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.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Toward a Learning Society

Over the past few years, our public colleges and universities have made great strides in adopting online technology to extend undergraduate and graduate degree programs to working adults away from campus.  This has allowed adults to gain the skills and credentials that they need to adapt to the new working requirements of a maturing global information society.  It has also created new revenue streams for universities to support innovation.  Now, it is time for public colleges and universities to explore how they can use the same technologies to revitalize their traditional service missions and to foster true lifelong learning.  This posting will explore some opportunities for online-based lifelong learning as part of the public university’s social engagement mission.
First, a Look Back
Our public colleges and universities have their roots in the Industrial Revolution.  They were invented to facilitate the changes that were needed as the country shifted from a rural economy to an industrial economy.  Industrialization stimulated two big events.  The first was urbanization.  Most factories were either started in cities or created cities around themselves, attracting families from farms to move closer.  The second was immigration; people came from all over Europe and Asia to find a future in the new economy.  They flooded into the cities.  This caused several problems.  One was a concern that our agricultural system was not robust enough to feed the growing urban population.  A second was the need to educate the children of immigrants, to make them full citizens in the process.  State and federal government responded by creating new institutions—normal schools—to train the many teachers needed to educate the new urban children and by creating the Agricultural Extension Service—housed in the new land grant universities.  And there were other issues, of course.  Some of these gave rise to new academic disciplines, things like sociology and social psychology, which found places in the new universities, along with engineering, business, and applied sciences, needed to keep the revolution moving ahead.  These are the foundations of the system of state colleges and universities that has dominated education in many of the United States for the past century and more.
            For the past several decades, these assumptions about higher education have been challenged as the Information Revolution gained force, bringing with it powerful social changes.  In 2001, the Kellogg Foundation released reports from a commission that it had charged to explore the role of higher education in this new environment.  The Commission on the Future of State and Land Grant Universities looked at five dimensions of quality:  the student experience, student access, social engagement, a learning society, and the campus culture.  The Commission argued that “our institutions must play an essential role in making lifelong learning a reality in the United States.”  Noting that technology was now able to make lifelong learning a reality, the Commission noted, “We are convinced that public research universities must be leaders in a new era of not simply increased demand for education, but rather of a change so fundamental and far-reaching that the establishment of a true ‘learning society’ lies within our grasp.”  The Commission described several characteristics of a learning society:
·      It fosters the habits of lifelong learning and “ensures that there are responsive and flexible learning programs and learning networks available to address all students’ needs.”
·      “It is socially inclusive and ensures that all of its members are part of its learning communities.”
·      It recognizes that lifelong learning begins with early childhood development and organizes “ways of enhancing the development of all children.”
·      It uses information technology as tools for “tailoring instruction to societal, organizational, and individual needs.”
·      “It stimulates the creation of new knowledge through research and other means of discovery.”
·      “It values regional and global interconnections and cultural links.”
·      "It fosters public policy to support equitable access and recognizes that investments in learning contribute to overall competitiveness and the economic and social well-being of the nation.”

In the years since the report, Returning to Our Root, was published, higher education has, for the most part, focused its use of information technology on extending undergraduate and graduate degree programs to students away from campus.   There have been some efforts in the noncredit arena—development of MOOCs as noncredit courses and sharing of Open Educational Resources (OERs) – but the greatest innovations, affecting the most institutions, has been in credit-based programs.  Meanwhile, traditional noncredit programs at many institutions have struggled.
            The challenge for the coming decade will be to explore how information technology can be used to fulfill the social engagement and lifelong learning challenges articulated by Returning to Our Roots and, in the process, to re-imagine the role of public higher education in sustaining a learning society in an era marked by cultural and economic globalization.  The rest of this piece will suggest a few starting points.
Re-Imagining Undergraduate Education
While many of the ideas to follow deal with noncredit and informal learning—the traditional venue of continuing education units in our universities—I’d like first to describe a key step in creating a true lifelong learning system:  redefining undergraduate education as a launching point for lifelong learning.  In the industrial period, society gradually expanded primary and secondary education; high school moved from being a pricey option to a publically funded expectation.  We need a similar expansion to prepare students to succeed—as citizens and professionals—in the new environment.  Elements might include:
·      A K-14 curriculum that makes the first two years of higher education—combining traditional “general” education and introductory professional/vocational education—free to the student.
·      A Year of Service that would take place between the twelfth and thirteenth years, so that young adults begin their higher education with a better understanding of the working world and the needs of the community in which they live and work.  This might include work in state/national parks, hospitals, libraries and other community organizations with the service helping to offset the cost of the next two years of instruction), or it might include a practicum with a local employer or service in the military, Peace Corps, or other societal contribution.
·      Periodic internships or practica in the student’s chosen vocation/profession as part of the undergraduate experience, so that students become familiar with the expectations of the field in which they are studying.
·      Involvement of alumni to help students prepare for their careers.
·      As students complete their undergraduate programs and move into their careers, the institution should help them make the transition by providing noncredit seminars and access to an online learning community for transitioning professionals.  The learning community would give the new professional access to faculty, alumni, and other transitioning students to help solve problems and to learn about new developments in the field. 
Noncredit Lifelong Learning in the Online Learning Era
Sadly, many of the less formal kinds of lifelong learning that defined “continuing education” for much of the 20th century have faded in recent years, due in no small part to the new emphasis on delivery of credit programs to off-campus adults.  However, if our public universities are to fulfill their public mission, we need to take a fresh look at how our institutions, our research centers, and our faculty engage key constituencies and ensure that citizens can continue to benefit from learning throughout their lives. In recent years, this function has taken a back seat to innovations around online degree programs.  However, these noncredit and sometimes nonformal learning opportunities are key to the vision of the public university in a learning society.  New kinds of extension services can use information technology in ways that complement delivery of online credit programs.   Here are some examples of how institutions can re-invigorate and expand noncredit engagement for lifelong learning in the new era:
·      Career Maintenance While alumni may eventually return for a graduate certificate or degree, the university should also maintain contact with them by offering short noncredit courses and resources to keep them informed about new knowledge and skills in their professions.  This is the traditional role of continuing professional education and could involve traditional mechanisms, such as workplace learning events and conferences.  In the new environment, it might also include an online learning community that gives recent graduates access to noncredit webinars, TED-type video lectures, Open Educational Resources, and less formal engagement with faculty, alumni, and other recent grads.
·      Learning Communities In an earlier posting, I described how a combination of online technologies could be combined to create ongoing learning communities.  These could be organized around professions or disciplines to help alumni and others in a field to maintain their knowledge, to learn about new research and technology applications in their field, and to find solutions to problems by sharing experiences with colleagues and faculty in an online environment.  Learning communities can become a meeting ground where faculty and practitioners learn from each other through webinars, videos and other OERs, and messaging.:
·      Open Educational Resources for Schools Throughout the industrial age and early in the Information Revolution, land grant universities used distance education to extend learning opportunities to high schools.  The University of Nebraska was a leader in developing high school level correspondence courses—which were often adopted and used by other land grants—to ensure that high school students had access to key courses.  From the 1960s through the 1980s, universities used television to deliver learning resources that high school teachers could use in their classrooms. Today, information technology allows us to create libraries of Open Educational Resources that teachers can incorporate into classes at all levels.  Development of OER collections (perhaps, initially, taken from an institution’s online credit courses) and collaborations among institutions to share their libraries with local schools is an easy way to extend new learning opportunities to students while building relationships with K-12 schools.  Such a service must be accompanied by professional development programs that help teachers learn how best to incorporate OERs into their own curricula—another application of the Learning Community model.
·      Open Educational Resources for Industries and Professions Universities can also build stronger relationships with the industries and professions that they serve by creating OER collections that provide nonformal professional development and research transfer opportunities for companies, professional associations, government agencies, and community organizations.
·      Preparing for the Third Act Americans are living longer today than in the past.  Increasingly, as a result, one of the challenges of lifelong learning is to help older adults prepare for retirement and what follows.  That might be a second or third career or a commitment to community volunteerism or turning a hobby into a vocation.  This may be accomplished through noncredit short courses like those sponsored at more than 100 universities by the Osher Foundation’s Lifelong Learning Institutes
·      Social and Cultural Engagement  A Learning Society is not just interested in work.   Other kinds of participation in the community—through the arts and other cultural and avocational activities—are important to building sustainable communities.  Public Broadcasting—now perhaps better described as Public Media—has been a leader in this function for many decades.  Today, public media is not limited to a single broadcast channel.  Many stations have multiple cable channels as well as online resources.  In short, there are many ways to engage lifelong learners in the arts and to help them develop their own creative and avocational skills.
            Our public colleges and universities have a long history of helping learners develop many aspects of their lives.  Experience shows that a commitment to lifelong learning and a learning society is not a one-way street.  Engagement at this level also helps faculty identify unmet needs, which leads to new research, new teaching, and, ultimately, fresh engagements.