Interview with Center for 21st Century Universities

Chronicle did an interesting, if too brief, [interview]( with Richard A. DeMillo and Paul M.A. Baker, of the [Center for 21st Century Universities]( where they discussed the threat to traditional HEs who focused on the wrong value proposition and tried the Christensen shield of sustained innovation.There was some discussion in the interview about open courses, which are exciting. Having been one of the first lot into Thrun and Norvig’s [Intro to AI]( I can attest to the success of the experiment. I saw student’s engaging with the material in a serious fashion, and there was tremendous motivation on the part of many, many students. This proves that the idea of an open class can work, and tied with [badges]( provides for an interesting credentialing model, but not for an economic sustaining model to support it. But still, the idea of digital efficiencies should provide for low cost badging from a reputable source.

In the interview, they speak about the danger of HEs becoming the next Borders Bookstore, beaten out by [Amazon]( In this analogue, Borders fails to recognize the value proposition and tries to compete against Amazon in the online space, while still retaining their physical manifestation. So, should the objective of the HE fighting the online be about replicating the classroom experience in the online space? There are many examples of attempts to achieve this, myself having been involved in many.

The traditional view of an LMS/VLE does this, and throw in video conferencing and you are replicating classroom for those unable to co-locate in real physical space. And there are people who value this, but the question that the open courses are begging is whether people are valuing this due to no known alternative?

Like amazon, when you go online with massive numbers, you start to see crowdsourcing effects, Metcalfe effects, that transcend the classroom experience. And this has its own value. Playing on the bookstore analogy, I don’t use the local bookstore employee as a source of truth for recommendations, etc., I use master lists on the online platform that thousands of others use, and I might even weigh in with my own comments, but I certainly extract information out of the experience about the subject matter.

There is some more discussion on value in the interview, but the other subject that they bring up is student-student generated knowledge, a la the [Khan Academy]( So, Georgia Tech has taken student generated content on their own elected topic and thrown it up online. And, shock, horror, some of them got their snippets wrong, that is, they failed to understand the topic sufficiently well to transmit it correctly. But this is great news, as this fits in with a social constructivist model perfectly, and the crowdsourcing effect from being socially digital means that they can get tremendous feedback quickly and efficiently in a way that should help them all to learn both the subject matter as well as the scholarly aspect of tackling new knowledge. This, to me, seems a very exciting idea that I would like to see some HEs jump on and open up, trying to achieve Metcalfe effects through scales of large n.


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