Thursday, September 17, 2009

Online Discussion about Obama's CC Initiative


Yesterday I served as moderator for two hours for an online discussion forum about President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative The "Jam" was organized by the Knowledge in the Public Interest, the Brookings Institution, the Education Commission of the States, and Jobs for the Future. Community college educators from all around the country joined in the conversation. My topic was one of six different discussions and was titled "Accessing Online Education: Funding to Create Free, Web-based Courses."

  • Plan is for $500 Million ($50M each year for 10 years)
  • H.R. Bill 3221 should be voted on this week. Senate bill in earlier stages. UPDATE: 3221 passed right before I posted this. Senate bill still coming.)
  • Here's the text from Obama’s speech in July about the proposal to
    • “…build a new virtual infrastructure to complement the education and training community colleges can offer. So we're going to support the creation of a new online, open-source clearinghouse of courses so that community colleges across the country can offer more classes without building more classrooms. And this will make a big difference especially for rural campuses that a lot of times have struggled -- attract -- have to struggle to attract students and faculty. And this will make it possible for a professor to complement his lecture with an online exercise, or for a student who can't be away from her family to still keep up with her coursework. We don't know where this kind of experiment will lead, but that's exactly why we ought to try it because I think there's a possibility that online education can provide especially for people who are already in the workforce and want to retrain the chance to upgrade their skills without having to quit their job." (see video in previous post)
So, what were people saying in the Jam? Here are a few excerpts:

1. How would this open-source clearinghouse of courses fit into the massive development of online courses that has already occurred at community colleges? In other words, would it fill in gaps in online course content that haven't been effectively filled at this point, or would it be duplicative of the many efforts already underway? Some suggestions were for a concentration on developmental (remedial) courses. Another suggestion was to focus on emerging academic programs that don't already exist (or at least not much of an existence).

2. Another major area of conversation centered around the words "free" and "open." The first term (free) doesn't actually appear in Obama's remarks, but it does appear in the White House Briefing Room (in the phrase "freely available courses"). J.S. from Honolulu asked the following: "Does 'open' mean:
  • Free to use as you will with absolutely no cost?
  • Free to use without citing or acknowledging sources?
  • Freedom from any and all constraints in transporting the content -- as is or in modified form -- to different sites?
  • Complete freedom to alter the content?
  • Freely and easily accessible with no site subscription fees or complex registration and log-in procedures?
  • Stable or "permanent" URLs?
  • Options for different levels of privacy in terms of tracking or "footprints"?
All good questions, but no answers at this time.

Lastly, I'll paste the text from the Briefing Room linked above:
"Create a New Online Skills Laboratory: Online educational software has the potential to help students learn more in less time than they would with traditional classroom instruction alone. Interactive software can tailor instruction to individual students like human tutors do, while simulations and multimedia software offer experiential learning. Online instruction can also be a powerful tool for extending learning opportunities to rural areas or working adults who need to fit their coursework around families and jobs. New open online courses will create new routes for students to gain knowledge, skills and credentials. They will be developed by teams of experts in content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology and made available for modification, adaptation and sharing. The Departments of Defense, Education, and Labor will work together to make the courses freely available through one or more community colleges and the Defense Department’s distributed learning network, explore ways to award academic credit based upon achievement rather than class hours, and rigorously evaluate the results." (my emphases added)

From that, John S. made the following recommendations for how it could be crafted:
  • - Provide funds for grant projects which develop new online degree programs in emerging fields. (I could name several for which I've heard reports of demand.) This would help focus the project on workforce development and degree completion, which is the stated goal of the overall initiative.
  • - The interactive individualized open courseware is fine, but projects should show how the courseware will lead to higher graduation rates as a criterion for funding. If they could actually do that, it would be tremendous.
  • - Outline a framework by which open, free course materials will be disseminated. (SCORM is not a dissemination mechanism; it is an interoperability mechanism.)
  • - Fund a project or two which explores how successful inter-institutional collaborations currently work and how they could be scaled to promote easier 'swirling'.
  • - Fund a project or two which explores offering "academic credit based upon achievement rather than class hours." But let's use the experience of existing institutions and see if a project can help expand the acceptance of those approaches. For example, how 'bout a project which supports the creation of a national online course catalog with inter-institutional articulation a la SOC/SOCAD? Or what could be done to expand the capacity of the existing institutions (Empire State, Thomas Edison et al.)?
  • - Allow for the use of broader evaluation methods which measure outcomes more richly. Why should we individualize inputs (as in individualizing courseware) but continue to standardize outputs? (And reliance on experimental or quasi-experimental methods, randomized controlled trials, bias toward standardized tests, does not constitute "rigorous evaluation.")
  • - Fund a project which changes how graduation rates are currently calculated. According to a recent AACSU report, the current methodology is highly flawed. (I was shocked to learn that I would not count as a successful graduate because I was a transfer student.) This is not just mere window dressing; it would help IHEs and the general public have a better sense of the actual success rate.
All in all, it was a productive and very long discussion thread about the initiative. I'll probably pull out a few more things for future postings.

1 comment:

john said...

elearning systems will be a hot topic in online topics