Unbundling higher education

These are my notes from a seminar by Amy Collier, Stanford University  titled The Good, the Bad and the Unbundled on 27 August 2014. These notes were taken live and then cleaned up a bit, links added etc. but they remain a bit partial and sketchy in places.  For a more thoughtful and reflective take on the presentation, see Hazel Christie’s post here. Amy’s own post on her visit  can be found here.

The presentation is looking at this emerging phenomenon in the US Higher Education sector and the possible lessons for UK Higher Education.

Amy has been at Stanford for two half years working on MOOCs and on supporting the increasing interest in online learning at Stanford from a position of a weak tradition of online learning. Her role initially focused on the operational aspects of course design. She now has developed a more strategic role asking what they’re doing, who is being targeted and why adopting online learning.

Unbundling is an increasingly prominent topic in US  higher education. It should also be noted that unbundling has a long presence in UK HE in particular through the Open University.

The Unbundling idea has taken hold in the US as part of a wider discourse of ‘disruption’. The US has a weird love affair with the term ‘disruption’. This love affair is based on a ‘dis-ease’ with how things are currently done. Higher education is ‘broken’ and should be disrupted and that disruption is often undertaken through unbundling. Yet, that discourse of  dis-ease with a broken education system is often promoted by others as means to sell ‘solutions’.

Unbundling is the separation of ownership of infrastructure and processes of service provision to gain efficiencies and savings. So unbundling involves the compartmentalism of components of HE that are then outsourced to other providers rather than the traditional model of being provided by a single institution.

As an example, the music industry as traditionally produce a bundled product such as the album, but then iTunes disrupted this product by allowing the purchasing of single songs, users creating their own playlists, etc… Apple and iTunes allowed us as customer to do things with the purchased products independently of music businesses. This development lead on to Pandora and Spotify and took place within a discourse of ‘freedom’ and ‘access to artists’ and hence as the democratisation of the music industry. Similarly, we’e seeing an emerging discourse on the democratisation of higher education in US.

So what is the problem? What is lost when we unbundle? In the case of the music industry, we can see a counter-trend with the return of the cassette as a ‘product’ as a piece of art that cannot be unbundled (popular in Portland – who knew?), it is a single, indivisable and cohesive piece of art. Similar examples of rebundling can be seen in the examples of free music when you buy phone X or in playlists created by Pandora. So unbundling and then rebundling leads to a loss of control and more importantly, a loss of a sense of the whole – replaced by another interpretation of that whole – the art of the album. Also, while obscure artists can be found online they don’t have the sales volumes to make money through these unbundled services.

How does this apply to HE? Returning to the notion of HE as broken is “disaster porn” such as the  IPPR report, An Avalanche is Coming. The IPPR report cites the diversity of pressures on HE in terms of purpose, funding, public policy in the context of a globalised economy where HE is no longer fit for purpose. HE should, therefore, look to technological solutions and these are to be found in the private sector.

A particular recent emphasis is on questioning the value of university, is it worth going? The degree is dead, reimagining higher education. Jose Ferriera (at Knewton) claims bundling works to trick people in to believing a service is worth more than it is and hiding the real cost-benefit.

Unbundling in HE may involve splitting: content; social networks; accreditation; delivery; testing; and research (see Henry Brady, UC Berkeley). But what are the tensions then between economic efficiencies and the holistic integrity of education?

MOOCs have inflated this discussion of disruption and unbundling. Clay Shirky argues that HE is being, and should be disrupted and, returning to the music industry analogy, the “MP3 is our MOOC“.

And we can see examples of MOOCs unbundle accreditation from HE now. The American Council of Education is offering credientialisation of MOOCs through member HEIs so separating/ unbundling the delivery and accreditation of courses. Antioch College told its own students that they could receive credit for MOOCs thereby unbundled content, credit and, in this case, the tutoring and support of learning.

But the concept of unbundling has been going on in HE at least since the 19th Century, for example, in unbundling academics from the pastoral roles.

The problems of unbundling:

While a lot of the authors of the disruption discourse make this comparison to the music industry, as George Siemens states, education is a social and cultural as well as content ‘industry’. In taking that perspective, a number of problems with, or questions on, unbundling can be identified:

1. Who, how and what of rebundling? Who does the rebundling and what power are they taking through rebundling? Things that get unbundled tend to be rebundled with a change of ownership and control and what does this mean, for example, on the student experience?

The Minerva project provides access to higher education at reduced cost by focusing on (transferable) skills rather than content/ domain knowledge. They rely on MOOCs for domain knowledge for introductory courses. So Minerva are rebundling MOOCs provided by others while focusing on project-based and experiential learning..

A dark-side of this is that there will still be very bundled education institutions and there is a danger that these highly bundled experiences become the expensive premium service for an elite minority. So the unbundling and rebundling ‘disruptions’ will increase the divisions on access to high quality education.

So, while it remains the case that for some students the unbundled experience may be what they want and need, a key question remains that if unbundling is about raising access to HE then who for and to what form of HE?

Also, bundled and unbundled experiences collected data. HEIs are generally trusted to handle data with care and respect but what happens when services are unbundled and rebundled with the concomitant opportunities for the commercial exploitation of student data. For example, the backlash on the recent Facebook experiment was not just against Facebook but also Cornell University for their role in analysing the data.

2. Impacts on teaching and other staff.
We can see the unbundling of the academics’ role eg, in support development of student social networks, advising, admissions, instruction design,teaching, research etc . especially to para-academics, but this is problematic if you view the academics’ role as holistic.
In the case of MOOCs, courses are being designed by people who may not deliver/ teach on them. But this approach can also be seen in the development of Online & Distance Learning (ODL)  programmes from the 1990s as they considered how learning technologists interacted with academic staff. Different models of ODL can be seen:

(i) craft model where faculty did it all; (ii) collegial model where academics helped each other; and (iii) where a virtual assembly line was created the produced a course for  academics to deliver. The craft model is where academics identified themselves as autonomous experts whereas this identity was lost in the assembly line model. So unbundling also affects academic self-identification.

But why is an integrated faculty role of value? Because it engages academics in their work and highlights the integrative role of research and teaching. On the other hand, unbundling does allow faculty to focus on individual areas of strength – why force a shy researcher in to teaching?

There are other models such as Patricia Ianuzzi’s (University of Nevada) team-based model involving the co-production between academics and para-academics of student experiences.

3. the lost art of the University: what happens when unbundling leads to loss of serendipity and synergies of the bundled student experience?

On a positive note, unbundling may provide opportunities for the redesign of HE and to challenge assumptions of the institutions.

Examples of redesigning rather than unbundling has changed HE
1. domain of one’s own at the University Mary Washington as a push-back against VLEs and MLEs. Each student was provided with a domain for students to use any tools they wanted and use for their learning. This initiative allows students to experiment with online learning both personally and in groups. Another initiative is Thought Vectors at Virginia Commonwealth University enabling student learning on open websites.

2. the Stanford 2025 project involved both students and staff to consider the redesign of Stanford for 2025. For example, redesigned away from semester and academic years to a much more flexible programme structure built around micro-learning opportunities as Paced Education. In effect this is unbundling the curriculum and is being implemented through The Impact Lab. This social innovation is focused on the food system and involves students researching (immersion), prototyping and piloting implementations of interventions in the food system.

The key point of this talk is to examine the issues and opportunities in the unbundling of higher education.

Q&A
Q: Can you separate the neo-liberal drivers of the rise of idea of unbundling and the more positive opportunities of redesign? How suspicious should we be of unbundling in HE?
A: I’m very suspicious mainly because I work in Silicon Valley and see unbundling projected as way for start-ups to access investment and government  to ‘solve’ higher education through the private sector.

Q: Can you comment on the adjunct faculty in the US as it appears to be linked?
A: Unbundling the faculty role leads to the deskilling of the faculty so seeing rise of adjunct faculty as having very specialist skills along with precarious employment positions. See the alt ac movement in US (alternative academic).

Q: Comments Music Industry to suggest that senior managers saw that the internet would change their business but didn’t know how to change. Also, the UK has the experience of the OU for the team development of courses. Finally, HEI is very diverse but that is hidden to many of us. Some HEIs rebundle through eg, accreditation of prior learning (cites military in US as example of this)
A: RPEL is really important. A key danger of unbundling is that it imposes a monolithic view of HE and that a sense diversity is lost.

Q: Interested in your views of a model from Cornell University of a faculty housing model of free housing if you live with the students as a rebundling of student services?
A: Stanford has strong ethos of living on campus and the creation of a learning community.

Q: Who is the customer and what is the product? Are students viewed as a product and society the customer?
A: The student as customer is a strong aspect of the unbundling discourse. People have changed their ideas of education as a public good and the promotion of citizenship – now less of a priority given the end of the Cold War.

Q: Worried that there may be an oversimplification of a good or bad unbundling and whether there is a need for a bigger discussion on what the university is for?
A: I’m not opposed to unbundling per se but more discussion is needed beyond the binary of good and bad but that allows the challenge of the assumptions of educational institutions

weeknotes [25082014]

Over the last couple of weeks, my time has been spent on:

A picture of various draft word processed documentssupervising Masters students on the dissertations with most submitting last week

working with three part-time students as they start their dissertations

developing a couple of ideas on a new course involving what is, I think, an innovative structure. More to follow on both of these

piloting discourse analysis for my PhD studies which is both interesting and slightly overwhelming – I mean, how much data can I really use?

writing a couple of papers for (hopeful) publication

preparing for teaching starting in a couple of weeks on two online courses: Digital Environments for Learning; and Course Design for Digital Environments

planning a Course for a different programme on Managing Organisational Learning & Knowledge (MOLK) that will be a blended Course starting in January 2015.

attended an interesting workshop on employability for postgraduate students as part of the Making Most of Masters project. The emphasis on employability is being partly driven by changes in the PGT market as student recruitment is counter-cyclical to the economy. Hence the market for PGT students is expected to become more competitive and requiring HEIs to develop key added-value offers to students which often revolve around issues of employability, employment outcomes and employer engagement.
The Making Most of Masters project started with mapping what work-based learning was already taking place, then defining a model for work-based dissertations and delivering and refining the model to finally generate a self-sustaining model. This is essentially a toolkit for running work-based dissertation projects.

The focus for the next couple of weeks will be on finalising the draft papers and preparing for the teaching…. and, of course, marking dissertations….

Learning techniques – for education and life

An interesting and useful read from Harold Jarche on learning techniques framed in terms of PKM and sense-making. As with many areas of knowledge and learning, the post (and the research article cited – and summarised here) highlight the tendency towards shallow learning techniques and the avoidance of the more valuable, but harder, techniques of sense-making and critical thinking. The two key techniques here of elaborative interrogation and self-explanation seem to me to be two crucial steps in situated knowing and being able to think through the nitty-gritty pragmatic aspects of applying knowledge/ information in actual problem-solving situations. It is these approaches that should provide the situational links between education and professional practices.

Personal learning environments

Network ALL2_BC
I’m currently writing up some ideas on open online professional learning that includes considering  personal learning networks. I came across this interesting post from Martin Weller on the apparent decline in interest or discussion of personal learning networks. The reasons suggested include the mainstreaming of the practices associated with PLEs, a consolidation of the tools used in to a fairly generic set of software used but also that the (research) agenda has shifted from personal learning to institutionally provided personalised learning partly driven by learning analytics.

 

weeknotes [03082014]

I’m back from holiday and getting back in to work mode (which will be easier when the kids go back to school next week – bah humbug). Over the last week, I’ve mainly been:

Reading and reviewing dissertation draft chapters from students and meeting those students.

Some further work on developing ideas on new course structures.

Starting discourse analysis work for my PhD.

Next week will see more focus on preparing for the next academic year and, in particular, teaching on  Digital Environments for Learning; Course Design for Digital Environments and Managing Organisational Learning & Knowledge (MOLK).

 

weeknotes [11072014]

I’m just getting ready for for two weeks holiday starting today. Over the last couple of weeks, my time has been spent on:

supervising Masters students on the dissertations with most aiming to complete by the end of this summer
working with three part-time students as they’re just about to start their dissertations
developing ideas on a new course involving what is, I think, an innovative structure. More to follow on this after the summer
reading up on discourse analysis for my PhD studies.

Once I’m back from my holiday, in addition to these activities, I’ll also be concentrating on preparations for teaching on courses on two online courses: Digital Environments for Learning; and Course Design for Digital Environments. I’ll also be redesigning a course for a different programme on Managing Organisational Learning & Knowledge (MOLK).

 

So, back in two weeks feeling fresh and energetic (I hope)

Idea development

Thinking through and research notes on a new project idea:

Notes and mind maps on ideas for a new project

weeknotes [27062014]

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been:

– Attending a seminar by Geoge Veletsianos on educational agents
– facilitated a workshop discussion on the internationalisation of higher education following a talk from Alison Phipps. This was a challenging talk on the dominant discourses found in university internationalisation strategies in general that reflected a broadly colonial sensibility presenting the educational institution as filling in a blank ‘other’. As a response, Alison suggested a consciously co-generative and collaborative approach to education with a focus on the quote “nothing about us without us is for us”. So the challenges seemed to be about breaking down the boundaries of the institution as a place where learning is delivered to learners in a form decided on by the institution but rather about developing practices of learning that “attend to” a multiplicity of voices and languages, race, inequality, oppression and expression. How such approaches can develop in the context of a university and its attendance to processes, standards and quality is the key question. The discussion component of the day was fairly brief but focused largely on internationalisation as an organisational culture issue with progress perhaps to come from *100 small changes* of habit and practice.
– related to this seminar, was another internal seminar labeled as learning from review and focused on developing the academic literacies of students as they transition in to (UK) higher education, between different stages of their education and onward as lifelong learners
– presented on some aspects of my research here
– contributing to the development of a couple of project ideas on course design and on professional learning but early days on both of these
– my main area of teaching and learning is in Masters’ dissertation supervision

MOOCs automation, artificial intelligence and educational agents

Geoge Veletsianos is speaking at a seminar hosted by DiCE research group at University of Edinburgh. The hastag for the event is #edindice and the subject is MOOCs, automation and artificial intelligence.

[These notes were taken live and I've retained the typos, poor syntax and grammer etc... some may call that 'authentic'!]
 
George began by stating that this is an opportune time for the discussion as MOOCs in the media, the developments on the Turing Test and MIT media lab story telling bots used for second language skills in early years or google’s self-driving cars. Bringing together notion of AI, intelligent being ets.
Three main topics: (1) MOOCs as sociocultural phenomenon; (2) autonomation of teaching and (3) pedagogical agents and the automation of teaching.

MOOCs: first experienced these in 2011 and Change11 as a facilitator and uses them as object of study for his PG teaching and in research. Mainly participated as observor/ drop out.

MOOCs may be a understood as courses of learning but also sociocultural phenomena in response to the perceived failure of higher education. In particular, MOOCs can be seen as a response to the rising costs of higher education in North America and as a symptom of the vocationalisation of higher education. Worplace training drives much of the discussion on MOOCs as illustrated by Udacity changing from higher ed to training provider and introducing the notion of the nano-degree linked to employability. Also changes in the political landscape and cuts to state funding of HEIs in the USA and the discourse of public sector ineffieciencies and solutions based on competition and diversity of provision being prefered. MOOCs also represent the idea of technology as a solution to issues in education such as cost, student engagaement  and MOOCs as indicative of scholarly failure. Disciplines and knowledge of education such as learning sciences not available many as knowledge locked-in to costly journals, couched in obscure language. MOOCs also represent the idea that education can be packaged and automated at scale. Technologies seen as solutions ot providing education at scale, including TV, radio and recording lectures etc. so education is seen as content delivery. 
Also highlighted that xMOOCs came out of comp sci rather than education schools and driven by rubics of efficiency and autonomation. 
Pressey 1933 called for an industrial revoluation of education through the use of teaching machines that provide information, allow the learner to respond and provide feedback on that learner response. B.F. Skinner also created a teaching machine in 1935 based on stimulous/ response of lights indicating whether a response is correct or not. 
Similarly MOOCs adopt similar discourses on machine learning around liberating teachers from administration and grading to be able to spend more time teaching. So these arguments are part of a developed narrative of efficiency in education.But others have warned against the trend towards commodification of education (Noble 1988) but this commodification can be seen in the adoption of LMS and “shovelware” (information masquarading as a course).
Automation is increasing encrouching in to academia via eg, reference management software, Google scholar alerts, TOC alerts from journals, social media automation, RSS feeds, content aggregators (Feedly, Netvibes) and programming of the web through, for example, If This Then That (IFTTT). 
As a case, looks at the Mechanical MOOC that are based on assumptions that high quality open learning resources can be assembled, that learners can automatically come together to learn and can be assessed without human involvement and so the MOOC can be automated. An email schedular coordinates the learning, OpenStudy is used for peer support and interactive coding is automatically assessed through CodeAcademy. So attracts strongly and self-directed and capable learners. But research incates the place and visibility of teachers remains important (Ross & Bayne 2014). 
Moving on to educational agents as avatars that present and possibly respond to learners. These tend to be similar to virtual assistants. Such agents assist in learning, motivation, engagement, play and fun but the evidence to support these claims is ambiguous and often “strange”. In the research, gender, race, design and functions all interact and learners respond often based on the stereotypes used in human interactions. The most appealing agent tending to have a more positive effect on learning. Also context mediates perceptions and so how pedagogical agents are perceived and understood. 
The relationship between the agents and learners and their interactions is the subject of a number of studies on topics of discussion and social practices. Found that students and agents engage in small-talk and playfulness even though they are aware they are interacting with an arteficial agent. Also saw aggressive interactions from the learners, especially if the expert-agent is unable to answer a query. Students also shared personal information with the agents. Agents were positioned in to different roles as a learner companion, as a mediator between academic staff and learner, as a partner.
So social and psychological issues are as important as technology design issues. So do we need a Turing test for MOOC instruction? How we design technologies reflect as well as shape our cultures. 
//Ends with Q&A discussion

Open online spaces of professional learning: searching for understanding  the ‘material’ of Twitter discussion events

Here are the slides from my presentation to the Social Informatics cluster group meeting of 13 June 2014.

Abstract:

Recent years have seen a growth in micro-blogging discussion events intended to support professional learning (McCulloch, et al, 2011; Bingham and Conner, 2010) communities. These events often take place on Twitter and are open to anyone using that service. The synchronous events are organised through the convention of hashtags (#) in combination with a shortened name as an explicit mechanism to aggregate contributions and enable open interactions (Bruns 2011).
This presentation will explore an initial investigation of two of these Twitter discussion event communities that both target corporate learning and development professionals. The overall study is concerned with how social discourses within a specific context emerge as sense-making and legitimation strategies around particular practices (Phillips and Hardy 2002: 25) and so will employ a multi-modal discourse analysis approach (Levine and Scullion 2004). However, the data from these Twitter discussion events does not have a transparently coherent structure as discussion sequences run coterminously and interrupt one another (Honeycutt and Herring 2009). So, with the purpose of “making sense of the data”, this presentation outlines the approaches used in identifying and analysing the key patterns of participation and structures of the Twitter discussion events. The descriptive statistical approaches suggested by Bruns (2014) are used to analyse the Twitter events and to discuss the limits of such analysis with reference to recent debates on the nature and status of ‘data’ in digital research (boyd and Crawford 2012; Baym 2013). The extent to which this kind of analysis can reveal the power and participation strategies of Twitter users in these events will be discussed.