Monday, February 20, 2012

This Week's Reading List

A faculty member grapples with loss of authority, higher learning for a one-to-many world, and a pioneering school continues to innovate, all on this week's reading list.

"The 'Undue Weight' of Truth on Wikipedia"
This is a very nice article in The Chronicle Review that covers the experiences of a faculty member, a known expert in a certain field, who attempts to "correct" a Wikipedia article covering his area of expertise. What follows is a frustrating experience for the faculty member, but is characteristic of what happens when one-to-many notions of authority collide with our many-to-many world.

"MIT launches free online 'fully automated' course"
MITx continues to lead the development of online coursework. All portions of this fully free course, on the subject of circuits and electronics, are online: including the course content, the exercises and virtual laboratory, and discussion forums. The course is proclaimed to be just as rigorous as the same course on the Boston campus. The question remains: is this indicative of a higher education or an exercise in vocational certification? And if learning becomes separated from face-to-face collaboration, are we really creating the types of innovative thinkers our economy needs?

"A Bachelor's Degree for $10,000"
Excelsior College is known for innovative programs that help adult learners complete a college degree. This announcement of a new program, that pares students together with free, online courses that prepare them for credit by exam testing. President John Ebersole is a leader in this field, and this program ranks up there with the competency-based programs of Western Governors University in terms of outreach to post-traditional college students. When we fully crack the college completion puzzle, it will be because of innovations like this program.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Introducing Valdis Krebs

Last week I blogged about the tensions inherent in the shift from a world characterized by one-to-many relationships to a world characterized by many-to-many relationships. This week I want to continue this thread by talking about changes in the nature of efficiency and power that this shift poses. It is these changes that are driving the social tensions discussed last week. In doing so, I want to introduce the work of social network theorist Valdis Krebs who has done some very influential work on the nature of power in social networks. 

From my earliest childhood memories, I remember sitting at my grandparents breakfast table in the early 1970s and watching my grandfather read the morning newspaper The Tyler Morning Telegraph. This, together with the CBS News at 5:30pm, was the primary way that our family received the news each day. In terms of communication paradigms, this is about as close to the one-to-many form as you can get.

Relative Cost / Efficiency in One-to-Many News Dissemination (Circa 1971)
This way of receiving the news each day was near universal at the time. The hierarchical relationships in the one-to-many model were highly efficient and very low cost. The daily newspaper was less than .25 cents and CBS, ABC, and NBC were basically free if you attached an aluminum antenna to your roof. Communications between others at the bottom of the hierarchy, unless they lived next door, was just the opposite - they were incredibly inefficient and very costly. If we wanted to talk to my Aunt and Uncle in Dallas, about 2 hours away, it took either a stamp and a week or a phone call that would cost much more than .25 cents / minute.

Today, my wife and I both sit at the breakfast table with laptops and with the TV on. By the time we have finished breakfast, we both typically will have responded to a dozen or more email messages and will have read the news from dozens of Web sites or Twitter feeds. When thinking about the costs of the way we consume today's news, our DirectTV subscription at $150/month has replaced what used to be free. But reading email and browsing the Web costs us practically nothing! The nature of the collaborations in the many-to-many world has reversed the efficiencies and costs inherent in the way we consume information and collaborate with others. Today, it tends to be much more inefficient and much more expensive to communicate in a centralized fashion. Many-to-many communications and collaborations are just the opposite.

The relationship between efficiency and cost correlates with the nature of power in both one-to-many and many-to-many networks. This is where the work of Krebs and orgnet is authoritative. 

Valdis Krebs, Power of Networks
Compare the two social networks in the above image: on the left is a typical one-to-many network and on the right is a many-to-many network. Krebs has mapped out the relative power inherent in the relationships of all participants in these networks. In the one-to-many network, the heavy centralization, high efficiency, and low costs of centralized communications results in a power score of 1.0 at the top of the hierarchy and the low efficiency and high cost of communications at the bottom results in a power score of .286 for each participant. Now, compare these power scores to those for the participants in the many-to-many relationship. The significant collaborations and free flow of information, made possible because of the low cost and efficiency of many-to-many collaborations, has diluted the power of participants at the top and have resulted in an even sharing of power between all participants.

With this in mind, let's go back to the examples I highlighted last week:

It is this shift that has disrupted traditional notions of power and authority, whether we are talking about the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, the faculty rebellion against publishing giant Elsevier, or the recent backlash against the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

What we see in each of these examples is the power of individuals coming together, through communications and collaborations made possible by the Internet and mobile technologies, to shake up established hierarchies of power and destroy the business models of the past. I have one question for those of us in higher education: what makes us think that we're immune from these forces? And, just for fun, if you happen to be a CIO running a central IT organization think about what these changes pose for your future.

Monday, February 13, 2012

This Week's Reading List

More on the need for change in higher education, an introduction to Obama's data wonk on higher education, and concerns about the college completion agenda, all on this week's reading list.

"What You (Really) Need to Know"
Lawrence Summers, former Treasury Secretary and President of Harvard, takes his turn at the wheel to tell higher education how and why it must change. However, unlike the one-to-many world approaches espoused by some, the recommendations by Summers have some significant many-to-many world potential. At the center of Summer's prescriptions is a focus on learning as a collaboration between faculty and students, with a focus on how to process and use information instead of simply imparting it. Those along with several other juicy nuggets make this a worthwhile read.

"A College-Cost Policy Wonk Brings Data on College Costs to the Table"
Jane Wellman is a "pull no punches" self-proclaimed number cruncher, who is advising President Obama on ways to make higher education more affordable. With a reputation for "calling it as she sees it", Wellman is well known for using data to hold all sides accountable, including both state governments ("public universities are getting screwed, and particularly community colleges are getting screwed") and college presidents (who engage in "trophy building" by hiring expensive researchers who never teach). Wellman's work through the Delta Cost Project on on Postsecondary Education Costs is an influential voice in the debate over the affordability of a higher education.

"We're Losing Our Minds"
Is the college completion agenda, the agenda for increasing the numbers of college graduates, hostile to a learning agenda that focuses on deepening the impacts of a higher learning? It could be, particularly if increased use of technology is done only to increase the scalability of a one-to-many model of imparting knowledge. Also covered, why is it that college professors struggle to leave the one-to-many lecture model? Could it be that they do not receive sufficient instruction in teaching while in graduate school? This makes me think back: in the 100 credit hours of my combined Master's and PhD coursework, only one hour was dedicated to a seminar on teaching.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Using Metrics

EDUCAUSE yesterday released a short video that features me and Martin Klubeck of Notre Dame discussing the importance of metrics.

Martin is the leader when it comes to the use of metrics for IT organizations in higher education, and it was an honor to share the stage with him. His recent book Metrics: How to Improve Key Business Results is a valuable resource for IT leaders and it features a case study on my research through the Higher Education TechQual+ Project.

Thanks EDUCAUSE for featuring our work!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tensions Inherent in the Many to Many World

As I prepare my keynote for THE Conference in Doha, Qatar later this month, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the changing dynamics inherit in the shift from the one-to-many world of our past to the many-to-many world of our present and future. If you have been following my twitter feed, you will have noticed my preoccupation with the concept of the many-to-many world. As I think about opportunities at work, challenges and opportunities in higher education, and social struggles in the United States and elsewhere, it's increasingly obvious that many of the tensions we see today are natural consequences of the shift from a world characterized by one-to-many relationships to a world characterized by many-to-many relationships.

I use the phrase "many-to-many" in the context of the different types of electronic communications made possible by the Internet. The first type, the one-to-one form, is represented by email, where one individual uses the Internet to communicate with one person. The second type, the one-to-many form, is represented by the World-Wide-Web, where individuals use platforms like this blog to share and distribute content to as many individuals as possible. The third type, the many-to-many form, is represented by social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia, where individuals use the Internet to collaborate with others on a massive scale.

I operate from an assumption that the one-to-one and one-to-many forms were about using the Internet to replicate the basic types of social relationships that existed in the physical world.  But the shift from one-to-many relationships to many-to-many relationships represents something quite different than what has existed previously.

The One-to-Many and the Many-to-Many Worlds

While the Internet resulted in one-to-one and one-to-many communications that were more efficient and less costly, it did nothing to disrupt the traditional, hierarchical relationships present in the physical world. That is to say, that the Internet dramatically increased the scalability of the first two forms of communication, but did not fundamentally change the nature of power and authority inherent in most social relationships - that is, until widespread adoption of social networking sites and mobile devices. With the adoption of these tools, our capability for many-to-many relationships has increased exponentially while the costs for such collaborations has dropped to next to nothing.

This has inverted the value propositions inherent in one-to-many and many-to-many relationships. Previously, hierarchical models were more efficient and less costly, but social networks have changed that. It is this shift that has disrupted traditional notions of power and authority, whether we are talking about the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, the faculty rebellion against publishing giant Elsevier, or the recent backlash against the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Each of those stories is about individuals, who tend to have less power in one-to-many relationships, coming together through social networks and leveling the playing field against entrenched powers.

Whether this is good or bad depends upon your perspective, as one individual's positive change can be another individual's mob mentality. This is because the rise of the many-to-many world has also disrupted traditional notions of authenticity. What is fact and what is opinion? If thousands of individuals believe something to be true even though mathematically it might not be possible, does that make it less true or less factual? The post-modernists would say that it doesn't, but it is the nature of these tensions between power, authority, and authenticity that are hallmarks of the many-to-many world that we today find ourselves in.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

This Week's Reading List

A publishing giant reacts to a rebellion by its authors, the dangers of groupthink, and new ways of gauging faculty productivity and impact, all on this week's reading list.

"As Journal Boycott Grows, Elsevier Defends its Practices"
The battle over open access to the fruits of federally-sponsored research is, at its core, about publishing giants seeking to preserve their legacy business models by locking customers into the inefficiencies of a one-to-many world. Pre-Internet, scholars depended on giants like Elsevier to vet and publish their work, and institutions depended on them to fill their libraries with relevant and authoritative content. Today, the many-to-many collaborations made possible by the Internet are resulting in peer review and distribution models that are more rigorous and efficient than those of the past. Pay attention to these debates, they are ground zero for the movement away from our one-to-many past.

"Peer-Driven Learning: Collaboration or Groupthink"
Not everything made possible by the many-to-many world is positive. In fact, the intense collaborations inherent in social networks can result in information overload that distorts decision-making. Research has shown that when faced with too much information or too many choices, individuals tend to "follow the masses." In the classroom, such overload can result in groupthink. In larger society, this can distort decision-making at multiple levels - both marketers and politicians count on it. The opportunity for those of us in the academy is to think about ways that our collaborations can filter out the herd behaviors that often erupt in a many-to-many world.

"Scholars Seek Better Ways to Track Impact Online"
Tracking faculty productivity and impact used to be simple. Faculty submit manuscripts to journals who then convene peers to review them. If peers like the manuscript, the journal then publishes it - an indicator of faculty productivity. Publishing in more selective journals indicates that one's work has more far-reaching impact. These traditions are a hallmark of a one-to-many world. Today, faculty can publish any idea at anytime. Traditional notions of productivity and rigor are thrown out the window. This raises questions like: just because an individual self-publishes their research, does that mean that they are less productive, or that their ideas are less significant, than those of a peer who publishes in a traditional journal? We've yet to fully shake out the many-to-many impacts on traditional notions of rigor and authenticity, but we're starting to make progress.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Degree Completion Solution that's a 'Quick Win', made possible by 'Rapid Response', and 'Adrenaline Inducing', but not from Central IT

I have been following the MyEdu partnership with the University of Texas System because it is an example of the new competition that central IT organizations face in our many-to-many, decentralized world. Regents, chancellors, presidents, and CFOs are no longer dependent upon central IT as the sole provider of IT services for their institutions. Degree completion is one of the biggest strategic opportunities for increased alignment between IT and the academic mission of our institutions. If your central IT organization isn't ready to provide 'quick wins' and engage in 'rapid response' to produce 'adrenaline inducing' IT solutions, sit back and watch your campus leadership shift their investments to private sector competitors who can.

Several months ago an editorial by former governors Jeb Bush and Jim Hunt in Inside Higher Education discussed how technological innovation has created new opportunities for a more efficient and scalable model for higher education. One passage in this piece caught my eye.

"Setting up the technology needed to deliver high-quality instruction is daunting, but it is a challenge that can be easily managed using the right resources. We believe the answer is public/private partnerships, which was the approach taken by the University of Texas System when many of its campuses decided to start moving courses online. Partnerships like theirs allow the university to maintain control of the content, instructional materials, and admissions standards, while leaving the implementation to the experts. (emphasis added)"

Something tells me that Governor Bush and Governor Hunt were not talking about central IT organizations when talking about "the experts". That poses the question why? What is it about the way central IT organizations conduct business that suggests to our leaders that we can not be counted on for strategic solutions that are timely and innovative? While thinking about that, here's another question to ponder: how would you have responded if your president came to you and offered to invest $10 million in your organization to produce a cutting-edge solution to our degree completion challenges? Would your response have inspired confidence that your organization is up to the challenge?