ASU, MOOCs, and the future of gen ed’s

Today’s buzz in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and even in mainstream New York Times are reporting Arizona State University’s partnership with the Harvard/MIT Edx venture. On April 17, Inside Higher Ed reported The University of Akron announced a different direction, but both have a focus of using online education for general education required courses. There are arguments for and against, including the arguments regarding the value of campus life, the large numbers of adult learners who don’t want a “campus life experience.” And there are arguments about money. Of course, whether we like it or not, money is considered both the solution and the problem. For public institutions, costs continue to increase while state funds decrease and the ability to raise tuition and donor funds compress the ability to educate students. Some could argue any educational entity, public or private, have the same cost issues. For the student paying the higher costs of an education, many want to get a

Interactive table, University of Texas, Austin.degree in a timely manner, don’t often understand the value of general education, and want in the workforce to “begin life.”

For those of us in higher learning, we need to do a better job explaining to the student — and the public at large — the value of a broad based bachelor’s degree. I still use lessons learned from my general education requirements from Kent State University, and while it may not specifically be applying physics or literature, the course Seven Ideas that Shook the World taught me to think critically, systematically, and systemically at the world around me. I had great professors who kept us engaged with the concepts being taught whether Art, sociology, or English. My undergraduate experience At Kent State taught me to inquire, learn, and reflect. To do so internally, in my communities, and globally. These were conducted in person, but I’ve watched the same spark of learning motivation I was afforded with students in a fully online course with equal rigor. And trust me, I was a complainer about taking all these “extra classes.” So glad they explained the value to me, and that I listened.

Whether we like it or not, there really is no turning back to the former world of learning, as time, technology, and students, demand we utilize learning technologies — but do it right. It is not hard to see why students see a great advantage in taking a course first, before determining if they want to pay for it to earn credit. And yes, done right, you can increase the student section enrollment, although how large is yet to be determined. More research is absolutely necessary. Hopefully, both Akron and ASU are planning to study what they are doing.

The greatest fear I have is that we move so fast because of the significant pressure public education is under to pay it’s own way, that we overlook real instructional design methods. We need to use empirically proven approaches that are grounded in learning theory and yet at the same time pilot new phenomena that could improve student learning on a more efficient scale.

Perhaps we need to pause to reflect on the goals of public higher education and what are the best paths to a more educated society. Are we first doing no harm? Is higher learning still a public good or a private one? Can it be both? Are we improving the human condition? Will students be engaged to the level necessary to remember the knowledge, skills, and abilities learned in their general education courses — regardless of delivery modalities — to have the capacity of using them decades later? Our goal in eLearning should not be to have students remember that one awesome professor; everyone has that experience. How remarkable would it be to students remember all of their learning experiences and all of their professors, who in their unique human way, provide context, relevance, and human energy as an expert in the discipline. As I’ve repeatedly said, faculty are more important to learning than ever before, and opening the door to learning theories, the passionate human expert as professor, can utilize intuitive learning technologies to expand our practices.

Let’s not get wrapped up in politics or false dichotomies of yes/no, let’s do in my field what you do in yours: let’s do what we do best, let’s research these opportunities of discovery.