• Recent Posts

  • Tags (Categories)

  • Archives

  • Pages

  • January 2019
    M T W T F S S
    « Dec    
     123456
    78910111213
    14151617181920
    21222324252627
    28293031  
  • Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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!”

Regional Accreditation for Online Programs

This is a repost from my old business site: Excellence in e-Education (xlents.com). That site is being shut down and I am preserving those items that I don’t want to have disappear. Originally posted April 16, 2012.


Yay! We're accredited!Recently I saw a discussion thread suggesting that there should be national standards for the delivery of online programs, rather than each of the regional accrediting bodies dealing with the issue. On one hand this may make some sense since online learning doesn’t conform to arbitrary regional boundaries, such as those drawn around the six regions.

However, higher ed has a long history of regional accreditation agencies being the authoritative bodies for higher ed accreditation without a single national body (I’m sure you already knew that). There are national accrediting bodies, but they are not as highly respected as the regional bodies.  In fact, any school that touts its national accreditation instead of regional accreditation is typically considered second-tier (not by themselves, just by others) because they haven’t been able to attain regional accreditation. Of course the national accrediting bodies will argue strenuously against that point of view. You can easily find those arguments on their websites.

I do find it interesting that online learning is one area where there has been a purposeful confluence of thinking by the regional bodies. Through C-RAC (Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions), they developed the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education (Online Learning). The new Guidelines have been endorsed by all regional accrediting organizations in the U.S.

Here is that doc: Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (PDF)

E-Learning Quality – Building the Framework

This is a repost from my old business site: Excellence in e-Education (xlents.com). That site is being shut down and I am preserving those items that I don’t want to have disappear. Originally posted on January 12, 2011.


Barry Dahl presenting an e-Quality workshopWhat does the word “quality” mean in the context of online learning?

How do you recognize quality when you see it?

What steps can we take to improve our quality of online teaching and learning?

The main focus of this workshop deals with the questions related to “quality” in online learning. Quality means very different things to different people when it comes to online learning. In this workshop we focus on three different aspects of e-Learning quality:

  1. Quality of online learning
  2. Quality of online teaching
  3. Quality of online course design

We start this workshop by looking at models of good practice on online learning course design. This helps set the stage for the later pieces that focus on the quality of the learning and the quality of the teaching.

A wiki containing links to a large number of online resources is shared with attendees for their use during and after the workshop.

For a more active workshop, we also encourage the formation of teams to work on specific projects during the workshop. Some examples of group projects include the following:

  1. Peer review group of faculty for improving course design (create process for assessing quality of design)
  2. Course design rubric creation (create tool for assessing quality of course design)
  3. Learning assessment project for online students  (quality of online learning assessment)
  4. Develop formal expectations for faculty teaching in online courses (quality of teaching baseline)
  5. Online student end-of-course evaluation instrument and process
  6. Faculty evaluation process and instrument creation (quality of online teaching)

Replacement Teachers Coming Soon to Wisconsin

Green Bay Packers fan and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker doesn’t hate all unions and union workers …

just when it comes to educating your kids and people working in most of the other public-sector jobs. Even he felt compelled to respond to all the guffaws on the Interwebz about his love for the union of football referees.

The Governor didn’t want Replacement Refs hurting his prospects for growing the number of jobs for people hawking Packers gear around the Cheese State.  Well Governor, if you think the Replacement Refs were bad for the state, just wait a few years and we’ll all start to see the impact of the Replacement Teachers in Wisconsin.

Replacement refs and the Green Bay Packers

We do need to be fair to the man. He isn’t against all public employee unions. He graciously spared the police and fire unions, as well as the State Patrol Troopers and Inspectors from his mighty sword.

But teachers and other education workers (low-life, scum, bottom of the public employee barrel) lost most of their collective bargaining power. In particular, his Budget Repair Bill limited “collective bargaining to the base pay rate.” There will be no bargaining over pensions, health insurance, or any other issues besides base pay.

On the bright side, Walker’s plan will save the state even more money than he envisioned. This is what is happening and will continue to happen:

  • Teachers and other people employed at educational institutions will leave their jobs for greener pastures.
    • I can hear many of you chanting in unison: “good riddance.”
    • You also say that you don’t believe this, that it’s made up of idle threats. Please read to the bottom.
  • Those who remain in their jobs will no longer use the employer-provided health insurance options – BECAUSE THEY CAN’T AFFORD TO.

There’s lots of people out there who say that public employees don’t need unions because they don’t need to be “protected” from their employers, which is the government in one form or another. Think again.

And I don’t give a damn about what FDR said back in 1937 about public service unions. This is 2012, and times are different. More to the point, politicians are different. There’s not an FDR in sight.

I’m sure that many are rolling their eyes and thinking that I’ve bought into the liberal talking points – hook, line, and sinker. Let me tell you why I believe this. To illustrate the point, let’s look at the health insurance “benefits” for the School District of Superior, Wisconsin, where I happen to live.

Before Walker’s axe fell, school district employees had annual health insurance deductibles set at $1,500 for a family. Drug co-pays were included whether you had hit the deductible max or not. Once the deductible was met, other health costs were shared on an 80 percent-20 percent co-insurance split, with a family paying up to maximum of $4,000 out-of-pocket in a given year. Those were the terms for the last contract that was collectively bargained, which ended June 30, 2012.

On July 1, the new “Employee Handbook” went into effect and changed the family deductible to $6,000 per year; and eliminated the drug co-pay provisions until that deductible of $6,000 has been incurred. Let me make sure that you understand what I’m saying. There is absolutely no payment by the insurance company on your behalf until you have paid the first $6,000 in health care costs incurred during the year out of your own pocket.

When you have a $6,000 deductible, all that you basically have is catastrophic care insurance. A reasonably healthy family of four that has normal health care needs during a year will likely end up somewhere in the $4,000 – 6,000 range (Note 1) for the total cost of health services consumed. Your health insurance won’t pay a dime for any of that. Almost makes you want to get really, really sick. (Note 2)

The school district announced that the changes in health insurance would save the district $1.5M each year. That savings is based on the assumption that all employees would continue to use the new health insurance if they were using the old. That assumption is very faulty. Many employees can no longer afford the insurance, thereby reducing the employer’s cost of premiums (fewer insured, fewer premiums paid to ins co.) and saving them even more money. So, sing hallelujah! The school district budget crisis has been solved, and then some! No pity needed for the employees who have seen their compensation package severely reduced – no pity since they are the scum of the earth. They deserved it, right?

Let’s also take a look at the societal cost of this “benefit” (quotes marks intentional). The cost of the family insurance premiums comes to a total of approximately $15,000 per year, paid jointly by the employer and employee  If you have $6,000 in health costs, then you have paid (and your employer, on your behalf) a total of $21,000 for $6,000 in health care.

No wonder the insurance companies love the Governor.

I wonder how many Tea Party supporters there are in the ranks of school employees?  I’ve met a few, so I know they’re out there. How do you like your Governor now? How terrible do you think collective bargaining is now? How much do you love your health insurance coverage?

(Note 1) I took the $3,470 average out-of-pocket health care costs for a family of four and inflated it to the estimated $4K-6K range based on the fact that they would have to pay more for drugs since co-pays wouldn’t kick in until after the deductible is met. How much more depends completely on the type of drugs needed, and on whether they would continue to purchase the drugs they NEED given that they are so expensive. One migraine sufferer told me directly that she would just have to go without her migraine-fighting medicine.

(Note 2) There is a second option for school district employees. Known as the “low-deductible” plan, you can get a more reasonable deductible and drug co-pays IF you have over $6,500 (teachers) or $7,500 (secretaries, for example) deducted from your salary. This “low-deductible” plan is even less affordable than the one mentioned above.

One last thought to chew on. Maybe you think that teachers are overpaid and under worked. You’re entitled to your opinion. This change also affects school secretaries, custodians, food service workers, and many other employees who make as little as $20K per year, before taxes and “benefits” deductions. If your take home pay is $14,000 a year, how easily can you afford $6,000 in out-of-pocket health care costs? I know, I know, it’s not your problem.

So, you’re right. Public employees do NOT need collective bargaining, because nothing bad could ever happen to them. Right?

Another Online Personal Calling Card

I recently took a look at Vizify – another of the many ways to have your profile available online.

Vizify personal page for Barry Dahl

It’s pretty interesting, although I can’t quite do everything with it that I would like to. Still, it has some promise. Click the graphic to view my page.

Live in Minnesota? No Coursera For You!

From the “You Can’t Make This Crap Up” category:

Laura Gibbs (via Steve Krauss) shared a tidbit about the Coursera Terms of Service, as shown below:

Notice for Minnesota Users

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.  😉

Coursera Students - learn legally

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s hilarious. Minnesota OHE went out of their way to contact Coursera to tell them to keep their cotton-pickin’ hands of those Minnesota residents, or so I’m guessing. This, without a doubt, stems from the ongoing melodrama surrounding state authorization for online education – see WCET summary.

Interesting that the Minnesota OHE apparently reached out to Coursera to inform them of the state statute. Also interesting that Coursera seems to have no interest in paying the fee that the MOHE would require to make this “legal.”  Gotta wonder if they have done the same with Udacity, EdX, and the Siemens/Downes/etc Connectivism MOOCs such as the EdFuture MOOC ready to get started on October 8. I’m guessing they haven’t.

Here’s the beginning of the statute:

136A.61 POLICY.

The legislature has found and hereby declares that the availability of legitimate courses and programs leading to academic degrees offered by responsible private not-for-profit and for-profit institutions of postsecondary education and the existence of legitimate private colleges and universities are in the best interests of the people of this state. The legislature has found and declares that the state can provide assistance and protection for  persons choosing private institutions and programs, by establishing policies and procedures to assure the authenticity and legitimacy of private postsecondary education institutions and programs. The legislature has also found and declares that this same policy applies to any private and public postsecondary educational institution located in another state or country which offers or makes available to a Minnesota resident any course, program or educational activity which does not require the leaving of the state for its completion.

This looks like a business opportunity. I live in Wisconsin, but only five minutes away from the Minnesota border. People living in Duluth cannot take these courses unless a majority of the work they do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota. My plan would be to open up a coffee shop in Superior with cheap coffee and free wifi so that all Coursera students can gather together to do their homework. Of course, cheating will be strictly prohibited!!