Haywood keeps an eye on the data emerging from online activity in HE and points towards a steady rise in its use and acceptance by students and faculty (one third have taught an online class, 71% used OER). He points towards an increasing portion of younger people taking MOOCs with a rise towards 1 in 5 students taking online courses. There is a growing recognition that online may even be as good, if not, at times, better that the traditional campus course.
Students not staff
In his recent ALT talk, Haywood gave a masterful talk on how to think strategically about online learning in HE. I have written about their bold move with six Coursera MOOCs, along with their excellent publication of the resulting data. This is only one strand of a strategy that looks towards 2025. It is a strategy that takes the business case, the economics, seriously.
Where he is way ahead of most commentators in he is that 90% of the tech is used by students not staff. The focus on staff is, to his mind a bit myopic and a bit of an EU obsession. This movement is “student oriented rather than institution oriented”.
“Love or hate them MOOCs have forced open a debate at policy level on digital education”. Spot on. David Willetts, with Martin Bean, took the bull by the horns and kick started Futurelearn. There is no doubt that this action has stimulated both debate and action in HE. Unfortunately, he has been sacked, and there is no sign that the Shadow Minister for Education Tristram Hunt, is anywhere near as interested.
Unlike many in academe, Haywood speaks with authority based on real and substantial experience, with substantial data, when he makes the important statement that MOOCs “touch learners much more than you might think”. As an aside he also mentions that it has forced Universities to up their game on marketing. We have learnt he says, that “courses can be run at surprisingly large scale” and that “charismatic teachers can reach learners”. Accelerated innovation has also been seen with “a range of technological innovations doing things at scale – peer assessment, comparative judgement online etc.”.
One word matters above all in this analysis “scale”. Haywood is right to place it at the centre of his analysis. Sure we know that faculty have low digital skills and that there are low rewards for teaching but we must get to scale and move beyond the “bijou and niche”
Where Edinburgh and Haywood have the intellectual upper hand is in their honest appraisal of the economic implications of online learning. In my view the majority of academics are stuck in an analysis that focuses only on quality, ignoring the real issue of cost. Seb Schmoller and others have been arguing for some time, with estimated figures for cost per student, that online, while it may not match the quality, is so much cheaper, that even a weak result makes it worthwhile. I’d argue that the quality issue is fast disappearing, with degree delivery by the likes of IDI. His vision looks to on demand, self-paced, location flexible, relevant to your future, global & local, personalised, affordable, value-added learning; “Without technology this is undoable”.
Walks the walk
At national and international level, policy level discussion is needed with a road map that has clear steps over the next ten years to 2025. This is also true within your institution. If not planned it will not happen. Without investment it will not happen. Without agility it will not happen. This is why “MOOCs and the children of MOOCs are so important”. But that’s just a fraction of the story. Edinburgh’s MOOCs have racked up huge numbers, with 800k learners on 15 MOOCs and another 15 in the pipeline. Edinburgh has 30k students on campus but also with 50 odd fully online Masters Degrees. (2500 students). It’s a mixed strategy.
Vision by 2020
By 2020 they want 40k students with “all students taking one full online course” and all faculty and teaching staff will have some experience of teaching online. They have the ambition to try to reach 10s of millions of learners through increased online Masters degrees, OER and MOOCs. The means to the end is a series of real funded experiments and pilots, which are all potentially scalable.
Haywood is optimistic and thinks that he is swimming with the tide. The technology has matured, interest risen among learners and policy discussions are far more outcome oriented. One wit in the audience thought that CAVE dwellers (Colleagues Against Virtually Everything), were his biggest problem. Haywood thought that MOOCs had been useful in that those Universities that had taken this leap have found that MOOCs encourage faculty to come forward, as they know they will get support. He added that employers are clearly interested in MOOCs. In Scotland SMEs are interested. For Haywood this is about “opening up the boundaries of space and time – as campus education is limited on both”. He sees nothing wrong with pro bono working education with the secondary aim of recruiting students and charged services coming through.
Diana Laurrilard made a point she often makes and it is pertinent, that Universities have never really understood the cost of teaching. This is true, they don’t even know what is being delivered and to whom. Unfortunately, she has been on the warpath against MOOCs, but only on a straw man basis. She doesn’t believe that MOOCs will entirely replace current HE model. That’s fine, neither do most MOOC providers, including Haywood. Haywood’s response to her question on quality was entirely right. Sure, the tough part is supporting and nurturing students through their personal intellectual development but the answer may be in the middle way. We know that lectures can easily scale so what about the varying degrees of personalised support (something grossly exaggerated in HE). He thinks that technology is already providing solutions, allowing portions of courses to be run on their own, without tutor intervention. Haywood is keen to use intelligent technology at the kind of numbers we run on our MOOCs. He, unlike Laurrilardian sceptics, know a good deal more about the technology, such as adaptive learning, and rightly look for economies of scale, before making rash announcements.
The sort of leaps he sees in technology, that allow you to step back and let parts of course run on scale are being looked at, especially in their expanding masters programme. First, there’s online assessment, the Achilles’s heel in HE. The lecture model completely negates sensible formative assessment and the long-form essay, with slow, and often amateurish feedback, seems incredibly dated.
He is spot on in looking at learning analytics, especially adaptive learning, for scaling right across the institutions. This is the one technology that already offers hope in tackling the hard to deliver ‘tutor’ functions, pushing courses towards competence-based learning, where learners get personalised learning delivered at their own pace. This is already happening in the US, with considerable investment by the Gates Foundation and a rack of other institutions. Haywood and Edinburgh are the first UK institution to pick up on this and take it seriously. He is being true to his word in retaining some small group pedagogy where you need it but always looking for economies of scale.
Information technology has been extremely consequential in HE over the last 25 years but principally in ‘output enhancing’ ways that do not show up in the usual measures of either productivity or cost per student. Stanford 2012 Tanner Lecture
This is a great quote and recognises that technology has enhanced what we do but the economic are rarely understood. Haywood wants to find ways to use technologies to increase the throughput of students, move through curriculum at their own speed, and automate some parts of the curriculum where you can scale. We need to address the question of increasing productivity without decline in quality. If not we’re just polishing the current system without addressing access on scale.
At last we have a University and academic who is sophisticated enough to think big, be thoroughly strategic, agile, consider the economies of scale with an impressive focus on productivity and costs. One of the great failures in HE planning is a serious attempt to consider actual costs, to be specific, as Lewin and Blefield recommend on detailed cost effectiveness analysis. He also has a vision of the future University, not just being more “open on the boundaries“ but more productive and efficient.