Unbundling the College Degree

I don't usually turn to business magazines, such as Forbes, as a source for articles on education. Unfortunately, even non-profit educational institutions need to make money.

An article on forbes.com talks about about "the next assault on the Ivory Tower." What does it see that assault as being? The unbundling of the college degree.

It looks to other industries as earlier examples of unbundling: music CDs by iTunes, airline tickets and the recent unbundling of cable TV packages. The article contends that "employers don’t appear to be searching for degree alternatives" but rather at ways to unbundle the components (courses) into the "discrete skills and competencies most predictive of success in the workplace."  For one thing, this would mean an end to the general education requirements required for a degree.

It was only three years ago when all the talk was that Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) were going to disrupt degrees and colleges. That didn't happen, although the MOOC movement certainly set a number of things into motion that may ultimately lead to degrees being unbundled.

The article's author is Ryan Craig, managing director at University Ventures, which is described as a private equity fund focused on innovation from within higher education. He is the author of College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education. One of his premises is that the "unprecedented data sharing and transparency between higher ed and labor markets" will lead the way.

I am not so sure that there is this sharing occurring. It may be that it is happening, but it's not in my purview. If universities and employers are sharing this data and they are doing so in order to determine what courses lead to the employer outcomes that they are looking for, then unbundling would occur.

I can see benefits for students - lower tuition costs, shorter periods of study leading to jobs - and benefits for some employers - customized programs for their industry. But what are the advantages for the colleges?

Ryan Craig refers to LinkedIn as a “competency management platform.” That's a new term to me. Apparently, linking uploaded resumes, transcripts and competencies and mapping those competencies to specific jobs or careers will allow matches for employers and job applicants.

Is this the end of the university? Craig says, no. He still sees it as the locus of educational content and talent and the places that will produce the coursework. The university survives; the degree does not.

Will higher education refocus on the bottom line returns that probably matter most to a majority of students - employment and wages? Just as it was predicted that MOOCs wouldn't impact the elite universities as much as it would the smaller schools. Those elites are the ones whose reputation still relies heavily on the "four Rs" - rankings, research, real estate, and rah! (i.e. sports and other aspects of campus life). Don't those elite students also want jobs and great wages? Of course, but their path has been and will continue to be a different one from the majority of college students.

Getting Personal With Professional Learning

I read an article about personalizing professional learning (PL) that posits that, as designers and providers of PL, we tend to not take into account the expertise of the teacher-as-learner. What we do concentrate on is their weaknesses, rather than their strengths.

At my university, faculty and PL providers both grumble about the constraints on their ability to do more PL. Time, support and resources top the list of constraints. I don't hear them complain about personalization, but that might be because no one expects there to be any personalization.

It is certainly not a good idea for those setting up the structures of PL to be seen as "the holders of all knowledge."  Having the potential participants be involved in determining the current needs for PL is a starting place.  We often survey teachers before and after PL sessions. generally, the needs that most teachers identify are specific to their own classrooms. That can be seen as a flawed view that misses the needs of the many. But, Ben Wilkoff in the article series, says that "This is not a failure to see the big picture. This is the big picture... the more choices that are owned by the individual, the more personalized the Professional Learning can become."

Truly personal interests can be difficult to include in designing professional learning for teachers. Just as with "individualized learning" for students, my "personal interests" for learning are often quite separate from my professional interests, and they may not often overlap. But if the real goal of professional learning is to create a change in practice, then some personalization and self-reflection should be a part of the experience.

An Ivy League Online Master's Degree

MOOCs might make headlines, but Yale's experiments with professional degrees say more about how top universities that stayed away from online courses are now using them.

"Yale Announces ‘Blended’ Online Master’s Degree"  excerpted from chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/

Yale University is creating a master’s program that will hold many courses online, continuing the Ivy League institution’s foray into “blended” learning.

The online program, to be offered by the Yale School of Medicine, would aim to replicate its residential program for training physicians’ assistants. Students would meet in virtual classrooms where they would discuss course material using videoconferencing technology. They would also have to complete field training — accounting for roughly half of the coursework — in person, at Yale-approved clinics near where they live.

It is the second professional school at Yale to try the “blended” model for a graduate program, following the Yale School of Nursing, which opened a partially online doctoral degree in 2011.

Yale has taken an active but measured interest in online education in the past decade. In 2007 it became one of the first elite institutions to post lecture videos online at no charge. In 2011 it began offering online summer courses to small groups of undergraduates for credit. In 2013 it joined with Coursera and started building MOOCs.

But a degree program that includes fully online courses is a step toward a different vision of how Yale and other highly selective traditional universities are likely to incorporate online education. Free online courses might make headlines, but tuition-based professional degrees in high-demand fields such as health care are where online courses, and the companies that help build them, are gaining a foothold.

Other top-tier universities have created online versions of their professional-degree programs, which is something Yale noticed when taking stock of its online presence in 2012. The Johns Hopkins University, for example, offers an online master’s program in public health that delivers about 80 percent of its coursework on the web...


Makerspaces (AKA hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs) are creative, do-it-yourself (DIY) spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. A large number of them have been opened in libraries and more recently in public spaces and on campuses.

The makerspace may contain 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools that most individuals can't afford to own but want to learn to use.

I read an EDUCAUSE "7 Things" sheet back in 2013 on makerspaces that had predicted that "As makerspaces have become more common on campuses and have found their place in public libraries and community centers, their influence has spread to other disciplines and may one day be embraced across the curriculum. Eventually makerspaces may become linked from campus to campus, encouraging joint project collaboration." They even went as far as to say that the work done there "may one day be accepted and reviewed for college credit in lieu of more conventional coursework."

From my observation, they seem to have made more inroads in K-12 than in colleges. This month, there will be a Makers Day here in New Jersey (March 21 - see http://njmakersday.org) which I will unfortunately miss as I will be at another conference. I'd like to see what people are doing in NJ because I am working on a presentation that involves makerspaces for another conference in May.

The benefits of having a makerspace in an academic setting or available to students offers many opportunities. Providing the space and materials for physical learning works because it can be cross-disciplinary, provide technical help for work they are undertaking. It seems more STEM, STEAM or suited to engineering and technology but if you look at the projects in some of the links below there is a lot that id outside those areas. If you see students work in these spaces, you have to be impressed how students take control of their own learning with projects they define, design and create.

Although I work in higher education, anyone who teaches at any grade level knows that students love hands-on projects. I think that these spaces are a very fertile ground for work that bridges ages - a great place for K-20 work and a way to connect parents and the community to schools.


http://makerspace.com is probably the world's largest community of Makers, from Maker Faire and Make: Magazine

Watch Makerspaces in Libraries youtube.com/watch?v=hOqTcQedDrw and an example from the Westport Library  youtube.com/watch?v=nurj3zBlfIg

A list of makerspaces in libraries   http://library-maker-culture.weebly.com/makerspaces-in-libraries.html

Make it at your library   makeitatyourlibrary.org http://oedb.org/ilibrarian/a-librarians-guide-to-makerspaces/ 

Makerspaces in K-12 schools   edutopia.org/blog/creating-makerspaces-in-schools

Some of the tech tools and resources used are very sophisticated, such as a 3D Printer http://cucfablab.org/book/3d-printers or an electronic cutter http://cucfablab.org/book/electronic-vinyl-cutters, but they might be much more familiar, such as the Xbox Kinect 3D scanner http://cucfablab.org/book/3d-scan-and-print-yourself-3d or a computerized sewing machine http://www.brother-usa.com/Homesewing