Two More Things that Bug me About Quality in e-Learning

Last week I published the first post in this series of undetermined length. Here is post number two. As a recap, bug Number One was the lack of a definition for the term e-Learning Quality. Bug Number Two was the excessive focus on course design and the lack of focus on more important pieces (IMO) of e-Learning Quality. Here are the next two bugs.

Three.

This one goes hand-in-hand with the issue about defining quality. We need to look at quality as a continuum, something along the lines of the graphic below. Online Learning Quality Continuum

When people use the term “eLearning Quality,” we usually assume they mean high quality or excellent quality, but of course there can also be low quality. In other words, the term “quality” is really not descriptive enough. Just adding the word assurance, such as in a quality assurance program, still doesn’t cut it for me. “I assure you that your quality is really crappy.” How’s that for quality assurance?

We would be better off to talk about Excellence in e-Learning, or my preferred term of Excellence in e-Education. The other thing that the chart illustrates is that most quality standards tend to aim at the large middle section – which is indicative of being good enough, rather than excellent. It’s really not that high a bar. My suggestion is that you stop talking about Quality, and start talking about Excellence.

Four.

Very often a discussion about e-Learning Excellence comes around to a comparison of course completion rates between online courses and F2F courses. That focus on completion rates is seriously misplaced. It’s a classic case of comparing peaches to pears.

Completion rates expectations.

Of course it makes perfect sense to most people when that comparison is made. Those people believe that if online learning results in fewer successful course completions, it must be due to the lower level of quality for those online courses. What other reason could there be? Well, there could be several other reasons. Here are some of those reasons:

1. Demographics differences (Learning House Report pages 27-31)

We know that there is a fair number of students who mix F2F classes with online classes. But we also know that those students who are exclusively engaged in online learning, taken as a group, have some different demographics than those who engage exclusively in F2F learning. In other words, they are not two homogenous groups. Online students work more hours (60% of them work full-time), are more likely to be parents (and especially single parents), and are more likely to be part-time students rather than full-time. In fact, those demographics differences are some of the reasons why students choose an online education path in the first place – because their plates are already pretty full. See also the demographics differences from my former college.

2. Differences in student support

All students need many support services, and the on-campus services are typically better delivered than the comparable online services. Sure, some schools are doing an exemplary job of providing online access to a full range of student services, but many others are not.

Online students expect 24/7 access to these services (L/H page 20), but see a significant performance gap (Noel/Levitz pg. 6) in those services provided by their colleges and universities:

  • Online library and research
  • Technical support
  • Academic advising
  • Career placement

3. Differences in instructor preparation/familiarity

Every term there are lots of faculty members who teach  their  very  first  online class. Sure, there are also some faculty who are teaching their very first F2F course, but not to the same level as the number of noobs for online teaching. And besides, chances are good that the first-time F2F teacher has been sitting in F2F classrooms as a student for 15-20 years before their first attempt at teaching in the same setting. It’s not unfamiliar territory.

At my former college, I tracked the student final course grades in classes that were taught by new online faculty over their first few semesters. This was not part of their evaluation, nor was it used in any significant way with, for, or against the instructor. I was simply curious. What happened to student performance as the instructors became more experienced with online teaching? I doubt that you’ll be surprised that student achievements (as measured by final grades) generally  got better as the instructor gathered experience with the modality. The chart below is based on real data collected about dozens of faculty members who started teaching online courses during my tenure at the college. These three anonymized instructors are representative of the typical data – although there were a few exceptions to this general upward trend. Loosely speaking, I think the data show that instructors see better results from their students as the instructor gains more experience in online teaching. I don’t think that’s surprising, but I do think it’s something that we need to consider about the maturity of online education. We get better at it the longer we do it. At least most of us do.

Student grades with new online instructors

NOTE:  this chart depicts the percentage of students who successfully completed (passed) an online class during the first five terms that an instructor taught that class online. In each case, this was the instructor’s first foray into online teaching.

4. Differences in student familiarity with online learning

Much like newbie faculty members, there are also a new batch of first-time online students each and every term. Every fall term at my former college, about 40% of the online students were first-time online learners. No matter how many years of schooling they had endured, this was their first taste of online learning. That 40% figure remained fairly constant from about 2005 to 2010, when I left the college. Nationally, the rate is probably below that number, and it is probably slowly going down over the years as online learning is less and less of a novelty.  I’d say that a conservative estimate of the overall rate is 25%. In other words, every time a new term starts, at least 25% of the online students are taking their first-ever online class. It’s probably a higher rate, but 25% is high enough to make the following point.

At the beginning of each term, what percentage of students sitting in a traditional F2F classroom are doing so for the very first time?

Effectively zero percent. Let’s allow for the occasional home-schooled student who has never been in a traditional classroom – not ever. It could happen. So, let’s conservatively estimate that about 0.001% of the F2F students are sitting in a F2F classroom for the first time ever.

And yet we expect those two groups to achieve the same level of success in those courses? Doesn’t that sound just a little bit insane?

Comparing completion rates between online and face-to-face

Click to enlarge

Online course completions continue to get better and better, as we figure out how to be more effective online educators and as students learn how to be better online learners. If anything, the e-Learning Atheists (naysayers) should be concerned that the difference in rates is so small, and getting smaller. More about those improving completion rates next time.

Two Things That Bug Me (Today) About Quality in e-Learning

eQuality iconOver the past ten years or so, I’ve been involved in one way or the other in the arena of assessing quality in Online Learning. It was 2004 that I first learned about the work being done by QualityMatters during the first year of their FIPSE grant. As the Dean of Distance Learning at a Minnesota College at the time, I attended the ITC eLearning conference and brought back version one of the QM rubric. At a faculty retreat that spring, the online faculty at my college decided that they wanted to revise the rubric for local considerations, create their own faculty-driven review process, and pursue a voluntary quality review process for online courses at the school.

That process at the college is still going strong now 10 years later, even though I’m long gone. During my time as an independent e-Learning consultant, I received several contracts to work with colleges on their e-Quality initiatives and for accreditation for online programs. I’ve had first-hand experience with many different schools and have examined what they are doing (and what they are NOT doing) with regard to assuring and/or increasing the quality of their online education offerings; including courses, programs, and student services. In other words, I’m neither a noob nor a rube when it comes to e-Learning quality.

As I continue to find new developments in the e-Quality world for my Scoop.it page on such, I continue to be amazed at how little there is that is new in this field. Mostly the same old conversations about the same old issues. Does that mean that we’re done here? I doubt it, but not quite sure what else to make of it. There are several things that continue to bug me about the conversations around e-Quality. In this post I’ll mention the first two things that are bugging me. More posts will follow shortly until I’ve sprayed all the bugs (or just run out of things that bug me).

One.

To the best of my knowledge, we still don’t have a widely accepted definition of what we mean when we use the term e-Quality (my term for e-Learning Quality, Online Course Quality, Distance Ed Quality, etc. etc.) Heck, we can’t even agree on the term that we use when referring to it. The word ‘quality’ itself is not that muddy: “a high level of value or excellence” says the online Merriam-Webster dictionary. But specifically, what do we mean when we refer to quality in an online education setting?

For comparison, let’s consider how quality is defined in a different arena where the concept is applied on a regular basis: manufacturing/business. What does the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 8402:1986) have to say about this? The standard defines quality as “the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bears its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.”

Another definition from Business Dictionary dot com: “In manufacturing, a measure of excellence or a state of being free from defects, deficiencies, and significant variations, brought about by the strict and consistent adherence to measurable and verifiable standards to achieve uniformity of output that satisfies specific customer or user requirements.”

I’m pretty sure that almost all educators would be uncomfortable  using that sort of language when talking about educational quality. Free from defects, uniformity of output – yikes. So let’s try something like this:

Excellence in e-Education includes high expectations for all parties involved, clearly communicating standards upon which evaluations will be based, gathering and reporting qualitative measurements of student learning achievements, while operating efficiently and providing good value for the costs incurred by all stakeholders.

Two.

The almost-singular focus on course design is seriously misplaced. Some of you are probably familiar with this diagram I developed about 6 or 7 years ago. The three triangles indicate three potential areas of eLearning Quality Trianglesassessing “quality” in online education, specifically at the course level. My mantra during the past has been that there is an unbalanced focus on the lower right triangle  with little, if any, attention being paid to the other two triangles. I have noticed a slight uptick in the attention paid to the quality of instruction and the quality of student learning achievements, but those areas still pale in comparison to the focus on course design. Most people believe that if they have a QM (or QM-like) rubric and process, then they’re answering their critics’ questions about online course quality.

Those of you who’ve heard me speak on this matter know that I consider the course design to be several magnitudes of lesser importance than the other two areas. In fact, if you can provide solid, repeatable evidence that the online students are achieving the intended learning outcomes at a very high level – then I’d be willing to throw out the other two altogether. That’s rarely the case. Let me restate that: if your online students are learning what they are supposed to learn, then I’d rather not dictate certain teaching techniques or course design standards, because what they are doing must be working. It’s nice to have evidence of all three – as long as your use of a design rubric doesn’t become a one-size fits-all approach.

My suggestion is that you focus on gathering evidence for the blue triangle. If that evidence is weak, then look at the other two triangles to identify potential causes (there are other potential causes, of course). If the evidence of success in the blue triangle is strong, don’t worry so much about the other two.

I’m just getting started. Check back soon.

Investing Instead of Spending Your College Money

Money ball - decorativeThe onslaught of press about the value (or lack thereof) of a college education continues unabated. Here’s just a sampling of some of the articles about the cost of and/or value of going to college:

  1. Washington Post (8/27/13) The Tuition is Too Damn High, Part II: Why college is still worth it
  2. Cathy Davidson (8/24/13): Why Does College Cost So Much–And Why Do So Many Pundits Get It Wrong?
  3. Notre Dame Magazine (Summer 2013):  Is College Worth It?
  4. My own post: ROI on Tuition Paid – Another Bunch of Hooey (also More ROI Hooey)
  5. Also mine: Series about the $10,000 bachelor degree (10+ posts  altogether)

There’s many more to choose from, but you get the idea. So let’s say that you have a hypothetical child that is about ready to enter college. She’s a slightly above-average student, but not a star student. She has more personality than you can shake a stick at, but not the greatest amount of ambition to change the world. She’s uncertain about where she wants to go in life (you know, the career thing), and so she’s having a hard time figuring out where she should go to college and what she should major in. The idea of going away to an exotic land with fabulous dorms and climbing walls (sorry, but everyone has to throw that into the equation) is something that she is very interested in. Her parents are not made of money, but they have done some saving for college expenses, just not the kind of money that can afford the out-of-state or private school climbing walls.

The parents are able to pay $5,000 per semester for 4 years, or a total of $40,000. A four-year degree in 4 years is the exception rather than the norm, but that’s the way they’re figuring the finances for now. Pell money will be scarce because their family income is just a little bit too high. Burdening the young lady with mountains of debt doesn’t seem like a good idea to any of them.  State grant money is very uncertain, and so are scholarships (remember, she’s a slightly above-average student without severe financial need).

Although the young lady doesn’t like this idea, she can live at home and attend the local state university in her home town. The cost of tuition per year is about $8,000 and books and supplies will run about another $2,000 – thus, the $10,000 per year that her parents have available would work in this scenario without incurring debt. Living outside of the home, whether in the same town or not adds a significant amount of cost, so let’s assume that the parents are going to strong arm her into living at home, at least for the first couple of years (actually, all 4 years, but they keep that to themselves).

Here’s the $64,000 question (OK, the $40,000 question):

Should they pay for her college, or just invest the money for her retirement?

What if she doesn’t go to college? Maybe on her own she could take a few classes here or there and over time build towards a college degree (or get herself a free, shiny MOOC degree!). Or maybe she gets a job with an employer who is willing to subsidize her higher education (increasingly rare, but they’re still out there). Or maybe she avoids much of the ladder-climbing rat race and works at jobs that don’t require a college degree, makes enough money to live off of, and basically coasts to the finish line where there’s a pot-o-money waiting for her. Or, any one of the hundreds of other ways that this could play out.

Assume Mom and Dad invest $5,000 in her name every six months for four years – the same $40,000 that they would have paid for her college costs. Investing in a mutual fund that mirrors the S&P 500 tends to be a good gamble over the long run.  The long-run here would be a 44-year investment, the first 4 years of which find her parents paying into her “not college” fund, and the next forty years of compounding. The no-longer-young lady would be 62 years old when she is able to get her hands on the investment spoils. Historically, the S&P 500 returns an average annual rate of approximately 10% over 30 years or more. Of course, past results are not necessarily indicative – blah, blah, blah. So, let’s look at a range of outcomes from 7% to 12%.

  • 7% annualized rate of return:  = $701,441*
  • 8% annualized rate of return:  = $1,040,908
  • 9% annualized rate of return:  = $1,539,394
  • 10% annualized rate of return:  = $2,268,974
  • 11% annualized rate of return:  = $3,333,329
  • 12% annualized rate of return:  = $4,881,136

* The $40,000 investment (8 annuity payments of $5K each, every 6 months for 8 periods), then 40 years of growth at 7% without additional payments.

Caveats:

  • These numbers are pre-inflation. In other words, at the 8% return, it’s not the same as having a million dollars today, but whatever a million dollars will be worth 44 years from now.
  • Any mutual fund will have annual expenses and admin fees to pay. Several analysts seem to suggest that 1/2 of 1% (annually) is a good estimate for a long-term mutual fund with minimal activity.
  • Income taxes can always be a thorny issue. The $10,000 annual contribution by the parents should be tax-free since the gifting limit is $13,000 per child, per year. Taxes on investment income will need to be paid at some point. The first $5,000 each year should go into a Roth IRA, which is the Roth contribution limit per year, and also assumes that the young lady will have earned income of at least $5,000 each year during those first four years. Another advantage of a Roth IRA is that no tax on the earnings is due until the earnings are withdrawn – and by then she’ll have the money to pay the taxes with the investment income. The parents need to be able to contribute an additional $5K per year on her behalf in a tax-friendly way. There are options to consider, but even a regular investment account during those first four years will not earn a large amount of taxable income (taxed at her supposedly lower tax rates). Then, starting in year 5 she begins converting the investment account into the Roth IRA account until that transfer is completed.
  • Taking inflation, expenses, and taxes into consideration – you could probably take 25-30% off the accumulated amounts above to see what might happen in today’s dollars.
  • Of course this could go horribly wrong and she would hate you for ruining her life.

Additional thoughts:

  • Expect another post (one of these days) that goes into more depth on this point, but I absolutely do NOT buy the argument that the only way that a person can become properly socialized is to go to college – you know, all the learning that happens outside of the classrooms. Life experience can be gained in many ways – college does not have a corner on that market.
  • Compare this with the analyses about how much more someone will make with a college education than without one. There’s many studies out there, but this one gets to the point in easy to understand terms: The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings (PDF, U.S. Census, 2002). They estimate that a holder of a bachelor’s degree will make $900,000 more than the holder of a high school diploma over their entire working life. YMMV. Compare that number with the amounts that the not-college investment will grow to, and the bachelor’s degree is not such a no-brainer. A more recent analyses (2011) by the Census Bureau indicates that a white female with a bachelor’s degree will earn about $845,000 more during her life than a white female with a high school diploma (for full-time, year-round workers). The one thing we don’t have data on is what that white female (with B.S) will have in a retirement account at the end of her career. It had better be substantial or my argument above still holds.
  • I realize that there’s a difference in the unemployment rate for diploma holders compared to degree holders – but some people (those with lots of personality and a good work ethic) will fare better in finding and keeping those local jobs than others.

Conclusion:

  • I’m not an anti-college guy, I’m a pro-college guy. I spent 17 years as a college faculty member and 10 years as a college administrator. Most of my friends work in education. I still work with educators in my current job. I think college is GREAT!
  • I also think that college is not for everybody. It’s crucial for the professions, it’s helpful in STEM fields, it’s a seal of approval for many jobs and career aspirations. But, it’s not the only way to get ahead. Why not spend 40 years at jobs you enjoy that pay you enough money to get by, then retire with a million dollar nest egg. Then build your own climbing wall.
  • If the young lady really wants to go to college, and if she has a plan for how to start AND finish that adventure, and if she is willing to do it in a manner that doesn’t break the parent’s backs or burden her with debt (add in a few more ifs just for good measure); then she should probably go to college.
  • One question I have is this: how many young people would look at these two options below and choose option B?
    • A) Go to the college of your choice and spend $10,000 per year of your parent’s money (for 4 years) – incurring debt for all other costs that you cannot pay with their contribution.
    • B) Find a job you enjoy without a college degree, and let your college money grow to a million dollars or more for your retirement.

Any hypothetical kids out there want to choose option B? Hypothetically?

(Graphic courtesy of geralt at Pixabay)

How to Game the ObamaEd System

ObamaEd - how to game the system

I taught Cost Accounting for many years. I always had fun (okay, fun here is measured in the range of possibilities related to teaching accounting) covering the subject called Return on Investment (ROI), especially when it applied to selecting new products to add to your Product Mix with the goal of Maximizing ROI. The problem with trying to maximize ROI is that you are trying to maximize a percentage, and you can’t put percentages (as opposed to dollars) into the bank and pay your bills with it. The interesting part of the story (again, relatively speaking) is when managers make suboptimal decisions. A suboptimal decision is one that is in the manager’s (or his/her division’s) best interests, but not in the best interest of the company as a whole.

Yesterday, President Obama unveiled the first glance at his plan to give higher education an extreme makeover. Light on details, the plan does cover lots of ground, much of which would definitely upset some of the apple carts in higher ed. Trying to get a jump on the Tea Party – let me dub his plan “ObamaEd,” although I’m also quite partial to Obama.edu. ObamaEd is probably DOA in Congress, if for no other reason than the fact that he proposed it. Therefore, the two factions of the GOP will oppose it, even though it feels much more like a GOP-colored proposal than one from the other side of the aisle.

ObamaEd is an attempt to hold colleges and universities more accountable for the federal dollars that flow into their coffers. Fair enough, I guess, but as soon as you start changing things like funding formulas, people start trying to find a way to game the system. Here’s one of the more significant proposals in ObamaEd.

  • New College Ratings before 2015. Before the 2015 school year, the Department of Education will develop a new ratings system to help students compare the value offered by colleges and encourage colleges to improve. These ratings will compare colleges with similar missions and identify colleges that do the most to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as colleges that are improving their performance. The results will be published on the College Scorecard. The Department will develop these ratings through public hearings around the country to gather the input of students and parents, state leaders, college presidents, and others with ideas on how to publish excellent ratings that put a fundamental premium on measuring value and ensure that access for those with economic or other disadvantages are encouraged, not discouraged.  The ratings will be based upon such measures as:
    • Access, such as percentage of students receiving Pell grants;
    • Affordability, such as average tuition, scholarships, and loan debt; and
    • Outcomes, such as graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings, and advanced degrees of college graduates. (emphasis mine)

Let’s just focus on the idea of basing the college ratings on the earnings of the graduates from each college. Not sure how big a role this will play, but let’s guess for now that it could be a significant factor. How do colleges game ObamaEd to their benefit? It’s really pretty simple. Start by cutting the programs with lowest rates of earnings for their grads. The earnings for the graduates of institution will be based on the average of all the different programs lumped together (or so it would appear at this time). Let’s take an example from the great state of Tennessee.  Using some of the data from a recent report by CollegeMeasures.org, here are a few of the programs at the University of Tennessee-Martin. I’m leaving out some of the detail, but the data below should illustrate my point.

Earnings of graduates at UT-Martin (pages 8-11):

  • Health Professions = $58,592 (highest)
  • Engineering = $52,976
  • whole bunch of stuff in between helps make the UT-M average = $37,140
  • Philosophy and Religious Studies = $27,094
  • Psychology = $26,205
  • History = $25,248  (lowest)

You don’t have to be a cost accountant (although it helps) to figure out that if you eliminate the History program, your average earnings for grads at the institution goes up. Think of the $37,140 as being a weighted-average (which means that it is weighted by the number of grads in each major) of the earnings of the grads from all the programs.  Get rid of the lowest-earnings program and your average goes up, and your federal rating goes up. The poor Psychology program is next. If it worked for History, it’ll work for them, too.

In fact, mathematically it will work for every program below the average. Just to add more intrigue, as you eliminate the lower programs, the average continues to go up, so that some programs that started out above the average, are now below the average and are now on the possible chopping block. If you carried it to the logical (okay, that’s a matter of opinion) conclusion, you’d cut everything except the Health Programs (uh oh, that’s another grouping of programs where some are better than others) and UT-M would now have grads that earn an average of $58,592 their first year out of college.

Would this be a suboptimal decision? Sure sounds like it. Would this actually happen? Probably yes, if we’re talking about cutting some of the lowest programs to bring up the average. Probably not if we’re talking about cutting everything except the highest performer.

However, you do need to be careful what you ask for.

(NOTE: in the maximizing ROI dilemma, the manager drops the least profitable product line, even if it is above the minimum level required by the company. Then drops the second least profitable line, etc., each time raising the overall ROI in the division. This makes his percentage go up, but hurts the company overall. Works the same way here with average graduate earnings.)

I Say Bull ____ !!

I haven’t been posting here much lately, but there are so many things that I want to say about what I’m seeing in this increasingly insane world, that I feel compelled to start writing some of it here – if nothing else for my own I say bull, and I know it when I see itsanity (what’s left of it).

Have you noticed the explosion of infographics on the web lately? Are you still breathing? If so, then you’ve noticed. You can find lots of very positive (glowing, in fact) web articles about how to use infographics as link bait. That is the number one purpose for an infographic, to drive traffic to somebody’s website. I get several emails each week asking me to embed/share some infographic on my site. The emails are slowing down now since I don’t respond (positively) very often, and also because if I choose to respond it is usually to tell them how wrong they are.

Are you familiar with the Telephone game? Also called Grapevine, the Operator Game, or this culturally insensitive name. You’ve probably played this game from time-to-time, either as a planned activity or just accidentally. This is where you whisper something in the ear of the person next to you, they whisper it to the next person, etc. etc. until you get to the end of the line and a very different phrase (often, anyway) comes out of the mouth of the last person. That’s analogous to what I see happening more and more with the crazy explosion of infographics on the Internet. They take information (often, anyway) from a source and twist it around until you cannot recognize it any more.

Here’s a recent, classic example from one of the several SEO trolls (see Infographics as link bait) that are trying to make money out of being a middleman in the higher education (usually online learning) market. I won’t link to them because that could be a good thing for them if I drove eyeballs to their site. Instead, I’ll share a few snippets from their recent infographic on the Evolution of Online Schooling.

Infographic Henry Ford in 1950

1950, really? Seems odd since Henry Ford (THE Henry Ford) died in 1947, at least if you can believe Wikipedia. Could it be that they were talking about his grandson Henry Ford II (not HF III, which is weird)? Actually, it turns out that they are talking about the Ford Foundation. But when you invoke the ghost of “Henry Ford,” you should be talking about the real deal.

Infographic confusing CAPA with LON-CAPA

Seriously? This has something to do with international education? Someone please enlighten me. One of their sources mentions CAPA, but doesn’t say anything about “ushering in international online learning.” Another source mentions CAPA, but also says nothing about what the infographic claims. There’s a reason why this doesn’t make any sense. Turns out that there is a CAPA International Education organization, founded in 1972. The only problem is that it has nothing to do with the CAPA online learning program (now called LON-CAPA) developed in 1992. And yet thousands (just guessing) of people will look at this and think they’ve learned something.

Infographic using MOOC term in 1004

This one leaves me speechless. The first MOOC was in 1994? That’s pretty good considering that the term was coined in 2008 (see page 12). And if you’re going to proclaim something as the first thing that “sort of sounds like what we today call a MOOC,” then you can find lots of things that came earlier than this. This just shows an incredible lack of knowledge.

Infographic claims online degrees earned exceeds traditional

The little snippet above (Today) is where the Telephone Game comes into play. Into the first ear, USA Today whispers that “four big universities, operating mostly online, have quickly become the largest education schools in the USA.” Then into the second ear, Techcrunch whisper/shouts that “online education degrees now dwarf traditional universities.” At which time the owner of the third ear (that of the infographic people) ends the game by saying “Twice as many students earn online degrees as traditional degrees.” My first reaction to which is shown below:

Tweet about Infographic

To recap:

  1. USA Today uses the headline “Online Education Degrees Skyrocket” in an article about how the four institutions awarding the most degrees in the field of education are online schools. They further state that those four online institutions granted 6% of the total bachelor’s degrees in education (“one in 16″) and 9% of the total graduate degrees in education (“one in 9″). They fail to say (because they probably can’t find the data) what percentage of the total education degrees were awarded by all the online schools, or even what percentage of graduates earned their degrees online.
  2. Techcrunch cites the USA Today article in an article with the headline of “Online Education Degrees Now Dwarf Traditional Universities.” First of all, I’m not even sure that I can make sense of that statement: Degrees dwarf universities? Whatever. They quickly veer off on some mental gymnastics regarding the quality of online degrees.
  3. The infographic people cite the Techcrunch article (and all other citations have nothing to do with the number of graduates) in coming up with their incredibly inaccurate claim about how many students earn their degrees online.
  4. I smh and call Bull!!

Not all infographics are this poor, but more and more of them are. Guess there’s a lot of pressure when you have to churn one of these out each and every day, lest your page views go down. Oy.

One Mind Opines about 20 Million Minds

20 million minds foundationOn Jan 8, 2013, an organization called Twenty Million Minds Foundation held a one-day conference/ symposium/ discussion/ thingy called “re:boot California Higher Education.” Check out Audrey Watters’ Storify about the whole day.

There were several things that struck me about the conversation throughout the day. I’ll pick five of the things that were said during the day and give my own point or counterpoint.

#1: Has online learning growth been faculty-driven?

Bob Samuels is the President of the University Council (California-based) of the American Federation of Teachers. You can also read his reflections on the day’s events. I have no bone to pick with Dr. Samuels, and I agree with him that the idea that the growth to online learning has NOT been faculty-driven. He says “this is all about reducing costs and making money.” Let me clarify that I partially agree with him but that I disagree with him in total. I agree with him that at the research universities – this move to online has NOT been faculty-driven. The research universities have, for the most part, been brought into the online arms race kicking and screaming. Let’s face it. The online learning growth over the past 15 tears has mainly been fueled by community colleges that want to increase access to education while growing their enrollments and by the for-profit providers who want to increase their profits by growing enrollments. Neither of those two things are especially important on the campuses of our major research universities.

Where I disagree with Dr. Samuels is when it comes to community colleges. In my experience in Minnesota, and in many other places where I’ve travelled to connect and share with people involved with e-learning; a great deal of the growth in online learning has been faculty-driven. I know a large number of faculty members who have embraced the advantages of online learning while putting up with the disadvantages of such, without any coercion from the dreaded college administrators. The point of this is something that was brought up several times during the day; namely that we cannot paint with such a broad brush to think that there is one problem here and that there will be one solution. Higher education is NOT a single industry. Community Colleges and R1 universities are as different as night and day.

I think the following tweet sums it up nicely:

Regarding Dr. Samuel’s other point that online ed is “all about reducing costs,” I would have to agree that it seems to be coming down to that during the past year or so. For 15 years of online learning growth, I was never involved in serious conversations about how this would dramatically reduce the cost of providing higher education opportunities. The main focus was increased access to education and flexibility to meet modern lifestyles and schedules.  But now, just lately, cost reduction seems to be the major focus. I suppose we can blame the governors who seem to think that a bachelor’s degree should cost no more than $10,000, or maybe we should blame some of the for-profits who (for a while) were making huge profits (and therefore had low costs relative to revenues generated) before they started getting slapped around by Senator Harkin and the like. Whatever the many causes of this shift in the conversation, this is not a good shift. If we focus on online education as being the way to reduce costs, we will certainly lose our way as a global leader in the education market.

#2: Will the best MOOC win?

I believe the question was asked by Lillian Taiz, President of the California Faculty Association (apologies if it was someone else). Her question related to the MOOC craze, and whether the logical extension (my words, not hers) of all of this would be a single course by a single provider for each needed course title. Thus, will there eventually only be one (presumably the best) Intro to Psychology course, taught by the best instructor in the world, and all the students in the world will learn from the feet of this 21st century reincarnation of Socrates.

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately, ever since the MOOC craze kicked in. As you can see in the embedded tweet, I remember this same question being asked about 15 years ago. I was a faculty member in Minnesota and attended a state-wide Community College faculty meeting at Normandale CC in Bloomington, MN. There were many big fears about this unknown thing called online learning, and one of the biggest fears was that it would put everyone out of a job. “Why would they take my accounting course when they can take that course from Harvard or Yale or whoever has the best course and instructor?” Some of us thought that those concerns were overblown, but there definitely seemed to be more people who believed it would happen to them than those who didn’t believe it.

During the ensuing 15 years, there was nary a glimpse of anything close to that happening, and for lots of reasons that I won’t go into at this time. Suffice it to say that anyone who wanted to teach online was able to do so and have full or nearly full classes to teach – at least in my experience. And now all of the sudden, the MOOC thing seems to be turning that on its head. If I taught a course on Artificial Intelligence and saw that Thrun and Norvig attracted 160,000 students to their MOOC of the same flavor when first offered at Stanford, I might be just a little bit nervous about my job security.  My advice is to not progress beyond the stage of being a “little bit nervous.”

In the end, will the best MOOC win and everyone else die? NO – not even close.

#3: Is Bigger Always Better?

This one gets a lot of play. Just remember that there’s always more than one side to consider. Sure, Ng would need 250 years to “reach” as many as he did in the MOOC. The difference between “reaching” and teaching is something that definitely needs to be part of this discussion. The educational opportunity provided to the 100,000 students in the MOOC is very different from the 400 students on campus. The quote above that talks about 250 years is based on some media reports of the AI MOOC enrolling 100,000 students. Other reports say it was as much as 160,000 students – which would take 400 years of the small (400 is NOT small) classes to match.

But he also would need about 3,000 years to see as many of his students fail (not succeed or complete) his course as he did in the MOOC. BTW, 3,000 years is just a wild guess – but I feel pretty confident about it.

Okay, I’m running out of time here. Three is less than five. I’ll get around to a second post in the near future with a few more items from re:boot.

2012 – That’s a Wrap

Barry as a young brown manHere’s a look back at some of the things that immediately come to mind as I ponder about what was in 2012 and also take a look ahead at what might be in 2013.

2012 Flashback: As most of the people who would be reading this already know, I started a new job with Desire2Learn back in May, 2012. It’s been just over 7 months now, and I’m still very glad that I made the move to a corporate position after 27 years on the inside of higher ed.

2013 Flashforward: The company (D2L) is doing great. They treat employees exceptionally well, and the future is definitely very bright. I certainly hope that I continue to fit into their plans.  2013 Resolution: do my best to not screw up the great job that dropped into my lap. You can view some of my work at the Desire2Learn Community.

Gray wolf - not dead yet

Public Domain photo by Gary Kramer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sad memory of 2012: There are many to choose from, but I’ll go with this one: Minnesotans and Wisconsinites engaged in wolf hunts, with a majority of the wolf “trophies” being taken by leg traps. This previously endangered species was brought back from the edge of extinction so that they can be killed by humans, apparently. Next up? I think we’re seeing a few too many bald eagles around these days – better shoot ‘em!

Happy memory of 2012: I developed a passion for growing vegetables, both indoors and out. Right now while it’s below zero (F) outside, I have tomatoes that are ripening in my little indoor greenhouse. I have both hydroponics and soil-based plants growing in what was formerly my tropical fish room. 2013 Resolution: Continue learning more about hydroponics gardening and successfully grow some of the exotic seeds that I am finding online.

2012 Flashback: As a result of taking the job at D2L, I am no longer pursuing any new business with Excellence in e-Education. In fact, the website is being deleted early in January, 2013, so I won’t even bother linking to it. I have saved all webinar recordings from 2011-12 here at barrydahl.com and will continue to make them available as long as possible. I enjoyed the time I spent being self-employed and we were getting by financially; but “getting by” and “putting three kids through college” are two very different things.

2013 Flashforward: I expect to have a slightly higher blogging profile at this site during 2013. Eliminating the Excellence site helps take one thing off my plate. 2013 Resolution: engage in more long posts and less 140-character posts when the long post is more appropriate.

2012 Flashback: A definite highlight of my year was a trip to Australia in September for the first annual Desire2Learn Asia-Pac Teaching and Learning Conference. This was my first trip to Australia and I was able to make the most of it by adding on a few personal days both before and after the conference in Melbourne. Spent two days driving the Great Ocean Road, went to a Footy game in Melbourne, spent two days in Hobart, Tasmania and visited the fine folks at UTAS, and then wrapped up with two days in Sidney.

Collage of photos from Australia trip in September 2012

2013 Flashforward: I’ll probably be travelling quite a bit in 2013 as well, but it’s unlikely that I’ll have the opportunity to go anywhere as exotic as Australia. Still, I generally enjoy travelling and plan to make the most of several trips by mixing in some personal days along with the work days. Currently looking forward to work-related travels to Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Illinois, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Colorado, California, South Carolina, and probably a few others that I don’t know about just yet.

What end-of-the-year list would be complete without those words/phrases that you would like to see banned? Here’s my list:

  1. Spot on (Ick. Incredibly pretentious. Just say “on the nosey!”)
  2. At the end of the day  (Can anyone sum up anything without using this phrase? What about the end of the week, the month, the season, or whatever?)
  3. No problem (this one’s for me – I’m going to try real hard to say “You’re welcome” after receiving thanks rather than this very stupid phrase.)
  4. Prolly (me again, gotta stop that.)
  5. All the rest of these were cute for about a day, but that was it:
    • chillaxin’
    • bromance
    • pwned
    • just sayin’
    • word
    • anything-izzle

This next one is more for me personally, since I’m more likely to accomplish something that I write down and/or declare to the world.

2012 Flashback: After returning from Australia, I took a chance on chiropractic care for the first time in my life. I was having periodic (and worsening) issues with my lower back and finally agreed to have it looked at. The x-rays showed that I have a deteriorating disc at the bottom of my spine, between L5 and S1, in particular. I have a couple of family members who are chiropractors, but still wasn’t sure that this would be the path to improvement. Turns out that it was exactly what I needed. It’s not as if the disc is miraculously growing back (it won’t), but I certainly am living with less pain these days.

2013 Flashforward: Between periodic adjustments, regular stretching, and use of my new inversion table; I plan to stand straighter and be less whiny. 2013 Resolution: I plan to visit the Y at least 100 times in 2013 for stretching and exercise, and to use the inversion table at least 100 times on other days. I’m a numbers person and highly competitive, so having a goal and a calendar taped to my mirror just might be the ticket. In case you haven’t heard this next little tidbit, let me assure you that getting old is indeed a pain in the backside.

Here’s my favorite video from 2012:

My top five (most viewed) posts on this site during 2012:

  1. Invite a Monkey to your Picnik (early review of photo editing site PicMonkey)
  2. ITC09 Grand Debate – a Real Con Job (3 year old post still gets lots of hits)
  3. Public Speaking as an Online Class
  4. Brainstorming a Learner Flexibility Rubric
  5. Fun Facts about the UAE

My personal favorite post from 2012: Replacement Teachers Coming Soon to Wisconsin

Hoping 2013 turns out to be lucky, not yucky, for all of us. As Gomer Pyle would say, “Best of luck to you and yours!”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.