August 2009 Archives

The Department of Education recently released their overview of a number of quantitative studies that have attempted to glean the impact of blended and online instruction on student learning.

For time-strapped readers, Inside Higher Ed (June 29, 2009) offers the following summary of the report:

The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. Further, those who took "blended" courses -- those that combine elements of online learning and face-to-face instruction -- appeared to do best of all. That finding could be significant as many colleges report that blended instruction is among the fastest-growing types of enrollment.

Resource Link:
Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies (2009)

From Fast Company

Never heard of an Edupunk? Neither had I. The actual idea is not as cutting-edge as it sounds. The Fast Company article interviews several people in higher education who are looking outside higher ed for new solutions to old problems. Some of the solutions could be transformative, but higher ed as we know is not going away any time soon.

This quote from the article is key:

"The Internet disrupts any industry whose core product can be reduced to ones and zeros," says Jose Ferreira, founder and CEO of education startup Knewton. Education, he says, "is the biggest virgin forest out there."

I'll bypass the poor rhetorical choice of "virgin forest" and move on to the point I believe Mr. Ferreira was trying to make. There are too many aspects of higher education that cannot be reduced to ones and zeros. Higher education is credentials, culture, methodology, relationships, connections, collaborations. It is a public good and a private good. It is an economic engine that operates somewhat outside the rules of the marketplace. It cannot be reduced to ones and zeros. I say this as someone who strongly believes technology should transform the way we learn, teach, collaborate, and research. I think the author and maybe some of the people interviewed lack an understanding of the complexity of higher education and its role in the larger society.

The idea I found most compelling came from David Wiley at BYU: "Why is it that my kid can't take robotics at Carnegie Mellon, linear algebra at MIT, law at Stanford? And why can't we put 130 of those together and make it a degree?" Why indeed? Well, there are many cultural reasons why not. Beyond culture, most universities have policies and procedures requiring students to take a certain number of credits from their institution in order for the student to be awarded a degree. Few universities would want to put their seal on a diploma of a student who took most of their credits somewhere else. But what if the credential, in this case a diploma, came from something other than a single university? What if accrediting bodies started awarding degrees?

One key tension this article illustrates is the disconnect between what we in higher education think is important and what pretty much everyone else thinks is important. The article highlighted skills, competition, choice, efficiency, and costs. We tend to talk a lot about rigor, scholarship, learning, mentoring, and research. I am not saying the University doesn't pay attention to efficiency and cost - we have to, especially now. But there is a disconnect, and for that, the article was revealing.

In this article, Katrina Meyer examines some of the commonly-used metaphors that describe and name aspects of the Web. By sifting through partial understandings and hidden meanings, Meyer raises many questions about how education, information, and on-line learning come to be understood by multiple constituencies.

Meyer, Katrina A. (2005). Common metaphors and their impact on distance education: What they tell us and what they hide. Teachers College Record 107(8). P. 1601-1625.

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