Tous acteurs du développement durable
Comment devenir un lieu de formation exemplaire qui mette tout en oeuvre pour atténuer son impact sur l’environnement? Un lieu qui permette aux stagiaires d’être acteurs du développement durable dans leur vie professionnelle et personnelle? Dans cet objectif, la Région a pour mission d'accompagner les Centres de formation d’apprentis (CFA), les organismes de formation et les établissements de formation du sanitaire et du travail social de Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.
Suite à l’appel à candidatures lancé dans le cadre de la démarche « AGIR », 43 organismes de formation ont été retenus pour 2009.
Vingt CFA, 22 organismes de formation et un établissement de formation du sanitaire et du travail social viennent ainsi de finaliser leurs projets. Ceux-ci définissent les objectifs, les axes de travail et les moyens qui devront ensuite être mis en oeuvre.
Avec l’aide d’un conseiller technique mis à disposition par la Région et le CARIF Espace-Compétences, les organismes de formation ont identifié les pistes d’amélioration de leurs bâtiments: économies d’énergie, d’eau… Ils ont aussi pu orienter les réflexions pour mobiliser les élèves ou stagiaires et les personnels autour d’un projet d’établissement exemplaire, afin d’intégrer le développement durable dans les formations.
Une véritable feuille de route!
Actuellement, les organismes de formation engagés dans cet appel à projets entrent dans la phase stratégique. Elle commence par la réalisation, par un bureau d’études, d’un diagnostic approfondi de l’établissement sur le plan énergétique et de la qualité environnementale du bâtiment.
Une feuille de route est alors établie, visant à l’inscrire dans la démarche « Bâtiments Durables Méditerranéens ». Parallèlement, les organismes déterminent et planifient l’action de sensibilisation et de mobilisation de l’ensemble des personnels et des élèves ou stagiaires.
Enfin, avec l’appui d’une expertise externe, le développement durable est intégré dans le contenu des formations.
Pour le développement durable
L’appel à projets « 100 lieux de formations exemplaires » s’inscrit dans le cadre de l’Agenda 21 régional, projet initié en 2006 pour assurer un développement durable plus respectueux de notre environnement. Ainsi, trois conditions sont requises les organismes de formation pour bénéficier du soutien de la Région:
* l’amélioration des bâtiments existants pour une meilleure qualité environnementale, notamment par la mise en oeuvre d’actions ambitieuses en matière d’économies d’énergie et d’eau;
* la sensibilisation et la mobilisation des personnels pédagogiques, techniques, administratifs et des élèves ou stagiaires, pour donner à cette action une valeur d’exemplarité;
* l’intégration de contenus pédagogiques liés au développement durable au sein des actions de formation menées par l’organisme.
Bridging the Skills Gap: Practical Solutions for Educating the 21st Century Workforce
2-3:30 p.m. Eastern Time
What happens when the number of jobs requiring a college education exceeds the number of qualified candidates to fill those jobs?
A growing workforce gap threatens our country’s economic future and is a concern for both U.S. companies and individuals seeking jobs or career growth. How can higher education help to ensure America’s global economic competitiveness?
In order to narrow the skills gap and better align higher education curriculum and programs with industry needs, these basic questions need to be answered:
- What are the workforce skills gaps in the U.S.?
- How can we address them?
- Should this be a concern throughout the P20 spectrum and where should it be addressed?
- What is at stake if we don’t address these challenges?
You will learn about trends and how academic institutions are educating working learners to meet workforce needs and address this growing gap.
Registration is required to attend this event. Please register now.
MOOC Fluency – some advice for future librarians
By Brian Mathews. I’m glad that UVa reinstated their president. Seems like the only logical action after the backlash. I keep waiting for “the real reason” to surface because it’s hard for me to believe that the whole thing can be boiled down to MOOCs. Really? I guess it comes down to inventing the future vs. sustaining (current) excellence. But I do want to point out that this is exactly the type of thing I was referring to in my startup paper. There is growing pressure on higher education to change—and we, as librarians, will have to adapt to that. More...
Writing By Hand: the Lost Art
Over at HASTAC, where there are always a ton of great ideas for the digitally inclined, writing prof Teresa Narey highlights the question of whether young people will continue to learn handwriting skills. Given the shift to using computers in secondary school, and curricula geared to a techie world, will subsequent generations even need to learn to write legibly? Cursive writing, she argues in this post, “is becoming an outdated skill.”
Secondary schools are apparently divided on this issue: some still teach handwriting and some do not. Some schools teach handwriting out of tradition, without any real conviction that it is a skill worth having. “Contrastingly,” Narey writes, “many Catholic schools continue to make writing in cursive a priority. Encouraging quality penmanship and principles of etiquette are some of the reasons why Catholic schools persist in keeping cursive around.” One public school district teaches cursive not for its own stake but”as a technique to help develop students’ fine motor skills. Still,” she concludes, “more schools see the value in pushing keyboard skills.”
I want to thank Narey for raising this in such a creative way. Yours truly comes from a generation where grades one through three used paper with wide solid blue lines, each delineated space then subdivided by a dotted line. Capital letters were expected to reach the next solid line, uncapitalized letters the dotted line. Until you did it right, you had to write with a pencil, but when your writing was perceived as adequate, you were awarded the privilege of writing with a cartridge pen! By the fourth grade, handwriting was taught jointly with spelling: each spelling word had to be written five times correctly. The thrill of cartridge pens (with many different possible inks — black, blue, peacock blue, green) aside, there wasn’t anything more boring than penmanship. Nothing more boring unless, of course, it was writing out spelling words over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and then having the paper returned with the places where lines had not been reached properly marked with a red pen. Looking back on it, I also wonder whether there wasn’t a disciplinary purpose to this exercise: no matter how stupid and boring your homework was, you would complete it. This was excellent preparation for later tasks that came my way, like certifying students for graduation in the major, grading and checking my own footnotes.
Narey suggests that there are at least two reasons students might want to learn cursive in a school world that is preparing them for a technological future. One is that they might need to be able to sign their own names, and the other is that if they become scholars they might need to be able to read someone else’s handwriting. I find myself wanting a stronger defense of handwriting than this — and I say this as someone whose own handwriting has admittedly deteriorated over the last several decades. My sister, by the way, who had the same education and spends as much of her time on a computer as I do, still has lovely handwriting, so deterioration is not inevitable. However, my handwriting is completely legible and even distinctive. Why? I know perfectly well that how I write is a projection of who I am and how seriously I want someone to take me. Anything handwritten by me (a journal, a post it, a form filled out at a health care provider’s office, the writing section on the LSAT) is written in a cross between printing and cursive, not pure cursive. But it can be read — and the lines are straight.
The handwriting of your average college student has stopped developing at around the sixth grade level, and while Narey’s theory definitely speaks to the future I’m not sure it speaks to the present. Technology in secondary school classrooms is a relatively recent development, and it isn’t uniform. So what are the possible explanations of the poor handwriting that has characterized college students for the past decade or so?
I want to hear more about this in the comments section, but I will posit two explanations.
1. One is that secondary school students are not expected to have any tolerance for learning that isn’t tricked out with bells and whistles to keep them fascinated at all times. Practicing your handwriting is dull: put it in the same category as diagramming sentences, something that is also no longer taught, so that even students at highly selective colleges have to learn the basic elements of sentence structure at the same time that they are supposed to be learning critical thinking skills and advanced subject matter.
2. A second explanation is that, despite the increased emphasis on English composition in high stakes testing, the vast majority of standardized tests (from the second grade on in most states) are multiple choice. Teaching students how to take these tests effectively, and making sure they have access to the content they need to do well, is a far higher priority than teaching the basic skills that present a young person as a mature human being. One of those skills would be handwriting an answer to a question.
Whatever the reasons behind the collapse of handwriting, college students no longer think it is their responsibility to write legibly. Give a regular blue book exam and a dozen students or so will warn you that their “handwriting is terrible” as if that is something for which the professor now has to take responsibility. Readers: should handwriting be taught? And if students can’t do it, should there be remedial handwriting classes in college?
Beyond Rio+20: What It Means for Global Higher Education
The following is a guest post by Pamela Chasek, a professor of political science and director of the International Studies Program at Manhattan College in New York. She is also the co-founder and executive editor of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, a reporting service on international environment and development negotiations published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
In the aftermath of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) that concluded in Rio de Janeiro June 22, many commentators were harsh with their criticism, saying the meeting failed to accomplish much, if anything. The aim of Rio+20 was to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess progress, and address new and emerging challenges. While many have argued that even these minimal goals were not accomplished in the final document, titled “The Future We Want,” we can’t measure the results of Rio+20 by this document alone. In fact, over the nine days in Rio, thousands of events were held, where civil society, the private sector, and governments shared best practices and registered nearly 700 voluntary commitments for sustainable development, amounting to more than $513-billion. But where were the institutions of higher education in this mix?
Many professors attended the conference as part of their research efforts, myself included, but higher education as a whole was not well represented. In fact, only about 25 colleges and universities were even accredited to participate at Rio+20. They included several American ones like, Boston, Columbia, Princeton, and Yale universities, and the University of Colorado and Ramapo College of New Jersey, as well as a host of non-U.S. institutions, such as, the University of Bern, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Copenhagen. I applaud their involvement and argue it is time for more institutions to follow their lead. Sustainable development is not possible without education. In “The Future We Want,” governments agreed to support educational institutions to carry out research and innovation for sustainable development, including in the field of education, to develop quality and innovative programs geared to bridging skills gaps for advancing national sustainable development objectives. At the Sustainable Development Dialogues, part of the lead-up to the conference, three of the top 10 key actions stakeholders voted on—out of a total of 100—concern education.
One of major announcements at a side event in Rio was a declaration, which is now open for signature, that commits leaders of higher-education institutions to teach sustainable development concepts, encourage research on sustainable-development issues, green campuses, support sustainability efforts in our communities, and engage with and share results through international frameworks. More than 150 colleges and universities from 47 countries have already signed the declaration, pledging to submit annual sustainability reports, reduce their carbon footprint, expand educational options, and promote research.
For example, Politecnico di Bari in Italy is offering 200 free bicycles to students and faculty members. BEM Bordeaux Management School in France offers a car-sharing program for students, staff members, and the community. Central South University of Forestry and Technology in China has included the idea of sustainable development in all core courses. The University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain is creating a training program for environmental volunteers that will appear in students’ academic record. However, this is just a drop in the bucket in terms of the institutions of higher learning around the world. As of today, only a handful of colleges and universities in the United States have signed the declaration.
To be sure, many other colleges and universities, including my own, are already expanding courses, engaging in research, and greening campus operations. But this isn’t enough. We have to be leaders. We are responsible for educating and training future decision makers. We play a key role in building more sustainable societies and creating new paradigms. We need to be more involved at the local, national, and global levels. Unfortunately, most teaching and learning still reinforces ways of thinking that lead to unsustainable systems. The majority of students still graduate without fully appreciating how the decisions they make in their personal and professional lives impact—directly and indirectly, now and in the future—the social and ecological systems in which we live. Moving towards sustainable development requires the comprehensive revision of current curricula, job qualifications, and corresponding learning objectives of educational programs and relevant professional training at all levels. We must revise teaching content to respond to global and local challenges. We must promote teaching methods that enable students not only to acquire and use appropriate skills but to actively participate in in local, national, and international sustainable development decision-making.
Rio+20 made it clear on many levels that we have a responsibility to ensure that the students we teach and train, who will be the leaders of tomorrow, have the skills necessary to create not just the future we want, but the future we need.
Is Comprehensive Internationalization Comprehensive Enough?
For example, the Partnership for a New American Economy released this month a report that argued existing immigration policies in the United States are a significant deterrent to the health of the nation’s innovation system. “For Patent Pending: How Immigrants are Reinventing the American Economy,” the authors examined the nearly 1,500 patents produced by the United States’ top patent-producing universities in 2011. They found that 76 percent of the patents produced by these universities involved at least one foreign-born inventor and more than half (54 percent) of the patents were awarded to students, postdocs, and staff researchers likely to face problems with staying in the United States.
In the last few months the Chinese government has announced that we are on the verge of attaining a 30-year objective of spending 4 percent of GDP on education. Given expectations for continued GDP growth, this points to further increases in budgets for universities and other forms of postsecondary education. It would be idle for me, situated in Tsinghua University, an institution that has benefited greatly from government support, to deny that sense of being in the right place at the right time. It would, though, be equally false to claim that Chinese higher education faces no challenges. Our system, in keeping with our national development as a whole, remains that of an emerging, rather than a fully developed, market. While that 4 percent expenditure marks the attainment of a long-cherished objective, it is still less than the average spent by OECD members on education (5.9 percent). While GDP growth, stalled in many other countries, is projected to continue in China, it is unlikely to be at the headlong rates of the recent past. The most recent economic data for China seem to indicate a slowdown.
The extent to which our experience echoes that of other nations was made clear to me by participation in the Emerging Markets Symposium, based at Green Templeton College, Oxford, earlier this year. It brought together 40 to 50 authoritative and influential leaders from governments, the public and private sectors, and academe from around the world to discuss common themes and concerns in higher education. The outcome of the discussions was a comprehensive set of recommendations for the future of higher education in emerging-market nations. Not all are equally applicable to ever country. China’s sheer size and distinctive history will always make it stand out among other nations. But there is much in the recommendations covering such issues as governance, finance, quality, and access that has a distinct resonance. In particular China can identify with the arguments that “tertiary education is a condition of sustained economic growth” and that “human potential in emerging markets is vastly untapped.” Among the great challenges facing the university sector in China is meeting the ever-growing demand for quality education. While we can point to growth at both undergraduate and graduate level in recent years, much of that demand remains unsatisfied, particularly in quality terms.
One reason for this is the challenge to maintain quality in the face of rapid expansion. Another is the mismatch between regional demand and regional supply. In spite of the strong role government has played in our sector, the distribution of higher-education institutions is highly skewed in China. Universities are heavily concentrated in the main cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, and in provincial capitals. This has a number of damaging effects. Not least of the roles of universities in emerging markets is as engines of local economic growth and suppliers of the skilled workforce – in both the public and private sectors – necessary to make that growth sustainable. It means that, lacking universities, many second – and third-tier cities also miss out on these benefits. Potential students from these regions are also at a disadvantage in the national entrance examination because of the lower quality of their primary and secondary schooling. As an institution, Tsinghua University has tried to counter this by admitting some students from low-achieving areas with somewhat lower examination scores, but this can only be done on a comparatively small scale. An additional problem is that those students who are able to go to major cities to study are unlikely to return because opportunities are scarce in their hometowns. All of this serves to widen already huge social and economic inequalities and, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, we are as a society still very concerned by social equity.
One of the strongest recommendations of the symposium was that “all students pay at least part of the cost of tertiary education by borrowing and/or earning.” That is already largely the case in China, but it should be balanced by the consideration that access to higher education should be “open to all qualified students without regard to family circumstances or financial capacity.” This is very hard to achieve unless we have the adequate student financing mechanisms also called for. China has been developing a national student loan system since the 1990s, but such mechanisms take time to fully develop to the extent needed. Another challenge is related to globalization. Many Chinese students now choose to study abroad, which is both a comment on the options available at home and reflection of the tastes of our newly enriched middle-class. To have a child educated in the United States or some other developed country is a potent status symbol that many can readily afford. So, Chinese universities find themselves in a globalized competition for both students and staff. This is not something we should shy away from. The last thing China or its universities need is a renewed bout of isolationism – we have not rejoined the world and its mainstream intellectual currents in order to retreat as soon as it presents us with challenges. However, this trend does add urgency for Chinese universities to improve their quality and governance. One very clear benefit from the global movement of academic staff has been the extent to which scientists returning from study or work abroad bring with them an international network of contacts and collaborators. This is reflected in the global range of co-authors now associated with their publications. This sort of “brain circulation” is only to be welcomed.
One issue, clearly indicated in the symposium report, is that of academic pay. Philip Altbach’s research has shown Chinese academic salaries trailing way behind those in developed countries. There are, of course, many ways in which academics can increase their inadequate pay by consulting or research for the private sector, but this unavoidably distracts their focus from academic duties. The government has attempted to address this. Programs have been designed to attract high quality staff, both Chinese and international, from abroad. This has had some effect, but is of limited benefit outside the higher-ranked institutions. A broader-reaching solution is needed. Similarly to persuade students to stay in China, we need to offer them more – better courses and also jobs that will allow them to use the skills they have learnt through study. Progress has been made in curriculum development, with professional associations enjoying a greater input into graduate qualifications such as the MBA and MPA, but there is also an important institutional dimension. Here again, the symposium document offers part of a possible solution when it calls for “diverse institutions that match supply and demand.”
While the Chinese system is not so heavily micro-managed as outsiders may imagine, there is a certainly a need to give universities greater autonomy in which to develop distinctive missions and through this offer students a greater range of possibilities than they enjoy at the moment.
These responses to globalization would be of greatest benefit to a “squeezed middle” of middle-ranking institutions. The highest-ranked institutions like Tsinghua are, as various international rankings show, well equipped to compete. There is much to be said for China having unquestionably world-class universities, and I certainly won’t deny that seeing my own university so well regarded globally is gratifying. But this should not be our main priority. The symposium report is right when it warns against pursuing prestige and rankings for their own sake. Broader priorities and a wider range of interests must be served, both in China and across the range of emerging markets.
Berkeley Joins ‘edX’ Effort to Offer Free Open Courses
By Jeffrey R. Young. Since the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University unveiled their plan to create a platform for free online courses called edX, more than 120 other colleges and universities around the world have expressed interested in joining in. Today leaders of the effort announced that they’ve added the University of California at Berkeley as a partner, and that more institutions will eventually be admitted to the exclusive group.
While MIT and Harvard have both committed $30-million each to the project, Berkeley will not bring any money to the table. Instead, it will contribute technology—specifically, a new online-education platform that engineers at the university had already been working on, says John Wilton, Berkeley’s vice chancellor. The university will also teach two free courses through edX starting in the fall: one on artificial intelligence and another on “software as a service.”
Berkeley will also take a leadership role in edX, agreeing to chair the “X University Consortium,” a new governing body for the project.
“We really want to expand and add universities,” said Anant Agarwal, who leads the edX project and who is director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “Berkeley is the first one, the first of many.” He would not say how many universities would be added, however, or how soon new members will join. “You should think of edX as a not-for-profit start-up,” he added. “We are gearing up and trying to ramp up as a start-up as fast as we can go.”
The business plan for edX is similar to that of Coursera, a for-profit start-up that has signed deals with more than a dozen highly selective universities—meaning many key details remain undecided. The only source of revenue planned for edX so far is to charge students who successfully complete the courses a small fee for certificates. But leaders of the effort say they may also offer services to help employers use the courses to recruit new talent. EdX has won major donations and grant support, however. Officials announced today that an MIT alumnus, Philippe P. Laffont, founder of Coatue Management LLC, and a Harvard alumnus, Jonathan Grayer, former chairman and CEO of Kaplan Inc., have both made gifts to support the effort, though the amounts were not released. Last month the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $1-million grant to support the project as well.
Mr. Agarwal stressed that the long-term goal is to make the free courses self-sustaining. “We are talking to several other foundations, but I think you have to become self-sustaining,” he said. “No foundation wants to fund you forever.”
MIT has faced challenges in figuring out how to pay for its pioneering OpenCourseWare effort to give away materials from hundreds of its courses online, a project that is now more than a decade old. One key difference between the edX project and for-profit companies offering free courses is that edX leaders say the software they build to offer their courses will be open source, so that anyone else can use it free and help develop the code. “The open-source platform will allow all of us to contribute to the platform and not have to worry too much about who owns the intellectual property—it’s going to be shared,” Mr. Agarwal said.
George Siemens, a pioneer of offering free open courses who is a leader of Athabasca University’s Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute, sees the open-software aspect of edX as “one of the biggest benefits” of the project. “They’re not just worried about growing their brands, but they’re making something that others can use,” he said. He said he has been surprised by how rapidly major universities are moving to offer free open courses, often called MOOCs, or massive open online courses. “I can’t recall a time when universities at one moment have responded en masse as aggressively and as collaboratively,” he said.
Focusing a Corporate Lens on Global Universities
What leads me to suggest using a corporate lens to look at global universities? I’ve heard Qantas talk about forming alliances with other airlines, a process akin to creating university consortia; tried to understand how the University of Melbourne snagged a partnership with IBM; and been fascinated by the strategies of companies like Johnson & Johnson to recruit the best university graduates. Universities might learn from multinational corporations in a few areas in particular, including employer branding, human resources, and partnership management. Lastly, universities can learn from corporations how to more effectively connect with them. Obvious, but often not done.
In a presentation I saw last year, Johnson & Johnson representatives talked about how they had taken a look at the companies that students in different parts of the world aspire to work for. In China it was Procter & Gamble. In India it was Google; in Japan, Sony. Johnson & Johnson then thought about the “employment life cycle,” from when students might first hear about a company to after they are hired. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson often conduct research in two phases. The first phase is to find out how their organization is perceived. The second phase is to find out how positive perceptions can be reinforced or shifted. The process isn’t, ideally, about spin but about discovering and communicating an institution’s core values. Those values can be ferreted out by research, which universities should be good at.
An organization, whether it is a company or a university, can identify two arrows. One is what people are looking for in jobs, and the other is what the institution has to offer. An organization that can find the intersection of those arrows can build powerful, long-term success. Universities, like companies, may need to make the transformation from being a national brand to being a global one. Siemens, once thought of as a German company, now says that it is “a global powerhouse in electronics and electrical engineering, operating in the industry, energy, and health-care sectors.”
Global brands can be adapted to various local markets, while still staying globally integrated. I just gave away a collection of international Coke cans, consisting of many different shapes and bearing Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish words, among others. But they were all instantly identifiable as Coke cans. As some universities seek to be global, they often emphasize that a degree in one country will be exactly identical to a degree in another. I’m left wondering if a little more flexibility might be in order. Human-resources departments may need to rise in importance as universities seek to become more global. The complexities of managing different people in different places are high, and human-resources departments, which are often simply the servants of academic departments at many universities, need to acquire and share their expertise on how to manage a mix of expatriates and local workers in a variety of countries.
I was intrigued by a recent Wall Street Journal article headlined “Don’t Unpack That Suitcase.” It suggested that multiple overseas assignments give rising corporate managers more chances to be promoted: “Time spent overseas develops their ability to manage complex, interconnected enterprises—skills that just can’t be developed back at headquarters or in one brief foreign assignment.”
I’m less sure that American universities share the sentiment that overseas experience improves managers. Lastly, I think that universities can learn from corporations about how to better manage partnerships. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say it: Universities approaching partners need to think of programs that would benefit both parties. Approaching a computer company and asking for money or machines to take back to the university doesn’t work for the company, without some benefit being offered. Companies have their own problems to solve. Partnership management is a profession, not just the avocation of people working in other jobs. Universities need to make it someone’s job to manage international partnerships, to sustain relationships, to make sure the institution and its partners are getting what they want from relationships.
If the partnership managers are not part of the senior leadership team, senior managers may not hear directly about how global operations or partnerships are going. The international director doesn’t get quick decisions and can’t be responsive to international partners. Decisions get slowed down, partners lose interest and end relationships. My goal here has been to suggest that when universities overcome their natural resistance to comparing themselves to multinational corporations, they can think in new and useful ways. And learning to think differently is, after all, what universities are all about.
Editor’s Note: This post was adapted from a speech on “President’s Day” at the annual meeting of Nafsa: Association of International Educators.
MOOC’s Aren’t a Panacea, but That Doesn’t Blunt Their Promise
By Jeff Selingo. The battle for the future of higher ed has landed—at least for the time being—on a concept few in academe had even heard of a year ago: the Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. The idea of offering free courses online to tens of thousands of students has suddenly become the latest, greatest way to “fix” higher ed, promoted by education-technology entrepreneurs and bemoaned by traditional academics.
Some of the country’s richest and most elite universities, including Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford, have been at the forefront of experiments with the format, and their moves have led some in higher ed to wonder if they’re missing out on something big if they don’t join in. That seemed to be the thinking of some members of the governing board at the University of Virginia last month, when they ousted the president, Teresa A. Sullivan, for not moving fast enough to position the university for the future (only to reinstate her two weeks later). In the midst of the turmoil at the University of Virginia, I suggested in a New York Times op-ed that colleges could take advantage of MOOC’s, perhaps by “ultimately shedding their lowest-quality courses (and their costs) and replacing them with the best courses offered by other institutions through loose federations or formal networks.” I received plenty of criticism about that column from faculty and higher-ed administrators. Perhaps the most thoughtful response came in a blog post on Innovations last week by Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia.
As Vaidhyanathan correctly pointed out, I don’t see MOOC’s as a panacea. But unlike Vaidhyanathan, I can imagine how the format might reduce costs, improve learning, increase access, and maybe produce revenue for a few universities. The problem is that MOOC’s probably can’t do all four things at any one institution—and that’s the reason they are not “the” solution to the myriad of problems facing higher ed. We often refer to “American higher education” as if it’s a monolith, but the fact of the matter, as we well know, is that we don’t have a single American higher-education “system.” The issues facing the University of Virginia are quite different from those facing, say, the 31 colleges that make up the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. I picked that public system because I heard recently that it spends some 25 percent of its budget on remedial education. My bet is that the University of Virginia spends nothing, or close to nothing, on getting its students ready for college work.
As more MOOC’s are developed, institutions with high remedial costs could use them to replace—or at least to supplement—their noncredit-bearing courses. A common theme in the comments on the Vaidhyanathan post was whether MOOC’s should be considered “education” or just “information.” The assumption seemed to be that the current methods of teaching on college campuses were working just fine. Again, maybe so at the University of Virginia, where some of the best scholars are teaching some of the best students. But we know from a 2011 book, Academically Adrift, that American higher education is “characterized by limited or no learning” for a large proportion of students.
“You can’t assume that in sending off a student to a typical college that they’re going to get a rigorous education,” one of the book’s authors, Richard Arum, told me recently. “You can’t trust these institutions to police themselves.”
Taken alone, the format of MOOC’s might not improve learning, but coupled with some face-to-face teaching, they could be a worthy experiment. Various studies have found that students who have taken all or part of a class online performed better, on average, than those who took the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction. MOOC’s might also play a role in improving access and graduation rates, and ultimately in reaching President Obama’s goal of making the United States the nation with the highest portion of college graduates by 2020. The University of Virginia’s six-year graduation rate is 93 percent—again, an outlier when the average rate of four-year public universities in the United States is 56 percent. While MOOC’s don’t carry credit, they can be used as part of an evaluation to gain credit through prior learning. Students who receive credits for prior learning are 2½ times as likely to graduate as those who do not earn such credits, according to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
One criticism of MOOC’s seems credible, at least for now: There is no business plan to produce revenue. A few moneymaking ideas have been floated, from charging for the credential to selling access to corporate recruiters.
I took a MOOC from Coursera this past spring, and recently received an e-mail message about study groups and social meet-ups planned for the courses being offered this fall. Right now it’s free to join those face-to-face meetings, but I could imagine some older students like myself, who are no longer in a college setting, paying for the chance to meet others in their courses or for an opportunity to meet the professor.
Like so many debates about the future of higher ed, the discussion about MOOC’s has quickly devolved into an all-or-nothing argument. The format must offer answers to all of higher ed’s problems or be as good as or better than what we do currently, critics say, or it’s a failure itself. But thousands of students around the world have completed the MOOC’s offered so far, with many of them performing as well as students on the residential home campuses where the courses were created.
There’s a lot we don’t know about the students who take MOOC’s and their reasons for doing so, but the format has clearly captivated a group of learners, and there must be something of value we can take from that in navigating the future of higher ed.