About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Three models for a new higher ed economic model (part 2)

This has been some time in coming. I wanted to think through some of the options based on my earlier post on this issue.

In reviewing all the factors, I wanted to develop an economic or funding model that could be implemented sooner, rather than later. However, I realized that I have seen at least 3 models in use that have been effective over the last decade. So why reinvent the wheel? Two of the models are based on a large component of instruction being distance learning based, the third is more traditional.

Pure distance learning and assessment based higher education

The first model is based on a local university that was developed out of the New York state civil service training department. Often civil service workers, who did not have higher ed degrees, received training that was equivalent to a university course. Recognizing that those that received this training should be able to receive college credit, a system of testing and granting college credit for the training was established.

Approximately 10 years ago, a Swiss university bought out this service, adding there own model on to the established service. Currently, the university identifies online courses, creates its own courses, and creates a standard curriculum, all of which are based on a examination process. Students actually pay for exams rather than the courses themselves. This means that a student may not take any course, as long as they can demonstrate knowledge through the exams. Students that opt to take instruction through the university will pay for those courses. Students can also submit courses, training, and instruction to receive credit. However, they will need to pass the exam for the criteria laid out for their degree.

This allows a standard learning outcome to be used, with several options by the student (depending on their circumstances including access to courses, resources, location, learning needs) to fulfill the curriculum requirements. This also means that there is a minimal instructional staff, with most of the staff working on assessment and curriculum development. There are some area specialists who help in the curriculum development, but they are only used on an as needed basis. An instructor does not have to be a Ph.d. in the area in which they are teaching, but rather need to be effective instructors. This is because the subject matter is already developed by specialists in the form of assessment tools and curriculum. This also always the university to be more flexible based on the students' learning needs and goals.

One disadvantage to this model is that most of the students are learning in isolation. This also requires a great deal of motivation on the part of the learner to arrange for those courses/learning that will best help them pass the assessments. In addition, a great deal of resources go into the monitoring and revision of curriculum and assessment tools.

Individualized learning plans

Another local university in which I have worked uses an individual learning plan. The first course a student takes is a three credit course in which students sit down with a "mentor" and outline their learning objectives. They then plan how they will achieve these objectives academically. There are usually three options: test out, small group tutorials (face to face at learning centers), or online courses. A fourth option is an independent study, but that is used rarely. Unlike the model above, there are set courses which students must complete. Only a certain percentage of those courses can be assessments (either CLEF or assessment of real life experience).

Unlike a traditional university, there are no "departments". Rather there are designated "Area Specialists" who are in charge of a group of faculty (tenured and part-time). These specialists often are part of programs such as labor relations, healthcare, nursing, teaching, and humanities. In other words, they are more profession oriented and broader than a traditional university department. Because this is a state university, there are general education core courses that students must have to be granted a degree. However, if enough students are interested in a specific area, the mentors can ask the area specialists to develop a tutorial in that topic.

In this model, new specialties can be developed within an "area" that a traditional department might have difficulty with. In addition, students can flow in and out of the university as needed (an open university model). Most of the students work full time. One disadvantage of this model, like the one above, is that there is not a single "campus". Unlike the model above, however, students can develop a sense of "college" at their college centers, having tutorials with other students, and establishing a close relationship with their mentors.

Another disadvantage of this model is that it is very labor intensive. For the model to work, the mentors need to be knowledgeable about course options, adult learning, and have constant contact with their mentees. In fact, one reason I don't teach there anymore is that the pay scale was ridiculously low, with faculty being paid by the size of their student load (i.e. a class of 5 had a pay scale much lower than a class of 25. Someone that taught 5 classes to 5 students would make the same as person who taught 25 students in one class, even thought there was more time commitment for the 5 classes).

Traditional model

The fact is that many who go to school full time do so as much for the social aspects of being part of a campus as for the academics. In order to change the traditional model of education, there would have to be a cultural change, which could be difficult at universities that have been steeped in their culture for many years.

My current university used a very successful model to change this culture and cross disciplines and departments in order to integrate technology into its instruction. Basically, it was structured by creating a pool of funding to hire faculty who were adept in instructional technology. Each department was required to either train a current faculty member, identify a current faculty member with a technology specialty, or hire a new faculty member who had expertise in educational technology. Once this core group of faculty were established, they received tenure within the technology group (not their department, per se). This meant that if there was a need for one of these faculty in a certain department, they might be reassigned to that department or courses within that department. For example, one of the faculty members in the dept of communication also had expertise in information technology. As there were two within the communication department who were part of the technology group, one of them went over to information technology when one of the designated faculty members left the university. This same person also taught some courses in the school of business when the designated technology person in business took his sabbatical.

Imagine, for example, if this same model were used for Communication Skills, Creativity, Critical thinking, scientific inquiry, or writing (often the areas of core courses). This would allow a university to have tenure track faculty who could teach interdisciplinary courses without fear of cannibalizing a department. Smaller departments could go to the "centers" to find faculty that could teach courses in their department. General Education courses could be offered through the "centers" so that there would be a guarantee of having a pool of faculty to draw on for these courses, which may not be money producers, but are vital to the degrees. However, outside of the "centers", faculty expertise (specialties) could be offered within the departments. In addition, new areas of study, which might not fall neatly into a department, could be developed within the centers.

Unfortunately, with a new administration, the traditional culture and departmental structures proved to have to strong an influence and we have now moved back to the traditional departmental structures where departments fight for resources and/or are pitted against each other to keep "tenure track lines" for their department. For any of these models to work, faculty, administrators, students, and stakeholders (including employees and alumni) need to be open to a new way of funding higher education. Using a "business" model will never work as "knowledge" is becoming less and less a commodity that is possessed and more and more a necessity that everyone is working with.

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