As e-Literate readers know, Ray Henderson is no longer President of Learning Platforms and is now serving on the company’s Board of Directors instead. This sort of thing naturally sets of all sorts of concerns and speculation. I had the good fortune to be able to speak with Ray today and have some details straight from the horse’s mouth.
First, he made it clear that this change was initiated by him rather than the company, and it was for reasons unrelated to Blackboard politics or direction. A lot of people don’t know that Ray’s family still lives in Indianapolis; both his kids and his parents are half a country away when he is at Blackboard headquarters in Washington D.C. Euphemisms aside, when he told me that he needed to spend more time with his family, I believed him. I also believed him when he told me that both Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt and company owners Providence Equity Partners have been working hard to find alternative arrangements that would keep him involved with Blackboard in a meaningful way. Ray made it clear that he will continue to be a very active participant in Blackboard product planning, albeit now in a non-operational role. Boards on Private Equity-owned companies are different from those in publicly traded ones in that way; it is not abnormal for a member of the Board of a PE-owned company to be actively involved in decision-making on a focused and part-time basis.
Ray used a lot of the first person plural pronoun—we—when talking about Blackboard’s work going forward. I didn’t get any less of a sense of enthusiasm for what the company is doing than I did when I spoke with him a few weeks ago. I believe he will continue to have meaningful involvement with the company. Whether the new executives being brought in will perform well remains to be seen, but if they have the benefit of Ray’s perspective and experience in the strange market that is higher education, then parts of his job that he will no longer be doing are easier for a seasoned technology executive from another industry to take on and do well. (In fact, in some cases those parts may be better managed by more of an operational specialist.) There’s no question that Ray’s reduced involvement is a loss for Blackboard, but it’s being mitigated and, most importantly, it’s not an indicator that executive management failed to recognize the substantial improvements in the company that have taken place on his watch.
Beyond that, we can make some reasonable guesses about what Ray’s future might look like. In addition to a continuing part-time commitment to Blackboard, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him involved in due diligence evaluations for Providence when they consider acquiring ed tech companies. Nor would I be surprised to see him involved with other ed tech companies. He mentioned, for example, that he is on the Board of In The Telling. Ray is still a fairly young guy and seems as fired up as ever about education and entrepreneurialism. I doubt that he is going to fade away any time soon.
Last week I wrote a post on two significant accrediting actions related to City College of San Francisco and Tiffin University.
If there really is a shift in the DOE’s views on accreditation or in the accrediting commissions’ interpretation of standards, then that could have fairly profound cascade effects on competency-based learning programs, private online colleges, MOOCs, and online service providers.
That is also why the lack of transparency from the accrediting commissions is so troubling. They are making decisions that have profound effects on many institutions, not just the specific schools under review.
Mathieu Plourde asked a good question in the comments.
Do you know how these accrediting bodies get their funding? If it’s at least in part from government funding or through membership fees from public institutions, I’d say it’s time to make them open up their data.
While I have not figured out if there is a method to force the accrediting commissions to “open up their data”, I would like to answer the first part of Mathieu’s question on funding.
Accrediting commissions are designated non-profit organizations, typically designated as 501 (c) (3) by the IRS. This means they have to file annual returns (form 990) to maintain their tax-exempt status. One sight that has this information is the Foundation Center. I’ve pulled up the most recent forms for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), responsible for CCSF’s accreditation, and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), responsible for Tiffin University’s accreditation. Some notes before getting to the data:
- There are six regional accrediting agencies in the US covering postsecondary education. Each agency has one or two commissions as members that are responsible for the actual accreditation reviews, for a total of eight regional accrediting commissions (New England and Western agencies have two commissions each).
- ACCJC is part of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Since there are two commissions in WASC, WASC files the form 990 instead of ACCJC. Their most recent form available is for the tax year ending June 30, 2011 (I do not know why the 2012 data is missing).
- HLC is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCACS). Since there is only one commission in NCACS, HLC files its own form 990. Their most recent form available is for the tax year ending August 31, 2012.
- “Membership Dues” covers the fees paid by accredited institutions.
- “Program Services” combines paid workshops, consulting and annual conference revenues – typically from the member institutions.
- “Evaluation Visits” are primarily travel and direct expenses for peer review teams visiting institutions during review.
I went back and forth on whether to highlight the ‘highest paid employee’ data. In the end I chose to include this in the table as it seems relevant in terms of the organization’s motivations for self-preservation. In the case of ACCJC, there have been many charges of conflict-of-interest for the commission members, and the Department of Education has even found that the commission does not have adequate conflict-of-interest policies. The people running accrediting commissions are few in number but make a decent living. There is more information available in the form 990s.
So, for my long-winded answer to Mathieu: Accrediting commissions get their revenue primarily from membership dues and additional program services from member institutions, many of which are themselves public entities; they also make some revenue directly from government or foundation (e.g. Lumina Foundation, Gates Foundation) grants but not every year.
The post Postscript on accreditation transparency: Basic financials of two accrediting commissions appeared first on e-Literate.
In just the past week we have had three fairly significant people depart higher ed LMS companies. This really is turning out to be a bumpy ride as the market changes.
- Ray Henderson announced last night that he is leaving his operational role at Blackboard (President, Academic Platforms and CTO) and is moving into a role with the Board of Directors. More info from Jay Bhatt’s post here and Ray Henderson’s post here. Michael is working on an e-Literate post with more information soon. Bill Flook covered in an article here.
- Devlin Daley, one of the two founders of Instructure, the company behind the Canvas LMS, is leaving the company as of today. I talked to Instructure rep today who indicated that Devlin is looking to get back in to startup ed tech mode, whereas Instructure is becoming a larger company. I’ll write more of an analysis on this move soon. For now I’ll just say that it is extremely rare for a tech founder to leave a company that might go public within a year or two.
- Al Essa, the Director of Analytics Research and Strategy for Desire2Learn, has left the company to join McGraw-Hill based on his LinkedIn profile. This is curious timing, given Desire2Learn’s major focus on analytics and the Student Success System this year.
More to come.
Why do I keep covering accreditation issues on e-Literate, a blog nominally about online learning and educational technology? The reason is that accrediting commissions have enormous influence on higher education institutions, particularly as the industry wrestles with questions of which changes are necessary, which changes are worth trying but might not work, and which changes should be avoided. If there really is a shift in the DOE’s views on accreditation or in the accrediting commissions’ interpretation of standards, then that could have fairly profound cascade effects on competency-based learning programs, private online colleges, MOOCs, and online service providers.
That is also why the lack of transparency from the accrediting commissions is so troubling. They are making decisions that have profound effects on many institutions, not just the specific schools under review.
Case 1: Tiffin University and HLC
Today, Tiffin University announced to students a directive from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) that the school must discontinue offering associate degree programs through Ivy Bridge College as of October 20, 2013. Ivy Bridge College, a college within Tiffin University, has offered online associate degree programs to students across the U.S. since its creation in 2008. The HLC directive, which was issued on July 25, was unexpected by Tiffin University, and Ivy Bridge College is now intensely focused on ensuring that its students’ progress towards a degree won’t be interrupted by the decision despite the very short timeline.
Inside Higher Ed, partially based on an interview with the HLC commission’s president.
The inquiry was triggered by policies related to the outsourcing of academics, officials at Tiffin and Altius said. Those standards require member institutions to seek prior approval for any contract that outsources a portion of educational programs to an unaccredited institution — one that is not accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education — or to a corporation or other entity.
The commission must grant approval to arrangements where 25 to 50 percent of an educational program is outsourced. The bar is higher for those that outsource more than 50 percent. Those contracts “will receive intense scrutiny and will not be approved by the commission except in exceptional circumstances,” according to the policy. [emphasis added]
Ivy Bridge ran afoul of a standard that was instituted in 2009, according to Sylvia Manning, the commission’s president. That policy governs a program’s “change of control, structure or organization.” She said the accreditor first became aware of the scope of Ivy Bridge’s operation last year. It then raised questions about the college’s structure, after conducting a site visit in March.
So is this a ruling from an accreditor about academic quality or about the 25% rule (see emphasis above)?
However, Manning said via e-mail that Ivy Bridge’s problems extended beyond its ownership structure. She said the college had “very poor academic performance.” And the commission told The Toledo Blade that a review of the program led to concerns about course quality, academic rigor and student retention.
Marion, however, had a different take. He defended Ivy Bridge’s track record, particularly on student satisfaction, and said the accreditor had praised the program in the past. He declined to share the commission’s July letter, at least for now. But the bottom line, he said, was that the commission was uncomfortable with aspects of Ivy Bridge’s business and governance structure.
“It didn’t have anything to do with the quality of the program,” he said. “It’s purely a judgment on their part about the business relationship.”
The commission also did not release the letter, per its typical approach of not making public documents related to accreditation reviews. So until the documents become public, it’s impossible to say which version of events is right. [emphasis added]
You read that right – we don’t know because of HLC policies to not share its documents. All we have is he said / she said media battles. Yet this decision could have a major impact on the whole online service provider market where public institutions contract with for-profit companies to help them go online. HLC’s ruling could affect dozens of schools, but they are treating this as a private matter with Tiffin University.
Paul Fain from Inside Higher Ed tried to get these documents, but neither HLC nor Tiffin would share the specific letter ordering the shutdown. This is ironic, given HLC’s recent policy changes to improve transparency.
Next, HLC will make available to the public through its website a redesigned Statement of Accreditation Status and the most recent HLC action letter related to the granting or reaffirmation of candidacy or accreditation. This phase will be implemented in summer 2013 and will include action letters conveying institutional actions taken by the Board at its meeting in June 2013 and thereafter.
Hmm, from what I can tell, July 25th came after June 2013.
Case 2: City College of San Francisco (CCSF)
I have covered in much more detail the case of CCSF and how it has been notified by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) that it would lose accreditation by July 31, 2014 – making it the largest college in the US to lose accreditation and shut down. I won’t go into the details, as you can read the three previous posts linked above.
Unlike Tiffin University, CCSF has done an excellent job sharing the documentation to and from ACCJC since the 2006 re-accreditation, including having a easy-to-use web page.
But a new twist occurred today when CCSF officials formally asked ACCJC to reconsider its decision. As described by the San Francisco Chronicle:
City College of San Francisco asked a commission on Tuesday to reverse its devastating decision to revoke the school’s accreditation next year – but has been told not to share any details of its request with the public. [snip]
“I strongly believe that the best path to maintaining CCSF’s accreditation is to follow the commission’s rules,” Agrella [special trustee for CCSF] said.
As if to prove the point, he said he was obligated to follow a rule the commission revealed last week that took him and his boss, state community colleges Chancellor Brice Harris, by surprise: The contents of the college’s request must be kept secret.
Agrella and Harris had just announced that those documents would be made public. The fate of the vast City College is an issue of concern to thousands of students, staff and faculty – as well as the state – and Agrella said he had received many requests for documents to be made public. “Chancellor Harris and I sincerely apologize for our premature comments,” Agrella wrote in his e-mail.
“We have been clearly informed by the commission that all parts of the appeal process, including the review, are to be treated as confidential.”
News that the process will be kept secret and that the Department of Education findings have been sidelined raised the ire of faculty who thought they were making headway by discrediting the accrediting commission.
“I’m outraged,” said Wendy Kaufmyn, an engineering instructor and faculty activist, who immediately dashed off a concerned letter to the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of 17 instructors, counselors and community organizers active in the Save CCSF Coalition.
“The accrediting commission acts like a star chamber,” Kaufmyn said in an interview. “They should be operating transparently and democratically – but they don’t. Everything is secret.”
Kaufmyn is right – accrediting commissions should be transparent in their operations, as their decisions affect so many people. But ACCJC is not only keeping their information secret, they’re forcing CCSF to stop sharing documents. This also is ironic, given ACCJC’s efforts to become more transparent.
The Commission launched a review of its Accreditation Standards and practices in November 2011. The 2011-2013 Review will help the Commission determine if changes to the Standards and practices are needed to maintain alignment with the new higher education environment (federal regulation and public expectations of quality, accountability, and transparency).
I can save them some money in finishing this 2-year review. Yes, changes are needed.
This lack of transparency from accrediting commissions is a relic of a bygone era when higher education was relatively stable and accrediting decisions mostly affected the specific institution under review. But given the changes that the higher education industry is facing and going through, these policies are damaging to those institutions who are trying out new models and need to know where the boundaries are drawn.
Accrediting commissions play an important role in the governance of our higher education industry, in particular by providing a method for quality assurance. By operating in such an opaque manner, however, the agencies are effectively acting as a barrier to change and stifling innovation.
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In my last post, I promised that I would give an update specifically on the state of Blackboard’s learning analytics. Well, here you go. This is a summary of what I learned about their product from a chat with Mark Max, Blackboard’s VP of Learning Analytics and, to a lesser degree, with VP of User Experience Stephanie Weeks. I wrote about Blackboard’s Retention Center product some time ago. That product (or feature set, since it is free in Blackboard) directly competes with Desire2Learn’s Student Success System. This post is more broadly about their Analytics product suite, which is most directly analogous with Desire2Learn’s Insights product, although it is actually much, much broader in scope.
The short version is this: Blackboard has very solid and reliable technology base from which they are building their learning analytics. It is easily the most mature platform among the LMS providers from that perspective. What they are a little short on is vision. In other words, they are pretty much the mirror image of Desire2Learn.iStrategy
In order to understand Blackboard’s analytics position, you have to know a little bit about Mark Max. Mark was a manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the 1980s and a finance director at one of the BlueCross BlueShields in the 1990s. Those were pretty much the perfect jobs to get early exposure to analytics technologies (which in those days was mainly data warehouses and OLAP). In the early days, these technologies were invariably big, complex, expensive, and only used by the largest of companies. The focus of the technologies in those days was on rapid and accurate reporting. Data mining, which is one of the foundational approaches that led to machine learning, was starting to become something that people talked about beyond research circles, but it didn’t really hit its stride until the 2000s.
At the time that Mark co-founded iStrategy in 1999, one of the trends in data warehouses was to build focused, pre-built products that ran a bunch of useful reports out-of-the-box and cost at most 25% of what a big, generic enterprise data warehouse system would cost. There were two basic elements to the value proposition: cost and speed. Coming in with a more limited product that did exactly and (mostly) only what customers wanted at first brought the cost down, sometimes as much as by an order of magnitude, thus making it affordable for the first time to organizations who previously couldn’t think about it. But it also made implementation much faster and demanded a lot less of the implementing organization. It could be up and running in weeks or months rather than years. Again, the primary value of these warehouses was reporting, by which I mean collating data from different IT systems into timely and accurate reports. For example, if a campus wanted to see the average class size by department or subject or the average in-major GPA by academic cohort, this information takes a lot of time and effort to get without a reporting system, and often is stale and inaccurate if that system isn’t pulling directly from the various systems of record. This is largely boring stuff which has nothing directly to do with learning, but uninteresting is not the same as unimportant. Many of these reports and necessary to help ensure that the college is healthy and its students successful. And by all accounts, iStrategy did and does this job very well. When I worked at Oracle in the higher education division, that group had a very healthy respect for the company and the product. So when Blackboard acquired iStrategy in 2011, they bought a company with a very mature product and an executive with a proven track record in old-school analytics.Learning Analytics
When you talk to Mark about what can be done with learning analytics, he definitely talks in terms that reflect his background. A lot of the ideas that he brings up are correlative, such as the ratio of instructor posts to student posts. It’s all about juxtaposing different bits of information in different ways that make you think. On the other hand, he seems almost dismissive of machine learning techniques, which he referred to several times as “black box analytics.” He talked about the high correlation between student activity in the LMS and performance, and expressed skepticism that any fancy-pants machine learning was going to squeeze a whole lot more predictive juice out of the data than simple correlation would.
This is a fundamentally different approach than D2L’s emphasis on machine learning. In the latter case, the idea is that if we teach the machines the distinctions that we have figured out through the kind of data juxtapositions that a tool like an OLAP cube allows, but then have the machine do statistical analysis based on those insights across a whole range of data, then it may find new and important juxtapositions or relationships that we miss with the human eye. For example, we may have some insights about how student preparation, effort, and help-seeking behaviors contribute to student success, and we may have some ideas about how those dimensions get represented in the data. But the machine may be able to figure out that, for example, a student’s residential distance from campus is more predictive of their academic success at a particular institution than her student loan load (maybe because of the particular challenges of getting physically to that campus). Or maybe there are three different factors that, when looked at in combination, have most of the predictive value of the student’s background coming into the class. Those aren’t the sorts of learning analytics questions that Blackboard gravitates toward. I don’t want to overstate the case; I have no reason to doubt that Mark and his staff have experience with data mining and similar technologies. But it’s not what they think of as a core value proposition. This mindset shows up in Retention Center, which is clearly a reporting tool rather than the predictive tool that D2L’s Student Success System aspires to be.
Speaking of which, I find it interesting that despite these two very different approaches by Blackboard and Desire2Learn, and despite the obvious influence of Purdue’s work on both of them, neither company chose to imitate Course Signals in terms of being student-focused and finely honed to drive course completion. My first instinct was that this was a common problem between the two companies of simply not talking to enough customers, but I no longer believe it’s that simple. Stephanie Weeks told me that Blackboard focused the first release of Retention Center of teachers because “we believe in teachers and trust them to do the right thing with the information we’re giving them.” That’s a fine sentiment, but I suspect that it is not the whole story. I often get asked when I think that LMS providers will build more student-centric systems. My answer is usually something along the lines of, “When students become influential on LMS selection committees.”
That aside, I think we are set for an interesting battle between Blackboard and Desire2Learn in the area of analytics over the next year or two. Both companies are coming to the table with substantial and very different strengths.
Keith Devlin has an article at Huffington Post today titled “MOOC Mania Meets the Sober Reality of Education”. The premise is that the halting of the San Jose State University (SJSU) / Udacity pilot project and of SB 520 show that naive assumptions on the power of MOOCs to disrupt higher education are insufficient in reality – education is too complex. While the overall article has some good points, the very foundation of the article is flawed.
I have written about both issues – SJSU program and SB 520 – and agree that there were flaws in both. Michael and I co-wrote a position paper for 20 Million Minds Foundation making recommendations to change and improve California legislation, and we have been critical of overly-simplistic views of higher education disruption. But authors should at least characterize the goals of each program accurately before drawing conclusions. The HuffingtonPost article has three glaring problems that undercut its entire message.
Problem 1: Getting the explicit goals wrong
Politicians who saw MOOCs as a means to cut the cost of higher education are having to think again after two high-profile initiatives in California recently came to a crashing halt.
Did politicians see “MOOCs as a means to cut the cost of higher education” in both of these programs? Let’s look at the stated goals for the SJSU program:
This marks the first time that a broad and diverse range of students, not just matriculated students, will have access to online college classes for credit from an accredited university at a very affordable price of $150 per course, about the same as a course at the California Community Colleges.
The pilot’s target population includes underserved groups such as high school students who will earn college credit, waitlisted students at California Community Colleges who would otherwise face out-of-state or private options, and members of the armed forces and veterans. [emphasis original]
What about SB 520? From the NY Times article about the introduction of the bill:
Legislation will be introduced in the California Senate on Wednesday that could reshape higher education by requiring the state’s public colleges and universities to give credit for faculty-approved online courses taken by students unable to register for oversubscribed classes on campus. [snip]
“We want to be the first state in the nation to make this promise: No college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn’t get a seat in the course they needed,” said Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the Senate, who will introduce the bill. “That’s the motivation for this.”
In other words, the explicit goal of both of these programs is to increase access to higher education for students who would not otherwise have been able to take these courses. Neither program was intended to replace existing courses with online versions.
You could reasonably argue that SJSU / Udacity and SB 520 sought to meet student demands with existing budgets rather than investing in more of the existing face-to-face courses and that this approach indirectly could reduce cost increases. You could even argue that long-term cost cutting underlies the long-term push for MOOCs or that the sponsors had ulterior motives. But it is misleading to claim cost reduction was the main goal of these two initiatives and not accurately describe the explicit goal of increasing student access.
Problem 2: Getting the facts about SB 520 funding wrong
Furthermore, Devlin conflates SB 520 and the California budget increases for higher education.
The idea behind the bill was to tie funds ($16.9M for CCC, $10M for CSU, $10M for UC) to “increas[ing] the number of courses available to matriculated undergraduates through the use of technology, specifically those courses that have the highest demand, fill quickly and are prerequisites for many different degrees.”
No. The $36.9 million in additional funding for online education was separate from SB 520. The state was planning to increase its investment in online education programs (the $36.9M) and it was planning to pass SB 520 with its own funding. I have written about these dual programs here and here. In my Inside Higher Education article co-written by Dean Florez:
In parallel, Governor Jerry Brown added fuel to the fire by proposing additional funding to the CCC, CSU, and UC with the caveat that certain conditions be tied to the funding. The language in the proposed budget obligated the funds “to increase the number of courses available to matriculated undergraduates through the use of technology, specifically those courses that have the highest demand, fill quickly, and are prerequisites for many different degrees.”
You could even look at the actual text of SB 520:
The bill would provide that funding for the implementation of this provision would be provided in the annual Budget Act, and express the intent of the Legislature that the receipt of funding by the University of California for the implementation of this provision be contingent on its compliance with its requirements. [emphasis added]
That funding to implement SB 520 was to be separate from the $36.9m one-time funds in the FY2014 budget.
Where the two initiatives get confused, most likely, is that the three California systems were implementing their own online initiatives, as we described at IHE:
All three systems have proposed new programs that broadly meet the same goals outlined by SB 520, largely based on the additional funding for online initiatives, with the new emphasis being the introduction or expansion of online courses with cross-enrollment across each system.
In other words, the three systems chose to use the $36.9M funding to create independent online initiatives that removed the need for SB 520 (if implemented fully). As described in the original breaking story about SB 520 at Insider Higher Ed:
The plan’s chief backer, Democratic State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, is no longer trying to advance the measure and will not do so until at least August 2014. Rhys Williams, the senator’s spokesman, said Steinberg is waiting to see the results of new online efforts by the state’s three public higher ed systems – the California Community Colleges, California State University and the University of California. The public college systems are working to expand their online offerings internally and without outsourcing their students to ed tech start-ups with little to no track record offering for-credit courses.
“The UC, CSU, and Community Colleges plans for online course access are a welcome and positive policy outcome,” William said in an e-mail Wednesday evening. “Senator Steinberg is willing to see how they develop and assess whether they’re effective, before making a decision on whether SB 520 remains necessary.”
Problem 3: Getting the facts on MOOC startups wrong
This one is perplexing, because Devlin is a faculty member at Stanford. He writes:
In this connection, it is worth noting that the MOOC explosion came out of two of the most prestigious private universities in the world, Stanford and MIT, where the incoming raw material is preselected to be of the highest quality on the planet! The MOOC platforms that form the basis for the for-profit online education companies Coursera, Udacity, and Novo Ed, and the open-source edX, all came from a Stanford research project (called Class2Go) to develop a range of tools to support flipped classrooms for its own, highly-capable, on-campus students. So it was highly unlikely that those platforms would work immediately with less well-prepared students.
The feature of that platform that initially excited Sebastian Thrun, Daphne Koller, Andre Ng and others (myself included) was not using it as a tool to reduce the cost of remedial courses at colleges and universities, rather the possibility of making quality higher education available to the entire world, for free. [emphasis added]
No. Class2Go was created in 2012, while the foundation for Udacity and Coursera came in summer and fall of 2011. Furthermore, Udacity and Coursera were both founded in early 2012. From the Github page for Class2Go:
Class2Go is Stanford’s internal open-source platform for on-line education. A team of eight built the first version over Summer 2012. Class2Go launched Fall 2012 and since then we’ve hosted several “massive open online courses” (MOOC’s) and on-campus classes.
Also, edX came out of Harvard and MIT and had no connection to Stanford in the beginning, as described in the announcement article.
EdX will build on both universities’ experience in offering online instructional content. The technological platform recently established by MITx, which will serve as the foundation for the new learning system, was designed to offer online versions of MIT courses featuring video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback, student-ranked questions and answers, online laboratories and student-paced learning.
You could argue that Class2Go had the same predecessors as did Udacity and Coursera, but that is not what Devlin is arguing.
Update 8/21: Based on Devlin’s reply on HuffPo and Mike Caufield’s comment below, I think the mistake on this one was one of using the name Class2Go. I suspect Devlin was indeed referring to the common predecessor to Class2Go, Udacity and Coursera. edX did not share this predecessor, however.
Other than the premise, excellent article
These mistakes in Devlin’s article are unfortunate, because he has some excellent points to make:
What both episodes tell us is that, while there may be (I would say there almost certainly are) ways we can use technology to reduce the student costs — and perhaps the waiting lines to get into courses — that currently bedevil higher education, last year’s naïve predictions of an imminent revolution are being replaced by a more sane attitude, including a recognition that the current higher education faculty have valuable expertise that cannot be ignored or overridden roughshod.
Teaching and learning are complex processes that require considerable expertise to understand well. In particular, education has a significant feature unfamiliar to most legislators and business leaders (as well as some prominent business-leaders-turned-philanthropists), who tend to view it as a process that takes a raw material — incoming students — and produces graduates who emerge at the other end with knowledge and skills that society finds of value. (Those outcomes need not be employment skills — their value is to society, and that can manifest in many different ways.)
But the production-line analogy has a major limitation. If a manufacturer finds the raw materials are inferior, she or he looks for other suppliers (or else uses the threat thereof to force the suppliers to up their game). But in education, you have to work with the supply you get — and still produce a quality output. Indeed, that is the whole point of education.
If we want to get beyond the silly point / counterpoint arguments about MOOCs and online education, we owe it to ourselves to characterize the position of others accurately and to get the facts right. Creating straw man arguments based on false assertions, whether intentional or not, does a disservice to everyone involved.
Update 8/21: From Keith’s comment at the HuffPo article in reply to my comment:
“Re the first two points, Phil is an expert on these issues — it’s his job — so I defer to what he says. I gathered my information from online news articles, so they came through filters. Re Class2Go, that is the name currently used at Stanford to refer to that project. I was not claiming the project originally had that name. I don’t recall if it had any name at the start. But the name was certainly in use well before the platform was publicly launched, and all the Stanford spinoff platforms came from that. In any event, the focus of my commentary was, of course, the current status of MOOCs and where they are likely to go next.”
I appreciate Keith’s reply and his clarification about the Class2Go naming.
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