I have been at my new university for about a month trying to assess a constant flow of data about how and why everything is as it is. My overall observation is that it is good, but that has a lot to do with the fact that my world renown science and technology university does not worry about the same challenges facing much of the rest of higher education today. What we deliver is highly valued in our technological world even if we are using a century’s old pedagogical approach.
We do have modern pedagogical teaching and learning success stories here at S&T, but we also have excellent traditional course delivery of science and engineering classes that do not need to be adjusted. So why do we also find ourselves pressured to offer more blended and online courses? Because unfortunately most of us fit into a much larger higher education structure that will be pushed and pulled by many reactions, some of which are “knee jerk” in nature. But that is OK, we must all ultimately be responsible for our own response.
I mention these early observations in my new job as sort of a preview to what I believe will be an amazing journey that I will share will my talented faculty and highly motivated EdTech team as we adapt to the changing world of higher education. Our greatest challenge may be to understand that even though change is not required it is also not bad. If our typical highly motivated STEM students are coming to us from a different culture then maybe changing our pedagogy a bit to compliment their learning preferences could be a way to make our end product even better. The challenge that brought me to S&T was not to save them but to have an opportunity to improve them. On the world stage today I see the real challenge for the United States is not just to produce more STEM graduates but to produce the Best STEM graduates. So maybe I get a chance to help change the world.
The recent discussion created by Stanford student, Ben Rudolph, in his blog post about the Rigor of Stanford’s Free Classes, is a good opportunity for us to step back and critique the larger picture of our digital course delivery strategies. The reality for most of us is that we will deal with an increased adoption of online interaction in higher education teaching and learning. For pure online courses there are best practices, similar rules for blended or hybrid delivery and yes traditional course delivery can benefit from the adoption of online tools. But we have to keep a proper focus on what the product really is. For the traditional college degree which still relies on a Face-2-Face model, that product may be less about the dissemination of information but it will always be about the shaping of knowledge.
Stanford student, Ben, does ask some valid questions about why his course experience may be diluted by a course design that caters to a massive public audience. And it may be that this specific course lost its true compass, but it has caused me to consider where this may be headed. I think most of us have been intrigued by the increased amount of open access to courses at some of our most prestigious institutions. I have written it off mostly as publicity that they can afford. Of course it does offer valuable structured learning material that is sometimes helpful to other educators. And these open courses that Stanford and MIT have offered that connect a form of certification of completion do move toward a new form of a student’s accreditation of learning. This is good for our society, it provides opportunity for all. But let’s make sure we in higher education understand our product. We help a student transform information into knowledge and hope to mold their character so they utilize that knowledge to benefit a greater “Good” for all. Higher Education must deliver a version of that product and our warranties must be true to the expectations of our students.