Summary of Statements Before California Panel Discussion on Online Education

As Michael mentioned, the two of us will be participating in a panel discussion next week – Rebooting CA Higher Education, sponsored by the 20 Million Minds Foundation, on January 8th. The event will be live streamed.

I’ve been asked to give a short talk based on my recent EDUCAUSE Review article that described various online educational models, and I will also moderate several panels. Given my role, I’d like to collect links to several of the key posts and articles that frame the issues to be discussed next week. After the event I’ll share my thoughts on the discussions.

Statements Prior to Formation of Online Symposium

The panel discussion is based on governor Jerry Brown’s call for the three public higher education systems in California (University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges) to evaluate online education as one method to control or reduce student costs. In particular, much of the discussion started during Governor Brown’s meeting with the UC Regents on Nov 14, 2012.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the thought of online education being used as a tool to change public higher ed cost structures.

Setup of Panel Discussion

The 20 Million Minds website describes the discussions:

The purpose of the panel discussion is to raise the awareness and discuss key issues regarding the potential for online education to lower the costs for higher education in California.

We face a crisis in California in our ability to fully support public higher education. As a first approximation, the state should focus its attention on arresting the growth of the cost of education while maintaining or even increasing access and quality, not by simply urging educators to “do more with less,” but by enlisting their active participation in and contribution to innovative approaches. In accomplishing this goal, California could foster a working coalition that would be capable of attacking even more ambitious targets.

Given the new opportunity and interest in online education, it is important that we bring together various stakeholders to discuss and understand the key issues. The purpose of the panel discussion is to kick start this discussion in California and to take a leadership role and accelerate our efforts to take advantage of the cost-saving potential inherent in online education.

Speakers from the providers’ panel include principals Udacity, Coursera, StraighterLine, Online Learning Initiative, 2U, SJSU, University of Wisconsin Extension, ASU Online, Coast Community College, Learning Counts, and Western Governors University. To my knowledge, this is the most comprehensive gathering of online providers in one discussion that has occurred to date.

In addition, additional panels will include California system administrators & policy-makers, including the Lt Governor Gavin Newsom and the Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. There will also be a panel for students and one for faculty leaders.

Sal Khan will kick off the online live streaming.

Statements From Panelists

Several of the panelists have provided statements about the upcoming event.

  • Online Learning Initiative 12/30: Candace Thille at UCLA for “Leveraging Innovations in Online Education” – ““Rather than using information technology to mimic or scale typical classroom teaching methods, I hope the participants will begin to discuss how to use emerging technologies to effectively re-engineer the teaching and learning process as a whole.  We have the opportunity to address large-scale societal issues in higher education while simultaneously making progress in our fundamental understanding of human learning.”
  • Bob Samuels 12/31: Online for Higher Ed in California Event – “Although it is clear here that the frame for the conference is the idea that online education can make higher education more cost effective, I plan to use my time to show how the move to distance education will most likely only increase the cost of instruction.”
  • Michael Feldstein 12/31: California Discusses Cost and Effectiveness in Higher Education – “From my personal perspective, while I’m not a big believer in the role of the “harsh reality of the marketplace” as a driver for educational policy, I do think the harsh reality of student debt burdens should motivate a sense of urgency. And I think there is a huge opportunity for a long overdue rethink of how we approach education.”
  • Sal Khan 12/31: Introduction Video on 20 Million Minds site – “I see conferences like this as really valuable ways for all of the players to interface with each other, and to treally hink about how this might affect them, how it might affect their children, how it might affect the institutions they work for, and really come up with solutions that benefit all the parties involved.”
  • Ray Cross 1/2: Watch “Rebooting Higher Education” conference showcasing UW Flexible Option – “The availability of MOOCs is not the big transformation in higher education,” Cross says. “The transformation is all about what to do with the MOOCs – how to evaluate them – and how to help students learn, whether through MOOCs or any other tool.”
  • Jeff Selingo 1/7: What Happens in California Matters – “It’s a discussion worth paying attention to. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m speaking at the conference). California’s public colleges enroll one out of nine college students in the country. So what happens there matters. More than fifty years ago the Master Plan had a positive impact on higher education in the country. Let’s hope that California can figure out the next big innovation for this century.”

If I’ve missed anything, let me know and I’ll update.

Update 1/10: Added Jeff Selingo post

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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6 Responses to Summary of Statements Before California Panel Discussion on Online Education

  1. tom abeles says:

    Your post, here, on the WSJ article analyzing the costs at the University of Minnesota, point to the fact that much of the cost spiral of the HEI’s rests with the larger institution and, in fact, that the actual costs for delivery of education has increased at a substantively lower rate than the operation of the institution itself, particularly administratively.

    That would indicate that, while online education offers interesting opportunities to meet knowledge needs of the populus and is worth the expenditure of resources, it is not the answer to the issue of spiraling costs within The Academy, and, in fact, is a misdirection and avoidance of the issue at hand.

  2. Phil Hill says:

    Tom, fair point (and part of the reason for me putting out the other post). I don’t think online ed is THE answer, but is one of the answers – and it would be a mistake to ignore administrative costs. In my mind, just because there are admin cost issues and that online cannot be the sole solution doesn’t mean that online “is a misdirection and avoidance”.

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  4. Fred M Beshears says:

    I worked at UC Berkeley for twenty years (1987 – 2007), first as the assistant director of the Instructional Technology Program and latter as a senior strategist for Educational Technology Services (which resulted from a merger of ITP and the Office of Media Services). Also, as part of my role in ITP, I initiated the first campus wide Learning Management System service on the Berkeley campus. Finally, for about eight years I staffed the Chancellor’s Computing and Communications Policy Board’s Instructional Technology subcommittee (the CCCPB-IT). So, I have a fair amount of experience with Instructional Technology at the Berkeley campus.

    So, for those who claim that the University has done all it can to find ways to reduce the cost of instruction through the use of information technology, I have one question: Who, if anyone, has the authority and the mandate to be in charge of this effort.

    Some might think that units that provide services related to Instructional Technology and Education Technology might have some mandate and authority to pursue the goal of cost reduction, but they would be very wrong if they believed this to be the case. We could look for ways to improve the quality of instruction, but I know from personal experience that we would run into stiff resistance if we explicitly started even talking about ways to reduce the cost of instruction.

    Also, it is very unlikely that faculty would look for ways to “innovate themselves out of a job” as one instructor put it to me.

    So, if IT support staff are not mandated to look for ways to reduce cost ,and faculty do not see it as being in their interests to do so, is it credible for representatives from the university to suggest that anyone is seriously trying to find ways to reduce the cost of instruction through the use of technology?

    Fred M Beshears

  5. Fred Beshears says:


    Here are some links on two ways to reduce the cost of instruction.

    The first way is to is to have faculty spend less time delivering lectures (and perhaps more time interacting with students in ways that technology cannot), and the second is to
    reduce the cost of textbooks.

    As for lectures, the idea that’s been around for over forty years now is to break large lectures up into small study groups, give the students in these groups problems sets, discussion questions, and videos of the lecture they would otherwise attend in some large lecture hall. The Dean of Stanford’s Scool of Engineering did something like this with their distance education program back in the early seventies. He called it Tutored Video Instruction. When he conducted experiments to see how the TVI students performed relative to his on-campus graduate student, he found that there was no statistically significant difference (although students who were challenged by the material tended to do slightly better in the TVI groups).

    So, if one is looking for ways to improve the quality of instruction, the TVI experiments were a failure – the glass is half empty. However, if one is looking for ways to reduce the cost of instruction, the glass is half full.

    The High Tech Small Study Group Saga

    As for reducting the cost of textbooks check out this link to the slides I presented to a US House subcommittee looking into the high cost of commercial textbooks back in 2007.

    Here the link to the slide show that I presented to this committee:

    A sustainable business model for open electronic textbooks.

    Earlier, I’d published a paper on the case for creative commons
    textbooks that also examined the cost of developing a maintaining
    electronic textbooks. Bottom line, if you had a coalition of around a
    1000 schools commission the development of textbooks for around 200
    courses, the cost would be around $3.25 per year per student. In
    total, it would cost around $75 million a year to develop and maintain
    these textbooks, which is a rounding error in the US Department of
    Education’s annual budget.

    Here’s a link to the paper that supports these figures:

    The Case for Creative Commons Textbooks

    When I wrote this paper, many of my friends pointed out that it would
    be very difficult to organize such a coaltion because of the
    free-rider problem (many schools that used the free textbooks would be
    tempted to do so even though they did not pay their membership dues).

    When I presented this idea to congress, Bush was in the White House,
    so I didn’t see much chance of getting money out of the federal
    budget. The Obama admin, however, has attempted to allocate funds to
    create Open Educational Resources.

    There’s one more blog post of mine that might interest you. It
    discusses three different models for persuading faculty to select open
    textbooks over the commercial alternative. They are: the jawbone, the
    stick, and the carrot. Currently, California schools are using the
    jawbone approach, which is better than nothing but may not be optimal.
    I list the stick approach, but I think it would be inappropriate for
    California schools. (However, it might be necessary in developing
    countries where students cannot afford commercial textbooks.) I
    believe the carrot approach is one that deserves more attention. In
    essence, it would give faculty a financial incentive to consider open
    textbooks and it describes where the money would come from to pay for
    said incentives.

    Persuading Faculty to Select Open Textbooks

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