Applying to uni via video

Better than qualifications?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting story on the use of videos in university applications. Whilst some institutions have been encouraging students to submit videos as supporting information, it seems at least one has now gone further and is offering students the opportunity to provide them as the primary selection tool:

Ever since George Mason University started inviting prospective students to send in videos as part of their application materials, Matthew P. Boyce, the interim admissions director there, has seen applicants try to prove their mettle in some odd ways.One young man wrote and performed a rap about why he wanted to go to the university, featuring a cameo by his grandma. Mr. Boyce recently watched footage of another candidate biting into an Indian “ghost pepper,” one of the world’s spiciest varieties. The footage was presented as evidence of the applicant’s resiliency. “It was kind of goofy,” says the admissions director, though certainly memorable.

All you need to apply to university

All you need to apply to university

George Mason is one of a handful of universities that, several years ago, gave prospective students the option of submitting short “video essays” as part of their applications.The videos were meant only as supplements to the required materials, which include standardized-test scores, grade-point averages, and recommendation letters. “It’s never going to make or break their admission to Mason,” says Mr. Boyce of the videos. Last week Goucher College announced that it was taking video submissions to the next level. Prospective students will have the option of making two-minute videos the centerpiece of an application to Goucher. If they submit a video, plus two samples of academic work, then they will not be required to send in a transcript or letter of recommendation.

Whilst the variety and opportunities for applicants may be seen as welcome it is difficult to imagine how it might be possible to ensure consistency and equity across a range of applications. Also it is not clear here what is being judged: originality, creativity, personality, film-making skills? All a bit tricky therefore and probably not something that is really going to take off.

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Dialogue through technology

Dorm Room Diplomacy

 

Intrigued to learn about the activities of an organisation called Dorm Room Diplomacy which gets groups of students together from around the world, via videoconferencing, to engage in dialogue aimed at promoting greater international understanding:

croppedimage960300-DRD-Red-Group-Communities-Map

Founded by students at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, Dorm Room Diplomacy fosters intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding among an international group of university students. Dorm Room Diplomacy employs videoconference technology to facilitate virtual exchanges that help students to see the individuals behind reductionist cultural stereotypes.The videoconference program occurs each academic semester, and the same set of 8 students join in a virtual dialogue with a trained facilitator each week. Dorm Room Diplomacy is entirely student-run, encouraging students to take ownership over the dialogue process, establish campus chapters, and empower themselves and their peers. As a non-partisan organization, Dorm Room Diplomacy does not engage in political activities or advocacy, other than the promotion of intercultural dialogue.

Whilst the number of institutions involved is modest nevertheless it does seem like a valuable initiative. There are many other ways to engage in such dialogue both on campus and through international exchanges but this looks like a useful additional option.

Will Dorm Room Diplomacy take off? Time will tell.

Singalonga Higher Ed

Lyrical challenges at the University of Utah

 

Inside Higher Ed has a diverting piece on the changes being made to the University of Utah’s ‘fight song’ to address some of the lyrical challenges of the original:

The line “our coeds are the fairest” will be replaced with “our students are the finest” and the line “no other gang of college men” will now be “no rival band of college fans.” A further complication is that the song has been called “A Utah Man.” From now on it will be called “A Utah Man/Fan.

 

The Official Athletic Site of the University of Utah has the original lyrics in full:

 

VERSE
I am a Utah man, sir, and I live across the green.
Our gang, it is the jolliest that you have ever seen.
Our coeds are the fairest and each one’s a shining star.
Our yell, you hear it ringing through the mountains near and far.

utah-logoCHORUS
Who am I, sir? A Utah man am I A Utah man, sir, and will be till I die; Ki!Yi!
We’re up to snuff; we never bluff,
We’re game for any fuss,
No other gang of college men
dare meet us in the muss.
So fill your lungs and sing it out and
shout it to the sky,
We’ll fight for dear old Crimson,
for a Utah man am I.

VERSE
And when we prom the avenue, all lined up in a row,
And arm in arm and step in time as down the street we go.
No matter if a freshman green, or in a senior’s gown,
The people all admit we are the warmest gang in town.

CHORUS

VERSE
We may not live forever on this jolly good old sphere,
But while we do we’ll live a life of merriment and cheer,
And when our college days are o’er and night is drawing nigh,
With parting breath we’ll sing that song:
“A Utah Man Am I”.

 
It’s rather quaint in a way but probably needs to be retired rather than edited in this way. I must admit though to being intrigued by the idea of a university having a ‘fight song’. I can understand football teams having songs (see for example this classic which is in a similar vein to the Utah song) but universities?

Anyway, it seems this kind of thing is not as unusual as I had thought as Mike Ratcliffe (@mike_rat) kindly pointed out with this wonderful extract from the Leeds University Song Book from 1922:

Leeds song

 

More recently we have the following, a song produced a few years ago about ‘The student learning experience at Nottingham University’. Not a fight song but certainly offensive in parts:

Any other university songs?

Graduation Fails

It’s that time of year again

I’ve previously commented on graduation matters here but omitted to mention one particular challenge of the season: pronouncing graduands’ names.

Our Deans work very hard on this and it really is not a task I envy them. But now there is a possible solution. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece on a start-up business designed to address this most distinctive of higher education problems:

What''s in a name?

What”s in a name?

Stanford University, whose students gave us the modern search engine, the modern sneaker company, and the modern method of money transfer, is finally tackling a native challenge: commencement. At graduation ceremonies over the past weekend, eight departments at the university used a web-based service that allows students to record their names before commencement for the benefit of whoever reads aloud the list of graduates.

Dubbed NameCoach, the start-up was founded last year by students at—where else?—Stanford. Universities using the service send a link to graduates, who are directed to a web page where they can record their names as they want them pronounced. Nervous deans can then review them at their leisure.

Praveen Shanbhag, who graduated from Stanford this year with a doctorate in philosophy, thought of the idea for NameCoach after a particularly brutal reading of his sister’s name at her 2010 undergraduate commencement. Mr. Shanbhag said the mangling clouded an otherwise happy day for the family. “It kind of tinged it with a sense of alienation and invisibility,” he says. He points to recent research on name mispronunciation as evidence of the psychological and societal damage such incidents can cause.

It’s a simple and rather neat idea and you can see on the demo page quite clearly how it works.

It might turn out to be really helpful. But it still depends on Deans getting it right on the day and there are all sorts of reasons things can go a little bit wrong with one or two pronunciations. But on the whole our Deans do a fantastic job and there is not a lot of butchering.

Even bigger fail

But name errors are sometimes the least of the problems on stage. In many years of daft behaviour by graduands I’ve not seen anything quite as splendidly dumb as this student’s failed backflip attempt during Davenport’s graduation ceremony:

 

It’s not uncommon to see a celebratory gesture or two as students make their way across the stage at college and university commencement ceremonies.

But on Sunday, the antics of one Davenport University student didn’t work out quite as planned.

After walking across the stage and shaking hands with university administrators, Robert Jeffrey Blank removed his cap, planted his feet in place and attempted a backflip.

It didn’t go well.

Blank failed to rotate quick enough, and appeared to land face first on the stage, drawing a gasp from the audience. He didn’t appear to suffer any serious injuries, though, as he can be seen quickly getting up and walking off stage.

 

Let’s hope we don’t see too many more of these. Or indeed this striking example of a typo on a Degree Certificate:

Crazy College, crazy spelling

Crazy School, crazy spelling

(this one via Inside Higher Ed)

Surviving an avalanche

The avalanche came. And went?

avalanche cover

It’s just about a year since the publication of the IPPR report  ‘An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead‘. It really was a stirring waning to the future:

‘Our belief is that deep, radical and urgent transformation is required in higher education as much as it is in school systems. Our fear is that, perhaps as a result of complacency, caution or anxiety, or a combination of all three, the pace of change is too slow and the nature of change too incremental.’

‘Should we fail to radically change our approach to education, the same cohort we’re attempting to “protect” could find that their entire future is scuttled by our timidity.’ David Puttnam, MIT, 2012

It was supported by a really cool video which was as insightful as it was comprehensive:

Anyway, this cataclysmic offering aimed “to provoke creative dialogue and challenge complacency in our traditional higher education institutions”.

‘Just as globalisation and technology have transformed other huge sectors of the economy in the past 20 years, in the next 20 years universities face transformation.’

With a massive diversification in the range of providers, methods and technologies delivering tertiary education worldwide, the assumptions underlying the traditional relationship between universities, students and local and national economies are increasingly under great pressure – a revolution is coming.

In summary, the case seemed to be that the future was not great for those institutions which did not adapt to the new thinking.

Private Frazer scenario

To save you the trouble, the piece really does not bear re-reading. Rather you might prefer to revisit the coruscating WonkHE piece from the time by David Kernohan which helpfully demolishes most of the arguments in the Avalanche paper as the following extract nicely demonstrates:

The education ‘revolution’ that Barber, Donnelly and Rizvi are such keen advocates of is a comfortably fed one. This is not a cry from the barricades – not a populist movement of grass roots activists. The hand-wringing citation of unemployment statistics and rising student fees comes not from the unemployed and poor, but from the new education industry that wants to find a way into the marketplace.

And this is the underlying impression one takes from this report. The citations are shoddy, the proofreading abysmal – it reads like a bad blog post. Or a good Ted talk. It’s a serving of handsome slices of invective which would leave anyone sick to the stomach. Falling graduate wages. The lack of good “quality measures” for universities. A neatly formatted table of annual academic publication rates – in 50 year slices from 1726 onwards – labelled “The Growth of Information over 300 years”. (but “citizens of the world now cry out for synthesis”!!)

Again and again we, as citizens of the world, are encouraged to rail and protest about the broken system that somehow seems to have educated world leaders, scientists, lawyers, engineers and senior staff at academic publishers with pretensions at “thought leadership”. A system which anyone would admit has problems; problems caused by the imposition of a wearying and inapplicable market.

Section 6 of the report, “The Competition is heating up”, retreads familiar grounds concerning the all-conquering world of the MOOC – that well known reheating of early 00s internet education hype flavoured with a rich source of venture capital. But this is situated within a wider spectrum of globalised private for-profit providers – the lot of whom (poor reputation! high drop-out rates! difficulty in gaining degree awarding powers!) is bewailed at some length.

It is a thorough and quite devastating critique. Yes, there has been change in the past year and of course institutions have had to adapt. MOOCs will continue to have an impact in the longer term. But this is not a revolution. Or an avalanche.

That Higher Ed joke isn’t funny any more

Satire in Higher Education.

I’ve written before about books covering higher education in general and the commented on the end of the campus novel as well as its  possible reinvention.

More recently, there has been a series of books intended to capture the humorous and darker side of British higher education life:
A comic portrayal of modern university life seen through the eyes of a Professor of Christian Ethics. Married to the daughter of a baronet, he is rich, successful and eminent. Yet, as he approaches retirement, he is caught up in a conspiracy involving sexual harassment, victimisation and fraud. As he seeks to escape from the web of deceit that surrounds him, he uncovers the dark side of the modern university.
Written anonymously by a prominent academic this comic novel exposes the petty jealousies, excitement and intrigue of campus life in the twenty-first century.

41gU5WOPw8L._SS500_

I failed to get excited by the extracts of this series I have read. However, others were more enthusiastic:

‘I charged through the opening chapters with a growing sense of horror,
paranoia–and recognition. This is a rattling read, and a chilling expose
of political correctness on campus.’ Boris Johnson, [then] Shadow Minister for Higher Education

And seeking to occupy similar terrain there is the  Wading through treacle blog:

The ‘action’ (used in the sense of the narrative and in no way intended to imply that anything active actually occurs at Burston Central) takes place during the spring and summer terms. Car parking is still important, and the anarchy over kettle ownership rumbles on. And as for the ‘multi-functional devices’ which have replaced personal printers….maybe they’re working better. Or maybe not.

So, apart from this latter splendid effort, there really hasn’t been a lot to get excited about on the satire front. But then this very amusing video emerged which was an informercial for a fake online for-profit university. As the Chronicle reported:

At first blush, it might seem like an ad for another online university you haven’t heard of. But “Let’s Profit Off Each Other” is, in fact, the slogan of the fictional “For Profit Online University”—the subject of an 11-minute parody infomercial that, according to the blogSplitsider, was created by former writers for The Onion, a satirical website, and has been airing at 4 a.m. recently on the cable-television channel Adult Swim.

And it’s quite brutal. Some of the gags: FPOU is “proudly unaccredited,” and its students use proprietary online “thoughtcoins” to download facts, purchase “class points,” and buy sandwiches from Panera Bread. FPOU’s enrollment policy? “Technically, if you have a credit card, you’re already enrolled.” Faculty? “Don’t like your professor? Our instructors are easy to replace because they’re spread across the whole world. And they have no way to contact each other.”

Traditional universities aren’t spared, either. For instance, an FPOU transfer student’s testimonial about his bricks-and-mortar college experience: “There were constant sexual assaults, suicides, and building collapses.” FPOU, in turn, promises to do away with “crumbling campuses, full of corrupt, anti-Israel professors.”

It really is very good indeed. Unfortunately, the video itself seems to have disappeared at time of writing.

And then there was this report in Times Higher Education:

The scandals that sometimes line these pages – from stories about grade inflation to sexual harassment and dodgy overseas dealings – often seem like the plot of a theatrical farce. So it was only a matter of time before a play was written about the current dramas besetting higher education.

Sellout – a “political comedy” by dramatist David Lane – gets its first rehearsed reading at the Exeter Northcott Theatre, University of Exeter on 24 January.

At its heart is Frank, a 48-year-old senior lecturer who has just returned from enforced leave after complaining about the fact that student “Jessica Charter was ushered through to her next year of study despite not just failing but getting one of the lowest marks the department’s ever seen”.

When it comes to students, Frank takes the old-fashioned line that “somewhere in that throng of leggings, ironic flat caps and deck shoes is something we’ve never seen before…We need to push them, it’s what they’re paying for.”

Yet everything the lecturer stands for is under threat, from a head of department who wants him to “closely monitor [his] stakeholder interface” and a younger colleague with an Excel program to “time [her] student allocations to the minute”.

With depression, excessive alcohol, collapsing families and doomed office romances thrown in, it is clear that Mr Lane has an amusingly bleak view of university life that is likely to be familiar to many academics.

Amusingly bleak? Bleak for sure. Anyway, perhaps satire in higher education does have a future.

Chancellor successfully installed

One of those big University events.

Yesterday the University of Nottingham installed (a technical term) its seventh Chancellor, Sir Andrew Witty.

Full details of the appointment and the background to Sir Andrew can be found on this page about the installation and the video of the event can be found here.
installation-andrew
Note that the video starts with 45 minutes of milling about so you might want to skip some of that. I have one sentence to deliver which I manage at around the 47 minute mark. It gets better after that and in addition to the installation two Honorary Degrees are conferred.

The job of Chancellor is an unusual one. For reference, the job spec is as follows:

The Chancellor has a number of key roles including ceremonial duties – playing a formal part in graduation ceremonies – and acting as an ambassador and advocate of the University in the UK and around the world. He also acts as a key adviser on matters of major strategic importance to the development of the University. It is an unremunerated role.

Alternative perspectives on this can be found in this UUK publication ‘Beyond Ceremony’ which contains “anecdotes and advice from UK chancellors”. Actually, I’m not sure our new Chancellor is really going to need much in the way of advice (or Chancellorial anecdotes). Sir Andrew is an outstanding and hugely impressive individual and will I am sure be a huge asset to the University of Nottingham.

Anyway, the installation was a terrific event and one of those special days in the life of the University where tradition, ceremony and forward thinking combine and lots of staff, stakeholders, alumni and friends of the institution come together in a shared celebration of past achievements and future ambitions. And a lot of wonderful work from many of my colleagues to make it all happen.

Footnote: an interview with the new Chancellor is also available:

An interesting approach to teaching physics

But is it effective?

Inside Higher Ed reports on a Columbia University professor who adopted a rather unconventional approach for a physics class:

A Columbia University professor who incorporated (himself) stripping, ninjas and images of 9/11 in a lecture on quantum mechanics has attracted widespread attention. While he’s not talking and Columbia officials aren’t saying much, they have now confirmed that he remains in his job, and some colleagues and his wife are offering a public defense — and urging people to be open-minded.

Emlyn Hughes, a professor of physics at Columbia, this month welcomed students to the first session of Frontiers of Science, a core requirement for undergraduates at Columbia College, by slowly undressing as the rap song “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Lil Wayne played in the background.

 

The video of part of the event isn’t hugely enlightening

 

It’s all very interesting and undoubtedly the Professor made an impact. But did the students learn anything? And will he be able to sustain such a level of interest for the remainder of the course? It’s probably for the best that not everyone adopts such an approach.

For a more refined alternative there is always this Sixty Symbols video.

Beyond the Brian Cox effect

Extravagant claims about one person’s influence on Physics recruitment.

The Telegraph comments on the ‘Brian Cox effect’ and suggests that it has resulted in a surge in demand for physics:

A typical Physics academic

A typical Physics academic

Manchester has always been a popular choice for physics but the university admitted that a recent rise in applications had been partially driven by the attraction of Prof Cox, one of the department’s academics and presenter of television series such as Stargazing Live and Wonders of the Universe.

He currently teaches quantum mechanics and relativity to first year students.

It also reflects the increasing popularity of the subject nationally on the back of publicity surrounding the Large Hadron Collider at Cern.

Across Britain, the number of students taking degrees in physics has soared by 50 per cent in just eight years to reach more than 40,000 in 2011.

 
Of course such an impact does take time – it starts with the GCSE and then A level choices made at school before we even get to the university application stage. So whilst the latest surge in applications to Manchester and for Physics more broadly may well be attributable at least in part to Professor Cox, it is not the whole picture.

Here at the University of Nottingham we have witnessed a similar phenomenon.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff is a leading figure in the Periodic videos project and has arguably had a similar impact on Chemistry. See this recent video, which has been viewed over 2m times, for example:

 

So it’s not just about the Brian Cox effect. It’s also the Martyn Poliakoff phenomenon.

Some Vice-Chancellors will do anything for money…

…provided it’s for a good cause

A bit late in the day but I did want to register how impressive this fundraising effort is from the Vice-Chancellor of De Montfort University. The video, which is intended to raise money for LOROS and PROSTaid, features over 1,000 students from DMU too and can be seen here:

Further details can be found on the DMU website.

And it has recently been confirmed that a team led by the University of Nottingham’s Vice-Chancellor has raised over £250k:

After cycling the length of Britain this summer, the Life Cycle 2 team from The University of Nottingham have successfully raised over £250,000 to widen access to higher education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Life cycle 2
The total raised was a fitting reward for the 12 members of staff who endured headwinds, punctures and falls during a 1,100-mile journey on behalf of ‘Nottingham Potential’, a package of interventions designed to transform the lives of young people.

Led by Vice-Chancellor Professor David Greenaway, the team spent 14 days in the saddle, with the specific aim of providing scholarships and bursaries to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and supporting projects targeted at changing opportunities for young people, helping more into further and higher education.

For some you suspect that two weeks on a bike might be preferable to seeking to emulate Professor Shellard’s performance but in any case it is, I think, really impressive to see Vice-Chancellors taking a lead on this kind of fundraising activity.

(PS not quite such an achievement but worthy of note – this is the landmark 600th post here on Registrarism – thank you for reading.)

The Imperfect University: Massive Open Online Confusion?

The Future of HE? Or Massive Open Online Confusion?

For the latest Imperfect University piece a few thoughts on a topic which is attracting considerable comment at the moment: the growth of the Massive Open Online Course or MOOC. There has been a huge amount of hype around the new models of online provision or MOOCs, much of it significantly overstating the likely impact of such offerings. The numbers involved are impressive though with hundreds of thousands enrolled on some courses (hence the “massive” descriptor). Will MOOCs transform higher education as we know it? Or are they in fact closer to more traditional models of education than their proponents admit?

Disruptive innovation, a theory originally developed by Clayton Christensen to explain how new entrants to markets could take the lead through innovation and supplant traditional businesses, has been frequently applied of late to higher education. There has been much talk and many exciting conference presentations and magazine articles about how these new online providers will disrupt traditional models of learning and bring about the end of the physical university.

A paradigm shift?

Among the most extreme views on the likely impact of MOOCs we have Sebastian Thrun who has set up Udacity, a major new online provider, which has emerged from Stanford University with much fanfare. Quoted in a recent edition of Wired he predicted some change in the higher education market:

Fifty years from now, according to Thrun, there will be only 10 institutions in the whole world that deliver higher education.

Others have compared existing universities to companies which failed to adapt to new technology, such as Kodak. as for example, this story in the Washington Times notes:

The recent bankruptcy declaration by Kodak, one of the nation’s most trusted brands for consumers, which once held a market share in excess of 90 percent, is stunning. Kodak mistook America’s century-long love affair with its products as a sign of market permanency, missing the fact that camera phones, flip cameras and online sharing would erode its brand and render it irrelevant.

So it’s clear that even though the reservoir of public trust for higher education is deep, it certainly isn’t bottomless. That means colleges and universities must do all they can to keep and sustain the public’s confidence in higher education.

Colleges and universities also must focus on increasing higher education productivity – but not the kind that is about budget cutting to serve fewer students or about making individual institutions more selective. Instead, the true definition of productivity is one that offers a substantial increase in high-quality degree and certificate production at lower costs per degree awarded, while improving access and equity for underserved populations.

Ultimately, though, higher education must take control of its own future. The world is indeed changing, rapidly, and colleges and universities must seize the moment to meet the rising demand for high-quality skills that are vital to our collective well-being as a nation. If they don’t, they, like Kodak, risk the chance of being gone in a flash.

So, is this a once in a generation paradigm shift which will sweep away the some of the longest established organisations in the Western world? Or is it an over-hyped bubble?

Udacity

Looking first at Udacity, established by the aforementioned Professor Thrun, it claims an impressive 160,000 students from around the world enrolled on on its first course in artificial intelligence. It summarises its mission thus:

We believe university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Using the economics of the Internet, we’ve connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students all over the world.

A glance at the curriculum for one of the Udacity classes gives a sense of what is on offer:

CS262: Programming Languages

Description: This class will give you an introduction to fundamentals of programming languages. In seven weeks, you will build your own simple web browser complete with the ability to parse and understand HTML and JavaScript. You will learn key concepts such as how to specify and process valid strings, sentences and program structures. Then, you will design and build an interpreter – a program that simulates other programs.

WEEK 1:
String Patterns
Finding and specifying classes of strings using regular expressions

WEEK 2:
Lexical Analysis
Breaking strings down into important words

WEEK 3:
Grammars
Specifying and deconstructing valid sentences

WEEK 4:
Parsing
Turning sentences into trees

WEEK 5:
Interpreting
Simulating programs

WEEK 6:
Building a Web Browser
Interpreting HTML and JavaScript

WEEK 7:
Wrap-up
Exam testing your knowledge

It all looks rather good. However, it’s difficult to escape the impression that there is a significant element of ego in here on the part of those leading this. Who wouldn’t want to be loved by hundreds of thousands of students instead of just one or two classes a year?

Coursera

Similar to Udacity is Coursera, which includes courses from Princeton, Stanford, Michigan and Pennsylvania Universities. The Coursera mission is nothing if not ambitious:

Education for Everyone.

We offer courses from the top universities, for free.

Learn from world-class professors, watch high quality lectures, achieve mastery via interactive exercises, and collaborate with a global community of students.

You can see the introductory video here:

Again, all jolly exciting.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy, which for a few years has been offering huge amounts of content leading to a range of “badges”, is another major player in this area. A recent piece about how “Bill Gates’ Favorite Teacher Wants to Disrupt Education” gives a flavour of the approach taken by its leader:

How would he change education? By turning it upside down. First, he says, we should “decouple credentialing from learning.” Instead of handing out degrees, standardized assessments would be the measure of employee competence. Anyone could learn at their own pace in their own way: in an internship, as an entrepreneur, or at home on the Internet. Then, everyone, no matter how they were educated, would be equal before the evaluation. Additionally, he thinks the assessment could be more meaningful than whatever abilities a college degree actually signals to employers.

The Khan Academy site explains more about how they recognise learning through badges:

As soon as you login, you’ll start earning badges and points for learning. The more you challenge yourself, the more bragging rights you’ll get.

We’ve heard of students spending hour after hour watching physics videos and 5th graders relentlessly tackling college-level math to earn Khan Academy badges. Some of the smaller badges are very easy, but the most legendary badges might require years of work.

Will these badges become more meaningful than degrees? Will higher education be turned upside down?

edX

MITx, the online offshoot of MIT, started its ball rolling in late 2011, then more recently joined up with Harvardx to form edX, described thus:

An organization established by MIT and Harvard that will develop an open-source technology platform to deliver online courses. EdX will support Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning on campus through tools that enrich classroom and laboratory experiences. At the same time, edX also will reach learners around the world through online course materials. The edX website will begin by hosting MITx and Harvardx content, with the goal of adding content from other universities interested in joining the platform. edX will also support the Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning.

Interestingly, the very laudable aim of edX to support research about learning rather sets it apart from the other developments mentioned here. The edX – FAQs offer some more insights into the approach:

How is this different from what other universities are doing online?

EdX will be entirely our universities’ shared educational missions. Also, a primary goal of edX is to improve teaching and learning on campus by supporting faculty from both universities in conducting significant research on how students learn.

Who will lead edX?

EdX is a priority for the leadership of both Harvard and MIT, and it will be governed by a board made up of key leaders from both institutions, appointed by each university’s president. MIT Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Anant Agarwal will be the initial President of edX and will report to the board.

Does the effort have a staff?

EdX is a significant undertaking that will require significant resources. The full scope of the staff has not been determined, but there will be a dedicated staff to the initiative.

Who can take edX courses? Will there be an admissions process?

EdX will be available to anyone in the world with an internet connection, and in general, there will not be an admissions process. For a modest fee, and as determined by the edX board, MIT and Harvard, credentials will be granted only to students who earn them by demonstrating mastery of the material of a subject.

Will the certificates be awarded by Harvard and/or MIT?

As determined by the edX board, MIT and Harvard, online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects could earn a certificate of completion, but such certificates would not be issued under the name Harvard or MIT.

Some of the problems with these MOOCs

There are a number of problems associated with these developments:

  • There is no proper academic quality assurance: by and large anyone can offer any course they want without any need for approval or monitoring by an academic body. It might be good, it might not but you’ll have to try it to find out. However,  edX argues that the standards are the same as for regular MIT and Harvard courses:

Will MIT and Harvard standards apply here?

The reach changes exponentially, but the rigor remains the same.

This may be true in terms of the content but they are not assessed in the same way and, as noted in the edX FAQs above, certificates will not be issued in the names of the universities.

  • Self-selection: courses are offered by self-selecting academics and followed by self-selecting students. Again there is no quality assurance in relation to either.
  • Drop out rates are very high: most people simply won’t stay the course. It’s easy to enrol but even easier to drop out.
  • It’s something of a popularity contest: what’s new and exciting is what’s popular. Robotics and artificial intelligence are the hot topics to study along with lots of related IT stuff. However, Sociology and Greek Mythology can also be found.
  • Non-assessment: there isn’t any meaningful assessment. This is one of the biggest problems with this kind of large scale offering – the assessment methods seem to be basic at best. There is a need for something beyond multiple choice – undoubtedly we will get more sophisticated assessment tools in future but scaling up will be difficult.
  • Non-accreditation: completion of all of the work will mean you get the equivalent of an attendance certificate or a virtual badge. These may have currency in certain businesses in some sectors (mainly IT) but it is not clear that they will achieve wider recognition. (See an earlier, rather critical, post on this topic.)

Terms and conditions

To be clear about what is not offered, let’s look at some of the terms and conditions from Udacity:

you acknowledge that any letter of completion awarded will not be affiliated with any college or university and will not stand in the place of a course taken at an accredited institution;

you acknowledge that instructors of any Online Course will not be involved in any attempts to get the course recognized by any educational or accredited institution; and

you will abide by the Student Conduct Policy listed below.

DISCLAIMER OF WARRANTIES.

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OK it’s a free offer, and students are able to learn for nothing and do get an attendance certificate or a badge but there are no guarantees that anyone will recognize either (in fact there are seemingly very few guarantees at all). Will employers start favouring these? I doubt it even if some companies eventually employ the brightest of the hundreds of thousands taking some courses who manage to stand out and then receive a recommendation from a tutor.

Perhaps not that revolutionary after all

It’s all very exciting and has prompted breathless commentary about the imminent demise of traditional universities. Yes, these developments will have an impact but MOOCs will not replace universities – rather they will offer a different avenue to self-improvement. MOOCs are an interesting new delivery method and offer education at scale in a way that traditional universities find hard but really this is more of a contemporary variation on the Adult Learning/Continuing Education model. The expansion and democratization of learning which MOOCs represent is thoroughly laudable but they are in reality an extension of education offerings rather than a replacement for established universities.

The new Mechanics’?

Despite all the hype, this new provision may offer real value for many. MOOCs can be seen as the internet equivalent of the Mechanics’ Institute, which started in the 19th Century as vehicles for self-improvement for working men unable to gain access to conventional education.

Leeds Mechanics’ Institute (now a museum)

Some of these institutes formed the foundation of universities (including UMIST, Heriot Watt and Birkbeck for example) and provided routes into higher education for those usually excluded. But for many people such institutes, which often included libraries, provided a means of improving technical knowledge to enable advancement at work or more general self-education. This philosophy still underpins the largely part-time provision at Birkbeck.

Such institutes often depended on philanthropy for their resources as do some of the online startups we’re seeing now. Will these new providers last as long as some of the Mechanics’? Perhaps. They do offer something new and interesting for which there is clearly demand.

So, we should embrace MOOCs as a welcome additional contribution to education in the great adult education tradition. But will they sweep aside traditional universities? (Or all but 10 of them?) I don’t think so. Things are likely to be a bit confusing for a while therefore.

The Shape of Things to Come – Going Global 2012

The shape of things to come: global trends and emerging opportunities to 2022

I was privileged to chair this session at the British Council’s Going Global event on 15 March:

Over the next five to ten years, which will be the countries with fastest growing higher education systems? Which countries will have environments rich in opportunities for student mobility; for cross-border education provision; and for collaborative research? The new research from the British Council begins to provide answers to these questions. It reveals the new big emerging markets for international students, along with those countries that will be most open for international collaboration in teaching and research. Earlier British Council studies found that the number of students seeking to study overseas depends heavily on family income and the number of students enrolled in domestic higher education. It now depends more on trade links, cost of living and tuition, and exchange rates between the respective countries. The Global Education Opportunities Index maps the economic growth projections and demographic indicators across countries, along with global trade links, to highlight the areas where most opportunities will emerge for international collaboration and student mobility. Dr Janet Ilieva provides an overview of the approach taken and the research methodology, and presents the main findings. The expert panel from UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the OECD then debate the relevance of the opportunities and the implications of this research.

Janet Ilieva delivered an excellent presentation setting out the details of the combination of demographic and economic drivers which will re-shape the global higher education landscape – the data, evidence and forecasts which will be needed by institutions to enable them to address opportunities for student mobility, TNE and collaborative research.

The presentation covered

  • Globally mobile students
  • The internationalisation of research
  • Business collaboration
  • Opportunities for global engagement

Chiao-Ling Chien of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Richard Yelland from the OECD responded with some important additional comments too with the latter noting that we also need to pay proper attention to the other 98% of non-mobile students.

Whilst the content delivered represented significant progress and valuable information, the concerns from the audience largely related to the quality, consistency and timeliness of data.

The video of Janet’s presentation and her slides can be found here. Do have a look. Overall, it was fascinating stuff and a real honour to participate.

The report from which the data was drawn will be published soon. In the meantime University World News carried some of the information contained in it and in Janet’s presentation with the headlines being the slowdown in the growth of higher education enrolments and the impact of economic changes on the HE landscape. First the demographics:

The largest higher education systems are likely to be China with some 37 million students, India with 28 million, the US with 20 million and Brazil with nine million.

However higher education, currently one of the fastest growing sectors globally, is predicted to experience a significant slowdown in the rate of growth in enrolments in the coming decades.

This is according to the report The Shape of Things to Come: Higher education global trends and emerging opportunities to 2020, drawn up for the British Council by Oxford Economics. It is to be published officially next month, but a preview was released ahead of the British Council’s “Going Global” conference being held in London from 13-15 March.

The study forecasts enrolments to grow by 21 million students by 2020 – a huge rise in overall numbers and an average growth rate of 1.4% per year across 50 selected countries that account for almost 90% of higher education enrolments globally.

But this represents a considerable slowdown compared to the 5% a year global enrolment growth typical of the previous two decades, and record enrolment growth of almost 6% between 2002 and 2009.

Tertiary enrolments have grown by 160% globally since 1990, or by some 170 million new students.

This slowing in growth “should be expected with the sector maturing or slowing in some markets, and demographic trends no longer as favourable as a result of declining birth rates over the last 20 to 30 years,” says the report.

rowth in enrolments in China are predicted to fall from a 17 million increase to five million, according to the report’s projections. India’s tertiary enrolment growth overall is forecast to outpace China’s during the period.

“This does not take into account the political ambitions and aspirations of these countries,” said Janet Illieva, the British Council’s head of research, who will be presenting some of the research findings at the “Going Global” conference this week.

“If India manages to double participation rates in the next five years, this will be a phenomenal increase,” she said, referring to Indian government plans to increase gross enrolments from 17% of the cohort now to around 30% in the next decade.

Economic growth fuels enrolments

Over the last 20 years, growth in global higher education enrolments and internationally mobile students has closely followed world trade growth and has far outpaced world economic growth.

“What is changing is GDP (economic wealth), and economic growth which has a very significant impact on tertiary enrolment,” Illieva told University World News.

A country’s average wealth is seen as a clear driver of future tertiary education demand. “Not only is the relationship positive and statistically significant, but perhaps more importantly, at low GDP per capita levels, gross tertiary enrolment ratios tend to increase quickly for relatively small increases in GDP per capita,” the report says.

Around half the 50 countries studied currently have GDP per capita levels below US$10,000 a year. “Provided these economies grow strongly over the next decade, as many are forecast to, there is significant scope for their tertiary enrolment ratios to increase.”

But despite strong economic growth, many of the shortlisted economies are forecast to still have GDP per capita (adjusted for purchasing power parity) below US$10,000 in 2020 – including Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Morocco, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

This is likely to constrain how quickly these countries close the gap in enrolment rates compared to advanced economies. But it also means continued rises in enrolment ratios and strong growth in tertiary education demand beyond 2020.

“Where income is below US$10,000 a year, a proportional increase in income results in a much higher rise in the rate of enrolments than you would expect,” said Illieva.

Things really are changing. Look forward to seeing the full report when it is published.

Nottingham Advantage

Impact Campaign: Nottingham Advantage

Another update on the Impact Campaign which has launched this week at the University of Nottingham.

This theme, Nottingham Advantage, is one which I think is particularly important. On this site you can see a nice video, fronted by Vicky Mann who heads up the Nottingham Advantage Award, all about how the University is helping our graduates who need more than academic knowledge and skills to stand out from the crowd in today’s competitive global job market.

Will you help promote the employability of our graduates?

The issue

Competition in the global employment market is fiercer than ever. Employers expect much more from prospective graduate recruits than a good degree. Taking part in extra-curricular activities encourages students to develop a range of skills, such as leadership, organisation, communication and teamwork – great preparation for the world of work and a way to stand out from the crowd.

Our solution

The Nottingham Advantage Award offers students the chance to develop the competencies, learning and evaluation skills that employers seek in graduates. Launched in 2008, the Award is voluntary and is open to students at our UK, China and Malaysia campuses.

Students choose modules, which focus on developing key attributes, such as oral and written communication, teamwork, self management and learner autonomy, problem solving and critical thinking, commercial awareness, information technology and numeracy, environmental citizenship and employability and a global perspective.

The emphasis upon reflective practice is built into all modules and allows students to develop greater self-awareness and techniques for self-improvement. Over 75% of the modules are delivered in collaboration with employers, helping students to associate academic learning with the professional context of the global employment market.

Our impact

The Nottingham Advantage Award provides formal recognition of the student’s employability skills, promoting them as flexible, adaptable employees of the future to support their transition into the global job market.

What will your Impact be?

Supporting the Nottingham Advantage Award will have a genuine impact on the success of our students in today’s fiercely competitive global job market. Do support the Impact Campaign.

A “hyperwired” freshers’ week?

Freshers! Come and try a new kind of learning laboratory

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a fascinating freshers’ week piece on a very different kind of learning lab, within the setting of a student dorm:

Students moving into a newly renovated dormitory at the University of Kentucky signed up for a hyperwired college experience: Each one was given an iPad and required to take a series of tech-themed courses. The unusual program is called A&S Wired Residential College and is housed in a dorm of 177 freshmen, who plan to major in a variety of fields.

Among the $1-million in renovations are 20 wireless access points in the basement and first floor—enough to serve 75 high-bandwidth users at the same time—11 large-screen televisions, which can be connected with multiple iPads simultaneously; and two 82-inch “interactive whiteboards.” The whiteboards will be in the dorm’s two smart classrooms, which both also have 55-inch televisions. The classrooms can do international videoconferencing, too; one class in the spring will feature interaction with a class in South Africa, says Mark Kornbluh, dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“We see this as sort of a laboratory of different teaching technologies,” he says. The students in the dorm are meant to be a microcosm of the university, and the related courses are in subjects including “Social Connections: The Sweet and the Bitter of Relationships,” “The Vietnam War,” and “The African-American Experience in Kentucky.”

It’s an interesting experiment. And it does look like the students knew what they were signing up to (and not just free iPads). Although it does seem that the innovation is driven by the technology rather than by educational aims.  The piece doesn’t say what the gender balance is.