Higher Education, Virtual Education, Open Education
Martin Trow (Reflections on the transition fro elite to mass to universal access: forms and phases of higher education in modern societies since WWII, 2007) reflects on how attitudes before access and functions of higher education have changed as we move from bringing higher education to an elite (0-15% of the population), to the masses (15-50%) to providing it universally (>50%).
- Attitudes before access move from being a privilege, to a right to some qualified ones to an obligation.
- Functions of higher education move from being a preparation for the roles of the elites, to the transmission of skills and a preparation for some technical and economic functions, to adapting the whole population to a quick social and technological change.
Though, some problems arise: the university system cannot accommodate everyone aiming at accessing higher education. What the university can offer — content, experience, certification — usually comes with a trade-off with quality. And, thus, quality has decreased in the higher education system. More people gets in the system, the level of education remains stable (or decreases) and less (in relative terms) people graduates. There is a new iron triangle: access, cost and success.
But now we have the Internet. Now what? What should be done in higher education, given those problems and the fact that we now have the Internet?
A first answer was open courseware: digitize all the existing “knowledge” and make it available for free.
Now, MOOCs have brought yet another debate on the table, again related to access. But access to what? Is there an instructional path? Does even having an instructional path equal learning? Four aspects for the debate about MOOCs:
- Do they scale?
- How do we manage the huge amount of data that they generate?
- Do they represent a different pedagogic approach?
- Where are the learning outcomes?
Weaknesses of the MOOC model:
- Traditional/handmade model of instructional design. Why are we still working individually in teaching and instructional design? MOOCs reproduce the lecture hall and reproduces it online: videos, quizzes… they are not much different — from a pedagogic point of view — from the traditional way. Not that it is wrong, but can we go a step further? For instance, we know that active learning is much better for the building of new knowledge.
- Inability to produce relevant research. For instance, we do know that socialization plays an important role in learning, but most MOOCs do not take that into account. Many of them ignore the possibilities of study groups.
- P2P virtual environments are based on social networks. Peers help each other to learn how to learn. How are MOOCs approaching this fact?
What about scale? Communities of experts, co-creation models, are very much related with communities of learning. Thus, learning environments should not be intimate.
About research, one has to begin to put the right questions, and then gather data to try to answer them. Like what is the best predictor of academic performance in the last year of undergrad education. Is it family income? Social class? How well they did in their admission test? Other factors?
In the future, one would like to see communities of experts that make up the curricula and then inform communities of learners. A community of learners should be supported at any time by a community of experts that can, in an informal environment, help them through their learning process: peer-based learning environments. We need open information, we need problems that need being solved in groups. There are digital platforms — or mixes of digital tools — that come very handy to create these P2P learning environments.
Combine technology, virtuality and openness, to be used by individuals, by classrooms, by institutions or by groups of peers. This is what is being done at UCI OpenChem.
Q: what elements should MOOCs have to (a) guarantee learning and to (b) reduce drop out rates? Cooperman: there has to be interaction among the peers. The key of learning is about facilitating communities of learning, P2P learning environments.