Saturday, 6 March 2010

"Innovating the 21st-Century University: It’s Time!" - Tapscott D and Williams A, D (2010) Review

Originally published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

I've read and re-read Innovating the 21st-Century University: It’s Time! by Tapscott D and Williams A, D (2010) published within Educause to try and absorb it's key messages.

What I'll do here is quote some of the key messages and make comments:

Universities are losing their grip on higher learning as the Internet is, inexorably, becoming the dominant infrastructure for knowledge — both as a container and as a global platform for knowledge exchange between people — and as a new generation of students requires a very different model of higher education.
The important point here is that the internet has taken away the power of the monopoly of information away from all the previous custodians. Universities are one example. This has to be a good thing for learners and learning. If it's bad for the educational institutions in their current model then they have to change.

We need to toss out the old industrial model of pedagogy (how learning is accomplished) and replace it with a new model called collaborative learning.
This is an argument often made (particularly in educause). I've often talked about how it's really all about pedagogy not the technology. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement but the debate is very difficult to have and even more difficult to win. Firstly, because of the "no significant difference" argument, i.e. it's impossible to win a pedagogical argument. Also, in my institution (and I suspect elsewhere) there is no didactic mantra and code of conduct that everyone lives by. Sure, it's the default style but there are instances of collaboration, discussion, groupwork etc in many places. The point here is that much of higher education can make a case for innovative, collaborative pedagogy already existing if the need arises. So a "model of collaborative learning" would be difficult to implement not least because a "model of broadcast learning" doesn't officially exist. There are many other barriers but this is important.

With technology, it is now possible to embrace new collaboration models that change the paradigm in more fundamental ways... this represents a change in the relationship between students and teachers in the learning process.
This relates to the previous point and there's lots more like this which reads like a advert for collaborative pedagogy. I agree with it but there's not much to add.

We like the direction of Vest's thinking. For universities to succeed, we believe they need to cooperate to launch what we call the Global Network for Higher Learning. This network would have five stages or levels: (1) course content exchange; (2) course content collaboration; (3) course content co-innovation; (4) knowledge co-creation; and (5) collaborative learning connection
The main point of this article proposes this Global Network for Higher Learning. The stages are pretty self-explanatory. I'm not sure they really need 5 stages.

The lowest level in the Global Network for Higher Learning is simple content exchange: colleges and universities post their educational materials online, putting into the commons what would have traditionally been viewed as cherished and closely held intellectual property. MIT pioneered the concept with its OpenCourseWare initiative (, and today more than 200 institutions of higher learning have followed suit.
This is the first stage. I've includes this to mention how far away we are from making this a reality. In the UK, we have the Open University and tiny, tiny amounts of a couple other institutions. As everything in this model flows from the free exchange of content it's hard to see how such an system could get off the ground. You would need a big sea change for it to be considered. Realistically, consortiums could spring up making a mini-networks. Consortiums set up for survival. The end result could act like a regional network and snowball from there.

What higher education desperately needs is a social network — a Facebook for faculty. But it shouldn't be a standalone application; it should be integral to the Global Network for Higher Learning.
My initial reaction to this was "no way". But we've seen how quickly such networks can explode. Perhaps an education only network is the answer and a valuable plank in this idea. At the moment, informal learning happens in an infinite variety of places (e.g. the blogosphere) but for formal education a truly collaborative communication platform is mouth-watering and I guess the obvious opposite of the closed VLE discussion boards.

Why not allow a brilliant ninth-grade student to take first-year college math, without abandoning the social life of his or her high school? Why not encourage a foreign student majoring in math to take a high school English course? Why is the university the unit of measurement when it comes to branding a degree? In fact, in a networked world, why should a student have to assign his or her "enrollment" to a given institution, akin to declaring loyalty to some feudal fiefdom?
I have mixed feeling about this but they have a point. At the moment, you go where your subject is strong. Is there enough of a need for variety to demand a piece from here, there and everywhere? This challenge the whole notion of a degree in one subject in favour of a variety of different one. I'm not sure this is really an issue. Certainly, all the identify that you are supposed to have with one institution is challenged in the Global Network.

Next-generation faculty will create a context whereby students from around the world can participate in online discussions, forums, and wikis to discover, learn, and produce knowledge as networked individuals and collectively.
I guess the logistics of this worry me. How will this happen? Who will look after it? Certainly, a global network will caters for all HE is far fetched. But an initially small scale one which gradually gathers pace could happen.

As the model of pedagogy is challenged, inevitably the revenue model of universities will be too. If all that the large research universities have to offer to students are lectures that students can get online for free, from other professors, why should those students pay the tuition fees, especially if third-party testers will provide certificates, diplomas, and even degrees? If institutions want to survive the arrival of free, university-level education online, they need to change the way professors and students interact on campus.
I think current survival is based on this generation of learners not quite being able to tap into what's out there and the quality and quantity of what's out there not quite being enough. This will change and it will be shock when it hits. I'm been saying this in my place for a while now.

Many will argue: "But what about credentials? As long as the universities can grant degrees, their supremacy will never be challenged." This is myopic thinking. The value of a credential and even the prestige of a university are rooted in its effectiveness as a learning institution. If these institutions are shown to be inferior to alternative learning environments, their capacity to credential will surely diminish.
Credentials is an area which I've seen argued as a area HE can effectively focus on in the future. This paragraph threatens this notion in an interesting way. Certainly, reputation is vital in this world and it's true of HE as much as anything else.

As part of this, the academic journal should be disintermediated and the textbook industry eliminated. In fact, the word textbook is an oxymoron today. Content should be multimedia — not just text. Content should be networked and hyperlinked bits — not atoms. Moreover, interactive courseware — not separate "books" — should be used to present this content to students, constituting a platform for every subject, across disciplines, among institutions, and around the world.
Some of this stuff is almost apocolyptic! I'm not totally on board with this. Yes, ebook readers will have an impact on how text is presented, structured and mixed in with multimedia but there will always be a place of text and books of text.

In this structure, students would enroll with their "primary" institution, which would handle the disbursement of their tuition fees depending on what other courses they study. The value of, say, a second-year psychology course at Stanford would be determined by market forces, not by some central bureaucracy.
This is key to the global network and feel like a utopian ideal fraught with danger. Still, I like the message it sends to the learner - "whether you like it or not you're in charge of your learning."

If universities are to become institutions whose primary goal is the learning by students, not faculty, then the incentive systems will need to change. Tenure should be granted for teaching excellence and not just for a publishing record.

The analogy is not the newspaper business, which has been weakened by the distribution of knowledge on the Internet, he notes. "We're more like health care. We're challenged by obstructive, non-market-based business models. We're also burdened by a sense that doctor knows best, or professor knows best."
The article finishes with some interesting statements about the reasons nothing changes.

A powerful force to change the university is the students. And sparks are flying today. A huge generational clash is emerging in our institutions. The critiques of the university from fifteen years ago were ideas in waiting — waiting for the new web and for a new generation of students who could effectively challenge the old model.
Ultimately, the change will come from the students. Government talk about e-learning without really understanding what's going on but the students will demand this pedagogy. What we need is a clear choice. The model proposed here is a second stage structure. Initially what we need is a good HE example where all that's best about Learning Technologies is embraced. Someone needs to stick there head above the water to give the students a clear choice. After that market forces will take care of the rest.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice e Learning background. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and insights about this topic. Keep it up.