normal once certain things change. We’re in a situation where an entire education ecosystem is changing and putting us into uncharted territory. How higher education changes will be up to a lot of the people in this room, as far as key choices go. How can we use the power of online education to transform traditional institutions and systems? I think this meeting is helping to set up a lot of the discussion on the potential changes.
Online education has been around since 1994 – that is the earliest point where you could truly say the Internet helped deliver postsecondary education. On one hand, that is a very small amount of time in terms of academic history. The model we’ve used for academia has been around for hundreds of years, so to a certain degree online education is quite new, and we don’t fully understand what the impact is going to be.
On the other hand, online education did not start in the past two years – it has a history deeper than that covered in many media outlets. We’ve had a huge amount of interest, particularly in the past two years, about online education at the national and state level that has focused just on the recent news and the recent innovations. It’s going to important for us to understand the broader picture of what online education has to offer – what are the different models available and how can they help address the problems of quality, access and cost that we are discussing today.
For public higher education, as Jeff has pointed out, one in nine students are in California. That’s an enormous impact on the entire country, not just for the state. Any transformation of California public higher education will not come from just one type of online education – we need to be cognizant that this is not a one problem / one solution issue.
Online education is a new media, and we really need to understand what are the different potentials for the various models to transform not just new models of education, but also traditional institutions as well. One of the things we’re hoping to get today is a broader perspective so you can see a lot of the innovations out there and what the potential is. But also it’s going to be very important to get faculty perspectives, student perspectives, administration perspectives, and get some of the key issues out on the table. It’s not going to be just a matter of plugging in a single solution to make it work. For that reason I want to thank 20 Million Minds for putting together this forum, quickly put this conference together to get this discussion going, but I also expect the conversation is just starting and will continue.
The landscape that you’re seeing in the graphic is meant to give a broader perspective of what’s going on in online education, and we need to get away from the duality of simply online education versus traditional education. There are different models at play and they have different qualities. One way to lay out this landscape of models is the dimension of modality. There is a spectrum of modality including face-to-face, hybrid or flipped classroom where face-to-face time is augmented by online actives and content delivery. There’s individual online courses supplementing face-to-face programs. There’s fully online programs, and getting away from the standard cohort-based model, there’s even self-paced programs based on the time and availability of the individual student.
The other dimension is course design, which gets to the core of the academic mission, which gets to how knowledge is conveyed and learned by students. It turns out that how courses are designed is a major determination of why certain models exist. The traditional course design involves a single faculty member designing a specific course, where they design and teach that course. There are certain cases where multiple faculty members design a course, particularly for multi-disciplinary examples. And on the top level there’s a concept that has significant implications, and that’s an instructional design team. It’s not just individual faculty, you have a team that includes instructional designers, multi-media specialists, and even subject matter experts from industry. It’s a team-based approach to designing a course.
The reason there’s a wall here is that culturally, there’s a significant barrier for an institution to move from the traditional mindset and be able to get into this concept of team-based course design. As institutions deal with how to adapt to online education, they need to be aware of this barrier and understand the different options to go over or around or even avoid this barrier.
I’m not going to go into the details of all of the models today, but I would like to highlight a few. As mentioned before, some of the models exist to deal with this barrier of a team-designed course. You certainly have a lot of face-to-face courses which use online components, and we’re going to hear about this from the first panel that includes hybrid or flipped classrooms.
The biggest change over the past two years, I think most people would agree, is the concept of a massive open online course, or MOOC. This is one of the first attempts to take advantage of the power of the Internet in terms of scale and access – and MOOCs have driven a lot of the recent national conversation. One thing that is interesting about MOOCs is how they’re depicted on the bottom side of the barrier. MOOCs actually provides a way to attack scale and access while still working through the model of individual faculty designing a course
Up on the top side of the barrier, often traditional schools have had to create a separate organization to be able to provide online courses at scale. We have UC Online, CSU Online here, some other examples such as Rio Salado College in Arizona, University of Maryland University College. There’s several examples where there’s a separate organization within the overall structure of a traditional institution.
There are also service organizations, often called school-as-a-service, that provide the services that traditional schools are not comfortable doing. The idea is “We’ll help you go online by providing the services that your school is not capable of or does not want to do strategically, and let you focus on the academic and the admissions processes which are critical to your institution”.
One other model I’ll highlight that we’ll hear about is competency-based education. There are different versions of competency-based education, but most are based on self-paced courses. In these models, the design starts with defining the competencies that student needs to master, then giving students the time and the ability for repetition for re-taking the material or the assessments before letting them go to the next level.
There are multiple models out there, and what you’re going to be hearing today is a first-hand perspective from the people who have helped created many of these models. The panels will also get into issues such as what are the key barriers to overcome for California public higher education to leverage the power of online education, not just to try out an interesting pilot, but to diffuse that innovation throughout the system.
For the rest of the day we’re also going to hear from students, administrators, and also faculty – to get their thoughts on what are the big issues we need to tackle if we’re going to maintain or improve the quality of education in California while levering online models.