The internal marketing of participatory pedagogy

I was invited to give a presentation to new students and alumni of the Griffith University MBA last night on the future of higher education. I routinely talk about this topic with my colleagues but far less so with the learners themselves. It occurred to me that what I might say would confuse, worry, or excite them, according to how well acquainted they were with the current debate about the direction of the higher education sector. In the end, I decided it was important to lay out everything that is going on in terms of the economics of higher education, the disruption caused by technological innovation and, most importantly, the latest thinking on pedagogy.

Ultimately, it’s all about pedagogy because in an increasingly user-pay system, learners must see value in their investment in higher education.  Or that’s the theory, at least! I have encountered students over the years who feel they are being short changed if they aren’t suffering a little. In other words, “this course can’t be any good if I’m not experiencing the pain of long, boring lectures and cramming for final exams”.

It is important, therefore, to manage the expectations of learners, both those who have been through the system and those just entering it. They need to understand the logic behind the restructuring of course delivery and the benefits of a student-centric learning design. Also, that they can be active stakeholders in shaping the learning models of the future.

Those who teach, can

In this presentation, I argue that of all the elements within a university, the business school ought to be best placed to insulate itself from technology-driven disruptive innovation. After all, business academics write books and journal articles about how it affects other industries, so they should be especially sensitive to its dangers.

Well, not so, according to an article that recently appeared in The Economist entitled Those that can’t, teach (a play on a quote from George Bernard Shaw.)

It is inevitable that some schools will not make it because they lack the requisite leadership to ring the changes. Those that do ride the wave will have moved incisively, and built a strategy around higher quality at a lower cost, convincing prospective consumers of business education that they will get a solid return on their investment.

Redefining Transnational Education

This is the slide deck I presented at the AIEC 2013 in Canberra last week.

The key message is that traditional notions of internationalisation are likely to break down as capacity grows in emerging economies and the cost of studying overseas escalates. The growth in international higher education enrolments is forecast to decline between now and 2020,  There is also an expectation that the flow of international students is more likely to be intraregional as, for these students (‘glocals’), there are fewer obstacles to mobility (e.g. within the EU or ASEAN).

Does this mean that with fewer students travelling we can expect a less internationalised landscape as a consequence? My sense is that this will not be the case and that transnational education (TNE) options will multiply if universities — awakened from their slumber by the ‘MOOC movement’ — become more sophisticated in the way they digitise and deliver their course offerings.

The branch campus may have had its day given the risk and associated expense, but there are opportunities for universities in established markets like the US, UK, Australia and Canada if they ‘unbundle’ their curricula and seek new ways to leverage their intellectual property. Rather than supply the hardware (bricks-and-mortar in country), innovative use of the software (online delivery into a partner institution) may be a lower cost and lower risk option.

The drag-and-drop MBA

A few days ago, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania put the first year of its MBA online for free (with the help of Coursera). This is hugely significant and here’s why.

Currently ranked no. 3 in the world by the Financial Times behind Harvard and Stanford, Wharton doesn’t need to do this. Whether it is philanthropy, a profiling exercise, or a nice little earner at some stage because of the huge volumes involved, this does not affect core business. The exclusive on campus MBA degree will still cost in the region of USD200k and anyone completing the freebie online would not get any advance standing into the on campus program even if you pay the USD49 per course for a Verified Certificate.

But this is where it gets interesting. Around 700,000 students in 173 countries have already enrolled in Wharton MOOCs which, staggeringly, is more than the combined enrolment in Wharton’s traditional MBA and undergraduate programs since the school’s founding in 1881! Now if, hypothetically speaking, you were a second or third tier business school struggling for student numbers, is there a possibility you might be tempted to give credit for Wharton MBA courses if they were accompanied by a Verified Certificate? The courses are from Wharton after all.

On the other hand, if you hold firm and only grant credit for courses completed via the traditional means, can you be confident that your $2500 ‘Introduction to Marketing’ course delivered by Dr Joe Blow will carry more weight in the market place that the $50 ‘Introduction to Marketing’ course offered by Prof Big Shot from Wharton?

Three months ago, I blogged about how business schools ought to be preparing for MOOCs, and I suggested that, in the wake of the Georgia Tech-Udacity tie-up to offer a USD7000 MSc in Computer Science, it was probably time for business schools to start preparing for a top 100 business school getting in on the act by offering an MBA for $7000. This will still happen in all likelihood, but the Wharton development adds a whole new dimension to the debate because the notion of a DIY drag-and-drop MBA may now not seem quite such an outrageous proposition.

Ultimately — whether academics like it or not — the market will decide. So, picture this caricature: the smart, hungry, entrepreneurial 30-something from Mumbai who, through edX, Coursera and Udacity, manages to pull together their own MBA curriculum using Verified Certificates (or badges) from courses from Ivy League business schools versus the slightly less bright and stodgy 30-something middle-manager from Midtown paying $30k for an unaccredited MBA. Who would you employ?

Why just ticking over is no longer an option

A number of metaphors have been used to describe the momentous change foreshadowed for the higher education sector. ‘Paradigm shift’ is quite conventional, but ‘disruptive innovation’has become quite fashionable as Clayton Christensen’s theory has been applied to higher education. ‘Tsunami’ is another firm favourite, but the recent report published by the British think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), has introduced the word ‘avalanche’ which, according to Michael Barber, one of the lead authors of the report, was inspired by an interview with the renowned historian Norman Davies in the FT late last year:

Historical change is like an avalanche. The starting point is a snow-covered mountainside that looks solid. All the changes take place under the surface and are rather invisible. But something is coming. What is impossible is to say when. Norman Davies

The Report (uploaded to Scribd and embedded below) runs to 77 pages, but is easy-to-read and contains some important messages for institutions looking to insulate themselves from the turmoil.

For the time-poor, there are also YouTube and Slideshare summaries.





Want to eliminate cheating? Ask better questions

There was an excellent piece in The Conversation a week or so ago written by Beverley Oliver (@DVCEdDeakin) entitled, Proving knowledge by degrees: MOOCs and the challenge of assessment. The reference to MOOCs in the title is a useful device for attracting attention, but the content of the article focuses on the quality of assessment design, and has broader applicability beyond the context of MOOCs.

The design of assessment tasks is critical to the creation of authentic learning environments. Student engagement and the deep learning that ensues, is far more likely if students can see the point of what they doing (see, for example, Lizzio & Wilson, 2013). As Professor Oliver notes:

Perhaps instead of focusing on how we test students, a more purposeful question might be: presuming we know what outcomes we need students to achieve, and at what standard, what evidence will enable us to judge that this student is ready to graduate? In other words, assessment tasks are opportunities for students to create evidence of learning achievements in an array of formats.

In other words, if we look upon assessment as learning, rather than of learning, the approach taken by the learner (and faculty) takes on a completely different complexion, as Dr Adele Flood describes in this video clip:



A commitment to authentic assessment, while not completely eliminating the prospect of cheating, provides the opportunity for students to demonstrate what they know rather than what they don’t know. With some imagination, and harnessing the power of technology, assessment tasks can be created that either draw on real world problems, or situations that simulate real world problems.

In summary, if we ask better questions, the scope for unethical practice will be limited because the evidence of learning will be highly personalised (with an intrinsic motivation not to cheat) and presented in a format where it can be exhibited to people who have an interest in that evidence of learning (through a learning portfolio to prospective employers, for example). A useful criterion to guide to assessment design would be to ask whether the final deliverable is something sufficiently authentic for it to be deemed ‘curatable’ by a student as a digital artefact that showcases their learning.

This is a shift in thinking that, as Trish McCluskey (@trilia) has pointed out recently, requires us to re-evaluate how we define cheating in a default digital world. It also requires us to move beyond traditional text based assessment that has been the dominant paradigm in educational institutions for centuries. In a digital age, the ability to manipulate text to convey meaning and understanding is a necessary but insufficient condition for demonstrating competency in any given domain. This is what it meant to be literate in the analogue industrial age, but now multiple digital literacies are required of graduates if they are to fully participate in society and meet the expectations and demands of employers.

For this to happen, of course, education institutions also need digitally literate staff.

How business schools should be preparing for MOOCs

I presented at the Australia New Zealand Academy of Management (ANZAM) institutional members meeting in Sydney this morning.

My key message — in the wake of the Georgia Tech-Udacity tie-up — is that business schools ought to be preparing for a top 100 business school getting in on the act in the not too distant future by offering an MBA for $7000.

A good risk management strategy would be to digitise the MBA curriculum to provide greater flexibility, and take steps to promote digital literacies among faculty.

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