Monday, October 7, 2013

Computers are no substitute for good teachers . . .

Or, a more adept phrase might be – what I’m thinking about as I prepare for EDUCAUSE next week. When reviewing the conference program, one can’t help but be struck by the degree to which the agenda is dominated by topics covering the (potential) impacts of technology on learning. I’m pretty sure that many attendees would agree with the statement that technology itself is no panacea for the present challenges of higher education – equality of access, adequate preparation of incoming students, escalating costs, and graduate preparedness. When thinking of these challenges, my mind harkens back to my own higher education – an experience where good teachers were absolutely critical in providing me with support and mentoring, and that experience was a very big part of putting me on a path of lifelong learning.

Because of my experience, as well as the sociological lens through which I tend to view things, I have maintained a healthy sense of skepticism regarding the potential for technology to “disrupt” higher education, at least in the sense that technology can easily lower costs or produce better and more scalable learning outcomes. Over the past couple of years there has been significant collaborations focused on these questions. As the evidences trickles in there is plenty of data to support my skepticism.
As a traditionalist, I believe that the most important opportunity for impacting college students lies in the student-faculty relationship. It is through that collaboration that we can impart not only knowledge but also the processes by which knowledge is created – which helps students become creative thinkers and lifelong learners. Far too many online programs are built on an industrial, one-to-many approach that focuses on using technology to increase the scalability of content distribution at the expense of traditional collaborations between students and faculty. Ultimately the traditional approach to online education opts for a focus on convenience, efficiency, and scalability at the expense of what the Internet is truly about – massive social connectedness.

What’s exciting to me is that the most forward-thinking individuals today working in this space realize that the traditional approach of online education is the path of commoditization  - one that reduces learning processes to their lowest common denominator and undermines the traditional student – faculty relationship. A more enlightened approach, a many-to-many approach, focuses on connectivity and community, as it is the relationships between students and faculty that drive the development of critical thinking skills and the creation of knowledge. Such processes can and should be enhanced by the connectivity made possible by the Internet as students are empowered to be both content creators and subscribers simultaneously.

As I walk the conference floor next week, I’ll be looking for presentations and products that focus on how social connectivity, in a many-to-many sense, can transform learning processes for the better. Some specific areas I’m looking for include the following.
  • The transformation of the classroom lecture. In a many-to-many world, the traditional classroom lecture goes out the window as students move beyond their legacy role as a content subscriber. I’m interested in seeing demonstrations of technology enhanced collaborations between students and faculty that focus on the processes by which knowledge is created as opposed to the distribution of commodity content created by others.
  • The evolving role of teachers and the art of teaching. Because power is shared equally in many-to-many relationships, teachers are no longer the authoritative center of the learning process. Gone is their traditional gatekeeping role as they become stewards and facilitators of learning, sharing power equally with students. I’m interested in seeing demonstrations of the evolving role of teachers that moves beyond the rote one-to-many approaches of traditional online education.
While I’m in Anaheim, I expect to enjoy a grand event. And that event doesn’t happen by itself, it’s the result of thousands of hours of hard work by professionals throughout higher education - including those professionals who work for EDUCAUSE. This week and next is the most important week of their year, as they work morning, noon, and night to ensure a great experience for all attendees – onsite and virtual. If you are attending the event, I encourage you say thanks to every EDUCAUSE staff member that you encounter, thanking them for their dedication to our discipline and their commitment to advancing what we all do each and every day. If you are attending virtually send them an email - they deserve our accolades.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Ben or Larry?

Over the past few weeks I have been reading news reports discussing potential candidates to replace Ben Bernanke, the retiring chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve. One leading candidate, Larry Summers - a former U.S. Treasury Secretary and president of Harvard, is well known for being polarizing and sometimes abrasive. Summers has his fair share of supporters and detractors alike. What I have found interesting is the discussion of Bernanke’s leadership style and the contrast with that of his would be successor.

Regarding Bernanke. 

Every six weeks or so, around a giant mahogany table in an ornate room overlooking the National Mall, the 16 leaders of the Federal Reserve, one after another, give their take on how the U.S. economy is doing and what they want to do about it. Then there's a coffee break. While most of the policymakers make small talk in the hallway, their chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, pops into his office and types out a few lines on his computer. When the Federal Open Market Committee reconvenes, Bernanke speaks from the notes he printed moments earlier. "Here's what I think I heard," he'll say, before running through the range of views. He sometimes articulates the views of dissenters more persuasively than they did.

Contrast with Summers.

Summers rubs a lot of people the wrong way. But the part of Summers that rubs people the wrong way — or at least one part of Summers that rubs people the wrong way — is exactly what his admirers love about him. The experience of taking an idea to Summers, they say, is the experience of having the smartest person you’ve ever met focus intensely and seriously on what you just told them and then give you 10 reasons you never thought of for why it’s idiotic or won’t work or needs revision. And those 10 points are good points. And if you absorb them, and integrate them, you end up with something much better. The people who enjoy that process quickly come to rely on it as a necessary step in their work.

When it comes to CIO leadership, are you a Ben or a Larry? The truth is, that the personal styles of both Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers are a vital part of successful leadership. Successful CIOs are those who are capable of performing both roles while also possessing the emotional intelligence to know when each is appropriate.

But there is much more to successful leadership. As my colleague Hugh Blaine of Claris Consulting has put it – every high achieving team contains a mix of four different types of behavior styles that together create the right mixture for success.

The idea generator – the controller. Someone who focuses on bottom-line results, they have very high standards and are intuitive decision-makers who are often thinking several moves ahead of the rest of the team. Possessing a high need for control, this type of leader likes having options and knowing the results of each choice. Idea generators can be polarizing, as their weakness is listening and ensuring that others feel that their ideas are understood and respected.

The idea promoter – the persuader. Someone who enjoys being with and working with others, they are known for being enthusiastic, for sharing ideas, and for promoting the ideas of others. Seeking to be free of control, rules, and structure, idea promoters are motivated by praise, approval, and popularity. But being a “people person” comes with its own limits, particularly the lack of productivity and organizational confusion that can result from disregarding rules, business processes, and organizational structure.

The idea evaluator – the analyzer. Someone whose prime motivation is quality, accuracy, and perfection, their driving need is to always “get it right” and they use facts, data, and history to do so. Known for their high standards of performance, idea evaluators are precise, systematic, and often work to ensure quality control. Their quest for perfection has its own limits, particularly an inability to make decisions when faced with “gray areas” or an inability to complete work until it is “exactly right”.

The idea fulfiller – the stabilizer. Someone who is characterized by loyalty, dependability, and service; they strive for the approval of others. Idea fulfillers like things to be stable, predictable, and they derive their security from taking tasks from start to completion. But focusing on the needs of others has its own limits, particularly the over commitment that can result from an inability to “say no” when striving to please others.

Each behavioral style is critical for successful teams and together they form an essential ingredient for successful projects. When it comes to successful CIOs, they are the ones who have developed the capacity to perform these different roles and they know how to recognize the right circumstances for each. Good leadership is not a matter of choosing to be a Ben or a Larry, but valuing both approaches and knowing when and how to be the right type of leader that your organization needs at just the right time.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Clayton Christensen: The Real Disruption for Higher Education

I found today, following a Tweet from my good friend Stephen Landry (@landryst), one of the more concise and powerful explanations from Clayton Christensen regarding the present challenges for higher education. These challenges have more to do with basic economic principles than disruptions posed by technologies and the Internet.

Historically there has never been competition on the basis of price. Colleges would compete by adding professors, enhancing programmes or building nicer facilities. So they competed by making institutions better. This initiates retribution [from other colleges] which make things better and better. And every step adds cost. So the cost of higher education has increased faster than healthcare. And there just isn't any more space in the budget to do this. So this year you are seeing, in a fixed cost environment, that colleges need to fill all their spaces. And there are fewer people applying. So this year for the first time there is real competition on price. For online universities, like Liverpool and the University of Phoenix, if prices drop by 60% they still make money. But for the vast majority of traditional universities, if the prices fall by 10% they are bankrupt; they have no wriggle room. So I'd be very surprised if in ten years we don't see hundreds of universities in bankruptcy

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Randy Pausch's Boldest Innovation

A central concern with MOOCs and other student directed learning experiences is that by decentering the traditional gatekeeping role of teachers, such experiences lack an authoritative center for determining the rigor and depth of a course as well judging the mastery of learning outcomes by students. In a traditional one-to-many style of pedagogy, teachers simultaneously perform the roles of content creator, disseminator, and arbitrator of student success. The basis for academic rigor is based on structures such as the credit hour – students meet for three hours a week, complete three hours of homework between meetings, and repeat this cycle for 15 weeks. Upon receiving a positive evaluation from their instructor, such a student can be said to have successfully completed a course. But in a world of many-to-many relationships – a system driven by expansive social and peer interaction – gatekeepers such as teachers and traditional boundaries such as the credit hour see their basis for authority eroded. These shifts bring about the demise of the “sage on the stage,” the classroom lecture, and can result in more collaborative and more experiential forms of learning. The notion of the credit hour and other traditional indicators of rigor face the same erosion.

In thinking about how a many-to-many basis for rigor might work, I was reminded of a few brief comments by the late Randy Pausch in his “Last Lecture” from 2007. Near the end of the lecture, he refers to the importance of helping students become self-reflective, by sharing an experience from one his courses (this section starts at 51:10 in the YouTube video of the lecture). I wonder if this type of peer feedback process might actually be one of Randy Pausch’s boldest innovations.

The reactions of the students in the audience suggest that those who had experienced this form of peer feedback found it both authoritative and persuasive – authoritative in the sense that its legitimacy was recognized and persuasive in the sense that it was influential on future behavior. If there is to be a peer-based, many-to-many collaborative structure ensuring rigor and the mastery of learning outcomes, it must also be deemed authoritative and persuasive by participants. Some ways to ensure authority and persuasiveness might include the following:
  1. The teacher must drive the collaboration. While teachers engaged in many-to-many relationships with students are not the authoritative center of the collaboration, they are responsible for structuring the student experience and stewarding the learning processes that occur.

  2. The collaboration has to be bounded by a mutually agreed upon scope and charter. Compared to traditional one-to-many collaborations, many-to-many forms can appear chaotic or disorganized. In order to drive effective learning, many-to-many collaborations must operate within a set of boundaries – those things we might define as learning objectives, outcomes, standards, or rubrics. As steward of the learning process, the teacher must take responsibility for structuring the learning collaboration within a set of consistent and firm boundaries that include these structures.

  3. There must be incentives for full student participation. Critics of peer grading systems in MOOCs note that such interactions by students many times lack significant investment of time and focus – resulting in peer feedback that is spurious. Both the quality and the quantity of peer feedback within a many-to-many system have to be statistically significant in order to avoid such spuriousness.
Social network theorist Valdis Krebs notes that many-to-many networks result in interactions that are more powerful and influential on participants than are those in traditional one-to-many relationships. Without a doubt, as Randy Pausch suggested, such peer interactions within a learning collaboration can be more influential than anything suggested by the teacher guiding the experience. From what I observed while watching his “Last Lecture,” such interactions were a hallmark of his teaching at Carnegie Mellon.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why MOOCs are like Farmville, Part II

On January 18th, I laid out my concerns with Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), understanding their rapid ascent within the confines of Gartner’s Hype Cycle. In doing so, my purpose was to suggest that the true innovations posed by MOOCs will be much different than what is commonly presumed. Ultimately, as MOOCs descend from the peak of inflated expectations, down through the trough of disillusionment, and onto a plateau of productivity, their impact will be less about the wholesale transformation of higher education and more about advancements in modes of learning that will decenter the learning process away from the traditional classroom lecture and empower students as both consumers and creators of knowledge. Simply put, the “Sage on the Stage” model of higher education ceases as the role of traditional gatekeepers are eroded and replaced with patterns of collaboration based on a “many to many” model. The traditional classroom lecture, rightfully so, is the first to go.

Along with the classroom lecture, traditional notions of teaching also change, primarily those that presume a gatekeeping role for teachers as the authoritative center of the learning process. As relationships between students and faculty shift from a “one-to-many” model of collaboration, power will be increasingly shared on an equal basis between them. Teaching becomes less about conveying information and more about stewarding a set of experiences and collaborations, which become the means by which higher learning occurs. Some models consistent with this shift include the following.
  • Collaborative Learning. This model presumes that there is an inherent social nature to learning, and that learning is best facilitated through a set of shared experiences between participants. Types of experiences include group projects, engaging in common tasks, face-to-face conversations, as well as those mediated by technology (including social networks, discussion forums, etc.). Equitable sharing of power among all participants, including those stewarding the collaboration, is critical for this model of learning.
  • Service Learning. This model focuses on providing students with a set of applied experiences which complements and extends the consumption of information obtained through regular instruction or self-study. As a form of experiential education, this model presumes that learning requires that content, whether produced or consumed, be reinforced by direct experience. 
  • Undergraduate Research Programs. By engaging students in the process of research, learning becomes more about the processes of discovery and innovation and less about the mastery of content. By teaching students the processes by which knowledge is created, students are provided a set of experiences that spark creativity and critical thinking, and that prepare students for lifelong learning.
Just reading this list, one may wonder whether these newer forms of learning fully represent changes made possible by the Internet. But beyond the technology, change is ultimately a social experience, and the most lasting impact of the Internet is on the nature of collaboration and social relationships between individuals. As higher education embraces these possibilities, the importance of the relationship between faculty and students has never been more critical. New models of learning are centered on collaboration, experience, and the production of knowledge. These processes have been and should continue to be the center of what a higher education is all about.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Three Vexing Problems and their Common Origin

Walk around any institution of higher education, even those well known for effective delivery and use of information technology, and you will find the following to some degree or another.
  1. Information Technology staff suffering from work pressures that never abate. With expectations far outstripping available resources, day-to-day work consists of putting out fires and moving on to the next. 

  2. Critical stakeholders continually disappointed with the pace and performance of centrally delivered IT services and improvements. Faced with such disappointments, decentralized IT platforms and supporting staff become the preferred way to ensure that IT services are more responsive to functional needs.

  3. IT cost structures that only go up, with no end in sight for additional funding requests deemed necessary to maintain or derive additional value from IT services. The only question for decision-makers is how much of the next increase in tuition or student fees must be dedicated to supporting IT.
What can seem to result from budget cuts or indifferent management, poorly performing central IT organizations, or regular escalating costs might just have another, more elusive common origin – our penchants for specialization, differentiation, and customization of processes, services, and organizations in higher education. Applied to IT services and support, such cultural tendencies can result in a proliferation of platforms and shadow systems, duplicative infrastructures supporting the same basic tasks, and extensive customizations to commercial software applications.

I’m reminded of a couple of conversations I’ve had in the past. Once, two stakeholders came to me out of concern that our staff was not able to upgrade a commercial software package and quickly start working with its most recent release so that new functions would be available to their offices. The conversation was whether or not funding for additional staff should be requested to better support this critical service, in addition to the several staff already dedicated to the work. Upon investigation, it became obvious that our timeliness challenges were related to the necessary work to refit many customizations that had been internally developed for the software application. Had some of those customizations been deferred, our upgrade path would have been timelier and much less costly.

Another time, when I had first started at a new institution, getting to the bottom of regular network glitches and periodic outages was the most important priority I had been given. Despite extensive investments in new equipment, network service was far from reliable. Upon investigation, it became obvious that the challenge was that there was not one network – there were dozens of them, each operating with different standards, with different types of equipment, and supported by staff working in isolation. Many times, problems assumed to reside with the core network really were caused by technical problems at the local level. In such situations, centrally supported services become easy fodder for finger pointing and confusion about where problems may lie.

Ask any CIO at a large institution and they will tell you that such cases are part and parcel of delivering IT services in higher education. I agree. These conditions manifest themselves more easily in a world where average tuition can increase 35% over ten years (inflation adjusted). However, in a world with much more scarcity, it is appropriate to question whether higher education can continue to afford its tendencies for specialization, differentiation, and customization. Absent real change, higher education IT organizations will continue to require regular infusions of additional resources or they risk facing the downward spiral of over-commitment and underperformance that threatens the potential long-term effectiveness of campus technology services.

What might such change look like? Such a sea change in the culture of institutions does not happen overnight – but here are some ways to baby step forward:
  1. Make the deliberate decision to stop doing some things. The most important decision facing IT leaders and the stakeholders who depend on them is not what to do, but what not to do – that is, to determine what tasks and functions should cease so that IT staff can focus on critical campus priorities. When something good happens because of such a tradeoff, make sure it is communicated to everyone that the present good resulted from a difficult choice. At UGA, we are nearing the completion of a major project to overhaul legacy systems so they no longer depend on SSN identifiers. Every time we talk about this project, we relate it back to the decision to prioritize this critical work above regular requests for system enhancements – and we’re sure to thank everyone for accepting this tradeoff.

  2. Focus on what’s common across campus Units, de-emphasize things that are not. At the core of every department and every unit on campus is a set of basic and common IT service needs – it simply takes time, extensive conversations, and sometimes a bit of negotiation to get to the bottom of them. Ignore the preference to build solutions that satisfy 100% of requirements; instead, opt for solutions that are 80% good enough. Drop the remaining 20% or rely on manual workarounds– which many times will result in recognition that the step was unnecessary to begin with. At UGA, we’re taking a new approach to departmental networks, relying on MPLS and VLANs instead of departments installing their own firewalls. As this solution is rolled out, it allows departments to rest assured that only they have access to their network nodes while at the same time insuring that the campus benefits from the economies of scale that come from a more fully managed network.

  3. Subject all requests for commercial software customizations to strict scrutiny. Modifications and additions to baseline code are always easier to make than to support over the long term. Many times, such decisions are made in a vacuum or only with limited information on the short-term costs, ignoring the long-term impacts on staffing availability, patches, and the costs of major upgrades. Inevitably, every customization adds up and eventually there will be a price to pay – perhaps in the form of a lack of availability of IT staff resources or through costly dependencies on outside consultants. Always subject requests for software customizations to executive level scrutiny, and make sure that such decisions are fully informed by both the short-term and the long-term costs of the request. Budgets for changes should be clearly understood and transparent, ensuring mutually accountability for the long-term impact of customizations when they are necessary. At UGA, our ConnectUGA project is working to replace our current student information systems and it operates with change and governance processes that embody these principles.
While these simple principles can lead to more proactive, more focused, and less costly IT services, over the long term they will be less successful unless the culture of higher education itself begins to change. This is a task that is well beyond even the most capable CIO and their IT organization. Nevertheless, this type of change is possible in the macro if higher education leaders are able to articulate and apply similar principles across the institution. The CIO should not be afraid to step out and be a trendsetter by applying those outlined above.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

EITS Status and Activity Report for April 2013

Significant technology improvements and innovations underway at the University of Georgia, led by Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS). Each month, the status of these projects as well as information on various support activities is detailed in a monthly report to the UGA community. Below is the link to the report for April 2013.

EITS Status and Activity Report for April 2013

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The 'Sage on the Stage' and the End of the Classroom Lecture

I remain a traditionalist, a traditionalist in the sense that I believe the most important relationship on any college campus – the one with greatest potential to impact students in a positive way – is the relationship between students and faculty. I also believe that, at its core, this relationship has to be about the processes of discovery and innovation. There is nothing more impactful on students than faculty who conduct research in the lab, in the field, or in the library, and who then bring their innovations into the classroom each day. That is what makes a higher education a higher education.

A few weeks ago, in “Why MOOCs are like Farmville,” I opined that once the hype surrounding MOOCs died down, and they progressed from the peak of inflated expectations down through the trough of disillusionment to finally reach a plateau of productivity, their lasting impact likely will be dramatically different from what many today now expect. One of the most lasting effects will be on the ‘sage on the stage’ and the end of the classroom lecture.

Many proponents of MOOCs fall short when they advocate using technology to replicate the classroom lecture by beaming out lectures from star faculty members to students who access these courses over the Internet. Such a model replaces the physical with the digital, but this represents the use of technology to drive efficiency and scalability – it does not pose a significant shift in the nature of the learning processes. This is because, like the classroom lecture, the use of online technologies in this manner presupposes the role of the faculty to be one of content creator, while the role of the student is to be one of content subscriber. In such a model, the nature of collaboration itself does not change. This shortchanges the true impacts of the Internet regarding teaching and learning, even if the lectures come from faculty judged to be the best in the world.

A more lasting and impactful form of change results when we understand that the Internet has disrupted the traditional relationships between content creators and content subscribers, so that all individuals in a relationship can now play both roles, acting simultaneously as content creators and subscribers. In these types of relationships, learning becomes more about the processes of learning – the processes of creating knowledge – and less about the processes of consuming or retaining knowledge itself. In the world of Google, facts can be accessed quickly and efficiently at any time, from any place, and with any device – so rote mastery of facts is no longer the core of learning. Instead, knowing what to do with those facts – or, more importantly, imparting the processes by which those facts are created – rightfully becomes the center of the learning processes itself. That does not mean that faculty should not stand before students and speak, but that speech should be to evangelize, to inspire, and to demonstrate and not simply as a mechanism to impart knowledge.

Technology remains an important tool. Social networking tools provide the opportunity to engage others broadly and to provide instant feedback, while advanced analytical software provides capabilities to identify previously invisible patterns in “big data.” Our future economic success will be heavily dependent upon our ability to develop these capacities in our students. However, this success no longer depends upon using outmoded approaches to instruction, like the classroom lecture, as a singular mechanism for imparting knowledge to others.

The most lasting impact of the Internet is this – everyone is a sage now.

Monday, March 4, 2013

EITS Status and Activity Report for March 2013

It has been another good month for progress on critical IT projects and support for regular services by Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS) at the University of Georgia. Each month, the status of these projects as well as information on various support activities is detailed in a monthly report to the UGA community. Below is the link to the report for March 2013.

EITS Status and Activity Report for March 2013

Sunday, February 3, 2013

EITS Status and Activity Report for February 2013

It has been another good month for progress on critical IT projects and support for regular services by Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS) at the University of Georgia. Each month, the status of these projects as well as information on various support activities is detailed in a monthly report to the UGA community. Below is the link to the report for February 2013.

EITS Status and Activity Report for February 2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

Why MOOCs are like Farmville

Another day, another report from one of the thought leaders on higher education. This time it is from Moody’s, which proclaims the death of the traditional model of higher education. While the concerns raised by Moody’s are real – diminished resources due to state budget cuts, declining family incomes, and less willingness by students to take on debt – we should hesitate before leaping to the conclusion that these challenges necessitate a radical change, through massive adoption of online learning technologies such as MOOCs. Count me among the skeptical – I’m not yet convinced that MOOCs are going to lead students to jettison a traditional higher education experience anytime soon.

Over the past few weeks, for every piece of commentary extolling the virtue of MOOCs, I have found another that calls into question whether this particular type of online learning is sustainable over the long term. For one, no one has yet come up with a sustainable financial model for free massive open online courses (which, at most schools, are financed by traditional, tuition paying students – a practice I object to). As the University of California has found out, if you build it, students don’t necessarily come once you start charging them for the experience. Other issues with MOOCs include a lack of opportunity for the development of social capital and teamwork skills, less emphasis on exceptional achievement and individual distinction by students, and the supplanting of the concept of higher learning with job training.

As MOOCs have now reached the peak of inflated expectations, I expect that skepticism of their potential will become more widespread and accepted. When I think about MOOCs, I think about other new innovations, like Farmville, that failed to live up to their early hype and were doomed by poor quality and a lack of financial support, as they descended into the trough of disillusionment. Once that happens, the true innovation becomes separated from the hype, and what many times remains is very different and potentially far more impactful and lasting than what was initially expected – what Gartner refers to as the slope of enlightenment.

The current hype surrounding MOOCs is focused on the potential for increased access and lower costs associated with vertical scalability – but this assumes a traditional one-to-many model of learning with the teacher (or content creator) playing a gatekeeping role. This is not altogether different from the traditional classroom lecture, only with technology supplanting the physical classroom as the mediator between teachers and students. This is not revolutionary or even an evolutionary change, but something that more closely resembles what sociologist George Ritzer identified as The McDonaldization of Society some twenty years ago.

McDonaldization does not represent the true potential for change made possible by the widespread availability of the Internet and massive adoption of computers and mobile devices. What truly has changed is the nature of collaboration itself, which is best understood as the shift from relationships based on one-to-many exchanges to relationships based on many-to-many exchanges. In the world of many-to-many relationships, the role played by traditional gatekeepers – whether we are talking about record companies, book publishers, newspapers, or teachers – diminishes and is supplanted by a world where every individual is simultaneously enabled to become both a content creator and subscriber at the same time, with social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter enabling collaboration on a massive scale.

Within the context of many-to-many relationships, the potential of MOOCs and their potential for lasting impact on higher education becomes something altogether different than what many now expect. My predictions:
  1. De-emphasis of the traditional classroom lecture. Regardless of whether teaching occurs in a physical classroom or is delivered on the Web, higher education will shift from a model predicated on the teacher as content creator and the student as content subscriber, to a model focused on collaboration where both teachers and students are creators and subscribers simultaneously. In this new world, learning becomes less about the dissemination of knowledge and more about the process by which knowledge and innovation are created.

  2. Teachers will no longer be the authoritative center of the learning process. Social networking theorists like Valdis Krebbs emphasize that in a world of many-to-many relationships, power is shared equally among all participants – and the authority of traditional gatekeepers is greatly diminished. In this new world, teachers will become stewards and facilitators of learning, as one among equals engaged in many-to-many collaborations.

  3. Our notion of rigor and achievement will no longer depend on the credit hour. If there is anything anchoring the current model of higher education, it is the concept of the credit hour. How do we know a course of study was rigorous? Because students met for three hours a week, completed three hours of homework between meetings, repeated this cycle 15 times, and received a positive evaluation from their instructor. In a world of many-to-many relationships, a peer review and evaluation model will develop that will prove to be every bit as rigorous as anything that exists today. Individual achievement and distinction will be based upon an individual’s reputation as determined by the social network in which they are engaged. The late Randy Pausch outlined one such model in The Last Lecture (starting at 51:10 in the video).
If MOOCs can help us accomplish these three things, they will surpass their hype and their impact on higher education will be far more lasting. But doing so will only solve one of our challenges – which is how technology can be harnessed to deepen learning. These innovations don’t, by themselves, solve our other problem – which is affordability. I’m convinced that we can tackle this problem, not by adopting the principles identified by George Ritzer, but by rolling up our sleeves and thinking and acting quite a bit differently. That is going to require administrators like myself to do things that we would rather avoid - taking cost out of the system - by setting priorities, separating the must haves from the wants and nice to haves, and creating a culture where we advance our careers not by building new things and consuming more resources, but by being very good stewards of what we have. If we can figure how to do all of those things – we will truly change higher education for the better.