Thursday, February 15, 2018

Toward a Learning Society: The University in the Information Age

In 1999, the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and the Kellogg Foundation charged a Commission led by 24 public university presidents and provosts to look at the future of public higher education in the information age.  The result was a series of six reports, under the general heading Returning to our Roots.  The final report noted:
The mission of our institutions has not changed, but the context in which we pursue it is in every way different. Just as surely as the dawn of the 20th century marked the American transition from agriculture to manufacturing, the 21st will usher in the full flowering of the information and telecommunications age.”  (Renewing the Covenant, p. 16). 

This paper will look at several ways that learning technologies may be pointing to major changes in how public universities can meet that challenge.  I will focus on three technology elements—online learning, Open Educational Resources, and social media—and how they are beginning to shape higher education’s new engagement to fuel the learning society. 
1.         Online Learning:  A New Spirit of Collaboration
            Let’s start by looking at the impact of online delivery of degree programs.  Just last month, Penn State celebrated the 20th anniversary of its online campus, the World Campus.  Starting with just 48 enrollments in 4 courses in January 1998, the World Campus now enrolls 14,000 students in 150 undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs.  Back in 1998, Penn State was one of a small number of institutions that were experimenting with the Internet to deliver distance education.  That’s no longer the case, of course.  A new report from the Babson Research Group, which has been documenting the growth of online learning for more than a decade, found that, in 2016, more than 6.3 million students—or 31.6% of all American higher education students—took at least one distance course. (Seaman, p. 3).  52.8% of all students who took at least one distance course also took an on-campus course, and of those who took only distance courses, 56.1% reside in the same state as the institution at which they were enrolled.  In short, online technology is beginning to change how colleges and universities relate to students both on campus and off, in-state and beyond.  This is an important factor as institutions face the prospect of declining enrollments as the Millennial generation moves past college age. 
A New Era of Collaboration
            One thing that the online environment does is eliminate geography as a limitation and as an advantage.  When we first started, the fear was that online programs would make us all competitors, destroying a history of cooperation and sharing in distance education that dated back to the 1930s.  As it is turning out, however, we are beginning to see a new spirit of collaboration among universities to use online learning to share faculty expertise, course content, and students. 
The Great Plains IDEA  An example is the Great Plains IDEA—Interactive Distance Education Alliance.  The Great Plains IDEA brings together public universities to collaboratively offer online graduate degrees in agriculture and the human sciences.  As their website says, “Why rely on just one university to help you earn your degree when we can help you learn from the best faculty at multiple universities?”  GP IDEA began with a group of human sciences deans at seven Midwestern universities who were interested in a collaborative master’s degree.  By the time the Alliance was formalized in 2001, it had ten charter member institutions. Today, it includes 19 universities across the Midwest, west, and south.
            The vision is that institutions will create and maintain strategic academic alliances that “allow institutions working together to field graduate programs that are greater in reach and significance than any single institution could field alone, that manage institutional and shared resources in highly efficient ways, and that enrich the teaching experience for faculty and the learning experience for students.”  The model assumes that a student will matriculate at her home university but take courses online from multiple institutions. The final degree is offered by the student’s home institution.  Institutions agree on a common tuition.  Currently, GPIDEA offers 19 graduate degree programs.
Course Share A similar collaboration was created by the Big Ten Academic Alliance.  Called Course Share, it allows Big Ten institutions to make selected online courses available to resident students at other Big Ten institutions.  The focus is on courses in lesser-taught languages and other specialized courses, where students have limited access to faculty and where campuses may have trouble filling seats locally.  Students enroll at their home institution and join courses online.  “To date,” according to the Big Ten website, “over 130 different less commonly taught languages (LCTLs) and area studies courses have been shared using CourseShare including Swahili, Thai, Vietnamese, and Islamic and Korean Studies courses.”
EPCE  We can also point to partnerships among higher education institutions and employers that extend professional and vocational education to the workplace.  One example in this area is the Energy Providers Coalition for Education (EPCE), which brings together private, public, and government-owned utilities; energy contractors and suppliers; professional associations; local unions; and workforce investment boards and four universities to provide online training and education opportunities for workers in the energy field. 
2.         Open Educational Resources: Sharing Across Sectors
Another innovation that encourages collaboration is open educational resources—or OERs.  The Hewlett Foundation, which funds grants to support the development of open educational resources, defines OERs as “high-quality teaching, learning, and research materials that are free for people everywhere to use and repurpose.”   OERs can be many things:  full online courses, course modules or lessons, video or audio lectures, interviews with experts, demonstrations, simulations, experiments, solutions to math problems . . . you name it.  What makes all of these things OERs is that they have an open copyright that makes them free for the public to use, to adapt, and to redistribute.
            OERs can be shared among institutions to enhance teaching and to reduce the duplication of effort involved in creating local course materials.  Open texts also reduce costs to both institutions and students.  OERs can also be made available to community clients, such as employers, to enhance professional development and practice and to help transfer research findings into practice.
            The idea of OERs as an international movement is rooted in a 2007 meeting of educators in Capetown, South Africa, who crafted a declaration on OERs that called for educators to transform online content into open educational resources that could be freely shared and for governments and educational boards to create policies that recognize these resources.  It has since been signed by nearly 2,500 institutions and public agencies around the world.
             Here in the U.S., the Creative Commons was founded in 2001. It provides copyright licenses for OERs, helping to make materials available for free use globally, with special focus on materials that support scientific research dissemination and educational applications. 
            Community colleges have been especially active in the OER movement.  The Community College Consortium for OERs was founded in 2007 to encourage the development and adoption of OERs with the goal of making college more affordable while expanding the resources available to faculty.  It maintains a catalog of more than 750 open textbooks.  Most recently, it has been encouraging full degree programs based on OERs.
Inter-Sector Collaboration
            We are finding that OERs also encourage cross-sector collaboration.  Increasingly, for instance, OERs developed by colleges and universities are being used to enhance teaching and learning in K-12 schools.  This is likely to continue to grow as states establish online charter schools; as of 2015, there are more than 150 online charter schools in 18 states, plus the District of Columbia.  This does not include K-12 brick and mortar schools that offer some courses online.  iNACOL—the International Association for K-12 Online Learning—reports that at least 8 states are actively working on statewide policies for the use of OERs in their schools.
Curriculum Issues  The combination of university-created online courses and open educational resources in K-12 curricula has great potential to fuel curricular innovation in both environments. In the process, it might also blur distinctions between the two sectors.  For instance, university-level college courses can be used as “dual enrollment” courses that allow registered high school students to simultaneously earn high school graduate credit and college credit. The online environment makes dual enrollment more convenient for high school students who live far from a college campus but want to earn college credit while in high school.  Dual enrollment helps fill vacant seats in both online and traditional university courses, while offering students a head start toward a college career. 
            Similarly, university-developed OERs can help ensure that high school students graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to successfully make the transition to higher education.  
            As these innovations expand, we can expect to see a need to take a fresh look at the transition between K-12 and higher education curricula.  Back in the 1940s, the Truman Commission on Higher Education recommended, among other things, the idea of moving from a universal K-12 schooling system to a K-14 system, under which taxpayers would support education for all students through the second year of the undergraduate curriculum.  The recommendation was not acted on, although it probably helped to reinforce public support for low-cost tuition at community colleges.  Just recently, though, the State of New York approved a plan to offer full scholarships for first two years at SUNY and CUNY to students whose parents earn less than $100,000 per year. The upper limit will increase each year.  San Francisco now has a “Free City” program that provides city residents tuition-free access to San Francisco City College.  These are important steps toward the idea of universal K-14 education.
Re-Thinking the Curriculum  This, in turn, suggests the need to more effectively align the pedagogy and content of the high school curriculum and the general education college curriculum to (1) eliminate unnecessary overlap and duplication, (2) to ensure that critical skills—such as effectively introducing STEM skills and citizenship development early in the curriculum—are properly covered, and (3) to innovate with pedagogy that takes advantage of information technology to develop student skills in finding, evaluating, and applying information, and their ability to collaborate and to solve problems.  A new study by, was just published in January.  It reports, “Faculty collaboration in creating new educational resources that rely on technology can serve as a catalyst for rethinking pedagogy, and has the potential to be a cost-effective means by which liberal arts colleges can provide more students high-quality learning experiences that are in line with the core tenets of a liberal arts education.” (p.2)
Micro-Degrees  Another twist on curricular innovation is the Micro-degree.  EdX, a nonprofit created by MIT and Harvard, offers 1900 open courses—what are sometimes called MOOCs—from 39 institutions around the world.  They’ve been taken by more than 14 million people around the world.  More recently, MIT and EdX have collaborated on a “micro-master’s” program designed to help learners earn accelerated master’s degrees.  One program in supply chain management, for example, includes 5 open courses that are the equivalent to one semester of graduate work.  They are now in the early stages of doing the same with a micro-bachelor’s program.
            It seems reasonable to expect that curriculum change—supported by the kinds of innovations we’ve just discussed—will be part of a re-invention of undergraduate education in coming years.
Other Technology Innovations A couple of other elements also have potential for shaping curricular and pedagogic change.  One is the rise of so-called “big data” services that allow institutions to collect data on how students participate in online elements of courses.  This data can then be used to help guide students to more productive study habits and help faculty and course designers improve pedagogy and course delivery.   Big data—and how institutions use data about individual students—may offer powerful new tools for course design and student advising and support; at the same time, it raises important questions about privacy and student autonomy, but the potential is clear. 
            Another factor is the rise of “badges” and other nontraditional certifications for both credit and noncredit programs.  These certificates could provide a new pathway for universities to engage students throughout their careers and career changes.  However, while many institutions now offer badges and certificates, we still need standards that will ensure quality and acceptance of these new forms by employers and by other institutions.  In January, the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) announced that it is forming a working group on badges and other alternative digital credentials—an important first step toward creating standards in this arena.
3.         University Engagement: Creating New Learning Communities through Social Media
            When institutions first began to innovate with online learning, it seemed that its success came, in part at least, at the expense of more traditional models of continuing education—evening classes, research transfer workshops, noncredit professional development programs, etc.  However, that is beginning to change.  Today, the tools available to us include, in addition to online learning course management systems, OERs, an increasingly sophisticated social media environment that allow us to bring people together both synchronously and asynchronously.   
            This, I believe, will be part of the next phase of our evolution to a learning society:  creating sustained learning communities focused on specific professions, geographically distributed community functions, or research arenas.  Public universities have a long history of bringing together communities around professional development and research and technology transfer.  Information technology will transform these by using multiple IT applications, united by social media, to meet different needs within the community.  For instance, faculty activity within a learning community might include:
·       Online noncredit courses—and new certifications—that help alumni and/or employees in client organizations grow professionally.
·      Webinars that can transfer research findings to professionals in the field and to provide professional development training.
·       OERs—videos of lectures, games and simulations, and other presentations—that are available to client organizations to use in their own internal training programs.
·      Faculty-moderated discussion groups as an ongoing link to the community, to encourage open-ended communication among community members and academics to raise questions and seek solutions from peers and from university faculty.
            Who might benefit from a learning community?  Well, in Pennsylvania there are 501 school districts.  That means there are 501 school superintendents that could join a College of Education community.  Or, 501 school librarians.  Or, 67 county commissioners or directors of tourism, etc. Learning communities could also be built around professions or industrial specializations.  One can imagine faculty-led learning communities around a wide range of specialties, from agriculture to natural gas engineering to tourism to management of personal care homes.  The learning community concept offers a way to reinvigorate noncredit community engagement while better linking faculty with the professional and social communities that they serve and providing ongoing opportunities to identify new research opportunities.
            Finally, the learning community concept could be a very effective way for universities to continue to support recent graduates as they move into their professional lives. 
            The Kellogg Foundation project that I mentioned at the beginning of this talk included a piece called “Toward a Learning Society.”  That report noted a two-fold challenge:
First, we must ensure that the remarkable growth in demand for education throughout the lifetime of virtually every citizen can be satisfied; second, we must demonstrate that we can meet this need at the highest level of quality imaginable, along with the greatest efficiency possible (A Learning Society, p. x).
            The Information Revolution has matured to a point where we are beginning to see incredible changes in our economy and social systems.  Online learning, OERs, social media, and the use of these to collaborate and to create new curricula, new pedagogies, and new kinds of learning communities are examples of where we seem to be heading.  The global information society brings with it the need for people to learn how to work across local cultures and to use technology in almost every aspect of our lives.
           Over the past five decades, we have seen higher education respond to several new technologies as the Information Society has emerged.  There was educational television in the 1960s, satellite and cable in the 1980s, interactive video in the 1990s, and, finally, the mature Internet, which led us to the innovations I’ve focused on tonight.  All have opened new doors to how we engage communities—how we teach and how we share the results of our research.  Today, the range of innovation is astounding.  It is an exciting opportunity for a new generation of innovators.
 Note:  This paper was presented to the Torch Club of Central Pennsylvania on February 14, 2018.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Net Neutrality

I wrote to my Senators and Congressional Representative recently to encourage them to support “net neutrality” of the Internet.  I argued that the Internet is the Information Age equivalent to the national road system in the Industrial Age: a public service that must be equally available to all citizens.
            One Pennsylvania Senator responded, in part, “Like many Americans, I support an Internet free from government control. While I understand the concerns expressed by those who support net neutrality regulations, I believe that such federal mandates would unduly inhibit this industry's investment in new technology and job creation.”
            His response raised some questions for me.  One is the definition of the parties involved. The Senator talked about “government control.”  I see government as an agency of the citizenry.  In that sense, “government control” is “citizen control”—it means that U.S. citizens, through the agency of our elected representatives, should control public resources like the Internet, just as we control our interstate highway system.  It is worth noting that the Internet emerged from projects—ARPANET, for example—that were funded by U.S. tax dollars through the Department of Defense and other agencies, including some in the United Kingdom, France, and Switzerland.  Much of the research was conducted at public universities.  The first web browser was developed at the University of Illinois, for instance.  Over time, the system was made increasingly available to for-profit companies.
            While I am not entirely sure what the Senator includes in the phrase “this industry,” my own sense is that the Internet itself is not an industry.  Instead, it is an infrastructure sort of like an online town square or agora—a meeting space where both social and business transactions of many kinds can be conducted.  That—rather than the Internet itself—is where “industry” comes in.  Some of the industry actors in this arena are major corporations and commercial retailers who are not responsible to citizens but to their investors. Their decisions are made on the basis of what will better enrich their stockholders and leadership.  As a result, it is important that we protect citizen rights and interests in the process of making the Internet attractive to businesses.  The policy goal is to balance citizen rights with citizen access to services.
            Commercial exploitation of the Internet may lead to “investment in new technology,” but that will not necessarily lead to jobs for Americans.  The Internet makes make location irrelevant.  While commercial use of the Internet is sure to create jobs, there is no reason to assume that those jobs will be in the United States.  Our concern should not be simply the potential for the Internet to create jobs by creating commerce.  It should be to ensure that all citizens have equal access to services—for-profit and otherwise—that may be available online.
            While it makes good sense for the public, through our government, to encourage use of the Internet for a variety of business concerns, the underlying public interest issue—the issue that our Federal government must address as it encourages commercial applications—should be to ensure that any commercial use of the Internet treats all citizens fairly and equally.  Our goal must be to ensure that the Internet remains openly accessible to all citizens and, at the same time, that it provides effective and secure access for groups that may want to deliver products/services to people.  This requires that we make a distinction between these products/services and the basic information highway structure itself. 
            In this light, it is appropriate for citizens, through our government representatives, to set some rules for how the Internet is maintained and made available to all citizens and, in the process, to create an environment that encourages use of the Internet for profit while protecting general access for all and ensuring that it is used for the public good.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Penn State: 125 Years of Leadership and Innovation in Distance Education

On October 20, 2017, I was invited to talk with the Penn State Outreach and Online Learning Advisory Board to celebrate the 125th anniversary of distance education at Penn State.  
Below are my remarks.  
I am delighted to be with you this morning to talk about Penn State’s pioneering role in distance education, from correspondence study at the end of the 19th century to the World Campus at the end of 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.
            Let’s begin by looking back.  Distance education is nothing new.  It dates back to at least 1833, when a Swedish newspaper promoted teaching “composition through the medium of the post.”  In 1873, Anna Eliot Ticknor in Boston established the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, which attracted more than 10,000 students over 24 years.  But distance education as a U.S. university program came in the 1890s.
            As America entered the 1890s, we were at the height of the Industrial Revolution.  New cities were burgeoning with industrial factories and with waves of immigrants who provided the manpower that our new industries required.  It was a tumultuous time.  One of the big questions was:  would we be able to feed our rapidly growing and increasingly urban population?  Our frontier closed officially in 1891.  There was no new agricultural land to be had.  We had to find ways to increase agricultural production, but we also had to make rural life attractive so that the children of farm families would stay on the farm and not be attracted by the increasingly electrified lights of the city. 
            In 1888, Theodore Roosevelt chaired a national Commission on Rural Life to look at this problem and find some solutions.  One of the solutions was Rural Free Delivery.   RFD helped build a bridge to farm families, reducing their sense of isolation.  RFD was still an experiment in 1892 when Penn State launched its first distance education program:  the Home Reading Program in Agriculture.  The program offered low-cost correspondence courses in a range of agricultural production disciplines, along with courses designed to help families improve the quality of domestic life.  Over the next century, College of Agricultural Sciences would continue to offer noncredit correspondence courses as part of Agricultural Extension.  The founders of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream report that taking a $5 correspondence course on ice cream making from Penn State helped them decide to get into the ice cream business instead of the bagel business.
            In the 1930s, Penn State launched a broader distance education program—Independent Study by Correspondence—that offered Penn State credit courses to adults around the world. The service began with courses from the College of Education that helped practicing teachers maintain their professional certification.  A few years later, the College of the Liberal Arts began offering credit courses. These were the same courses taught on campus, but designed and supported so that students anywhere could enroll and study at their own pace, interacting with their instructor through written assignments.  Eventually, Liberal Arts and the College of Health and Human Development began to offer associate degrees at a distance through correspondence.  The program also offered some noncredit programs, including a longstanding program for union members involved in automatic sprinkler installation.
            Correspondence instruction had some definite benefits for students.  You could register and begin a course at any time, taking up to a year to complete the course.  This made it especially convenient for the military, for workers who travelled from worksite to worksite, and for women trying to balance education with the responsibilities of parenting and home management, often on top of a job.  We also served a large number of incarcerated individuals, giving them a chance to build a new life.  We also had some celebrity students—the human cannonball from the Ringling Brothers circus comes to mind—and also a group of Saudi princesses who were otherwise not able to attend college.
            Independent Learning, as it later came to be called, involved much more than simply preparing courses and grading papers.  The department had to arrange for books, study guides, and other media to be delivered to students.  It had to arrange for proctored exams.  And, perhaps most importantly, it had to advise adults as they began and pursued their educations at a distance, often helping them overcome personal barriers to continuing their studies.  The Student Services unit was a critical success factor for students and, thus, for the program itself.  It was often the first stop when students visited campus for the first time.
            Other state universities also invested in correspondence study.  They came together through the National University Extension Association (now UPCEA—the University Professional and Continuing Education Association).  Together, they launched a unified course catalog that was used by employers and the military to find courses for employees.  They also shared course content, licensing the use of materials to each other to reduce the cost of course development.  And, when out-of-state students needed to take a final exam, it was not unusual that a peer university in the student’s home state would proctor the exam. 
            Correspondence study also became an international phenomenon.  In 1938, the International Council for Correspondence Study was founded in Canada.  It thrives today as the International Council for Open and Distance Education, headquartered in Oslo, Norway.  Penn State hosted ICDE’s fourth conference in 1953 and the 18th World Conference in 1997.
Media-Based Distance Education
            The first half of the 20th century saw the beginnings of the Information Revolution.  Rumor has it—I’ve not been able to document this—that Penn State was offerings courses via radio to students as far away as California in the 1920s, before the FCC limited the power of any one station.  During World War II, C. Ray Carpenter at Penn State pioneered the use of film to train military personnel.  After the war, as college enrollments began to swell due to the GI Bill and the need for more college-educated professionals in the post-war economy, Carpenter and his colleague Les Greenhill created the University Division of Instructional Services.  UDIS brought together a variety of media services to support faculty teaching courses on-campus.  This included photographic and graphic services, film production, a film library, and, most interestingly, a television studio and on-campus network that connected 24 classrooms with one-way video, two-way audio capability.  This allowed faculty to teach more students than could be housed in a single classroom, in the days before the Forum Building.  One faculty member—Dr. Ken Nelson—used the system to teach Accounting 101 for many years.   UDIS prepared many faculty to make the transition to media-based delivery.
            Of course, we should remember that these media services were focused on students here at University Park.  One exception was a daily television program that was produced at UDIS studios in Sparks Building and transmitted via microwave to WTAJ-TV in Altoona.  Then, in 1965, Penn State launched the nation’s 101st educational/public television station, WPSX-TV—now WPSU. 
            The sixties were, among other things, a time when education was a national concern.  It was the post-Sputnik era, and national attention was on improving the quality of education from elementary school through university to keep America competitive.  When the new station signed on the air on March 1, 1965, Marlowe Froke, the founding station manager, worked with school superintendents around the 29-county viewing area to organize the Allegheny Educational Broadcast Council.  The AEBC was a membership organization of school districts that helped to select and to incorporate into local school classrooms instructional TV series that were broadcast every weekday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 
            The station acquired series from across the U.S. and Canada, and, with funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, also produced programs that were seen locally and statewide.  One example is Investigative Science for Elementary Education, developed with Dr. Paul Welliver from the College of Education.  ISEE helped elementary students to observe natural phenomena and understand the scientific principles around them. Perhaps the most popular K-12 instructional series was What’s in the News, a weekly current events series for grades 4-6.  It was originally hosted by Stu Chamberlain, who went on to a career at ABC Radio in New York, and later by Katie O’Toole, who now serves as President of the Centre County Historical Society.  Eventually, What’s in the News was picked up by PBS and seen in schools across the country. 
            WPSX also maintained a University of the Air service for adult students.  It offered video-based college courses that combined weekly broadcasts with occasional class meetings at Penn State campuses around the viewing area—a model distance education model similar to the concept introduced in Great Britain’s Open University, which fostered a movement that had a longstanding impact on distance education internationally.  We also broadcast a GED high school test preparation course called Your Future is Now.
            The 1970s saw major developments in technology that eventually changed both the scope and the structure of Penn State’s distance education program. 
            It started with networked cable TV.  In the mid-1970s, Penn State partnered with several cable television operators around the Commonwealth to create PENNARAMA, a 24-hour educational cable TV channel operated by WPSX and broadcast on a group of cable networks around the Commonwealth.   PENNARAMA greatly increased the reach of media-based distance education well beyond central Pennsylvania and allowed the University to expand the number and variety of courses offered.  In response, the responsibility for administering video courses moved to Independent Study by Correspondence, making the courses accessible to students in a wider geographic area.
            The other part of the revolution was satellite.  In the mid-seventies, the Appalachian Regional Commission funded the Appalachian Educational Satellite Program (AESP) that used an experimental ATS-6 satellite to deliver video-based courses to teachers, firefighters, and other professionals up and down the Appalachian mountain range.  Penn State participated in that program, working through Intermediate Units and Penn State Commonwealth Campuses.  Then, in 1978, PBS decided to distribute all of its national programming via satellite.  PBS created the Adult Learning Service, which acquired courses from colleges and universities and licensed them to local institutions around the country through member PBS stations.  Suddenly, not only could Penn State receive video courses from producers around the nation, but we could originate our own programs to PBS stations around the country and, through them, to other colleges and universities.  PBS had created a national marketplace for distance education.
            Several new national consortia grew around national satellite delivery:
·      Community colleges formed the Telecourse People to market their video courses to other institutions around the country. 
·      AG*Sat, headquartered at the University of Nebraska, used satellite to allow Cooperative Extension offices nationally to share expertise.  
·      The International University Consortium, headquartered at the University of Maryland University College, adapted distance education courses from the British Open University and made them available to member institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere.
·      NUTN—the National University Teleconference Network—headquartered at Oklahoma State University—took a somewhat different approach.  It used the PBS satellite network to offer live video conferences to colleges and universities around the nation.  Penn State’s first NUTN teleconference gave nuclear engineers around the country their first view of video from inside the Three-Mile Island core after the near-disaster there.
            The College of Engineering used live satellite to deliver a graduate program in Noise Control Engineering to staff at companies in the northwest that were involved in naval submarine construction.  Students would meet at receiving sites in the companies to watch live lectures, interacting with faculty via phone.
            In 1980, Penn State re-structured its educational media resources.  It combined the on-campus media services of UDIS with the distance education resources of Continuing Education and created the Division of Media and Learning Resources.  This brought together Public Broadcasting and Independent Study by Correspondence (renamed Independent Learning) from Continuing Education, and Audio-Visual Services (including the Audio-Visual Library), Photo and Graphic Services from UDIS.  It also included a new unit—the Department of Instructional Media—that integrated instructional video production for both on-campus and distance education, as well as programming for K-12 and adult distance education across all delivery systems.  Instructional Media became Penn State’s link to national organizations like AESP, IUC, NUTN, the PBS Adult Learning Service, and others.
            We also began to produce video courses for national distribution. I recall two courses in the Smeal College—one in business logistics, the other in accounting—along with a series of interdisciplinary courses in Science, Technology, and Society developed through a partnership with Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln University that explored topics like bio-ethics and the limits to resources.
            By 1993, it was clear that distance education was emerging as a strategically important element of Outreach.  The University created a Task Force on Distance Education to explore how best to position Penn State for innovation and growth.  The Task Force recommended that the resources of Independent Learning and Instructional Media be combined into a new Department of Distance Education, led by an Associate Vice President for Distance Education.
            At that time, a lot of attention and innovation focused on the use of interactive fiber-optic video networks to connect multiple sites with live video and audio.  Videoconferencing over fiber optic phone lines was seen as the next frontier.  The University had begun to work closely with the AT&T Foundation to explore how this new technology could best be incorporated into distance education. 
            With Foundation support, Penn State launched the Innovations in Distance Education project, which brought together a group of distance education leaders at land grant universities and historically black institutions to explore critical policy issues.  The project resulted a set of guiding principles for faculty involved in developing courses and teaching online, and reports of three higher education policy symposia on administrative policy issues, the role of faculty, and student support.  While the original technology context was interactive video, the policies and guidelines that resulted from this program were very helpful as the Information Revolution –and distance education—moved online. 
            The first web browser—Mosaic—was launched in 1993.  Penn State had made great strides in educational computing on campus, but those innovations had not been extended to off-campus programs.  However, when the College of Engineering and Public Media collaborated on a distance education program to prepare recent alums to take the professional engineering certification exam, they approached the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for funds to build in a computer component—an online test simulation to give students the experience with the professional engineering exam.  It was an important first step.  Within a few years, the Worldwide Web—powered by Mosaic and other web browsers—would change everything, just as satellite changed broadcasting.  And our relationship with the Sloan Foundation would be critical to our ability to lead in this new environment.
            In the spring of 1996, President Spanier returned from a conference at the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE), where he had learned of plans to create a new distance education university—Western Governors University—based in online technology.  He called a small group into his office.  His feeling was that we had two options in the face of the coming online revolution: (1) embrace online learning as the new platform for distance education or (2) get out of the field altogether, as online would, he felt, overshadow other legacy approaches.  He asked Jim Ryan and me to develop a discussion paper on the idea of an online “World Campus” and in September announced plans to pursue that idea.  He then appointed a “study team” of leaders whose areas would be affected to work together to come up with a vision, mission, and business plan.  Meanwhile, we met with leadership in each college to identify degree programs that might lend themselves to online distance delivery.  The study team report was presented to the Faculty Senate early in 1997. 
            Meanwhile, we had been working with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation on several smaller projects—including transforming the Noise Control Engineering program from satellite to online.  Sloan also gave us a small grant to do preliminary market research on ideas suggested by the colleges.  By summer of 1997, they granted us $1.3 million to get started.  The World Campus went live in January 1998 with the first courses in five programs, enrolling 48 students that first semester.
            The World Campus continued to grow over the next two decades and is now well-established in an increasingly competitive environment.  Penn State has emerged as a national leader.  Penn State was a charter member when the Sloan Foundation created the Sloan Consortium—now the Online Learning Consortium—to share lessons among the institutions that it funded.   In 2007, the World Campus and the Consortium launched the Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning—IELOL—a leadership program that has provided professional development for more than 300 leaders from around the country and beyond.  For the last ten years, it has been led by Dr. Larry Ragan, who initially led the instructional design function for the World Campus.  
            Just as the Industrial Revolution was in full flower when we launched correspondence study, today, the Information Revolution is in full blossom.  The World Campus will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year.  Twenty years.  That’s about the same time as elapsed between when we first started using satellite and when we launched our online campus.  We should expect the technology to continue to change.  We should also expect the social need for distance education to continue to evolve. 
            Twenty years ago, the adult student population consisted mainly of baby boomers.  This year, the last of the millennials—people born in 1999—entered college.  Their older generation mates are now our adult students.  They have very different skills, interests, and attitudes about technology and that will also change how we serve them at a distance. They also have much stronger need for access to lifelong learning.  They also grew up with social media and will assume that this should be part of their educational environment.  
            It is hard to predict what may come next, but I think it is safe to say that society will continue to be shaped by technology and international communications and that the need for lifelong professional education and research and technology transfer will bring distance education further into the mainstream and multiply the ways we use technology to engage learners and communities on many fronts.  I know Penn State is actively exploring that future and look forward to the next generation of innovation.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bringing the Revolution Home: Transforming Higher Education

The American higher education system was born in revolution—the Industrial Revolution that reshaped the world in the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century.  Today, the system is in the midst of another revolution—the Global Information Revolution—that has implications as great, if not greater, than its counterpart.  The question before us is fundamental:  What is the role of the public university in this new environment?
            The original American college was dedicated to the classical curriculum of the Enlightenment.  Students were drawn from the social and economic elite of the new country.  Its purpose, as the famous Yale Report of 1829 described, was “the discipline and furniture of the mind.”  However, as the Industrial Revolution matured in mid-century, it became clear that a new kind of educational vision was needed if the United States was to make the most of industrial innovations.  State governments began to fund public colleges and universities in order to prepare young people to take on new careers in engineering, science, and business; to create professionals in the new social science fields that had arisen due to urbanization; to train teachers who were needed to educate the children of immigrants who were flooding into the new industrial cities to work in the mills; and, not the least, to improve life in rural America and help farmers improve agricultural production desperately needed to feed the new urban populations.  The combination of new professional education needs and the emerging research mission re-organized the academy around disciplines, and that, in turn, re-defined the curriculum.
            The first half of the twentieth century saw the fulfillment of the Industrial Revolution as nations mobilized industry to fight two world wars.  The period also saw the beginnings of the Information Revolution.  Radio and television revolutionized communications and World War II saw the birth of the computer age that dramatically changed how we relate to information and to each other.  The wars also transformed society, bringing longstanding political and cultural assumptions to an end and setting the stage for new global relationships and social identities.  The development—and use—of the atomic bomb challenged traditional international relations and ushered in a new age. In response, higher education institutions launched a number of curricular innovations in the general undergraduate curriculum. 
            After the Second World War, President Truman, concerned about the stability of democratic society in the new age, created a Commission on Higher Education.  In its 1947 report, the Commission noted the global disruption caused by the World Wars and the rise of atomic weapons.  “It is essential today,” wrote the Commission, “that education come decisively to grips with the world-wide crisis of mankind.  This is no careless or uncritical use of words.  No thinking person doubts that we are living in a decisive moment of human history” (p. 6).  One result of the wars, the Commission maintained, was growing internationalism.  “In speed of transportation and communication and in economic interdependence the nations of the globe already are one world; the task is to secure recognition and acceptance of this oneness in the thinking of the people, so that the concept of one world may be realized psychologically, socially, and in good time politically” (p. 16).
            The Commission recommended several major steps to increase the number of citizens who receive higher education and to ensure that their education prepared them to live in this dangerous new world.  Over the next few decades, the Commission’s ideas influenced the development of the nation’s community college system, along with the GI-Bill and state and federal scholarship and loan programs that greatly expanded the number of high school graduates able to attend college.  It also stimulated “area studies” programs that increased understanding of the emerging global economy.  The Commission’s emphasis on adult education stimulated the development of continuing education programs and adult degree programs.  Several states developed new colleges—Empire State College in New York, the University of Maryland University College, and Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey are examples—devoted entirely to educating adults.
                  The decades that followed the Truman Commission report saw dramatic changes. Some—the space race and the war in Vietnam, for instance—reflected a long-term cold war between western democracies and communist nations.  The Middle East emerged as a continuing cultural, economic, and military hot spot. The period also saw the youth movement, the fight for civil rights and equal rights, and the invention of the Internet and personal computing. 
            In 1995, the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (now the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities) received grants from the Kellogg Foundation to fund another commission to examine the future of public higher education in this new environment.  Over the next four years, the Kellogg Commission produced six reports  designed to help public institutions revitalize their public missions.  The first five reports focused on the student experience, student access, engagement with the public, creating a learning society, and the campus culture. 
            The final report explored the need to reinvigorate the partnership—the “covenant”—between the public and its universities “in a new and dangerous world.”  It noted that, as the nation entered a new century, “the promise of American higher education must be made in a new era and a completely different world.”  It noted the growing financial inequality in society, the breakdown of old disciplinary identities, blurring of distinctions between secondary and undergraduate education, and the surge of new technologies that “may erase the boundaries between the university and the nation and, indeed the world.” (Restoring the Covenant, p.33)
            These ideas have become global imperatives.  In May 2017, the European Commission issued a “renewed EU agenda for higher education” that noted:
Higher education plays a unique role. Demand for highly skilled, socially engaged people is both increasing and changing. In the period up to 2025, half of all jobs are projected to require high-level qualifications. High-level skills gaps already exist. Driven by digital technology, jobs are becoming more flexible and complex. People’s capacities to be entrepreneurial, manage complex information, think autonomously and creatively, use resources, including digital ones, smartly, communicate effectively and be resilient are more crucial than ever. Europe also needs more high achievers who can develop the cutting edge technologies and solutions on which our future prosperity depends. In parallel, countering the growing polarisation of our societies and distrust of democratic institutions calls on everyone — including higher education staff and students — to engage more actively with the communities around them and promote social inclusion and mobility (p.2).

            The EU agenda reflects some of the same concerns as the Kellogg Commission.  It listed four “priorities for action”: 

1. Tackling future skills mismatches and promoting excellence in skills development; 
2. Building inclusive and connected higher education systems; 
3. Ensuring higher education institutions contribute to innovation; 
4. Supporting effective and efficient higher education systems. 

            What do these reports, spanning seven decades from the transition from the Industrial Revolution to the maturation of the global information society, suggest in terms of next steps for public higher education?  The following possibilities reflect some recent innovations that have not yet been mainstreamed.  Many of them assume that universities will fully embrace information technology to meet the need.  They are, at minimum, a starting point for transforming higher education to meet the needs of the new society that has emerged since World War II.
A New Relationship between Schooling and Higher Education
            The Truman Commission was very clear in its proposal to extend universal high school from 12 to 14 years, thus encompassing the first two years of the baccalaureate degree.  The result would be a great equalizing of educational benefit as suggested by the Kellogg Commission and ensuring that more citizens leave education with the higher level of qualifications needed by today’s economy.  The rise of online learning over the past two decades has begun to provide a pathway to this goal.  The following examples suggest the potential:
1.     The use of college and university Open Educational Resources (OERs)—in many cases drawn from online higher education courses—to empower high school teachers to deepen and enrich important subjects in their high school classrooms.
2.     The use of undergraduate online (and traditional) courses as “dual enrollment” courses that allow high school students to simultaneously earn high school and university credit, helping students make the transition to college more quickly and less expensively.
New Approaches to the Curriculum
            A basic truth of the Information Revolution is that education is no longer about the transfer of knowledge from the instructor to the student.  Knowledge— in the sense of “content”—is everywhere.  The educational challenge is not simply knowledge transfer.  Instead, the challenge in the Information Age is to help students learn how to find and evaluate information, turn it into useful knowledge, apply that knowledge to solve problems, and evaluate the results. 
            A key innovation in this area has been the Community of Inquiry approach.  Developed at Athabasca University, it builds on foundational ideas of Charles Peirce and John Dewey.  As the Athabasca innovators describe it, a Community of Inquiry is “a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding.”
The educational experience is the interaction of three “presences”:  teaching, cognition, and social interaction.  While the model is certainly facilitated by technology, it can be implemented in any group learning environment.
New Inter-Institutional Partnerships
            When the model for our public universities was developed in the 19th century, physical isolation was a problem.  Faculty expertise at all levels had to be on-site for teaching and for community engagement, if not always for research.  This ensured that each institution did its best to attract faculty who were experts in content areas and research that mattered most to the local community.  But it also left gaps where faculty expertise was not readily available.  Today, we are beginning to see institutions use information technology to create new relationships across institutions and across state boundaries to ensure that institutions can bring the best resources to bear to meet local needs.  One example is the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (IDEA).   This consortium of 19 public universities in 18 U.S. states works to develop graduate degree programs that are delivered at a distance and that include courses taught by faculty from multiple member institutions.  Students enroll at the institution of their choice and receive their degree from that institution, but take courses from several different institutions.  The goal is to ensure that, regardless of location, the student will have the benefit of specialized knowledge and experience from faculty at multiple universities.  The program has operated since 1994 and has become a model for institutional cooperation in this arena.
            Another innovation is the Big Ten Alliance’s CourseShare, which allows students at member universities to take courses through technology from other member universities.  The advantages are described as follows:
Faculty enjoy the CourseShare program for the chance to collaborate with respected peers at Big Ten Academic Alliance universities, expand course enrollments with talented students, employ new technologies, fill curricular gaps, preserve specialized courses, and strengthen student recruitment efforts. Students enjoy the opportunity to take specialized courses offered at other Big Ten Academic Alliance institutions from a distance, eliminating the need to temporarily relocate. 

            Such partnerships, be they within a family of institutions or across sectors, offer institutions opportunities to prepare students for work in areas that may be new to their home economy.
Inter-Sector Partnerships
            Similar partnerships are emerging between public universities and other sectors, especially employers, to ensure that key employee groups have access to technical and professional education.  Examples of these partnerships date back to the 1980s, when National Technological University (NTU) brought together a network of universities and engineering companies to offer professional graduate education to company employees via satellite.  NTU was eventually sold and later integrated into Walden University, a for-profit educational provider. A more recent example is the Energy Providers Coalitionfor Education (EPCE) a collaborative of 2,500 energy-related companies, government offices, unions, and suppliers whose employees receive online educational services from four public universities around the country. 
            As these examples suggest, information technology makes it possible for sustainable, long-term cross-sector partnerships that bring sometimes very specialized expertise to working professionals over a wide range of companies and geographic locations.
            One obvious facet of the global information society is that it is, in fact, global.  The underlying challenge for higher education is to prepare students to work as professionals in a global community.  However, another facet is that we need to prepare our international students to be successful in their home communities.  Too often, especially at the graduate level, higher education serves to encourage the brain drain that takes talented people away from developing countries.   Here, again, we are seeing models designed to reverse brain drain.  A good example is the “sandwich” doctorate.  In this approach, a faculty member from an international university who wants to earn a U.S. doctorate will (1) take initial courses at her home institution, (2) move to the U.S. institution for the second year of course work, and (3) return the home institution to conduct her research.  The result is that the person is able to grow within her home institution, while creating new research partnerships between the two institutions.
Mainstreaming Innovation
            The information revolution has matured considerably over the past two decades.  As this posting suggests, there have been many innovations designed to help institutions be more effective in the new environment.  However, if these are to help guide the system as a whole in this new environment, they need to become mainstreamed.  We need, for instance, accreditation standards for multi-institution degree programs, standards for the mountain of informal credentials—“badges,” etc.—that are being offered by institutions.  We need agreements between universities and employers for lifelong learning programs that employees take on new responsibilities.  And so forth.  The challenge to regional and professional accrediting associations, higher education institutional membership associations, and other bodies is to derive from these innovations standards that will encourage institutions to move innovation into the mainstream of their educational, research, and service missions.
A New Societal Engagement
            As we consider these changes, we must also consider a broader, more fundamental change issue: the nature of the community in which students are being prepared to live.  Many of the early engagement innovations of the industrial period were designed either to integrate immigrants into growing urban communities or to “keep’em down on the farm” by making rural life more appealing in a time when electrification and other services were attracting people to cities.  Today, we are seeing a dramatic change in our sense of cultural identity.  Increasingly, education is not geared to send young people back to the family farm, the family business, or to take their place in their home community; instead, the goal is to prepare them for professions that may require them to move away.  As Wendell Berry wrote in a 1988 essay, “According to the new norm, the child’s destiny is not to succeed the parents, but to outmode them; succession has given way to supersession. . . The child is not educated to return home and be of use to the place and community; he or she is educated to leave home and earn money in a provisional future that has nothing to do with place or community.” (What are People For, p. 162).  In essence, many small communities across the nation are experiencing their own brain drain in the new economy.  The three reports described above emphasize that our public institutions must not only prepare individuals for professions, but, in the process, prepare them as citizens for life in a new global society.  This requires a fresh commitment to the community service mission—a mission that interacts with the teaching and research functions.  Our definition of “community” is evolving as a global culture takes root.  Our public institutions must not only prepare individual students for new professions, but also help local communities find their way in this new environment and help students develop their sense of citizenship, both in their home communities and in the broader geographic and economic communities in which local success is increasingly tied. This is central to the social purpose of public higher education. It should be part of the context in which many of the recent innovations are mainstreamed.