Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Will MOOC’s Change the Course Development Model ?

The course is in some sense the fundamental organizational unit of undergraduate education and the predominant mode of course development is the Sole Practitioner model. Most of the courses offered at American universities and community colleges are the unique work product of individual professors working alone. Though the typical course may leverage chapters from one or more published textbooks, the lion's share of the course -- the syllabus, the lectures, the assignments, the activities, the assessments -- are typically developed by the professor alone, or by the professor and a small group of her colleagues and perhaps a teaching assistant or two.

The rise of the Internet and the spread of personal computing devices over the past two decades has brought with it a rising expectation that courses somehow make use of these technologies to "improve" them. Nearly all U.S. institutions have made investments in learning management systems and other tools with the goal of helping individual faculty members incorporate technology within their courses as these individual professors see fit. A relative few have embraced the trend with abandon while others have adopted these new technologies only reluctanly, if at all. Most use technology to streamline administrative functions -- to metaphorically “pass the papers out at the beginning of class, and to collect them at the end”.

But whether the SolePractitioner is an early adopter or laggard, the fundamental scale for course development and improvement has remained unchanged. Courses today are still primarily developed one instructor at a time, and make use of technology to the degree that the individual instructor -- sometimes aided by an institutional support person or two -- can muster on their own. This limits how much intellectual and monetary investment any one course can receive.

In the past year, the sudden rise of the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC)  has presented a challenge to this SolePractitioner model of course development. In a MOOC, responsibility for course development lies not with the SolePractitioner but instead with a team of subject matter experts, instructional designers, videographers, content developers and technologists who work together to create and then continuously improve a complete course designed to teach not 10's or 100's of students at a time, but hundreds of thousands or even millions of students at a time.

At this new scale of instruction, the amount of monetary and intellectual investment that can be directed at the development and continuous improvement of the course may be orders of magnitude greater than what any individual professor could ever muster working on their own, even over the whole of their academic career.

Do these team-based, higher scale development models represent a lower cost, lower quality alternative to the Sole Practitioner model? Or are they the leading edge of a wave of change that might bring with it increases in effectiveness?

What effect will these emerging model have on institutions and faculty over the next 5 years? Can we expect major changes? Something more gradual? Or are MOOCs and Master Courses a fad?

Some of the strongest educational brands -- Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc. -- have moved aggressively in the past year to champion these new models, lending them a strong air of academic credibility. Are MOOCs only the province of the elite? What implications do they have for other kinds of schools?

What are the inherent advantages of course development at scale? Which things can be done better? Were these models to begin to seriously displace the Sole Practitioner model, what would be gained? What would be lost? Can they be effectively combined to create something superior to the current state of the educational art? Or do they threaten to destroy a tradition of quality?

How might MOOCs be similar to textbooks? How are they dissimilar? How might they be better? How might they be worse?

If these new models spread, what effect will they have on today's institutions and faculty? What opportunities will they create? What might they destroy?

How are things like Open Educational Resources, the Khan Academy and the Flipped Classroom model related to the MOOC?

At present, MOOCs are offered at high scale (serving tens to hundreds of thousands of students at a time) but at no cost. While in the early stages, venture capital funding has allowed intensive investments to be made -- in the long term this is unsustainable in the absence of new business models. What is the role of the market in facilitating this move to scale? How can such a market develop? What changes would faculty, institutions, and education companies have to make to foster such a market?

Are these new approaches suitable for only certain disciplines? More appropriate for lower division than upper division?

If complete digital courses do become available, what would become of the university bookstore? Are institutions prepared to deal with the disruptions a transition from print to digital might entail?

 As a faculty member, what do these new models mean for me? Can I safely ignore them, and continue on as I have? Do they create any new opportunities for me? How might they change my role in instruction? If they were to bring about significant change in how courses are developed and delivered, will I like my job better or worse?

Clearly there are a lot of issues that this raises and I hope we can get a lively discussion going around the possibilities.


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

James Taylor - RockStarTeacher

I've only really had a single goal with the guitar since I first picked one up at age 12. I've always wanted to be able to play like James Taylor. I like other music, even other guitarists. But I would die a happy man if I could play a reasonable facsimile of a few of my favorite JT songs. I realize it's a narrow musical goal, but it's what I've always wanted.

I've spent a lot of time playing in my life. I've had teachers, I've bought books, I've played with friends. I've proven to be a pretty slow learner sad to say, and it's been very difficult to find a way of learning JT's style. It's been hard for me to find a learning experience that meets me at my level, but still gives me a window onto my end goal. I think this is a common problem for learners everywhere.

So just imagine what it feels like for me to come across video guitar lessons led by the master himself, right there at jamestaylor.com, available for free! There he is, the one and only James Taylor, in a friendly, high fidelity experience, playing the exact licks I want to know. It's actually better than having James Taylor come to teach me in person!

I've often had dreams that James Taylor comes to my house for a visit. Maybe three times a year since I was a teenager. They're like flying dreams for me, they make me feel good for a week after I have one! They're always the same...James comes by for a chat, I tell him what a big fan of his work I am, and then we sit down to play guitar together. He teaches me some of his best licks and we part as friends. In my dreams, I learn easily. He plays the lick through a couple times, and then I play it for him. He makes a couple of corrections and then I've got it.

But if James Taylor really came to my house it would be much different from my dreams. He'd be gracious I'm sure, but still it would have to be kind of awkward. Fair to say that under the best of circumstances he'd be intolerably bored and I would be nervous beyond the point of ineptitude. He would play a lick and I would have no idea how to follow it.

And I'm pretty sure that -- even as affable as JT is -- the 100th time I asked him to replay a single measure of the intro to "Country Road", he would be packing up his guitar and remembering an urgent appointment with his endodontist.

In almost every dimension, James' video lessons are not only a good substitute for personal instruction by JT himself, they are a much more effective (and also possible and practical) way for me to learn. In short, they exceed my dreams.

With his videos, I can see him play the lick from every angle. I can focus on any part, playing along slow or fast, repeating any measure, as many times as I need to. I don't need to be nervous. I don't have to worry about disappointing my hero. He's as encouraging the thousandth time I try the lesson as he was the first time.

And it's finally helped me learn how to play a lot more like him than I did before. Or so it feels to me. And I'm betting it feels that same way to tens of thousands of other people. And if James Taylor keeps producing these lessons, and keeps them posted, he will end up teaching millions of guitarists to play his music in his style, far into the future.

This is the power of the RockStarTeacher. When a hero takes time to teach, using appropriate technology and media, using high fidelity production, assisted by the talented people who are drawn to the hero's vision -- something very powerful can happen.

And it is starting to happen. Some RockStarTeachers are starting to have the same scale of influence as the Beatles and the RollingStones, touching not tens or hundreds of students at a time, but hundreds of thousands or even millions. Its happening when James Taylor teaches thousands to play his music. It happens when Sal Khan teaches millions of students a month through his Academy. It happens when Norvig and Thrune teach AI to 150,000 students at a crack.

If I were still leading grad students, I know that I'd set some of them the challenge of making a feedback system for James. Allow students to upload their best recording of "Little Wheel" and compare it to a database of a couple hundred exemplars that James Taylor himself rated and gave feedback on. Use the same matching algorithms as things like Shazaam so that when you submit your recording, you get an evaluation back with James Taylor's advice on how you might improve ... Anyone got one of these laying around?

I have to get busy with Fire and Rain!



Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rock the ThirdWay!

ThirdWay@ASU won Pearson Product of the Year at this year's National Sales Meeting in San Diego a couple of weeks ago. It was the first year in the history of Pearson that something other than a textbook has ever received that honor. The prize is shared by a lot of people who have worked together for more than a year and a half to make this new experiment in Public/Private educational partnership successful, on both the ASU and Pearson teams.

The ASU team is led by Dr. Phil Regier, former Executive Dean of the WP Carey School of Business, now VP and Dean of ASU Online. His first officer is Assistant Vice President Kari Barlow, whose previous assignment at ASU was leading the Strategic Technology Alliance program for ASU's Technology Office. Under Phil's leadership, ASU Online has completely reinvented itself to become an emerging leader in online education. For example, in this year's US News and World Report ranking of online bachelor's degrees, ASU Online was rated #1, FIRST, THE BEST in Student Services and Technology out of nearly 1000 responding institutions. As a direct result of the ThirdWay partnership, ASUOnline is now growing faster, serving more students, and delivering online education at an extremely high level of quality.

On the Pearson side, Matt Leavy, Melanie Biel, Marijean Hamilton, Allison King and Kevin Molloy were backed up by a cast of hundreds of Pearson employees and partners who helped ASU completely reinvent their online offering. Working side by side with their ASU Online colleagues, the Pearson team has helped ASU in every aspect of the marketing, recruiting, advising, design and delivery of its online education.
To ensure the quality, reputation and integrity of the ASU Online brand, ASU faculty design and teach every online course, and are also responsible for establishing and enforcing all instructional and academic policies. But the Pearson team provides technology, content, expertise and support services for every aspect of the student lifecycle including:

  • Pearson LearningStudio as the online learning platform for all courses; 
  • Academic Enterprise Reporting to monitor and analyze trends in student performance; 
  • Learning Outcome Manager for tracking the achievement of learning objectives and goals; 
  • Enrollment services including engagement, retention and student support; 
  • Prospect and lead generation services 
  • Admissions support services to better connect with and keep students engaged during every stage of the enrollment process. 
The match between the Pearson ThirdWay offering and tthe ASU Technology Strategy is uncanny. In 2009, ASU was actively seeking a new model for accelerating its online offering. In the midst of a 10 year plan to expand the size and scope of the University while simultaneously raising its academic quality, ASU had already become the nation's largest residential university.
But President Michael Crow's vision for a New American University did not stop with residential education. Since 2005, he had pushed his institution to develop an online school of similar size and quality -- setting a goal of 100,000 distance learners inside of a decade. But after two failed bootstrapping attempts, President Crow knew that he would have to find expertise and investment from the private sector in order to compete online with giant for-profit institutions like the University of Phoenix. Determined to maintain online the same educational standard of excellence found on ground at ASU, he nevertheless needed a new kind of partner if the New American University was to be a significant player in online education.
Since 2005 ASU has followed a technology strategy known as Strategic Technology Alliance. Quoting from the UTO's 2006 strategy document:
To meet rising student expectations and create a system of scalable academic excellence the University must turn from the direct provisioning of basic services to the aggressive application of information technologies to the core missions of learning and discovery.  
ASU will accomplish this turn through Strategic Technology Alliances – aligning the institution’s technology services strategy with the strategic technology directions of private sector partners who operate at scales 1000 times that of ASU’s. Strategic Technology Alliance will dramatically accelerate the institution’s technology platform development while simultaneously allowing the university to focus more of its talent and core resources on the application of this rapidly advancing platform to increasing student success, enhancing the learning environment and advancing ASU’s research agenda. 
In order to keep pace with accelerating technical change, and to extract as much value from the burgeoning power of all things digital, ASU sought to extract itself from the direct provisioning of technology services and instead identify private industry partners who, because of their scale and focus, were better positioned to harness accelerating capabilities at scale.
In a blog post from 2006, I outlined the strategy this way:
Vertically integrated enterprises (like Universities) can use a Core vs. Context analysis to focus resources to achieve leadership. Core activities are those which a firm must concentrate their own talent, management, and internal resources on, because they are central to the enterprise strategy. Context activities, by contrast, are those that might be reasonably provided to the firm in partnership with other firms for whom those activities are Core.... 
...if ASU can find a strategic ally who can assume responsibility for a major part of a Context service -- an ally for whom ASU's Context is Core, an ally that provides that service at a scale orders of magnitude beyond ASU's size, a partner subject to competitive pressures that force it to adapt more quickly than ASU is capable of adapting -- then I say we should seek those alliances. So I propose that, as part of its technology plan, ASU seek to establish a set of strategic alliances and work with those allies to build an integrated platform that provides those Context services going forward, a platform influenced by the technology visions of the allies as well as by ASU's goals. 
In each sector, we want to identify the broadest swath of activity that would be Core to an alliance partner, and identify a timeline for transitioning more of this activity -- over a period of months, or even years if need be -- from direct ASU management and ownership in favor of technology allies whose core business is to provide those services. I believe these alliances are the gateway to developing a technology platform that can more closely track the state of the art and allow ASU to focus its resources on the use of technology in its core businesses. 
ThirdWay is a textbook example of this Core v Context approach. Under ThirdWay, ASU focuses on the Core issues of student success, academic rigor and quality. These are clearly Core for the institution. Pearson focuses on providing the widest possible range of support services, which provide the Context for ASU's Core. These services can be Core for Pearson because we provide them to a wide variety of institutions across the country, at a scale much greater than ASU alone. 
Pearson is invested in the success of the overall venture. Unlike product models, where the institution purchases specific services and technologies and then bears responsibility for making them work in the field, ThirdWay makes Pearson a true partner. ASU and Pearson pursue ASUOnline's goals together, and Pearson only makes money if the venture meets the growth and success goals the enterprise sets for itself. 
It's a great theory -- if I do say so myself-- but it's especially gratifying to see it play out successfully for ASU and Pearson. ThirdWay promises to be an important offering for us this year, and I expect I will be writing about it some more in the weeks to come. So I wanted to say a public thank you to Matt, Melanie, Marijean, Allison, Kevin, Kari, and the extraordinary team that has proved this model out and shown us all how a new kind of Public/Private partnership can make the impossible possible... 
Rock the Third Way!