Two questions

I was recently asked by Panos Vlachopoulos to answer the following questions. Here are my responses would be interested to here other people’s views.

1. What would you consider the top 3 challenges that the Higher Education sector faces in your country?
The top challenge for me is helping teachers make effective use of new technologies. They are confused by the plethora of possibilities and lack the necessary digital literacy skills to harness the affordances of new technologies. In relation to this then designing for learning is the key challenge facing education. Learning design has emerged as a new research field in the last ten years or so to address this.

In general the lack of digital literacy skills is an issue for both learners and teachers. Jenkins lists 11, which he argues are needed to be part of today’s ‘participatory culture’. I would add an additional one on creativity.

For formal educational institutions there is an issue in terms of new emergent business models, which are challenging the standard educational model of formal courses with accreditation. Examples include the peer-to-peer university, the OER University and MOOCs. In a world where resources and expertise are increasingly freely available what is the role for a traditional institution? I think we are beginning to see a disaggregation of learning, so that in the future many learners will opt to pay for particular things rather than take a full course. They may for example pay for high quality resource, which are kitemarked in some way, or they may pay to have a guided learning pathway or some structured form of support. Finally, they may choose to learn through free resources and then pay to be formally accredited.

2. Do you see any value of the OER (Open Educational Resources) movement in trying to address any of the challenges?

Yes I think OER have an important role to play, this is something we explored in the OPAL initiative where we derived a set of practices around the creation and use of OER, which we then translated into guidelines for learners, teachers, institutional managers and policy makers. The guidelines can be used to first benchmark existing OER practice and then create a roadmap and implementation plan for future development.

So those were my answers, Panos has collected a whole set of responses online.

3 Responses to “Two questions”

  1. Michael Power Says:

    1. What would you consider the top 3 challenges that the Higher Education sector faces in your country?
    I would say that the following three are currently uppermost in my mind:
    1. decreasing accessibility to higher education (HE) due to tuition hikes;
    2. the perennial favorite, low-level integration of technology in HE;
    3. a trend toward faculty dereliction of intellectual control of and responsibility for their teaching

    To elaborate:
    1. a dangerous trend in North American universities is the ongoing, seemingly unstoppable rise in tuition fees. This trend is turning back the clock to a time when only the elite could access higher education. Should it continue, we will see a large increase in the haves and havenots and all the social strain that a two-tiered society generates. What we as theoricians of distance education, online learning and blended learning must do is counter such rises by offering viable alternatives to our institutions, technologically-enhanced solutions that will maintain quality, increase accessibility and increase cost-effectiveness.

    2. educational techology theorists and practicioners have devised clever ways and means of empowering and enabling faculty in integrating technology into their teaching. However, results have been mitigated by overriding priorities, usually linked to a faculty focus on research rather than on teaching, especially in the big, research-oriented universities. As a result, we have not seen the ICT ‘revolution’ in HE that was once heralded as inevitable. Methinks it is time to get real by providing faculty with technology they can actually use (as in user-friendly technology), thereby leveraging their current skill set, this rather than systematically deskilling them by having them do that for which they have no training (design and develop online courses) and in which they have little interest and for which they have little time. The current widespread strategy of developing heavy (and costly) front-end designed courses for mass, asynchronous delivery (see the UCAL system initiative) is one that has utterly failed, isolating student and professor alike, reducing a university education to a list of to-dos and substituting cheap, follow-the-rules, mind-numbing activities for true intellectual inquiry. Until we reverse this ill-founded yet oh so prevalent strategy, we will remain stuck in the static paradigm in which we currently find ourselves.
    3. I could have actually put this challenge in number one spot. What I find particularly disquieting is a trend among fellow faculty to get involved in Online Learning for all the wrong reasons. To wit, developing and automating an asynchronous, forum-based course and then leaving it in the hands of teaching assistants to deliver, popping in now and again, Deus ex machina-like, to reward the good and adminish the evil. What is most ridiculousis that we expect the darn thing to fly! I have a hypothesis on why this is happening: might it be the dream many (most) academics have of devoting more time to research and less to teaching, a quiet little truth academics dare not utter? Doing so is, I believe, a complete and utter dereliction of academic responsibility, a meaningless massification of higher education which can only result in an impoverishment of HE, a decline in quality and an underskilling of graduates. MOOCs take this nasty trend to an all-time height in pretending that meaningful learning can occur within.

    These may appear to some as fighting words. But I’ve always liked a good brawl. Must be my Irish blood (;-)

  2. Michael Power Says:

    About “Do you see any value of the OER (Open Educational Resources) movement in trying to address any of the challenges?”
    It depends on the challenges one has targeted. In my case, OER would not play a major role, simply because OER and facuilty seem not to “jive”, for lack of a better word. The thing is, faculty tend to be very idiosyncratic when it comes to ERs (whether they should be or not is another debate) and, should they come across an interesting OER, they (I) tend to want to change it, modify it, amend it, “fix” it (;-). So, unless said OER allows for such (I’ve found the majority DO NOT), then uptake is rare. Moreover, putting OERs out there does not seem to be high on their list of a priorities (right up there with correcting…) so it generally does not happen. Just my 2 cents’ worth.

  3. Gráinne Says:

    Hi Michael good point! Agree re OER not reaching their potential yet, I think it is partly because finding, deconstructing and repurposing OERs is far more complex than we realise…

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