By Robert Luke. Canadian postsecondary education has its solitudes: universities, polytechnics, colleges; provincial jurisdictions; the industry-academic divide. Canada may lead the world in the attainment of higher education, but we often neglect to recognize that this considers all types of education combined. Our failure to knit these systems together, and to link education and research to social and economic outcomes, will affect our long-term prosperity and capacity to innovate.
As we modernize our approach to education in a globalized world, there are lessons we can learn from the open-source movement. Open source provides the language of collaboration and co-operation – the basis from which programmers stitch discrete pieces into a coherent whole. Applied to education, open source emphasizes the agency of learners and the importance of both formal and informal education.
By Paul Fain. The Saylor Foundation has nearly finished creating a full suite of free, online courses in a dozen popular undergraduate majors. And the foundation is now offering a path to college credit for its offerings by partnering with two nontraditional players in higher education – Excelsior College and StraighterLine.
The project started three years ago, when the foundation began hiring faculty members on a contract basis to build courses within their subject areas. The professors scoured the web for free Open Education Resources (OER), but also created video lectures and tests.
“I was able to develop my own material,” said Kevin Moquin, who created a business law course for Saylor. A former adjunct professor for a technical college and a for-profit institution, Moquin said the foundation gave him the “flexibility to adjust it as I needed.”
Saylor also tapped its pool of contract faculty members to conduct three-member peer reviews of each course, a process which professors described as rigorous. They checked the relevance and freshness of content, and they worked to ensure that all exams are tied to specific learning requirements, or outcomes. More...
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.
As economic leaders gathered in Los Cabos in June to debate fiscal strategies for restoring global growth, educational leaders were meeting at Unesco headquarters in Paris to discuss a different kind of solution. Discussed at length at the inaugural Unesco World Open Educational Resources Congress, this approach sees Open Educational Resources (OER) as the key not only to solving the global education crisis but to unlocking sustainable global growth in the 21st century- that is, if governments are ready to seize on their potential.
OERs are learning materials that can be accessed, used, and transformed by anyone, anywhere. Though the concept is simple, the economic potential is tremendous and the advantages are two-fold: First, OERs can lower education costs substantially. In the American northwest, for example, Washington State decision to digitise 81 of its highest enrolled community college courses and make them freely available as OERs, through an open course library. The move will save students more than $40 million a year once the entire system completes the transformation, with the initial costs of $1.8 million already offset in its very first year of limited implementation. OERs can also help universities reduce their marketing costs. Open resources have been a boon for recruitment: 35% of MIT applicants tell their admissions office that they chose MIT after they looked at its OpenCourseWare. Open resources can also help bolster a school's global reputation: 91% of visitors to Open University's page on iTunes U are from outside the UK.
But what crystallised at the Unesco Congress are the larger economic implications of the OER movement and its potential to dramatically expand the global knowledge economy. As policymakers struggle to apply traditional fiscal and monetary tools to mend world markets restrained by weak purchasing power, accelerated learning based on OERs could do more to stimulate global economic demand and growth than all the world's tax holidays combined - then multiplied ten-fold.
How? By making education more accessible and adaptable to the changing needs of the global economy. The best new OER programs, including a new $2 billion initiative by President Obama, are working closely with industry to create credentials earned from OER that are linked to specific occupations or job openings. So, for example, a company that needs cybersecurity experts will work with an educational institution to make sure the OER training and or education is aligned with exactly what that business needs. Moreover, there is mounting evidence that learners can be trained more quickly using OER. A recent study conducted by scholars associated with Carnegie Mellon University's Open Learning Initiative demonstrated that students who use OERs can obtain the same or better learning outcomes in half the time compared with students using traditional methods.
This means that OERs can be used to create a better trained, more flexible global workforce for the 21st century. Imagine what our global economy will look like when the estimated 90% or more of earth's inhabitants currently locked out of high-quality post-secondary education and job training opportunities finally get a fair shot. And what happens when we can finally start matching curricula to the changing employer needs? The OER movement has been steadily gaining momentum since its inception, as more and more individuals and institutions discover its extraordinary potential. Over 400,000 teachers have benefited from the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa program, whilst the Open University's OpenLearn website has had more than 21 million visits since its launch in 2006. One by one, the world's most prestigious universities are launching new OER initiatives. In May, Harvard University announced it would join forces with the MIT to create edX, a platform that provides free access to rigorous online courses to students anywhere in the world. Stanford University is planning a similar venture.
Initiatives like these are remarkable, but higher education activities can only go so far. Governments are by far the biggest suppliers of education worldwide. They have the most to contribute to the OER movement and the most to gain in terms of cost savings and economic growth.
The first Unesco World OER Congress concluded with a declaration that urged governments to play a more active role in supporting this movement, which has, to date, been largely funded by a few supportive foundations. This call to action is about more than education. It is about widening the circle of those able to contribute to renewed economic growth. Governments around the world would do well to heed that call.
Sir John Daniel, knighted for his contribution to education, served as president and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning from 2004 to 2012 and as Unesco's assistant director-general for education from 2001 to 2004.
David Killion is the US ambassador to Unesco. He led the US delegation to the World OER Congress.
In the US, a bipartisan bill for a Federal Research Public Access Act was introduced in both the Senate and Congress. If successful, the proposal would lead to the requirement of free access on the internet to all publications emanating from publicly funded research in the US. Research Councils UK is planning similar rules for the results of research for which it provided grants. Unhappy researchers have now received another significant boost from the European Union, the World Bank and the Wellcome Trust. Nellie Kroes, a Vice-President of the European Commission, announced plans to make open access obligatory for any publication resulting from grants under the Horizon 2020 Programme, the next generation of EU Research Framework Programmes. Under the current FP7, the EU Commission had already run a (more limited) Open Access Pilot. A day before Kroes’ announcement, made on 11 April, the World Bank revealed its own plans for a future open access policy. As the first step, all of the Bank’s own research will be made available free of charge online. The already existing Open Knowledge Repository will gradually be expanded. On the same day, the Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity in the UK, announced plans to create its own open access journal.
The case for open online access after a reasonable (short) embargo period seems compelling. Most research is publicly funded and the public, therefore, deserves unpaid access, as Kroes pointed out. The bulk of the work, inclusive of producing, peer reviewing and even formatting research papers, is done by the researchers themselves, who increasingly feel that publishers are ‘taking them for a ride‘. And the present practice of fee-based research creates a ‘pay-wall’ which hinders the speed of scientific progress, and thus lowers our chances of solutions to the world’s most pressing problems, for example in energy, food and climate, as World Bank President Robert Zollick emphasised. The publishers argue that they have high costs to assure the quality of scientific papers. But increasingly, it looks like the other camp is gaining the upper hand and that they will be successful in unchaining new knowledge from the stranglehold of the publishers.European Commission - press releaseHomepage of US Congressman Mike DoyleWorld BankWellcome Trust
Several new companies and organizations with impressive pedigrees are harnessing the Internet to provide college courses for free, or for next to nothing. And while many traditional universities are slowing this trend by refusing to give academic credit toward degrees to students who complete such programs, several no- and low-cost startups are doing an end-run around this monopoly by inventing new kinds of credentials that employers may consider just as good.
“If I were the universities, I might be a little nervous,” said Alana Harrington, director of Saylor.org,a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit established by entrepreneur Michael Saylor that offers 200 free online college courses in 12 majors.
Among other similar initiatives are Peer-to-Peer University, or P2PU,which also offers free online courses and is supported by the web-browser company Mozilla and the Hewlett Foundation, and University of the People,which charges $10 to $50 for any of more than 40 online courses, and whose backers include the Clinton Global Initiative. Both are also nonprofits.
The content they use comes from top universities, including MIT, Tufts, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Michigan. Those are among some 250 institutions worldwide that have put a collective 15,000 courses online in what has become known as the open-courseware movement.
The universities’ intention is to widen access to course content, including to prospective students. At MIT, for instance, a pioneer of open courseware, half of incoming freshmen report that they’ve looked at MIT online courses and a third say it influenced their decision to go there.
But the material, which includes videos of lectures by top academics, can also be scooped up by others and organized into catalogs of free content. And while the number of students using these services so far is low— at a time when 6.1 million people are taking (and paying for) online courses from nonprofit and for-profit universities, P2PU says it has had 25,000 people open user accounts and University of the People has registered 1,100 students in two years (while Saylor.org has no way of tracking its enrollment)—the momentum is picking up as colleges continue to increase costs and students take on more and more debt to pay for tuition.
A Baltimore-based for-profit company called StraighterLinealso offers online courses for $99 a month plus a $39 registration fee per class, which is less than the cost of tuition at most U.S. community colleges.
“Maybe these upstarts don’t have all the bells and whistles of the beautiful campuses. But people are deciding it’s not worth paying for that,” said Michael Horn, executive director for education at the Innosight Institute, a nonprofit think tank.
Still, conventional colleges and universities are largely refusing to accept transfer credits from these programs, making them less appealing to students. Universities’ currency is, after all, academic credit toward degrees, which employers depend on to determine the qualifications of job applicants. Although they do take transfer credits on a case-by-case basis, the universities say they can’t always judge the quality of courses offered by others, and that reading online content alone, or even watching lectures, is not the same as attending in-person classes.
“Libraries are free, too,” says Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.“You can roam around, read books and study. But hardly anyone would say that spending time in the library is a good preparation to work in any economy, much less this one.”
So rather than transfer credit they’ve earned elsewhere, students who want a degree from a conventional university find that they often have to take—and pay for—the same classes again there.
“The last thing universities have to protect themselves is this withholding of academic credit,” said Philipp Schmidt, cofounder and executive director of P2PU, who said the real reason for the schools’ refusal to accept transfer credits is to prevent competition. “It’s not about a deep concern for the interests of the students. It’s about a deep concern for the interests of the institutions.”
Besides, said Debbie Arthur, who has enrolled in StraighterLine courses toward what she hopes will someday be a degree in education: Many classes at universities are no more personal than the ones she takes online.
“The Pollyanna version of college is that you’re learning and discussing things with your professors,” said Arthur, a custom-jewelry maker who lives in Kingsport, Tenn. “The reality is that you have 450 kids in an auditorium listening to a teaching assistant. They’ve killed the golden goose themselves by being greedy, and I think people have started looking really closely at alternatives.”
Several universities agreed to be formal partners with StraighterLine, but then pulled out. One, Fort Hays State University in Kansas,conceded that it bumped the low-price company because it stood to make more money from its own online program. Documents obtained through a public-records request from another, the University of Akron, show that its formal agreement with StraighterLine was canceled in part because of complaints from the faculty senate that it hadn’t been consulted about the deal.
Horn, coauthor of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns,compares this to the way the U.S. auto industry reacted when it began to be threatened by cheaper foreign competition, particularly from Japan.
“As it became clear the Japanese automakers were more and more threatening, the American automakers spent a lot of time trying to keep the Japanese out by erecting tariffs and so forth,” instead of recognizing that consumers wanted smaller, cheaper cars, he said. “That’s the same kind of thinking we’re seeing here.”
In fact, the free-content providers are already trying to break the universities’ monopoly by coming up with altogether new kinds of credentials in place of credits or degrees. Saylor.org, for instance, will next month introduce an “electronic portfolio,” even more detailed than a college transcript, that its students can use to show employers what they’ve learned.
Also this month, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is wrapping up a $2 million competitionto design digital “badges” that can be used instead of university degrees to prove a candidate’s experience and knowledge to employers. P2PU and Saylor are already experimenting with such badges to show when students have completed courses.
Last month, MIT announced a project called MITxthat, starting this spring, will offer certificates of completion to anyone who successfully finishes courses the university makes available for free online, with a small fee for the certificates themselves.
“There’s a fundamental tension between the fact that people want standardization—which is what credentials and accreditation are—where a lot of these new, interesting educational organizations are coming in and saying, ‘Well, we don’t have to standardize,’ ” said Jessy Kate Schingler, a software developer who lives in Washington, D.C., and who has taken courses from P2PU alongside her doctoral studies in computer science at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Meanwhile, some businesses that offer tuition reimbursement to employees are becoming interested in the free- and low-cost education providers, which could put more pressure on traditional universities to accept credits from outside sources or else face the loss of potential transfer students, observers say.
“If employers start to move into this new world, that’s when it’s really going to take off,” said Horn.
CompuCom,a Dallas IT company with 5,000 employees, already has. It’s begun to work with StraighterLine, whose CEO, Burck Smith, said “colleges that want these students later will have to accept StraighterLine credits” as a result.
What CompuCom is doing, said Ed Rankin, who runs the tuition-reimbursement program there, “is analogous to what’s happening in healthcare, where you’ve got insurance companies negotiating on behalf of their insured for lower costs from their healthcare providers.” That’s because StraighterLine’s $99-a-month price tag not only saves CompuCom money; it saves money for the employees, who have to pay a portion of the cost.
Rankin said “there’s no question” other companies are likely to follow suit.
Universities are watching closely. As one direct response, the American Council on Educationplans to set up a blue-ribbon commission to look into alternatives to conventional teaching using new technology, said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad.
“This is a period of significant transformation,” Broad said. She said she expects that higher education is approaching a point at which people will be able “to snap modules together or link them in ways that produce what are sometimes called stackable credentials,” including credits from, for example, community colleges, universities, life experience, online content and other sources.
“There certainly is, I think, going to be competition, and by and large I think competition is a good thing,” Broad said.
A handful of universities have already embraced the low- and no-cost education movement. Albany State University in Georgiaencourages incoming students to take StraighterLine courses before they even arrive, accumulating credit toward their degrees and improving graduation rates.
“The resistance will be there for at least a little while longer,” said the university’s president, Everette Freeman, who faced opposition to the idea from his own faculty. “But it will change. It’s on the wrong side of history.”
Steve Carson, external relations director for MIT’s OpenCourseWare program,who is also on the advisory board of P2PU, said, “There’s no doubt this is a period of uncertainty for universities.” But he said that open-education systems will ultimately help the market grow.
“If there is a way to lower the price of higher education, you can’t stand there for long and say, ‘I’ll resist this and prevent it from happening,’ ” said Shai Reshef, founder and president of University of the People and an entrepreneur who once ran a for-profit higher-education company. “Maybe it will take a long time, and maybe it will be a harder road than it needs to be. But it will happen.” A version of this story appeared in The Washington Post on January 23, 2012.
Change and competition in American higher education
If providers of low- and no-cost online courses can invent credentials that will be accepted by employers in lieu of university degrees, it could forever change the world of higher education. What are the prospects for that? The pros and cons? The potential outcomes? Higher-education leaders and observers weigh in:
Molly Broad, president, American Council on Education
This is a period of significant transformation. I hope [conventional universities] are paying attention to it. We are at or approaching a point of inflection that may have as much to do with modularizing your advanced education—that is, where people are able to snap modules together or link them in ways that produce what are sometimes called stackable credentials. We’re just really in an experimental stage with some of these things. We are in the process of learning more about what works for different individuals with different learning preferences. It is not beyond our reach to think that there will be a wide array of choices that can be mixed and matched by institutions, by other kinds of non-higher-education institutions, and by individuals pursuing independent learning. … The brick-and-mortar campus, and in loco parentis, really now serves only a portion of the population. The challenges that our nation faces on sustaining economic growth and prosperity mean not just that we need to do a better job of raising educational attainment for our kids in K-12 going into higher education, but for adults. There’s not one right answer about the best ways to advance their attainment. There certainly is, I think, going to be competition, and by and large I think competition is a good thing. We hear corporations express frustration that American higher education is not preparing the kind of workforce that they need. I’d like to be able to say to them, ‘Don’t stand on the sidelines. Work with us. We can help you build those credentials inside your organization so you can continue to improve the competitiveness of your workforce and your company.’
Carol Geary Schneider, president, Association of American Association of Colleges and Universities
We can expect to see in the indefinite future the use of technology to multiply all the different ways you can dip into something that interests you. But as an employer, I make a huge distinction between a person who is a candidate for the first degree, who has come out of high school and is still a candidate for a B.A., or somebody who has a B.A. or B.S. and does further study. The courses that these non-credit programs offer for people who are already in the field provide more information about something they already know something about. I would never (as an employer) consider an undergraduate who pieced together their education without faculty supervision from a set of courses that are out there in cyberspace. The key to quality is not the set of courses that you took, or even how many courses you took. The key to quality is what you were asked to do in that course, what kind of assignments you were asked to do. It is one thing to read and listen. It’s another to do and apply. I want to know what they can actually do with their knowledge. For that, you have to go beneath the course title to the question, what kinds of activities went on in this course. Somebody has to be confirming that you are capable of doing something with your knowledge. The opportunities to use technology to support high-quality learning are definitely there. But the key to fulfilling that potential is whether or not faculty with knowledge of and competence in the field are putting together a comprehensive course of study. Libraries are free, too. You can roam around, read books and study. But hardly anyone would say that spending time in the library is a good preparation to work in any economy, much less this one.
Philipp Schmidt, founder and director, Peer to Peer University
I don’t think free is necessarily the key point here. But the fact that there is this innovation around what’s offered by the mainstream system shows that the mainstream system isn’t meeting the demand that exists. A university degree has become a passport into adult employment, but it doesn’t really fit with what people really need for the rest of their lives. Most of the things you’ve learned are outdated by the time you’re done. The existing institutions have invested a lot … into the infrastructure that they have now. They have to charge a certain amount of money to pay for things they’ve invested in. If someone comes along with zero investment and starts competing at the quality level, then the last thing universities have to protect themselves is this discussion of academic credit. It’s not a deep concern for the interests of the students. It’s a deep concern for the interests of the institutions. The reason P2P was started was that conventional institutions weren’t innovating. Maybe we can make enough noise that some of these institutions pay attention. A lot of the middle-tier universities are going to be in trouble as a result of these developments. Because if you can show that you got a certificate for having taken MIT courses, they’re going to see this as real competition in the next few years. There’s some part of me that is really nervous about some of those changes. There’s something really fantastic about the idea of the university, but over the last few decades it feels like we’ve eroded what’s important about the university, which is to be that space for people to make that transition from youth into adulthood. We’ve dumbed all of that down to, all you need is this list of skills and then you’ll be a useful participant in the workforce. To some degree, I don’t want the institution to die.
The projects are classified according to whether they are related to educational content (eContent), environment learning (eLearning Spaces), emotional impact of technology (emotion), sense of community (i-Community) or educational technologies.
The aim is to highlight the benefits and current works on technology-enhanced learning and also to help identify potential people and partners with whom the university could collaborate in the future.
In its latest 2010 Projects Report, the OLT outlines a list of thirty projects, classified according to whether they are related to educational content (eContent), learning spaces (eLearning Spaces), affective computing (Emotions), sense of community (i-Community) or educational technologies. All projects are executed with UOC faculty, as well as in collaboration with other universities and companies from the technological field (i.e., Universidad Carlos III, Serious Games Institute, UC Berkeley and MIT).
For more information about the report, read this notice Office of Learning Technologies at Open University of Catalonia (Spain) Projects Report.