A New Kind of Core

apple coreNicholas Lemann, in the December 2, 2016 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote about what he is calling "a new kind of core curriculum." Lemann is a professor of journalism and dean emeritus at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and a staff writer for The New Yorker. Perhaps more importantly here, he is a member of the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

It seems that he first formed this idea while being dean at a professional-school where they needed to teach the specific content of an education in a field. Though he is not proposing a trade school approach to undergraduate education that is designed to get you a specific job at graduation, one of his premises is that "if you want to practice a profession, there is a body of material you must master, at least in the early part of your education."

Like many faculty, he is not fond of seeing the liberal arts gradually slip away, and he thinks the way to reverse the decline is to move in the direction of a core curriculum.

Of course, the "core curriculum" has not exactly had a lot of cheerleaders lately either. His proposal is for a methods-based, rather than a canon-based, curriculum. He has "arbitrarily limited my core curriculum to eight one-semester courses, which would amount to no more than half of an undergraduate education, so it would not eliminate the ability to have a major or to choose elective courses."

Lemann notes that the six-year graduation rates now are still at a poor 60 percent rate. He believes that is at least partly because too many entering students aren’t prepared to navigate the world of college-level work. He is not suggesting a change in secondary education though. And he is not a fan of elective systems. 

His new core has courses with names such as "Information Acquisition," "Cause and Effect," "Interpretation," "Numeracy," "Perspective," "The Language of Form," "Thinking in Time," and "Argument" sound new but their descriptions harken back to fairly traditional offerings. 

Take as an example "Argument" which he describes in this way: "Back in the 19th century, when undergraduate core curricula were the rule rather than the exception, practically everybody had to take a course in rhetoric or oratory. The requirement often had roots in the colleges’ original mission of training ministers, and it usually vanished with the advent of the elective system. This course would aim to revive the tradition by teaching students how to make a compelling and analytically sound argument, both written and spoken (and probably also, inevitably, in PowerPoint). It is an endeavor with centuries of interesting thought behind it, so one can imagine the course drawing on philosophy, law, theology, even drama — with the opportunity to consider exemplary arguments from the past. It should be obvious that the assignments would ask students to practice the skills the course is teaching them, in writing and in performance."

For all the Education 2.0 and new approaches being tried in higher education, the lifetime-earnings premium of having a college degree is still substantial enough that some students will continue to show up on campus. Keeping them there and moving them through at a reasonable pace and preparing them for life after academia is far more important than admissions.

200 Learning Tools

toolboxJane Hart created the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT) in 2000. In 2007, she compiled her first Top 100 Tools for Learning list. This year the list is at an exhaustive and exhausting 200 tools. She takes votes from learning professionals worldwide (Jane is in the UK.) 

Jane was surprised that Twitter dropped from #1. As someone who bought Twitter stock at a low point in the hopes of selling it when it was higher after being purchased, I am not surprised. 

I like that Jane has also broken down the big list to subsets of tools for Personal and Professional LearningWorkplace Learning and Education

Even if you are a big user of online tools for learning, there are probably some new tools on the 2016 list or her "Movers and Shakers" list that you have never even heard mentioned.

The top vote getters should be familiar to all educators and I would expect that at least a few of these tools are in any teachers' toolbox by now. Jane has more information on each tool on her site.

Here are the Top 20:

1 - YouTube

2 - Google Search

3 - Twitter

4 - PowerPoint

5 - Google Docs/Drive

6 - Facebook

7 - Skype

8 - LinkedIn

9 - WordPress

10 - Dropbox

11 - Wikipedia

12 - Yammer

13 - WhatsApp

14 - Prezi

15 - Kahoot

16 - Word

17 - Evernote

18 - Slideshare

19 - OneNote

20 - Slack

Full list of 200 at http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/

American MOOC

mooc logoA member of my Academia and the MOOC group on LinkedIn contacted me last month by email to further the discussion of MOOCs and "reforming higher education." He has been reading my posts for a few years and generally agrees with my thoughts, but he's coming from a very different background, which is what I found most interesting.

Muvaffak Gozaydin wrote that he is Turkish, but lived for a time in the U.S. While here, he did research at Caltech in the early 1960s and received an MSME in 1964 from Stanford, an MSIE in 1965 from Stanford and a MSEE in 1968 from Stanford. He did the latter while working for HP in Palo Alto, CA. That education got him a good life as a manager and CEO in Turkey.

He feels indebted to the U.S. and follows higher education here and abroad. What he observes is not any good will from the providers of online education to the larger educational world.

He was excited back in 2011 when Stanford made an online course into a MOOC and 160.000 signed up. 12.000 or so finished, which some see as disappointing, but I see as amazing. Has your school offered an online course and had 12,000 learners finish it?

His concern now is providing courses and degrees that fit the needs of 18 -22 years olds. He said that "The problem is there. Quality is low, price is high in the USA for Higher Ed."

Georgia Tech offered a $7000 masters degree. MIT offered a supply chain management  masters degree that was 50 % online with a 50 % reduction in tuition. But it has been 4 years since MOOCs peaked in media attention and further development has been very slow.

I had posted several articles on LinkedIn about corporate and MOOC use outside use the United States, including an effort by the French government. But how, he asks, can we convince America's top 200 schools to provide online degrees at lower cost?

Here is one idea he suggests. Students take as many courses as they want online and each online course causes a reduction in tuition of about 10 %. If they take 5 courses, online cost would be reduced 50 %.

That is quite a new idea, and not one most schools would easily sign on to try.

I have long believed with MOOCs it is more of evolution rather than revolution.

As I replied to Muvaffak, while universities here in the U.S. are non-profit, they are very concerned with money/profit. The MOOC was seen early on as a threat to the tuition and degree model that provides a good percentage of operating costs. 

People thought Stanford, MIT, Harvard et al were first involved in MOOC experiments because they more innovative or more open. The top universities were quicker to jump into MOOCs because they have large endowment monies and tuition is less of a factor.? 

It's encouraging that some schools like Georgia Tech are offering a few degrees fully online at lower cost. The rise of the mini-masters may help with this too.  

It is ironic that many schools - including my own NJIT - were once charging more for online courses at one time (tech fees, development costs). That has largely ended, but schools don't see that the numbers (massive or less) in a MOOC (or MOC) offer the opportunity to maintain "profits" even with much lower costs.

Many educators think the MOOC revolution failed and they no longer have to worry about it.

Still, I try to promote and educate others about the MOOC approach - though at this point, I wish we had another name for them. Too much baggage.


Has Your Degree Expired?


Does a degree ever expire? That is not a question I had ever asked myself, but an article by Kristi Depaul on nextgenlearning.org/blog/ did ask that question and got me thinking about it.

There is probably strong agreement with students and employers that you can't summarize a learning experience very well with a list of courses and grades. What would anyone know about my undergraduate degree from many years ago from a transcript? Not much. My work experiences since then have certainly made some of those academic experiences much stronger. But some of those courses are pretty much gone from my memory at this point.

Depaul is mostly concerned with the evolution of the transcript (which is also a recent ELI 7 Things You Should Know About brief). Part of that evolution might mean including activities, accomplishments and experiences beyond those that occur within the traditional academic environment. 

Have my degrees expired in the way that licenses and certifications expire? Should there be a way to update the degree to show professional development and other work done since it was awarded? 

The article notes that four institutions are looking at a new kind of "learner record" and thinking about questions such as: Who should be able to control the information displayed within it? What are the implications for teaching and learning? These records might contain a learner’s entire academic history from multiple institutions. A new kind of transcript could include "information from credentialing organizations, research, service learning, internships, study abroad, badges, co-curricular achievements, and other evidence of knowledge."

Would a reimagined student record make a degree less likely to "expire?"

Degree-Planning Tools and Learning Advisors

road signOnly about half of all students who start college graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years. It doesn't help that completion rate that the path to degrees is less linear than ever. More than a third of students transfer at least once during their college years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Of those, nearly half change institutions more than once.
EDUCAUSE ELI published a new brief in its "7 Things" series on "Degree-Planning Tools" which discusses how some colleges are allowing students to design their own college experience. Working with advisors and based on their own research into academic, professional, personal and financial aspects of their career goal, they design a curriculum path.

I view this as a kind of adaptive learning on a larger scale, not just within a course.

Technology is playing a role. Tools can help guide students to move based on their strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and circumstances. I'm seeing these tools built into learning management systems. For example, Blackboard has MyEdu, Civitas Learning uses Degree Map, and Ellucian offers MyDegree. A newer player to me is Degree Compass which was acquired by Desire2Learn.

These tools fall under the category of predictive analytics, but I'm a believer that merely acquiring data won't make any positive changes without an intelligent way to apply it. I think this requires software paired with old-fashioned advising so that a student's goal and her academic career align. This is more than choosing the right courses and sequence. It is also about getting complementary experiences in internships, work experiences and professional networking. Those things probably won't come from software. 

A more human approach to this is perhaps the old-fashioned idea of having guidance counselors. They may come with new names. I have seen the title "learner advocate" used and most recently the odd "education sherpa" label used. "Sherpa" is Tibetan for "eastern people", and is an ethnic group from Nepal, high in the Himalayas. We know them as guides to explorers of the Himalayan region and expeditions to climb Mount Everest. In some cases, those guides do most of the serious work for inexperienced climbers. I wouldn't want to think that our educational guides would do much of the difficult work for students. 
The comparison has also been made to professional patient advocates who help people navigate the often-confusing medical system. This may be particularly important for students who are the first in their families to attend college and don't have natural access to people who can act as resources for academic decisions and guidance towards careers.