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.
- Students enrolled in the largest providers of online K-12 programs in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and South Carolina posted scores in math, science, and reading that were dramatically below expectations. In South Carolina all online high school providers posted outcomes that were considered ‘below average’ or ‘at risk’, as did two of the states three online providers for elementary programs.
- Pass rates for spring 2013 math students enrolled in San Jose State / Udacity MOOCs were so abysmal (22% - 44% versus 75% for traditional courses) that the university suspended its partnership with the online course provider. Though scores for summer 2013 courses improved, The Chronicle reported that the summer pool of students were substantially different from the previous term and included older students, those with substantial work experience, and those possessing advanced degrees.
- A recent survey of both employers and students by a non-profit, non-partisan policy organization found that among community college students 42% stated that they learned less from online courses than from traditional courses. Among employers, only 17% stated that they would prefer an applicant with a degree from an online institution. Fifty-six percent of employers expressed a preference for an applicant from an average institution versus an applicant with an online degree from a top tier provider.
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.
- The use of analytics and learning competencies as alternatives to the credit hour. In a many-to-many relationship it’s the quality of the collaboration that produces positive outcomes and not the duration of the collaboration itself. A many-to-many approach to learning leverages the strength of the social network to engage all peers in the evaluation of learning outcomes. I’m interested in seeing demonstrations of community based models of evaluation that can help us go beyond the credit hour in ensuring positive learning outcomes.