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EUNIS pre-Congress E-Learning TF Workshop: 9th June 2015, Abertay University

Electronic Management of Assessment and Assessment Analytics

EUNIS E-Learning Task Force Workshop will be held at the Abertay University, Dundee (Scotland) on 9th of June 2015, 10.00-16.00.

The workshop will explore how technology can be used to enhance assessment and feedback activities and streamline associated administration and how we might make use of assessment data to improve learning. Across Europe universites are struggling with similar issues of bringing assessment and feedback practice up to date and meeting student and staff expectations.

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MOOCs, SPOCs and behind

imagesIn my last post I imagined how universities and Higher Education, more generally, could benefit from a blended education, partly as SPOC, i.e. small online courses, and partly face to face.
Apart from thedisruption oflearning and teaching methods, the financial costs and human resources required to generalize the use of SPOCs will forceour institutionsto cooperateto build anduse common courses in their curricula. For those attending EUNIS congresses, this is not new: our colleagues from the Bavarian Virtual University build courses for all Bavarian universities. However, for most universities, this will bea significant changeof the current paradigmof the teacher,alone, facinghis studentsin the amphitheaterand of the students using only the notes provided by their teachers.Thus building and sharing online courseswill be an interestingtransformation of the modeof operationof our venerableinstitutions, butit goes muchfurther.

The revolution of MOOCs will have significant side effects.

A MOOC or a SPOC is active over a limited period of six to eight weeks. A conventional teaching module covers one semester. So there is a gap between the durations of these two types of events. The MIT has already thought about this contradiction: it is reconsidering the organization of all of its teaching modules to turn them into shorter units, so as to be able to switch some of them online, whenever decided. My interlocutors at MIT told me that it does not mean that all modules will be transformed into SPOCs but they want to remove any obstacle for any move in new ways of teaching

So I have the feeling that the massive introduction of SPOCs will quickly lead our universities and colleges to the same conclusion and that it will induce a new organization of the university year and of the delivery of grades. This is far from neutral and represents much more than just an administrative reorganization!

A very interesting change is that it will allow a greater diversity of the curricula. The combination of shorter modules will allow to better adapting the studies to the students professional projects and will. The ability to remotely participate to some courses will facilitate the diversity of curricula since collisions in timetables may be avoided.

Universities are the warrant of the consistency of the curricula and do not graduate collectors of a scattered knowledge. Their responsibility is to build and to offer curricula that combine both fundamental knowledge, that allow everyone to progress throughout his/her life, and to learn professional skills for immediate employment. Therefore, by nature, they must build and offer coherent combinations of courses that make sense. The best universities will be those that simultaneously allow personal enrichment and preparation for the careers of today and tomorrow. For instance, a student with a major in physics may be interested in philosophy and management as another, with a major in law, will choose to learn sociology and mathematics! Rare, highly specialized disciplines will be better preserved because distance learning will allow gathering the necessary number of students in one single course. Videoconferencing will permit to teachers and students to interact enhancing the interaction of a classical SPOC. My personal experience, in my university, is that it preserves most of the interests of face-to-face exchanges. Blended learning and online courses allow new exciting combinations of courses and the top universities will be those that can offer consistent rich learning pallets.

These perspectives fit the spirit of the designers of the Bologna process because, if universities agree, students will be able to build their curricula with courses taken in different universities in Europe. This is a key factor in building a true European training: today a number of students are not able to study abroad because of a lack of financial support. SPOCs and blended learning will open new opportunities to a majority of European young people. Agreements between universities will attract a number of students interested in building true European curricula. Do the universities loose their role? Not all: the university will not only be a place to study but also a meeting place and a hub to exchange and pursue larger international studies.

This is also a very exciting challenge for the libraries: all experiments show that purely remote participants feel the need to meet. Students, enrolled in SPOCs, will love to encounter their fellow participants on the campus and there is no better place than the libraries. At EPFL, which has already switched to blended learning for its first year, students come, even when they do not have classes, to watch videos of their courses and work together. Coursera and EDX know that very well and are implementing rendezvous places all around the world.

Lecture halls will become empty and libraries will be filled. We must therefore quickly review the architecture and the organization of the buildings of our cherished institutions.

Let us go a step further. If the curriculums are organized as short modules of six to eight weeks, what is the meaning of the term? Nowadays students, who have failed a module, must wait until next year because most universities do not have the staff to repeat the same course twice a year. A SPOC can be easily replayed as a MOOC the next semester for a very low expense. This is not as good as a real blended learning course but, for the students who failed, it is much better than losing the rest of the year. Thus we may imagine that online courses will start at various times of the academic year. SPOCs, replayed as a MOOC, to the attention of the too many students who missed their exams, which is especially true in the first year in the university, will bloom from January until the summer.

As for the examinations, whose passage must continue to be monitored, we may also use the libraries to organize them, like in Telford College in Edinburgh, UK, (which I had a chance to visit, thanks to Gill Ferrell). The exams are taken online during a given period, students have an appointment in a special room, always under the supervision of a proctor, settle all means of communication at the entrance in a locker and work, out of sight of each other. So, what will remain of the famous university tempo? Courses may start at any time during the year; exams may be organized by appointment (or not). The organization of the year will loose almost all its meaning.

The MOOC will revolutionize the university well beyond the facilitation of new forms of pedagogy. Our campuses will become places of meeting and exchange as well as places of learning. This will upset their architecture and our planners would do well to think about it now.

The academic time will be transformed. We may imagine being able to deliver courses mostly all along the year without increasing the burden on the teachers who, I must recall it, are also researchers. Introducing SPOCs, MOOCs and all kind of online learning will rather allowing them greater flexibility in their two activities.

A downside? Yes. I am very afraid that enrollment and all kind of administrative procedures may introduce a major barrier in this beautiful dream. In many universities it is urgent to completely rethink our organization and our management systems by truly student oriented systems and no more thought to address all kinds of regulations. But I am much more pessimistic about this!

MOOCs and universities

imagesI have long lived in the United States, I worked and lived there and I came back truly European, convinced that we belong to a different culture and a different civilization. This has been a very important reason for my investment in EUNIS from its beginning.

In the US, universities, even public, are modeled as business enterprises. The State contributes little to their funding and its contribution has greatly diminished over the past twenty years. Therefore, the customers, i.e. the students (I hate speaking of students as customers but I use that word deliberately), have sustained a tremendous increase in the price of the product, which is education.

Education is an investment, and like any good investment must be profitable. Hence the big question is: is the investment in long-term studies still of value?
I doubt that in Europe, most students ask themselves this question before starting college studies! Certainly, registration fees have become quite high or very high in some schools, especially business, but this has nothing to do with the United States where it exceeds $ 10,000 per year in the most modest community colleges and where $ 30,000 per year is not unreasonable in the best ones. In fact, many of our colleagues on the other side of the Atlantic are very appreciative of how we come out with so little resources.

Let us wonder about their vision of MOOCs to reduce the cost of education. We must not delude ourselves that what do not pay the students in Europe, is paid by the nation. In addition to the questions that may arise about the limits of systems where the distribution of the social background of students does not automatically reflects that of those who contribute to it, that is the taxpayers, it is certain that European States will not be able, in the coming years, to provide all the means needed by the universities. We must rationalize the use of our staff and building. Thus it is not a dirty word to ask how digital education could help to do better at constant means.

In a book, just translated into English, I wrote that the estimated average cost of a MOOC of six weeks ranges about € 50,000 for the staff. By applying a factor 2 to account for all the rest: accommodation, work equipment, etc., the total cost of a MOOC is, in the range of € 100,000. Other people, on both sides of the Atlantic, agree with this order of magnitude.

Let us now compare the cost of a conventional class and of a blended learning class versus the number of students. The main differences are that blended learning does not need anymore the large theaters and that the students encounter less often their teachers in application classes. Taking into account the number of teachers and the building needed, one comes to the conclusion that, around 400 students, blended learning is more profitable because less teachers and less rooms are required. This figure is very approximate because some courses need more work than others and the critical value may vary but it is certain that for large classes, in the range 200-400 students, the classical way of teaching is more expensive. Moreover studies now show that blended learning, i.e. SPOCs with personal face-to face interaction between students and teachers is the most effective way of learning. It does not decrease significantly the failure rate but those who succeed succeed better.

So why not to shift rapidly to blended learning with SPOCS? We could place our efforts differently and transform teaching hours in more personal exchanges that allow us to better track our students. All indicators therefore seem to go in the same direction and we should enthusiastically move in this new direction!

Let’s be realistic: the first difficulty is that universities today have a limited investment capacity and very few are able to provide neither the financial commitment nor the human resources to respond quickly to such a project. Regarding finances, only the State can provide the necessary resources for this transformation. Regarding the human resources, pooling, working together and using each other courses, cross-universities, is the only solution for a rapid shift. The Virtual University of Bavaria, that many EUNIS congress participants know, is a good example of such pooling system.
This is the easiest part; the second difficulty is to imagine new approaches of teaching, using common courses and preserving at the same time the diversity of approaches in the pedagogy. MOOCs and SPOCs must not lead tomorrow to standardization in the processes of teaching. The majority of teachers has to be convinced that, although they must adapt to a very different approach of knowledge transfer, they will find their place between training sequences without them and keep their individuality. They will become more mentors than knowledge distributors, and this is the core values ​​of any teaching and has no price. The most complicated will be to convince both teachers and students of the educational validity of this approach and to persuade them that it is not a second order education: after all the rich EPFL uses it extensively .

Regarding the students they must be convinced also that this approach is the best one for them. They will have to learn to become more responsible for their education and work differently, not as they often do (and we did before them) just before the exams but continuously all along the year. Our students are less innovative than often said when it comes to ways of learning and they come first to succeed in their exams.

So MOOCs, SPOCs and all that stuff is really a unique chance to modernize the university. Will they destroy it? Certainly not but, as usually when big changes occur, the weakest universities may fail. It is the responsibility of the decision makers, in each of our institution, to be aware of that. And each of us can help them in this move.




EUNIS BI Task Force: May 20, Madrid

Institutional Intelligence in Universities

The EUNIS BI Task Force will participate in an event in Spain dedicated to Institutional Intelligence in Universities, organized by CRUE-TIC.
The event will take place at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, on May 20th. More information is available here