Week 7: Open Educational Resources

When evaluating the Online Instructor as a microsystem, I stumbled upon some issues related to Open Educational Resources.  I found myself intrigued with the work of David Wiley and a recent blog post where he draws a distinction between quality and graphic design.  See the blog post here: http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2947 

This point is interesting for a variety of reasons.  Especially when you consider that Coursera and other MOOC providers are spending upwards of 250,000 per course for development of “quality” content.  What is the measure of this so-called quality?

There is a significant movement in higher education to move toward a model of openness, where courses are offered for free on platforms like Coursera, Udacity, and edX. The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) hysteria has been widely published over the last year, however, Open Educational Resources have been in the public eye since the advent of MIT’s Open Courseware initiative which began in 2001 (Rolfe, 2012). The UNESCO definition for Open Educational Resources as stated in Clements and Pawlowski are “technology-enabled, open provision of educational resources for consultation, use and adaption by a community of users for noncommercial purposes’ (Clements, K. & Pawlowski, J., 2012).

Open Educational Resources are gaining attention as the Open Learning movement is underway. The largest challenges and barriers presented require innovative thinking in order to expand access to a global repository of learning assets that could transform higher education. Opening up access to materials that can be translated and repurposed internationally will help developing countries save on course content development, facilitate the sharing of knowledge, and address the digital divide by providing capacity-building resources for educators (Olcott, 2012). The barriers presented in this post are meant to pose challenges for the OER community to respond to in order to better serve our community of learners around the planet.

OER: Barriers to Overcome

1. Quality Evaluation/Peer Review process

High quality resources are in demand globally, however, in some content repositories there is no system of classification related to quality. Educators are willing to evaluate quality by ranking, recommending, or becoming accredited reviewers; user recommendations (peer reviews or rankings) from colleagues or friends would allow them to make selections of resources (Clements, Pawlowski, 2012).

A content repository that overcomes this barrier is MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching); whereby peer reviewers can rate artifacts, which helps users in the selection of high quality resources (Swift, C. 2012).

The MERLOT evaluation criteria: http://taste.merlot.org/evaluationcriteria.html

The MERLOT rating system: http://taste.merlot.org/ratingsystem.html.

2. Policies (recognition for users/creators/remixers)

In order to properly incentivize participation, submission, and evaluation of OERs; faculty incentives (reward and recognition) are needed along with support staff to continue to build up OER repositories. (Nikoi, S. Armellini, A. 2012)

D’Antoni presents the lack of academic recognition of the development of OER by teaching staff as a barrier to adoption. However, she also points out that sharing knowledge is aligned with the tradition of the academy (D’Antoni, S. 2012). If career advancement for faculty does not include incentives for using OER it would be difficult to argue the case for OER (Olcott,D. 2012).

3. Legal (copyright)

Copyright is incompatible with sharing, creativity, and learner engagement and therefore the wrong tool for OERs, however, Creative Commons provides the needed legal tools to reserve rights, but open content in a variety of ways (Bissell, 2012).

Creative Commons Licenses

Copyright is simply inflexible, creative commons offers the options required for educators to ensure their work is not closed. Creative commons is the infrastructural glue for the OER movement (Bissell, 2012).

Creative commons allows educators to place the permission on the artifact in advance, thus eliminating the time and expense associated with gaining copyright permissions to use copyrighted materials (D’Antoni, S, 2012).

OERs mentioned on the Creative Commons website:

http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Free_to_Learn_Guide/Index_of_OER_Resources

4. Sustainability

In Rolfe’s paper she mentions literature that points to the demise of 11 different content repositories in the present decade (Rolfe, 2012). The support and maintenance for the technology, the community, and the content can become expensive, however, even those with small budgets like Utah State University ($120,000) have had their funding pulled. It is conceivable that the lack of a revenue stream creates the issue with sustainability (Olcott, D. 2012).

Critical to the mission of open access, universities and their faculties must break down these barriers and build up the repositories of content understanding that it should be translated, repurposed and distributed internationally. The technology exists to deliver OERs on a global scale. The world needs one technology platform that aggregates all OERs, allows them to be translated easily, and empowers learners and educators globally with access. This OER digital content sharing will transform developing countries, democratizing education and empowering the knowledge economy. 

References

Bissell, A. (2012). Permission granted: open licensing for educational resources. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and eLearning, 24(1), 97-106. doi: 10.1080/02680510802627886

Clements, K., & Pawlowski, J. (2011). User-oriented quality for OER: understanding teachers’ views on re-use, quality, and trust. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 2012(28), 4-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00450.x

D’Antoni, S. (2009). Open educational resources: reviewing initiatives and issues. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and eLearning, 24(1), 3-10. doi: 10.1080/02680510802625443

Nikoi, S., & Armellini, A. (2012). The oer mix in higher education: purpose, process, product, and policy. Distance Education, 33(2), 165-184. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2012.697439

Olcott, D. (2012). OER perspectives: emerging issues for universities. Distance Education, 33(2), 283-290.

Rolfe, V. (2012). Open educational resources: staff attitudes and awareness. Research in Learning Technology, 20, doi: 10.3402/rlt.v20i0/14295

Swift, C. (2012, August). Be recognized as a merlot peer reviewer.http://taste.merlot.org/documents/PeerReviewer_12_13_000.pdf

Wiley, D. (2013, October). On Quality and OER. http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2947 

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Week 6: The online instructor as a microsystem continued…

This is the second post in a series that evaluates “The Online Instructor” as a Microsystem.  Last week’s post covered two of the external factors that influence or impact the system, specifically the institution and student related factors.  This week’s installment will review the remaining factors: peer group faculty, content and instructional design, and facilitation skills.  I make no assumptions that these posts will address every external or internal factor, but should be considered a work in progress that will evolve over time.  Comments on this post are welcome and your input is appreciated.

Peer Faculty Group

An online faculty member is influenced in a variety of ways by peer faculty. These can be seen in mentoring or support, recognition of excellence in online teaching, research funding, or acceptance of the online instructor as a valuable contributor to the faculty at large.

Training programs for faculty typically include ways of teaching online, use of technology to improve student learning outcomes, and pedagogical principles of effective online teaching.  A large number of institutions have created programs for online faculties that are required for completion prior to teaching online for the first time. These programs are typically blended in delivery and assist the instructor in making the transition from teaching as a face to face instructor to teaching online without making the assumption that faculty understand effective online teaching.

Recognition of excellence in online teaching is also a factor. There have been numerous studies undertaken which look at the power of praise.  It is essential to recognize talent in every situation and online teaching should be no different.  This can be done in a variety of ways in higher education.  Awards and recognition in the tenure process are obvious methods but some institutions are being creative by offering monetary rewards for faculty who scale their courses to a larger audience and by funding research regarding the efficacy of online education.  This commitment by institutions to the scholarship of teaching and learning online is one factor that contributes to the success of faculty teaching in this mode of delivery.  Faculty members who engage in research and publishing about online education help to broaden the base of information about the field and give back to the larger community of online educators. As with any peer group, acceptance is important to the participants. Online instructors should be included in all events that face-to-face faculty and blended faculty participate in.

Content and Instructional Design

Textbooks

There are a few issues related to how textbooks used in online courses have impact on the online instructor. These are: (1) online instructors are often not involved in the decision making process when it comes to choosing textbooks, (2) digital resources that are available to the online instructor, (3) evolution of the textbook to an e-book, (4) and the rising cost of textbooks.

Faculty members that teach the face-to-face sections of the class often select instructional materials, which are used in online courses.  Inclusion of the online instructor in the decision making process or allowing them to choose different instructional materials for the online version of the course is important.  Many textbooks today come with digital materials to support the online instructor in the creation of their online courses.  However, there is a recent and growing shift to digital or eBooks by the higher education publishers.  Brian Kibby, president of McGraw Hill, announced in fall of 2012 that all instructional materials would be in digital form within three years.  There has also been an increase in publishers and platforms for ebooks receiving venture capital funding to obtain a portion of the “textbook pie” as this digital shift is occurring.  While the move to digital textbooks is a strategic move based upon existing technology possibilities, it is important to note that recent articles have highlighted that students find textbooks too expensive and that they are not buying them.  Students are making their way through classes without ever purchasing the textbooks.  The transition to digital texts will also make them more affordable for the learner, which is a noble mission on the part of the publishers, one that students will appreciate.

Instructor, or instructional designer, created materials are the heart of the online course.  It is these elements that allow the instructor to have a sense of presence in their course.  Instructor presence is one of the elements within the Community of Inquiry framework and can be enhanced by leveraging the power of learning technologies and multimedia.  Instructors are leveraging the power of audio and video in their assignments and assessments, not just in the content of the course.  With the advent of the MOOC, which allows instructors to “see” other online courses for the first time, these materials are getting more and more attention and in some cases are driving revamping as well.

Open Educational Resources

One way to reduce the costs of materials for students is to leverage open educational resources.  Open Educational Resources are gaining attention as the Open Learning movement is underway. The largest challenges and barriers presented require innovative thinking in order to expand access to a global repository of learning assets that could transform higher education. Opening up access to materials that can be translated and repurposed internationally will help developing countries save on course content development, facilitate the sharing of knowledge, and address the digital divide by providing capacity-building resources for educators (Olcott, 2012).

Facilitation Skills

The “great” online instructor is a facilitator of learning within the online environment.  They are effective communicators, give timely feedback, build rapport, have incredible instructor and social presence, and know how to set expectations and manage their time wisely.  The great online instructor also remembers that teaching is learning and continually improves their course based upon their experiences of what worked and what did not.

Teaching online is not for everyone, however, with the right set of facilitation skills the learning experience online can be just as good as, if not better than, those in traditional face-to-face settings.

While this post may not address every challenge or opportunity within the microsystem, it is a collection of thoughts toward that end.  There is much work to do to ensure that the online instructor receives the needed support to continue to deliver high quality experiences for our students.  I look forward to the years ahead and being a part of that support system.

References:

Artino, A., (2008) Promoting academic motivation and self-regulation: practical guidelines for online instructors, TechTrends, 52(3), 37-45.

Banathy, B. (1999). Systems thinking in higher education: Learning comes to focus. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 16(2), 133-145.

Banathy, B. (1992). Chapter two: The systems-environment model. In A Systems View of Education Concepts and Principles for Effective Practice (pp. 25-58). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Cheng, Y., & Yeh, H., (2009) From concepts of motivation to its application in instructional design: Reconsidering motivation from an instructional design perspective, British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(4), 597-605.

Eoyang, G. (1996). A brief introduction to complexity in organizations. Chaos Limited, Inc.,

Keller, J., (1999) Using the ARCS motivation process in computer-based instruction and distance education, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 78.

Olcott, D. (2012). OER perspectives: emerging issues for universities. Distance Education, 33(2), 283-290.

Reigeluth, C. (2004). Chaos theory and the sciences of complexity: Foundations for transforming education. Informally published manuscript, Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, Retrieved from http://www.indiana.edu/~syschang/decatur/documents/chaos_reigeluth_s2004.pdf

Week 5: The Online Instructor as a Microsystem

In my systems thinking PhD course, I have recently been tasked with identifying a Microsystem and then evaluating the components that it is comprised of. In this effort, I have chosen to evaluate “The Online Instructor” as a Microsystem and analyze internal and external factors that influence or impact this system.  This blog post is one in a series of posts that will continue to analyze the online instructor as a microsystem and should be considered a work in progress.  You comments and suggestions for improvement are greatly appreciated.

At the micro level, the factors that directly influence the online instructor include: the institution where the faculty member is employed, the students, peer faculty, instructional design and course content, and the instructor’s own facilitation skills.  Due to the complexity of the system and the details surrounding the elements that influence it, this week’s post will focus primarily on the elements of the institution and the online instructor’s students.

The Online Instructor as a Microsystem

The Online Instructor as a Microsystem

By exploring these areas in detail, we find that they each impact the online instructor in a number of ways.

Institution

Institutional support and readiness related to online learning are key factors that directly impact an online faculty member.  In order for an institution to be prepared to support online education, there are many key factors that must be considered. Institutions that have successfully implemented online campuses or virtual course offerings usually have several things in common.  As a first example, successful implementation of these types of programs typically begins with senior leadership support. In these cases distance education is seen as a key element of the strategic plan for the university. Secondly, these have the needed support from their legal department, faculty committee or senate, and administration to enable them to create and implement policies that support distance education and the faculty who teach online.  Policies may already exist or may need to be developed related to intellectual property, the family education rights and privacy act or FERPA, the American’s with disabilities act or ADA, copyright compliance and others.

The third example related to an institution’s online programs are the degree to which they are supported with technology infrastructure, support staff (help desk), professional development programs, training, and instructional design support which can all impact and assist faculty in the creation of high quality online courses.

Students

Students may enter higher education with a variety of skills and abilities, varying financial pressures, and very different levels of motivation.  When students choose an online program of study, they need to consider their level of technology readiness as well as their ability to self regulate their own learning.

As students enter online education for the first time after being taught in the traditional classroom they need new skills to adapt to the change in learning environment. As similar tale is told of the young student going off to college, as she enters the lecture hall filled with 500 students rather than being one of 25 receiving personalized attention.  Yes, the online environment can lead to feelings of isolation, but when faculty utilize facilitation skills that truly “humanize” their online course and establish a rich forum for communication with the instructor and peers it transforms the online course into a rich and robust online learning community.

The rising cost of higher education and the growing student debt bubble is putting additional financial pressures on potential students as they consider the true costs and the ROI of a degree.  No longer is it simple mathematics (student X + education Y = increased earnings over time Z).  The changing job market is adding pressure to the situation, making the choice regarding whether or not to pursue a degree a difficult one.

Motivation is a psychological driving force that supports or compels actions toward a desired result.  A review of the literature regarding learner motivation reveals the need for extrinsic and intrinsic elements, self-regulated learning, a feeling of connectedness, and the use of motivational messages.  These needs also exist for students attending classes virtually or in online settings. According to industry leaders “There is no doubt that there are serious motivational challenges among distance learners.  The attrition rate alone can be viewed as an indication of motivational problems (Keller, 1999).”

Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the individual. Whether a threat of punishment or receipt of a reward, extrinsic motivations can be powerful.  However, in the absence of the external stimuli some learners often become less motivated.  Engaging learners in competition is one way to draw them in and tap into their extrinsic motivations.

Interest or enjoyment in a task is often referred to as an intrinsic motivator. Intrinsically motivated students are motivated to learn for a variety of reasons. These students may want answers to their own unanswered questions, may be competitive in nature, or might simply desire self-improvement.  Students who are intrinsically motivated prefer being autonomous, are usually self-regulating learners, are often determined, and are interested in mastery of topics.

Self-regulated learning refers to the learning that comes from the influence of students’ own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that are oriented toward reaching their personal goals (Artino, 2008).  Self-regulated learners are sometimes quite determined to achieve a goal and will bounce back from failures more easily.  These leaners are more likely to engage in tasks for a greater length of time, and think deeply about the tasks in which they are engaging (Cheng & Yeh, 2008). 

 References:

Artino, A., (2008) Promoting academic motivation and self-regulation: practical guidelines for online instructors, TechTrends, 52(3), 37-45.

Banathy, B. (1999). Systems thinking in higher education: Learning comes to focus. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 16(2), 133-145.

Banathy, B. (1992). Chapter two: The systems-environment model. In A Systems View of Education Concepts and Principles for Effective Practice (pp. 25-58). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Cheng, Y., & Yeh, H., (2009) From concepts of motivation to its application in instructional design: Reconsidering motivation from an instructional design perspective, British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(4), 597-605.

Eoyang, G. (1996). A brief introduction to complexity in organizations. Chaos Limited, Inc.,

Keller, J., (1999) Using the ARCS motivation process in computer-based instruction and distance education, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 78.

Reigeluth, C. (2004). Chaos theory and the sciences of complexity: Foundations for transforming education. Informally published manuscript, Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, Retrieved from http://www.indiana.edu/~syschang/decatur/documents/chaos_reigeluth_s2004.pdf

Week 4: Readings and Movie Analysis: Systems Thinking

In this week’s installment, I am asked if I understand the inherent challenges of a student.  I don’t mean to dismiss the question, but of course I understand those challenges. I have been in college since 1987 and have worked in education my entire adult career.

Let’s think for just a moment about this.  I have been in and out of higher education systems around the US as a student for 26 years.  I have been a part of the educational systems as an educator for 15 years, have served in an administrative role five years, in addition to the seven years that I have worked for private industry serving institutions of higher education in an ongoing effort to modernize their existing systems and innovate.

Yes, I “get it”.

This week during our class time, working in small groups, we analyzed several readings, applying systems thinking to them.  We used a mind mapping tool called popplet to collaboratively create a relationship map.

Author Relationship MindMap

While reading this book, I find myself struggling to remain engaged with the text.  The text is offensive to me and I would not choose to read it if I were given the choice.  Luckily, I work with chaos and complexity in higher education and understand what it takes to change a system from both the inside out and the outside in.

According to Wikipedia: “The novel’s central theme involves the examination of the human desire to detect patterns or meaning and the risks of finding patterns in meaningless data. Other themes include methods of interpretation of history, cultural familiarity with brand names, and tensions between art and commercialization.”

Chaos and complexity are abundant in the analysis of Pattern Recognition by Gibson using a systems thinking approach.  Kayce, the lead character displays characteristics of the strange attractor as described by Reigeluth.  While her character is still evolving as we continue to read the book, she has a powerful role in working with the Blue Ant design firm led by Dorotea and Stonestreet.

The films have an infinite number of parts and they are introduced in a non-linear fashion.  These films are obtaining the feedback of Kayce and others via the F:F:F.  The mirror world has underlying patterns that are recognizable but they appear different and random. Kayce seems to be impacting the system from the outside in, but I’ll reserve judgment until I complete the book.

In considering the role of Donnie Darko and using the Banathy systems environment model for analysis, we see how Donnie impacts his system from the inside out.  At the start of the story, he stays within the boundary of the system and only has impact on those within that system.

I’ll use Banathy’s model to explain his area of influence on the system at the beginning of the movie as:

Donnie Darko - Start of the Movie

Donnie Darko – Start of the Movie

By the end of the film he has gained enough power and feedback that he begins to impact beyond the boundary of the system. This coevolution based upon the increasing deviations leads to a transformation of the system itself.  To give a concrete example, Donnie initially worked within the system to try to explain inaccurate concepts to the GYM teacher, however that led to feedback that encouraged Donnie to take his “fight” to a different level.  He took his fight to Jim Cunningham’s house and burned it down.

photo 2

The readings regarding chaos theory and complexity were eye opening.  Chaos is not random, but rather the elements that are required for change to occur.  At the conclusion of these readings, I found myself content with chaos and realizing how my role as an agent of change in institutions of higher education is needed in society today.  Without enablers of transformation, systems would not evolve to meet the needs of the future.

References: 

Banathy, B. (1992). Chapter two: The systems-environment model. In A Systems View of Education Concepts and Principles for Effective Practice (pp. 25-58). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Eoyang, G. (1996). A brief introduction to complexity in organizations. Chaos Limited, Inc.,

Pattern recognition. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern_Recognition_(novel)

Reigeluth, C. (2004). Chaos theory and the sciences of complexity: Foundations for transforming education. Informally published manuscript, Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, Retrieved from http://www.indiana.edu/~syschang/decatur/documents/chaos_reigeluth_s2004.pdf

Week 3: Reflections – Systems

Part One:

In our class discussions this week we explored Chaos Theory and the Sciences of Complexity: Foundations for Transforming Education by Reigeluth and Pattern Recognition by Gibson.

Reigeluth’s paper on Chaos Theory made several excellent points.  First, healthy systems co-evolve with their environment meaning that as systems interact with the world around them they are continuously or constantly changing.  Second, disequilibrium is needed in order for systems to co-evolve as it causes the system to be ready for transformation.  Third, self-organizing systems are adaptive and with freedom to make changes and shared core values the system can be more orderly.

These three points sparked my curiosity.  I did some searching about the co-evolution of healthy systems and new emerging pedagogies.  In recent readings I have found the mention of Connectivism in which chaos and the need for pattern recognition in order to engage students in critical thinking and learning.

Connectivism:
 A Learning Theory for the Digital Age
Siemens describes the need for Chaos in Education:

“Chaos is a new reality for knowledge workers. ScienceWeek (2004) quotes Nigel Calder‘s definition that chaos is “a cryptic form of order”. Chaos is the breakdown of predictability, evidenced in complicated arrangements that initially defy order. Unlike constructivism, which states that learners attempt to foster understanding by meaning making tasks, chaos states that the meaning exists – the learner’s challenge is to recognize the patterns, which appear to be hidden. Meaning-making and forming connections between specialized communities are important activities.”
http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/article01.htm

As a learner and knowledge worker myself, I find myself engaged in self-organizing systems via social networks.   The readings reminded me of the interconnectedness of real life and our digital lives.  My connectedness is another learning tool for me to stay current in my field.  I look to my colleagues in the field or connections via social media to blog, tweet, share links, and comment in order to stay up to date on the most current thinking in education.

Part Two:

WKSystems

Currently, I play a role in three primary educational systems, the PhD program at the University of North Texas, Lewisville Independent School District, and at Academic Partnerships International.  Each of these educational systems are very different each other as they are higher education, K-12 education, and a corporate partner to higher education systems.

My role at UNT in the Doctoral program is as a student.  Of the roles that I play in the various systems this is my easiest role.  I am a confident content consumer and producer.  I am required to stay within the boundaries (syllabus, rubrics, due dates, assignments) that are set for me by the program and its faculty.  I am required to read, attend synchronous class meetings, complete assignments, and meet required deadlines.  As a self-regulating learner, I set my own personal goals for achievement and those goals are created using the boundaries in the courses.

Within the Lewisville Independent School District, I am a parent of a high school student, an elementary student, and the wife of a teacher.  I am a source of funding for the district as a homeowner and as a parent.  My husband and I support our children with their homework on an as needed basis and encourage our children to find their own answers to their questions.  We feel strongly that we need to prepare them to be strong independent thinkers/learners and do not enable our children by doing their work for them.  We attend afterschool events, concerts, plays and other activities to support our children and the system.  As a wife of a schoolteacher, I find myself helping to create bulletin boards, and many weekends I find myself performing my tasks as a student in an elementary classroom. My participation in the PTA/PTSA is merely financial support since my time is so limited.

In my career, I work within a business that supports educational systems.  I work daily with institutions of higher education to expand access to high quality, low cost education to a global audience.  I personally work with Chancellors, Presidents, Provosts, Department Chairs, Program Directors and Faculty at these institutions to optimize the efficiency of their educational offerings in order to deliver a quality product online.

 

The Business of Higher Education

“The Business of Higher Education”

Driving operational efficiencies in order to lower tuition costs

There is a need for increasing concern over the educational future of our country and an objective look at how the system of higher education is structured and how it is paid for. The manner in which future leadership approaches these problems and challenges to the higher education system is likely to have an enormous impact on America’s global position in the long term. Students in the United States are currently swimming in a sea of educational loan debt with total student indebtedness nearing a staggering value of $1 trillion USD as of November 2012 (Doyle, 2012). Tuition costs in many states have risen more than 439 percent in the short seven years ending in 2005 (Auguste, Cota, Jayaram, & Laboissiere, 2010). These problems are very real and have the potential of causing a “crash” that greatly impacts the system of higher education if they go unaddressed. This trend in how costly a degree has become and how students are paying for their education is untenable. The best way to address this is to target how much a higher education costs and drive this burden on students down. If institutions of higher education could find cost efficiencies and reduce their own operating expenses then these savings could be passed on to their students through a reduction in tuition or by lessening the degree to which they require governmental funding assistance (Eyring, 2011).

Cost of Higher Education

(Figure 1: Hemelt & Marcotte, 2011)

Investing in a student’s future has historically been shown to pay off in years past, but is such an approach valid in today’s economy and with current job skill requirements? The attainment of a degree can no longer be seen as an indicator that a graduate will find successful employment. To show this situation clearly, one can look at a recent study by the U.S. Department of Labor from 2011, which reports that, nearly 16 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed and this pool of recent college students is faced with a part-time employment rate of slightly over 34 percent as well (as cited in Doyle, 2012).

American colleges and universities are not typically run like private sector businesses and often overlook cost-efficiencies in their production of graduates. If institutions could become more efficient and cost effective, they would be in position to improve the higher education system in several ways. This would place these institutions in the position of being able to pass savings on to students through lower tuition, reduce the amount of borrowing by students to attain their education, and ultimately reduce the nationwide risk of the student loan bubble bursting (Eyring, 2010). Areas where these institutions can effect such change are seen in the examples of course redesign and competency based instruction. These two proven models can modify existing processes at most colleges and universities and, as a result, can provide considerable cost savings and allow these institutions to become more student-centric at the same time. These types of efficiencies and approaches to education could be adopted to drive down costs at universities nationwide.

Innovations that have created proven efficiencies:

Course Redesign

The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) was founded in 1999 by Carol Twigg and has since been experimenting with using various technologies to redesign courses in an effort to improve the quality of learning and drive down the overall cost of instruction (Meyer, 2011). NCAT uses a four stage iterative process which analyzes the results of course modifications as changes are made and communicates the lessons learned to the teaching and learning community to ensure that effective practices are shared collaboratively (Twigg, 2005).

NCAT Iterative Process

(Figure 2: Twigg, 2005)

The NCAT process, illustrated in the image above, allows for courses to be enhanced to serve a larger population of students and improve student-learning outcomes. While redesign of an online course can provide efficiencies and save money over the longer term, the process can be costly initially. The redesign process typically requires a team of individuals to be involved in the effort, which includes faculty, instructional designers, graphic designers, and software specialists (Meyer, 2011). The longer term costs are outweighed by the resulting benefits of such an approach when NCAT statistics are considered which show that cost reductions of 37 percent on average, improved test scores, and increased retention can potentially be gained (Twigg, 2005).

Subscription/Competency Based Instruction

Western Governors University (WGU) operates on a subscription style cost approach and a competency based instructional model. Students pay an annual tuition similar to a membership fee, which then allows students to enroll in and complete as many classes as they wish (Schejbal, 2012). Testing is utilized to prove mastery in this type of system and rather than traditional instructors, course mentors assist students by augmenting and supporting the provision of online educational materials (Auguste et al., 2010). This approach has captured the attention of states and other groups involved in educational planning. As an example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, University of Wisconsin System President Kevin P. Reilly, and UW Colleges and UW-Extension Chancellor Ray Cross recently announced a competency-based degree model that will transform higher education in their state. This will allow students to begin self-paced classes anytime and will award students credit for prior knowledge, whether that be from other educational institutions, one the job, or on their own. “Working together, the UW System, the State of Wisconsin, and other partners can make a high-quality UW college degree significantly more affordable and accessible to substantially more people” (Walker, 2012).

Closing

Too often online education is considered a disruptive innovation that will transform the current provision model. While there is evidence of enrollment growth when expanding university offerings online, the need for business process improvement and modification of the human element is required to drive real innovation and change in an effort to achieve efficiencies (Meyer, 2012). If higher education institutions adopt the cost per graduate operational efficiencies of the most instructionally cost efficient quartile of their peer group, they would realize a cost per graduate reduction of 23% and as a result would be positioned to produce one million more graduates per year by 2020 (Auguste et al., 2010).

Engaging an institution in change requires a champion, an authoritarian figure dictating adoption of the efficiencies. In the absence of a strong leader, opinion leaders, who are both early adopters of innovation and serve as respectable members of the faculty, must assist in driving the change or resistance will ensue (Johnson, 2010).

References

Auguste, B., Cota, A., Jayaram, K., & Laboissiere, M. (2010). Winning by degrees: The strategies of highly productive higher-education institutions. Retrieved fromhttp://mckinseyonsociety.com/winning-by-degrees/

Doyle, W. (2012). Playing the numbers: The best bad option. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 44(2), 49-51. doi: 10.1080/00091383.2012.655235

Eyring, H. (2011). Unexploited efficiencies in higher education. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 4(7), 1-18.

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