Saturday, June 29, 2013

In Higher Education, No one can hear you scream

Money, you've got lots of friends
Crowding round the door
When you're gone, spending ends
They don't come no more
Rich relations give
Crust of bread and such
You can help yourself
But don't take too much
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

And now reporting from Sacramento, CA: Between the community college and 4+ year schools (Hah! Who graduates in 4 years now, besides the elite and privileged?), it is estimated that approximately one-half million students in California are on course wait lists. Yes, the number is correct: more than 500,000 California students can't graduate because they can't get the courses required. Why? It's the way they do it. Few offerings, once per year, when the faculty choose to offer. It worked well when only the wealthy went to college. But things have changed, we hit a recession, times are tough.

Still, we slog on as if we're all at Oxford. Hello? Except for a few schools that will get away with educating only the rich (who will always be with us) we are not Oxford. We are a nation that needs to educate more than the elite and the clergy. We are the USA, entering a rapid-knowledge age, and being left behind. Higher education should step up, look for solutions and do the right thing. But we can't because we won't. Technology, the internet, new media, evidence of deeper learning be damned. Death of the industrial age be damned. Outcry of society be damned.

You've read about the wait lists, the student debt, the dissatisfaction of students, parents and society. You've read about grade inflation and poor learning outcomes. You've read that it doesn't work and students are academically adrift, not learning. Still, little changes. Oh wait, expenses have changed. Students now pay 6-9% more PER YEAR to attend college.

Jerry Brown tried to step into that mess and offer $20 million dollars if UC and CSU would explore developing online course offerings. This, along with demanding that CA universities accept courses taken online elsewhere by determining equivalencies. Don't change, just get out of the way of change. The faculty fought back, sending petitions to the legislature asking them not to approve the bill requiring universities to accept course credit earned online. The legislature told the faculty to take a hike. And the bill went to Brown to be signed. All he needed to do was sign it. His own bill.  

But months had passed and his arm had been twisted and he took the money approved by the legislature and he told UC and CSU to do whatever they wanted with it. Because they've been doing such a great job of educating the new student who isn't rich and privileged, young and on a free ride from their parents. Because they need even "greater flexibility" (Brown) to remain inflexible. Because his office is sure that they'll do the right thing: "The expectation is that UC and CSU are going to move forward with online education, understanding it's a high priority." (Brown's Finance Director)

Read more here:

Sometimes, when I've been called too many names and taken too many hits for having skills, passion and determination to get the next generation the education they deserve, I just want to run. When everything, except the will to get it done, is in place, I want a new career. I want to find a job where I don't daily confront the tragedy of an institution dying at its own hand and taking millions of citizens down with it.

Shame on Jerry Brown. In these moments, I want to throw in the towel and accept that public institutions of higher education would rather go the way of Detroit than change. I want to let them go: go the way of Blockbuster and US health care. I want to step back as a flailing generation of leaders  prop up selfish interests, laziness, and elitist belief that the masses (and disruptive innovation) will not rise.

I am tired of this struggle, but I know history is on our side. Rise up, rise up. Start a school that serves the people. Write code that puts learning in the hands of the learner. If you're a student, ask questions! Find a school that will take MOOCs and CLEPs and offers online courses and competency-based assessments. Join the social, collaborative, personalized-learning movement made possible by this lovely, extraordinary, amazing internet. #RiseUp. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

University of Washington Shows Canvas the Love

OK, a few colleagues now call me the UWT "Canvas Evangelist" and I'm just resigning myself to wearing the title openly rather than groaning or explaining my passion. Canvas! Loud and Proud. 

For compadres, faculty of the University of Washington system who love Canvas, and perhaps even more so for those who don't yet feel the love,  the Provost's Office has released a few new 2y2d-produced mini-videos on advanced uses of Canvas. 

Check them out as they feature some of the innovative and thoughtful uses of technology that we recently saw featured in the paper report series you'll find at the 2y2d Teaching and Learning site.  (If you'd like a lovely, color, paper copy of any of the reports, come to the Faculty Resource Center. We still have a few left from our Spring workshops.)

 If you've accessed the UWT navigation links recently, you may have noticed that Blackboard is gone - gone - gone and  Canvas is in full production. Let's pause for a hearty thanks to central IT services, 2y2d, the Provost's Office, and of course the great state of Washington that pushed us to  join Washington higher education institutions in adopting the state-supported system. We're now on a seamless path for UWT's transfer students and Academic Technologies is able to leverage a wealth of shared knowledge in Washington instructional support folk, which we've already tapped into at the first meeting of the Washington Canvas User Group  - where Darcy and I rocked the house with two presentations. 

So, check out the UW YouTube site when you have a few minutes.  The new videos are great resources in exploring the WHY and the HOW of our new learning environment and its built-in engagement technologies. They offer faculty-to- faculty practical advice on using Canvas features in some very pedagogically thoughtful ways. The new videos are:

Grading Tools:
In Class collaboration:

These complement the introduction to Canvas video that the Provost's Office created earlier this year and that now has over 1300 views and counting.  They are each part of the "teaching with technology" UW push for 2013.  The faculty featured are examples of innovators who use technology in new, exciting, pedagogically sound ways. And Canvas makes it easy! Whether you're interested in enhancing your own classroom presence, greater participation and collaboration by students in the classroom, or thinking of moving to an anytime-anywhere learning modality with hybrid and online offerings - these videos will spark creative fire and having you clicking into new Canvas territories. 

Canvas. It's not your big brother's LMS.

Ch-Ch-Ch-CHANGES! Turn and face the strange.

Bowie's song blasted from YouTube to open one of the last days of UWT's summer initiative on innovative course redesign. Ch-ch--ch-changes! It is strange,  to turn and face the idea that we can reinvent ourselves after teaching in a classroom, very well, for a very long time.

But this is what University of Washington Tacoma iTech Fellows 2013 worked on this week, hunkered down together in a collaboration classroom talking - working - sharing - talking about redesigning courses for the digital age.  And by the end of the week, we were TIRED. Learning is hard. Relearning seemed to be harder, for it included doubt, skepticism, a bit of grieving, and a lot of frustration with technology that whimsically stops working whenever it chooses. A meme one learns when developing courses and teaching online? "Technology will let you down. Love it anyway."

Here's the thing that makes the iTech Fellowship the sweetest and most amazing initiative: we are working harder, faster, and with less resources than other institutions doing the same explorations and we are coming to the same conclusions. We don't have the $200 million dollars PER YEAR that the University of Phoenix is now spending on applied research to improve their learner experience and engagement. (Clayton Christensen, Why Online Education is ready for disruption, now). And we don't have the $40 million dollars in HILT money that Harvard is spending to bring its best and brightest together to reinvent the classroom. (Learning to the HILT). But we have a dedicated faculty who care deeply about our students, about retention, about doing our very best.

As researchers, we can use what others are learning to reinvent our tiny campus because we have something that we believe is just as powerful as money: a commitment to our students to see that they walk with us through the doors of the Tacoma Dome and become graduates. IF reduced seat time, flexible schedules, online opportunities, and technology-enabled personalized learning can help do that, THEN we will get it done. Even if it's risky. Even if there will initially be bumps, lumps, lower evaluations and technology frustrations at every turn. Even if this is hard, hard work on top of the full-time research, teaching and service we already are committed to doing.

Here's some things we considered and will continue to address:

  • Access is not enough. Reduced seat time helps students TAKE classes, but online courses see higher drop rates. Students need to feel connected. Truthfully, we really don't know how to design for that. Yet.
  • Online doesn't work for everyone. How do we guide our students to understanding their own learning preferences and lead them to the courses which are right for them? Enjoying your pajamas doesn't mean you'll learn best IN your pajamas. Older learners, independent learners, self-motivated learners and reflective learners do better online than auditory, kinesthetic and under-prepared learners. 
  • There's enough research evidence that students who are less academically prepared do worse in online courses than in classroom settings. UWT faculty feel an obligation to note this evidence and move forward with a commitment to advocate for institutional support in providing "online skills for online learning"  for under-prepared students. We spoke to campus representatives of the library and to campus tutoring services regarding plans for virtual, anytime, extended support. We also note here that the "Chicken Little" noise raised in reporting generalizations aids little in understanding the data regarding performance differences which can be very small. When addressing a % difference of grade points of 2.77 vs 2.98 in overall online vs classroom for 500,000 courses? Statistical difference IS important AND relative. When the issue is opportunity, students are willing to suffer 2/10ths of a grade point and UWT is willing to be the institution that works to improve even that difference. Access is not enough, but access is a start.
We are sailing our ships forward, coming back together with beautiful courses for peer review using the Quality Matters Process in September. For June, amidst the doubts and wonder and all the technology, there was laughter and joy and food and even inspiration from Jessica in her daily affirmations.