Plus ça change

Tony Bates made these recommendations to the University of New Brunswick, “to foster further development of knowledge-based industries in the province”:

1. Greater incorporation of ICT and other 21st century skills (e.g. independent learning, problem solving) in a wider range of programs and subject disciplines.

2. A gradual move from almost entirely face-to-face courses in first year programs to hybrid or fully distance programs in the fourth year undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as develop more online non-credit certificate or diploma programs focused on the lifelong learning market.

3. Start gradually to redesign courses in this way on a program by program basis. Make sure the new programs are properly resourced (time for development + learning technology support).

4. Stop treating distance education courses as extra load, but integrate them into regular credit programming as part of a normal teaching load for instructors, perhaps supplemented with revenues from full cost recovery courses aimed at lifelong learners.

5. Look to partnership and consortia to leverage the development of online programs on an international basis.

6. Provide systematic and comprehensive training in pedagogy and educational technology for instructors scheduled to work on online programs.

7. Provide instructional and web designers to work in teams with instructors for the redesign of courses.

After reading this and seeing what advice they got from the west coast, I just had to dust off a (not successful) online learning strategy proposal that Rob Paterson and I submitted to UNB in 2008. Here are some highlights:

We see the objective of building a community of learners as the critical aspect of any future endeavour in online learning.

In two years time, 2010, the web will be the principal place where most business, entertainment, and socializing will take place – learning will follow shortly – so by 2012 you will be a player or dead.

The university can still grant a degree and the degree has a certain amount of societal value. The university can also offer a social space, but most kids don’t need 4 years of this.

UNB wants to be a leader in online learning but there must be several reasons why the university is not a leader already. There is no competition in New Brunswick and little competition in the Atlantic provinces. One of the reasons for declining enrolment is demographics, as cited in the UNB Online Partnership document, and another is the lack of students outside the traditional age range. This age range is what business ventures call “low hanging fruit” and the model worked well when a university education was accessible, affordable and provided a decent return on investment. Given the rising cost of a university education and the declining perception of a bachelor’s degree, the traditional university business model has peaked
.

I respect Tony very much, but I do not believe that an incremental approach will work. However, it’s probably what the client wants to hear.

3 Responses to “Plus ça change”

  1. Gilbert (Formative Assessment Guy)

    “to foster further development of knowledge-based industries in the province”:

    Tony’s recommendations have just about nothing to do with fostering development of knowledge-based industries.

    That is clearly someone “Pushing” for elearning independently of the consequences. Pushing “blindly” for technology is a recipe for disaster in the new economy.

    Reply
    • Harold Jarche

      Yes, Tony’s perspective is quite different from what we were proposing. We were looking at how UNB could become a leader in the elearning space. Our proposal had nothing to do with regional economic development. I too, find the link rather tenuous. The core of the economic development argument seems to be:

      “However, the fastest growing part of the economy is the information and communications technology sector. Although ‘core’ computer science is an important part of that, corporate and commercial e-learning and electronic games are also important business sectors. Furthermore, if the university can develop more students with the skills and competencies needed in a knowledge-based economy, there is an opportunity for even greater economic growth in this sector, as graduates establish new, small companies in niche areas.”

      I don’t know many graduates in this region who establish start-ups. There is a lack of access to angel and VC money, for instance. There is also no culture of start-ups, with their high failure rates, in the region. If you fail once in Atlantic Canada, that’s it. This is not silicon valley and UNB is not Stanford. David Campbell recently remarked on this:

      “I remember the frustration of the folks involved in that effort back in the 1990s to get a risk capital pool started. They assembled a group of wealthy NBers and asked them to all put some green in a pot. Then they would hear pitches from entrepreneurs and decide in whom to invest. The frustration was these angels had the risk tolerance of a bank and the return expectation of a loan shark (or an ATM). If we don’t have small brown envelopes of cash to throw at interesting ideas, we will have fewer entrepreneurs.”

      Reply
  2. Gilbert (Formative Assessment Guy)

    Does more people using IPods in New-Brunswick foster the development of the New-Brunswick music industry?

    I guess Tony must have just thrown the “fostering” sentence in for some odd reason.

    Maybe its part of a natural learning cycle for universities to jump blindly into e-learning, and LMS, to eventually realize that “solutions waiting for problems” are not the answer.

    The days when our local universities could foster economic growth in IT are behind us. They have become sinks that use up all the resources now. The IT and business knowledge in the population astronomically surpasses what is in the universities.

    This said, we will continue to put lots of monies into our universities for a while because they are seen as businesses that export. So that is where research and infrastructure dollars will go. This is very risky given the fact the current university business models are out of sync with reality.

    Reply

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