Saturday, December 17, 2011

Convergence or Transformation: Optional Futures for Distance Education

Note:  This is a reposting of a speech that I gave on June 11, 2008, at the National University Telecommunications Network conference in Park City, Utah, where I received a distinguished service award.  

In 1992, I was invited by the American Center for the Study of Distance Education to project long-term trends in the field.  It was an interesting time to be looking forward.   We were about a decade into the rise of video in distance education—the movement from correspondence study to broadcast telecourses and satellite-delivered live interactive courses (the latter of which had spurred creation of NUTN in the early 1980s), but it was clear that the Internet was on the horizon.   I identified four trends:
·      The simultaneous diversification and convergence of technologies.
·      Changing relationships with students
·      Changing relationships among institutions
·      The emergence of a new mainstream
            On the technology side—this was a year before the first web browser I hasten to note—there were already multiple ways to deliver video, audio, and print and to facilitate interaction through all three media.   It was clear, however, that, amid this diversity, institutions needed to think in terms of convergence.   We could not afford to have video, audio, print, and computer all in separate organizational silos.  My prediction was that “organizational structures that do not facilitate a mixing of technologies will find it difficult to reach their full potential in this new environment.”   This, in turn, would create a “new institutional infrastructure” where use of technology for instruction would be considered alongside its use for administrative and research applications, creating a “broader community of interest.” 
            If that was true for the technologies of the early 1990s, it is true in spades today as we consider how the Internet has changed the university infrastructure and created new communities (or, in the absence of these communities, has paralyzed innovation) at our institutions.   
            The second trend was a changing relationship between our institutions and our students and, particularly, the rise of synchronous and asynchronous “learning communities” as a critical pedagogical issue.   I also mentioned another relationship issue: the rise of the “empowered student” or “community of scholars” as a result of students having better direct access to large databases, video and textual materials—what we now call “learning objects.”   This trend, I suggested, “will require that we rethink our definition of instruction, our assessment of learning, and our ideas about curriculum.”
            Today, we are still experimenting in this area, but with much higher stakes as the Web moves from a publishing environment to a collaboration environment and we enter what some are calling a “conversation economy.”    Blogs, wikis, Facebook, You-Tube, social bookmarking—all of these Web 2.0 applications are creating a demand for a new, more collaborative, more inquiry-oriented approach to learning—on campus and off—that reflects how people use technology at work and at home.   The goal posts have moved a long way ahead of us on this issue, but there are some great things happening around the world as educators experiment with these new tools and as institutions and governments begin to set new policies on sharing content.
             The third trend area was a forecast that the use of new technologies would also change relationships among institutions.   The examples I cited in 1992—the University of Mid-America, the International University Consortium, the National Universities Degree Consortium and the Mind Extension University—have long since passed from the scene, but we are seeing new forms of collaboration.  Two examples point to the scope of change that is now gathering momentum:  the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (IDEA) and its mission of offering collaborative online degree programs for adults that no single institution can offer alone, and the CourseShare initiative in the CIC—the academic counterpart of the Big Ten—which uses online learning to share rarely-taught language across institutions to regular, full-time undergraduates on campus.    When you look internationally, you can begin to see potential that is just now being explored.   In the international sphere, collaboration takes many forms.  Almost every regional association for open and distance education has an initiative to develop quality standards that will facilitate sharing, for instance.  There are individual examples of institutions sharing courses at the graduate level, such as Penn State, the Universities of Leeds and Southampton in the UK allowing their graduate students to take online courses in Geographic Information Systems from each other’s programs.  Perhaps the most dramatic collaborative initiative internationally is the Open Educational Resources movement.   Here, the potential was articulated by a leadership group that met in Cape Town, South Africa, and issues the “Cape Town Declaration:”
…we call on educators, authors and institutions to release their resources openly. These open educational resources should be licensed to facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone, ideally imposing no legal constraints other than a requirement by the creator for appropriate attribution or the sharing of derivative works. Resources should be published in formats that facilitate both use and editing, and that accommodate a diversity of technical platforms. Whenever possible, they should also be available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet.

            I projected one other trend back in 1992:  The emergence of a new mainstream in American higher education in which distance education is fully integrated into a broader institutional strategy to respond to what I called the “currents of social change.”    This has been a little less easy to track, but I suspect each institution represented here has seen some evidence of this kind of convergence.  At Penn State, for instance, our online distance education program, the World Campus—which offered its first fully online courses a decade ago—is now a leading part of a broader institution-wide consortium called Penn State Online that tries to coordinate among the many different applications of online learning for students on campus and inter-campus, as well as at a distance.   Several degree programs developed for distance education are now being offered as “blended” programs at some of our smaller campuses; some academic colleges have created their own online services to support on-campus instruction and then make these courses available to World Campus students.  We an also point to project like the National enter for Academic Transformation and the CIC CourseShare initiative as examples of distance education techniques being used to improve instruction on campus. 
            Another evidence of convergence—of the mainstreaming of distance education—is the incredible growth in the number of institutions that now offer degree programs online to off-campus students and, equally important, a commitment not just to courses, but to complete degree programs.   As far back as 2004, the annual Sloan survey, Growing by Degrees, reported that 44 percent of all institutions that offered Master’s degree programs offered at least one program online.  Sixty-five percent of institutions were using primarily core faculty to teach their online courses—a rate comparable to face-to-face courses.    In short, online distance education is emerging as an ongoing commitment of academic units, reflected in the long-term commitment to degree programs and to the assignment of core faculty to serve both on-campus and distant students.
            The most recent Sloan report—Online Nation—notes that the number of students taking at least one online course has growth to 3.48 million in 2006, more than double the number reported four years earlier (p.7).   While the Sloan surveys do not distinguish between truly distant students, full-time commuter students, and resident on-campus students, I think it is safe to assume that this dramatic growth is the result not just of increases in adult students at a distance but also increases in the number of commuter students taking online courses for convenience and scheduling flexibility, and the number of full-time on-campus students taking online course as part of their campus curriculum.   In fact, a Penn State undergraduate student told me last year that he has not had one semester in which he did not have at least one course that had a significant online component.
             However, online learning is not having an equal effect at all institutions.  Online Nation reported that the greatest impact is in public colleges and universities, with community colleges leading, followed by public universities.  The impact has been least felt on private, baccalaureate institutions (p. 12).   In other words, those institutions that have a mission to serve off-campus or commuter students are more likely to fully embrace online distance education than those whose mission is more campus-centric.   Interestingly, a clear majority--59.1 percent--of academic leaders now see online learning as “critical to the long-term strategy” of their institutions (p.16).
            Clearly distance education and the mainstream have converged and, in the process, the mainstream has been changed and distance education—at least in some cases—has been more fully embraced—or is being re-invented—as a strategy for the total institution.   This has been driven partly by market forces—the rising importance of continuing education for adults who are already in the workforce, by the need for local institutions to more effectively compete for commuter students, and by the growing willingness of traditional-age students to study online.  Last, but certainly not least, the convergence has been driven by economics—the need to cut costs and improve efficiency on campus and the need to generate new tuition revenues from nontraditional students in light of reduced government funding and increased competition. 
            All that said, today, we are working in a vastly different environment—both inside and outside our institutions—than when distance educators began experimenting with online 15 years ago.   People have begun to notice that the Information Revolution is not so much about how quickly information is broadcast, but about how it brings people and ideas together in new ways.  We are beginning to realize that the Knowledge Society, in reality, is a “Skills Society.”  Providing access, convenience, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness will continue to be important issues, but the emerging question for the next decade or so is:  how can we help individuals learn how to build and sustain new communities built around collaboration and sharing of knowledge to solve both local and, increasingly, global problems?  For those of us in distance education, the challenge is more focused:  How can we use what we’ve learned about online distance education to help transform our institutions to meet the needs of this emerging society?
            We can envision a broader strategic horizon in which distance education is a key part of a more complex picture, one that includes fully online courses offered to students both on campus and at a distance, hybrid courses offered on campus and through continuing education, blended programs that mix distance education and site-based experiences, and, more generally, an academic environment in which e-learning is seen as a utility available to all faculty and students.  Access will continue to be a critical strategic issues, along with efficiency on campus and, perhaps most important, continuing to evolve a new pedagogy that responds to the new needs of individuals and their communities.  A generation into the Information Revolution, some new trends are emerging that may signal where we need to go.   All of them have something to do with the idea of building community, so let me use that as an organizing metaphor.
            Traditionally, we tend to think of communities as local.  A community is a village or a neighborhood of people who live inter-dependent lives.  You may own the town bank, but my son teaches your daughter in the local school.  The kids we went to school with grow the food we eat, work, run the shops where we buy what we need, attend the same churches, etc.   In a globalized economy that kind of highly localized interdependence is harder to find.  Online learning removes geographic and time as defining characteristics of interaction.   We need to re-perceive the whole idea of community to understand how we are inter-dependent in today’s world and to develop the skills needed to work together in a new environment.  For higher education, this has implications at several levels:
            At the institutional level, we need to re-define the communities we serve and re-articulate our mission in those communities.   For most of us, distance education has meant reaching very far beyond our local campus community in order to aggregate markets for specialized programs or serve widely dispersed professional groups.     The very first Penn State teleconference through NUTN, as an example, allowed our Nuclear Engineering faculty to share with their colleagues around the country what they had learned from analyzing videotape of the core at the Three-Mile Island nuclear plant after the accent there.   Today, we are starting to see institutions use online distance education as a way of more effective serving local commuting students who cannot always come to campus.  In addition, the movement toward blended programs is allowing institutions to more easily develop programs that respond to local needs by mixing on campus and online activities. Online dual enrollment courses—which allow high school students to simultaneously earn high school graduation credit and college undergraduate credit—signal another new relationship between higher education and the schools that is another trend in this area.  These are starting points for rethinking how our institutions relate to our local communities. 
            At the faculty level, new kinds of academic communities are emerging that may redefine the relationship between faculty members and their institutions in the long run.  Projects like the CIC’s CourseShare, the Great Plains IDEA, and the Worldwide University Network’s shared programs—all of which I mentioned earlier—bring faculty from multiple institutions into an inter-institutional community where they can expand the impact of their specialized research.  And, of course, the Open Educational Resources movement—something that began outside the distance education community but that presents great opportunities for it—allows faculties to retain control of their intellectual property so that they can share it with colleagues around the world.
            Central to this transformation is the student.  Here, “community” has two meanings.  The first is the need to prepare students—of all ages—to become effective citizens and professionals in this new society—call it a conversation economy, an age of cognition, a knowledge society, a global information society, etc.  Today’s world demands that people have the skill to work collaboratively across boundaries and to participate in communities that are not defined by geography and time.   This, in turn, calls for a new pedagogy that redefines what we mean by a “learning community.”   For most public colleges and universities—which need to be responsive to workforce and community needs—the new environment demands a curriculum that not only ensures that students gain discipline-based core knowledge but that also emphasizes active and collaborative learning, inquiry-based approaches that help students create useable knowledge out of information and apply that to solving problems.   One can envision this as a new general education—not an introduction to the disciplines, but the development of general skills and attitudes that cut across all disciplines.   Recent innovations with Web 2.0 innovations—blogs, wikis, etc.—point the way, but there is much to do before a new pedagogy is fully understood, accepted, and integrated into a new curriculum.
            Finally, we can apply the “community” metaphor to new relationships that are beginning to emerge between institutions.   We can anticipate more collaborative degree programs, especially at the graduate level.  We can also anticipate that Open Educational Resources movement will stimulate new partnerships among institutions that have related specialties and between universities in developed countries and those in developing or transitional countries.  These new partnerships most likely will be highly variable.  Some may focus on undergraduate curricula, others on graduate programs or collaborative research that builds institutional capacity, or assistance to industries served by multiple institutions.    Later this month, for example, the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education is holding a meeting in Ecuador to explore the idea of collaborative doctoral programs—what the organizers are calling “sandwich” programs—in which faculty members from Latin American institutions can earn their doctorates from Northern institutions while building a research capacity at their home university.  The programs would use online elements to reduce the amount of time Latin American faculty members would spend away from their home institutions, in an attempt to reduce the academic brain drain.
            The international dimension of distance education in a transformed university was brought into focus by Stemenka Uvalic from UNESCO, at a distance education conference sponsored by CREAD in Ecuador in May 2008.  She painted this picture in her keynote:  There are now 132 million postsecondary students worldwide; China and India have doubled their enrollments in the past decade.  However, countries are having trouble funding capacity to handle demand.  This has stimulated three trends: (1) new private (profit and nonprofit) institutions that do not receive government funds (she noted that 80% of postsecondary students in Japan are now in private institutions); (2) student mobility-2.4 million students went abroad in 2004, with 1 in 16 postsecondary students from Africa going abroad; and (3) the growth in open and distance learning (ODL).  The number of open universities has doubled in Commonwealth countries; the number of for-profit online providers is growing globally.  This has an impact on student mobility.  Fully a third of all international students enrolled in Australian institutions studied from their home country in 2004.  Uvalic projected that “cross-border distance education may become the most significant development” in the years ahead. 
            Clearly, distance education has converged with the mainstream of higher education over the past decade.  The challenge for the future is for us to help stimulate a broader transformation that will allow higher education to meet the emerging needs of a maturing knowledge society in which very local communities are affected by global events.  This is a momentous year on several fronts.  On December 10, we will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.  Distance education organizations around the world are collaborating to produce special issues of their journal to recognize the unique role of distance education in providing equitable access to education.  But this is also the 40th anniversary year of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, both of whom died in the process of trying to make real the ideals of the Declaration.  It is a reminder to us that these rights are not “natural laws” but need to be claimed and made new in every generation.  Higher education is a unique institution when it comes to helping our communities and individuals in them fulfill the promise of the Declaration.   Our generations are lucky to be working at a time when distance education has the potential to help our institutions realize the mission of public education in a new and more complete way than has ever before been possible as our institutions adapt themselves to the needs of the Information Age. We can’t do this on our own, but I think the distance education community—all of us in this room—have the experience and, as a result, the perspective, that can help stimulate and guide change in each of our institutions.  It is an important challenge and a wonderful opportunity at the same time.
            Thank you again for the Distinguished Service Award and for allowing me to share these ideas with you today.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

After the Scandal

All of us who have been touched by Penn State over the years cannot go untouched by the Sandusky child abuse case—the charge that the former Penn State football coach had molested young boys who were in his care through his leadership of the Second Mile charity and that Penn State leaders failed to properly report the abuse.

I have lived in State College most of my adult life.  I came here in 1968 as a junior and was lucky to get a full-time job at Penn State when I graduated.  I left in 1987 and returned in 1994 as an Outreach administrator until my retirement in 2007.   Jerry Sandusky was a neighbor when our son was a little boy.  I’ve worked closely with Tim Curley’s brothers at Penn State and know Gary Schultz as a colleague and leader.  I even worked with Joe Paterno when I was in public broadcasting and he produced a weekly show, TV Quarterbacks, during the football season.  One year, in an attempt to lure more viewers, I interviewed all of the coaches to develop a give-away poster that described the role of each player. 

Most people seem to think that this scandal is about the football program.  However, the impact is surely to be felt well beyond Beaver Stadium.  And that is what bothers me most.  For me and for many others, the football program is an interesting sideline to the university’s true mission as a public land grant university: to extend access to education and service to all Pennsylvanians in order to build a stable and productive society.  Penn State has 24 campuses in addition to the University Park campus.  One of them, the Shenango Campus, opened in Mercer County the year before I graduated from high school.  If it were not for that new campus opening in my backyard, I may not have been able to go to college.  It allowed me to live at home and to work pretty much full time while I completed the first two years of my undergraduate education and then to seamlessly move to University Park to finish my degree.  There are thousands of Pennsylvanians who have had the same experience of Penn State.

In the final decade of my career at Penn State, I was responsible for developing the university’s 25th campus—the online World Campus.  Through it, we are now able to provide full baccalaureate and graduate degree programs to working adults around Pennsylvania and, indeed, around the world.  It is the natural extension of the land grant mission for the Information Society.  

For many thousands of alums in Pennsylvania and elsewhere the real meaning of the university lies in its commitment to helping students—both young people and adults—achieve their life goals by making education accessible while simultaneously ensuring quality.  There are, of course, other aspects of Penn State’s mission.  Some see it more as a research institution, for instance. Penn State research has made significant contributions to improving the quality of life around the world, from agricultural production to new materials that are used in artificial knees to nanotechnology to understanding and combating global climate change—all in the spirit of the land grant vision.  Then, of course, there is the service element that helps individuals and organizations implement the results of research to improve the quality of life.  Ultimately, it is the interaction among these three missions—teaching, research, and service--that has made Penn State a great university.

The current scandal must run its course.   I suspect it will change Penn State in the process.  However, when it has died down, I do hope that the University will again focus its energies to how to re-articulate and re-commit its considerable talents to the land grant mission –to the integration of teaching, research, and service—in light of the challenges presented to our economy and culture by globalization and information technology.   This, more than football or anything else, will ensure that Penn State continues to be a great university for many years to come.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sachs' "Mixed Economy"--A Middle Path

I am continuing to read Jeffrey Sachs’ The Price of Civilization.  It is like taking a crash course in modern economics.  Sachs’ discussion of the current political and cultural context of economics makes me think that the struggle is not between two opposing views of how to manage government within the context of our constitutional democracy.  Instead, I am beginning to think that the struggle is between democracy itself and a plutocracy in which a tiny minority of super-rich elites rule on the backs of an increasingly poor working class, buffered by a small professional class. 
To find a counterpart, I suspect we need to look back not to the Roaring Twenties or the Gilded Age of the Industrial period, but further to the landed aristocracy of the agrarian Middle Ages.  While that aristocracy was based on land—the proper form of wealth in an agrarian era—today’s aristocracy is based on market wealth, a wealth that manipulates markets rather than produce goods that improve the lives of people.   Just as the landed barons controlled the government of the Middle Ages, the corporate/finance barons are attempting to control democratic government today, rending it in the words of one presidential candidate, “inconsequential” and opening the door to direct corporate control.

Ultimately, I suspect, this is what the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are really rallying against.  And, I further suspect, it is what concerned the Tea Party before they were taken over by the plutocrats.   At its most absolute, the fight, is not just to determine which political party will control government.  The fight is for idea of democracy itself.  

That said, it is absolutely essential that people not drift to extremes.  Neither a corporate plutocracy, in which government is inconsequential, nor a socialist government, in which the market is controlled centrally, are likely to produce long-term health for society.  What has proven to be successful—and which made the United States the most successful country in the world for most of the 20th century—according to Sachs is a mixed economy, in which corporations are generally free to produce goods and service and the government serves to do those things that are necessary for a happy life but that do not produce profit:  build roads and train systems, create levees and dams to control rivers and avoid floods, fund basic research that often has no immediate profit value.  And, I would add, regulate the activities of corporations only so that they do not work against the best interests of the population as a whole.

Ultimately, we need to focus not on the extremes, but on the balance—the mix, if you will—between these two aspects of a healthy democratic society.  Government and business are the Yin and Yang of a successful economy.  Together—as we found in the half-century between the Great Depression and the Reagan Revolution—they can create a wonderful society.  As we have seen elsewhere in the world, without that balance one gets failure at either extreme, whether it be the socialism of the USSR or the plutocratic oil dictatorships of the Middle East that are now being dismantled by the Arab Spring. 

Moderation, rather than extreme idealogy, is the key.  We need to reward politicians who have a long view and who are able to see the value of a diverse American “us.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Globalizing Agricultural Extension?

Last night, I attended a meeting of the Torch Club—a group of people from a variety of professions and disciplines who meet monthly for dinner and a talk by one of the members.  Our speaker last night was Dr. Steve Smith, professor emeritus of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology at Penn State.  His topic:  “Traditional Agriculture in Latin America.”

Steve focused on how village farmers in Peru used centuries-old techniques, including terracing to raise a variety of crops year-around in a very arid climate.   It was, at one level, a very interesting travelogue, with wonderful photos of rural Peru and the farming families who produce 27 or more varieties of potatoes and other vegetables in this demanding climate.  However, at another level, it was a brilliant insight into how important these traditional farming techniques are becoming as the world changes. 

As Steve described traditional threshing process used in Peru, others in the group raised their hands to say, “That’s also done in Egypt” and “I’ve seen that in Turkey, too.”  Steve noted that there are more than a billion traditional farmers worldwide and that their work is critical to the economic health of many countries around the world.  He also reported that, in the next 30 years, the world’s demand for food will grow by 50%.  In the past, agriculturalists looked to the Green Revolution to meet this demand.  However, the impact of the Green Revolution has begun to level off.  Supporting traditional farmers—and helping them improve the output of traditional farming techniques—will be critical to meeting the world’s need for food in the next generation.  Steve emphasized that the goal should not be to replace traditional farming with something else.  These traditional techniques have proven to be effective in mountainous and arid areas where other approaches would fail.  The key is to help these farmers be more productive within the context of their traditional methods.

America’s research excellence in agriculture began as a response to the Industrial Revolution.  The societal worry then (in the late 1800s) was that we might not be able to support the immigration and urbanization that drove industrialization; we feared we could not produce enough food to feed the cities.  Land grant universities took responsibility for agricultural education and research and for extending that knowledge to farmers and rural communities through the Cooperative Extension Service.  It was, in reflection, a wonderful example of governments and social institutions working together in a sustained effort to meet an ongoing societal need.  American agricultural education became a model for the world.

Today we are living in a globalized Information Society.  The challenge will be to find productive ways in which our universities—in the United States and elsewhere—can help make traditional farming and other forms of farming around the world more productive in the decades ahead.  Do we need a global counterpart to the 19th century U.S. commitment to agricultural research and education?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Civic Virtue

Jeffrey Sachs begins his new book The Price of Civilization with this statement:

At the root of America’s economic crisis lies a moral crisis:  the decline of civic virtue among America’s political and economic elite.  A society of markets, laws, and elections is not enough if the rich and powerful fail to behave with respect, honesty, and compassion toward the rest of society and toward the world.  America has developed the world’s most competitive market society but has squandered it civic virtue along the way.  Without restoring an ethos of social responsibility, there can be no meaningful and sustained economic recovery.

It is a statement that sheds light on the ongoing debate about Social Security. 

            Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry has called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme”—a fraud by which the government cheats taxpayers—“investors” in Perry’s analogy—by not returning full value on their investment but instead using it to pay out funds to others.   Perry’s accusation is a good example of the civic blindness that has infected conservative thinking in the U.S. 

            Social Security is not the equivalent of an individual retirement account.  Instead, it is a kind of publicly funded insurance policy.  Behind it is a key assumption:  that those of us who have been able to make a good living will ensure that our neighbors who have not done as well will still be able to retire with a modicum of dignity.  The “return on investment” of Society Security is not what the well-off take out of it, but that our elderly neighbors in need don’t go hungry.

            In the early run-up to the 2012 presidential primaries, we have heard candidates for the highest office in the land suggest that those who cannot afford health care should simply die and that those who don’t have jobs should simply go out and get one.  The lack of compassion among these people—and, by extension, in the general population that keeps these folks thinking they have a chance at being our President—is appalling.  Moreover, as Sachs suggests, it bodes ill for our country’s long-term health.

            Sachs’ book suggests that civic virtue and prosperity go hand in hand.  I would love to hear a debate among the candidates about how they define these terms.  What constitutes “civic virtue” for a Presidential candidate who advocates a government that is inconsequential?   Is a society in which one percent of the population control 20 percent of the wealth a “prosperous society?”  Or is it a poor society with a handful of very rich plutocrats?

            I hope that we can get to a debate about these issues in the months ahead.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tribute to a Mentor: In Honor of Marlowe Froke

I thought of Marlowe Froke the other day, when I bought the latest Tony Bennett “Duets” CD.  A few months before he died, Marlowe and I had lunch together, and I gave him the first “Duets” CD.  He had told me earlier how much he liked Bennett and not newer music.  I thought this would be a neat way for him to bridge the generation gap.

            I first met Marlowe when he was 41 and General Manager of WPSX-TV, the public television station at Penn State University.  It was 1968, and I was a 20-year-old undergraduate student lucky to have gotten a part-time job as a Production Assistant in the TV studio.   A year and a half later, in spring 1970, I became a full-time staff member, first in production and, later in programming and public information.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but over the 19 years that I worked in public broadcasting, Marlowe would become the only person who I could rightly say was a mentor to me.

            WPSX had been on the air only three years when I first signed on as a part-time camera operator.  There was a palpable sense of family among the staff, who were all young and excited about being in at the beginning of an exciting new, creative venture.    We knew we were innovating and, within the university, operating a bit on the radical edge.  It was a great time to be starting out.

            In those days, “public” television was “educational” television.  Throughout his career, Marlowe emphasized the educational nature of our work.  In our programming logs, general audience programs were “general education” (series like Pennsylvania Magazine and Second Chair, for which I produced interviews with visiting authors like Jorge Amado and Anthony Burgess).  We produced programs for the K-12 classroom on science (example: Science for the Seventies, which in the 1980s became ISEE: Investigative Science for Elementary Education), art, and current affairs (What’s in the News, which eventually went national), working under the guidance of top Penn State education faculty.  And, led initially by Executive Producer Lou Florimonte and later by Diana Dean and George Thurman,  we produced adult education programs like Parenting, Food$en$e, and a series of interdisciplinary courses on Science, Technology, and Society with titles like The Behavioral Revolution and The Finite Earth.   At the other end of the educational spectrum, we produced how-to shows on everything from wood carving to playing bluegrass music.  A Public Affairs unit, led by the late P.J. O’Connell, documented the institutions of small town Pennsylvania life—“The Spirit” of Punxsutawney (about a small town newspaper) and documentaries on life in a hospital, a volunteer fire department, and a local smelting company, as examples.  James DeVinney headed a unit that produced programs on the arts, often featuring Penn State music groups—the Thalia Trio and the Alard String Quartet.  And, of course, there were daily informational programs like Farm, Home, and Garden from the Cooperative Extension Service and The State of the Weather/The Shape of the World from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

            All of this was in the spirit of using technology to extend access to education.  That was Marlowe’s personal vision, and it became, during his tenure, the hallmark of WPSX-TV, which declared on its station ID’s that it operated as a “continuing education and public service.”  In fact, one of Marlowe’s first accomplishments in 1965 was to create a consortium of school districts in our 29-county service area and to dedicate the daytime schedule to programs broadcast for use in school classrooms.

            Marlowe had been a journalism professor.  When I moved into the Public Information position at WPSX-TV, one of my jobs was to write three press releases per week promoting new programs.  I had been an English major and knew how to write, but I didn’t know how to write press releases.  For the first few weeks, Marlowe would send every press release back with detailed edits.  Eventually, I learned how to write and how to embody his idea that even a press release was an attempt to create a more educated viewer.

            Over time, my role at WPSX-TV evolved from simply public information to what we called “Viewer Services.”  The unit covered several different ways in which we could engage viewers in broadcasts, from creating informed viewers (from press releases to feature stories in our program guide to sending Penn State faculty members out to libraries to talk about the context of programs (for instance, sending a historian out to talk about “I, Claudius” on Masterpiece Theatre) to organizing viewers groups in communities to discuss programs to formal credit and noncredit courses.   During this time,  I was able to participate in two of Marlowe’s experiments in using technology to extend access to education.   One, in the late 1970s, was to help create Pennarama, a statewide educational cable TV channel, one of the first networked cable channels.   Around that same time, he affiliated WPSX with the Appalachian Educational Satellite Program, which used an experimental ATS-6 communications satellite to deliver teacher education and nursing education programs to schools and hospitals in the Appalachian Region.  Using technology to extend access to education.

            In 1981, WPSX-TV and the on-campus media service unit—the University Division of Instructional Services—were merged under Marlowe’s leadership into a group called Media and Learning Resources.  I became Director of Instructional Media in this new unit, responsible for developing instructional video materials for both on-campus and external delivery.  Now, my main job was to use technology to extend access to education across multiple delivery formats:  broadcast, cable, satellite, and new technologies like videodisc.  Marlowe’s vision had become my career.   Together, we got involved in several national and international initiatives, including the National University Teleconference Network, the International University Consortium for Telecommunications in Teaching (IUC), and Glenn Jones’ Mind Extension University.  Just as it had been in the 1960s, it was wonderful to be actively involved in the distance education innovations of the 1980s.  Suddenly, without really planning on it, I had become a distance education leader in this new environment, thanks to Marlowe’s mentorship and his vision:  using technology to increase access to education.

            I left Penn State in 1987.  Marlowe had passed me over for one of the few promotions that I thought I would be able to get at Penn State: Station Manager.  Later, he told me that the decision had been one of his hardest and that he felt I could make a better contribution in the instructional area.  Turns out he was right.  I moved to Maryland and became Executive Director of the IUC and Associate Vice President for Program Development at the University of Maryland University College.  

            Seven years later, Marlowe called me.  Penn State had decided to hire an Assistant Vice President for Distance Education, and he encouraged me to apply.  He also worked with his new Vice President to arrange for us to meet at a conference.   Marlowe retired before I was hired and returned to Penn State.  His vision, which he honored for four decades at Penn State, had prepared the way for the World Campus, the university’s online campus.  Using technology to extend access to education.   

            Many of today’s leaders in online learning do not have a long history of using other technologies before the Internet.  The field has been informed by a lot of new thinking, as a result.  Some of us, though, have been through the other changes and understand that, one of these days, a new technology will come along that will revolutionize distance education, just as television and cable and satellite and the Internet did.   Marlowe’s message for this new generation might well be:  Don’t identify yourself with a particular technology itself, but with how you use whatever technology is available to extend education for those who otherwise would not have access. 

            Thanks, again, Marlowe.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Revisiting General Education

 The general education curriculum, as it evolved through most of the 20th century, is a product of higher education’s adaptation to the Industrial Revolution.   The question today is whether that curriculum will meet the needs of individuals and society a generation into the Information Revolution.  Does the changing societal context demand that we re-perceive General Education for what various writers have dubbed the Information Society, the Knowledge Society, the Skills Society, or Conversation Society?
The Industrial Revolution required a higher level of education for professionals who would create industrial innovations.  At the same time, America was becoming urbanized and, due to waves of new immigrants, much more diverse.  Recognizing that higher education increasingly was serving a spectrum of students much broader demographically and vocationally than were served by the classical curriculum, innovators like Dewey, Meiklejohn, and Hutchins determined that General Education was not just about liberating the individual, but about preparing individual students from a broad spectrum of backgrounds to function effectively in society as professionals and citizens. 
            By the 1950s, the idea of General Education as a purposeful and comprehensive curriculum intimately involved in the needs of a democratic society were firmly rooted.  The Truman Commission on Higher Education listed eleven principles or goals for General Education that summed up the function of General Education at mid-century:
·      An ethical code of behavior
·      Informed and responsible citizen solving problems
·      Global interdependence
·      Habits of scientific thought in personal and civic problems
·      Understanding others and expressing one’s self
·      Enjoyment and understanding of literature and the arts
·      The ability to create a satisfying family life
·      The ability to choose a useful and satisfying vocation
·      Developing critical and constructive thinking habits

Still, by the 1980s—when the first impact of the Information Revolution on daily life was beginning to be felt—several national reports decried the disarray in the undergraduate curriculum.  One, sponsored by the National Institutes on Education argued that excessive vocationalism had weakened the ability of a baccalaureate degree to “foster the shared values and knowledge that bind us together as a society” (Malcolm Scully, "U.S. Colleges Not Realizing Their Full Potential," Chronicle of Higher Education, October 24,1984). 
A quarter of a century later, the concerns are just as real, but we have a better sense of how the revolution in information and communications technology is affecting the problem.   We are now a generation into the Information Revolution.  And, just as educators a generation into the Information Revolution grappled with the rise of the “utilitarian university,” we are struggling to understand just what it takes to prepare individuals to thrive as citizens and professionals in a globalized knowledge society.
Drivers of Pedagogical Change
            Several societal factors are driving the need for changes in our approach to General Education.  Prime among these is how the Information Revolution has changed the way we think about knowledge and information.  Today, information is ubiquitously available on the web.   In this environment, education is less about the transfer of already organized knowledge than about how to find and evaluate information and turn it into useable knowledge that can be used to solve problems and provide meaningful insights.  Active inquiry, as a result, becomes both a means and an end of General Education--a core skill of the new curriculum.
The rapidity of change in a global economy is also changing how we work.  Increasingly, work tends to get done by teams—often virtual—teams with members at multiple locations.   This work environment puts greater emphasis on collaboration rather than individual competition.  Similarly, rapid changes in knowledge require an environment of continual, bottom-up innovation.   Collaboration and innovation are both professional and civic skills that need to be taught.   Even on the most informal level—as evidenced by Facebook and Twitter today—students need to develop a social ethos to guide how they interact with social networks so that they can develop and sustain professional, civic, and personal relationships through both face-to-face and virtual networks.
An underlying feature of the Information Society is that technology has removed geography as a delimiting factor in how we live and work in communities.   Members of an Information Society live and work in “distributed communities” (we may need a better term to describe this phenomenon) that accomplish much of their work through technology.  This includes virtual working teams, professional associations, and a wide variety of social networks.   The boundaries of these communities tend to blur, as people include both social and professional contacts in the same network.  Inter-cultural understanding takes on a new immediacy: every culture is potentially present in our virtual communities.  General Education, with its emphasis on educating the student for success within the context of his/her society, can help individuals define how to conduct themselves in these new communities.
            Knowledge creation, collaboration, innovation, and community building are workplace and civic skills that should be incorporated into General Education for the Information Society.   The challenge of General Education in this new environment is:
·      To create lifelong learners who can create knowledge
·      To instill problem-solving and innovation as both workplace and civic skills
·      To develop the skills of collaboration across cultures and across geography
·      To help students understand the nature of the communities in which they live and work so that they can become effective members of these communities.
This suggests that the next generation of General Education should not just be a new collection of courses, but courses guided by a common pedagogy designed to engage the students in the above goals, regardless of the discipline being studies.  This new General Education pedagogy should be resource-centered, inquiry-based, and problem-oriented and, perhaps, one that is better integrated with the professional studies part of the undergraduate curriculum.   It should also encourage students to use online technology to  collaborate to find information, evaluate it and turn it into useful knowledge, and apply that knowledge to solve problems.  These are key elements in preparing students for life in an Information Society.
One new pedagogy that is gaining attention in the online learning community is the Community of Inquiry  ( pedagogy.  This approach maintains that the educational experience is the intersection of three factors:  social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence.  Social Presence is “the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter-personal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities” (Garrison, 2009).  Teaching Presence is the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001).  Cognitive Presence is the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001).
In a recent Washington Post opinion piece ( ), Kathleen Parker noted a new study, “Academically Adrift:  Limited Learning on College Campuses” by Richard Arum and Jospia Roksa that reports that “Gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills are either ‘exceeding small or nonexistent for a larger proportion of students” and that “Thirty-six percent of students experience no significant improvement in learning (as measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment) over four years of higher education.”  Part of the problem, she notes, is the erosion of the core curriculum.   I would argue that the problem is not simply that the core subjects are no longer being taught, but that, when they are taught, they are taught out of context—as simply introductions to the disciplines—rather than as skills one needs to be successful as an individual and as a citizen.
The quality of American undergraduate education has been lamented for a generation now.   The key to improving it is not simply to focus more on the major areas of study, but to examine the total experience and to develop a unique General Education curriculum that prepares students to be socially responsible professionals and citizens.   A new approach to pedagogy is part of the solution.  A new approach to the economics of undergraduate education that will allow for a more integrated general education curriculum to be organized of the traditional disciplines may also be needed.   It is well-past time for the re-envisioning of General Education to be treated as an institution-wide issue.
 NOTE:  This is an expansion of an item that I originally posted in 2010.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

NYT: Forests dying off as world's climate warms - Technology & science - The New York Times -

Here is a detailed report on how global warming is resulting in a not-so-gradual killing off of forests around the world, as insects that used to be controlled by cold weather are living to become invasive.

The article notes that richer nations will need to fund the work that is needed to stop this trend. Given today's political climate, it is hard to imagine that we can come together as a community to fight global warming at this level. It is sad to think what we stand to lose because of wrong-headed politics and radical ideologies.

We can make progress--and save countless lives--only by working together. It is time for a little humility in our politics.

NYT: Forests dying off as world's climate warms - Technology & science - The New York Times -

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Social Security: The Individual and Society

Texas Governor Rick Perry continues to stand behind his comment that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme.”  He could be more wrong, and his statement reveals much about how he sees the role of government and, indeed, the fundamental nature of a democratic society. 

First, let’s get something straight.  A Ponzi scheme is defined by Wikipedia as “a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to separate investors, not from any actual profit earned by the organization, but from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors.”   Social Security is not an individual investment.  It is, as its name suggests, a way that the people of the United States, through our constitutional democracy, have agreed, over several generations now, to set aside funds to ensure that everyone who needs it has access to a modicum of income during their retirement years.   The problem with Social Security is notthat it was set up to be deceptive; it is that (1) because of the phenomenon of aging Baby Boomers, the ratio of young to old people has changed since Social Security was designed in the 1930s and (2) people are living much longer than they did in the 1930s.  These two factors put a stress on the ability to maintain the Social Security funds:  Relatively fewer people are supporting a relatively larger group of senior citizens who are living longer. 

There is no question that Social Security needs to be adjusted so that it can continue to work in the years ahead.  However, that is no excuse for a Presidential candidate to call it a criminal act.  Either Rick Perry is incredibly uneducated or he is incredibly immoral—willing to knowingly tell lies in order to attract money and support from an ideological fringe group.  Or, perhaps, he simply is unable to see how the interests of individuals relate to the interests of the broader community in which they live.  No wonder, in that case, that, as Governor, he spoke favorably about Texas seceding from the United States. 

One is tempted to laugh at this kind of foolishness.  But that would be a mistake.