Thursday, 12 January 2012

View over the walled garden - 21st Century Universities

A very informative session in yesterday's #change11 MOOC where Jillianne Code and
Valerie Irvine gave their views on the subject of the 21st Century University, using their university. They are Educational Technology professors and Co-Directors of the Technology Integration and Evaluation (TIE) Research Lab at the University of Victoria.

Clearly a time of change - issues facing brick and mortar universities
  • diminishing funds, cutbacks
  • decreasing 18-22 demographic
  • increase in colleges with degree-granting status
  • increase in online programmes
  • demands from learners for flexibility
They (or their university) saw as solutions two aspects:
  • Recruit more international students
  • Change registration options to allow for combined f2f and online by existing students
The second seems a natural way to go, although getting professors on board to teach online seemed to be a very big issue - comment from one that they would rather have the top professor from a particular field than have them be tech savvy. This surprised me - professors were spoken about in awe and seemed to be ivory-towerish.

The back channel mentioned the riots to enroll in South African universities, such was the pressure to do so. Putting the meaning of this incident (massive pressure from the rest of the world for university education) against the wish of well off Western universities to make money from international students, left me concerned. Should this be the approach? And the point was made that these international student places should be mainly residential and not online, so that real fees are paid. Wow! Talk about business ruling...

Had not realised that administration system changes have such huge costs, even for relatively minor changes, and so changes of the status quo is really costly and difficult.

They categorised the registration option changes as follows - Multi-Access vs COOL Courses
  • COOL - collaborative open online course - a Multi-Access course but open
  • Multi-Access - not necessarily open, LDAP connectivity
Discussion followed on the use of MOOC as a name for such courses, or perhaps COOL (or even MOOSE!).

There seemed to be some real constraints in the 21st Century University. It seemed that universities are 21st Century only on the timeline but not really changed much from the 20th Century versions. Knowledge seemed to be trapped in universities due to restricted delivery method options. Instead of ivory tower, my mental metaphor changed to be walled garden, not being able see out nor others to dare to see in.

The Patriot Act and ownership of data in Elluminate were mentioned as constraints as well as internal university rules: they can make material open but for evaluation of students they have to be enrolled in the course.

Thanks for such insights - which I think are probably too stark out of context of the discussion, but forms my list of issues.


virvine said...

Thanks for your post! For the record, MOOSE was never my idea ;-). I would like to point out that I think we have some people on an openness continuum. I am preaching to the converted in that talk. Some people are nervous, some are overly concerned about privacy, etc. I would like to see an end-goal of openness. Multi-access being COOL courses, but I think we won't get much uptake if it's zero to hero. The LDAP-connectivity for Multi-access couress that are not open is a stepping stone. At least that is how I see it. Once instructors are comfortable, then it's a smaller step to open.

As for comment about being in awe of professors... well, I am one and I'm not in awe of myself :-) What I am trying to get at is that we have some incredible knowledge that should be shared. We have Canada Research Chairs, Nobel Prize winners, etc. from all sorts of fields and I have not seen many of these speakers teaching openly. I know these scholars and as a scholar, the work they are doing blows my mind. That work is not always disseminated via technology. Do I want to pull that prof who is disinterested in tech, but top of her/his field and ask them to take all the time it is to become techncally literate? Sure! Is it going to happen? No, not if they're more interested in getting their latest breakthrough done. Are they going to teach online? I say proably not. They have their possee of student followers F2F and there is also the work of moving everything online. If it was a multi-access class, and they can teach how they normally do with live/asynchronous communication to online students.I am just talking about the reality that is out there. There IS a whole body of knowledge held by our best academics that is behind the wall as you say. This brick and mortar element will NEVER disappear because its ROOTS are in research. We need research. The economy needs our research (for spin-off companies, etc.). The are millions of dollars in research lab infrastructure. Online teaching can be more ubiquitous but it will never take away from the existince of the F2F system of generating new knowledge. How do you take a $500,000 microscope and share it with distributed researchers? or a physical chem lab? Brick and mortar will ALWAYS be here to stay - at least for research.

George Hobson said...

Val - thanks for the comment - as I said, the comments are probably too stark and not in sympathy with what you have to deal with daily.
You will understand the view from the outside, albeit simplistic and one sided, that universities are about teaching - as a K-12 educator I see it thus - and that the research emphasis is not as crucial for undergraduate teaching.
I understand the aspect of research, but as many say, must this be the driving force for the teaching? The teaching seems to be the funding method for the research, which seems a strange way around.
I learned about the distinction between Canadian colleges and universities in the video posted on your wiki (thanks), and the colleges have that teaching role clear.
I know that I am being naive in poo-pooing business methods as the basis for university development, but this was an opportunity to comment from the heart and not the head.
Thanks for the presentation which I enjoyed and learned from.

Opendistanceteaching&learning said...

George, thanks for the great emtaphor - just love it. Reminds me of the short story by Oscar Wilde - "The selfish giant" ( There are a number of parallels with higher education...