Universities in the “Free” Era

Saturday, March 13, 2010 11:00am
Glenn Platt – Miami University Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies
Peg Faimon – Miami University Design Collaborative

MIT, Yale, Stanford, and others put lectures online. Chris Anderson argues all university lectures should be free. From Academic Earth to TED, it’s free. So what is the value-add of a university education? What models of higher education will survive? How will universities leverage the social web to reinvent themselves?
Slides: http;//tinyurl.com/sxsw2010edslides

The university is the enduring institution that has spent it’s lifetime resting on its laurels.

Best metaphor: The folks who experimented with flight (crazy flying machines), you can imagine someone pedaling on one of these and going off a cliff. The cliff is so high and the ground is so far away that you can actually think you’re flying, but you’re actually falling. Higher ed thinks it is flying, but it is actually falling. There is a shake-down in higher ed on its way down the road.

What is the roll of higher education? How are universities in collapse?

What is the purpose of a university anyway?

  • The roll of higher education is to convey knowledge.
  • Create knowledge (research) – 10-50% of new products are developed by universities
  • Develop the person – what does an individual do in their free time and how does it shape them? This is possibly one of the larger rolls a university plays.
  • Contribute to society – global and local level
  • Signal ability – signal the quality of the person coming from that institution – Harvard lets in smart and lets out smart people
  • Seen innovation – moving things forward (working w/industry)

The System is Breaking Down

  • The cost is too high! – Average private university is $25k/yr, the inflation rate is significantly higher than the general public. State subsidies are rapidly going away. Many times dept it too high for students
  • You have to go to the mountain. – The need is fast disappearing. Many times a single center of knowledge isn’t going to work.
  • There is no control over the clock – you do it on their timetable and their schedule (average is 6 yrs for undergrad degree)
  • The "experts" are local – you can only access the best teachers on your campus – limited set of people you can interact with. Expertise lies in networks.
  • Universities change one funeral at a time – Tenure: After people have been there 6 years… they get to stay there FOREVER (say whatever they want, you can’t find them). Change management is a big impediment.
  • Faculty hire people just like themselves – many times people hiring aren’t looking for the future.
  • Tenure is broken – nobody wants to talk about this, even though it’s the elephant in the room.

What’s driving this breakdown?

  • Change in learning styles – people learn differently now. Learning styles aren’t being better identified.
  • Collapse of disciplinary structure – rise in interdisciplinary space.
  • Acceleration of K-12 – many things taught in college are now being taught in high school. Ohio: Senior to Sophomore, encourages students Sr. in HS to skip over freshman year in college and go to  with full year of credit.
  • Flattening of knowledge hierarchy
  • Students (+parents) as consumers – parent attitude on what to study and where to study – more of a consumer mindset. There are a lot of choices and many more ways to access those choices.
  • Employers active in curricula – many companies contract for degree programs specifically for them. Companies get to help design the curriculum (not always well).
  • Location independence – doesn’t matter where you are now
  • The internet!

Educational entrepreneurs have stepped in

  • Open courseware (MIT) – many universities have been opposed to this type of transparency. Many schools feel pressure to get involved just to stay competitive.
  • Itunes U/ Youtube Edu – stanford’s iphone dev course has been watched 5 million times! That’s an incredible reach
  • TED
  • Accessible education content (textbook options) – google books, flatworld, textbook revolution
  • Online learning networks – students connected to students for notes/guides/advising – cramster.com, GradeGuru, ShareNotes
  • Structured curricula – certificate programs, executive programs, grad coursework (w/out degree)
  • Online universities – probably the largest in this area – actual degrees online. University of the People, plan to have a full open free university available to the public. Open University. University of Phoenix, 150k MBA program students right now!

So how does the traditional university evolve?

  • It should be a fire hose of information. Anarchy of Wikipedia.
  • A professor should be an experience designer – try to get the user somewhere. What is the best way to get them there.
  • Project manager – professor working with their students as a project.
  • Angel investor – what would a VC partner do? How would you encourage someone to solve a problem? Get them the resources they need to get things done.
  • Curator – Make sense of the information out there. How does a student select what is valuable? Where is the good information?
  • Resource Allocator – make sure students have the resources they need to do what they need to do.
  • Life coach – "yes you can" motivator – get students to be active in their learning and show them the way.
  • Validator – needs to make sure students can communicate their value ignoring the place they got their education.

Where to begin

  • Experiential learning
  • Multi-institutional collaborations – need to interact with others, in different fields.
  • Train PhDs to think more contextually – teach them to teach!
  • Strategic industry and non-profit partnerships – engage those outside who need our assistance.
  • Get rid of tenure!
  • Student-driven inquiry
  • Facilitate collaboration – team teaching, encourage teachers to collaborate.
  • De-privilege institutional content – we need to share content.
  • Reward failure
  • Get rid of departments and focus on questions – what do we do about water? Structure around this vs. silos of departments.
  • Think like social entrepreneurs
  • Give more than you get – contribute to the open commons and back to the community.
  • Hire people who think this way (forward thinking w/qualities above)

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