THRIVING IN A GLOBAL EDUCATION MARKETPLACE
The thesis for my remarks is straightforward: Higher Education around the world is entering a period of change that will exceed anything experienced since the invention of the Gutenberg Press. Three forces have coalesced to drive and accelerate this change: the global economy, the global community, and advances in technology, particularly the Internet. Every aspect of education will be impacted: the way instruction is designed and delivered; the way institutions are organized and managed; and the clientele served by higher education. In order to support my thesis, I will suggest seven major changes currently taking place in higher education today as a result of these forces. I will then move on to discuss briefly strategies institutions can adopt to take advantage of these changes.
In order to provide a context for the topic we are going to discuss, lets go back in history 125 years to the time when the factories were flattened. The steam engine - invented by James Watt in 1765 - had a profound impact on manufacturing for over 100 years. His invention made it possible to harness the power necessary to run all of the machine tools, conveyor belts, and systems that combine to make mass production possible. However, steam engines have one drawback: they must be big to be efficient. You never see small steam engines. It is what economists refer to as "economies of scale." Thus, the early factories were big in order to take advantage of the power produced by massive steam engines. Engineers also soon discovered that it was more efficient to distribute the power generated by steam engines vertically rather than horizontally, so they designed factories that extended several stories into the sky. A single shaft would run from the steam engine on the first floor to the top floor with a single bearing at the bottom that could be easily oiled and maintained, and each floor in the factory would take its power off that central shaft. However, multistoried factories have some serious drawbacks. It is very expensive and time consuming to move raw materials and finished products up and down several floors of a factory, but that is what they had to do.
In 1830, Joseph Henry invented the electric motor. Not only was it easier to operate and maintain than a steam engine, but you didn't have to accumulate mountains of coal that produced smoke and soot. At first, engineers manufactured huge electric motors that they simply swapped for the old steam engines. Electric motors were less expensive, safer, easier to maintain, and less polluting. After a time somebody discovered that the same economy of scale did not apply to electric motors that applied to steam engines and that, in fact, they could make smaller motors which could be distributed throughout their multistory factories and thereby enhance efficiency. Before long small electric motors started appearing at various places throughout the factory. Finally, after 40 years someone said, "we don't need that big electric motor at all. We can flatten this factory and save all the expense and headache of moving things up and down multiple stories and accomplish more with a series of small electric motors."
Radical innovations like the electric motor and the computer always proceed through three stages. First, we take the new technology and use it to simply improve the way we have always done things. Our forefathers simply substituted the big electric motor for the big steam engine. We use word processing instead of relying on typewriters to produce documents. However, the process of writing letters and producing documents is essentially the same. The second stage involves adding interesting features to what we have always done, but again not fundamentally changing the process. Small electric motors were added to assembly lines, but the large massive source of power was still in place. We use power point to add interest to our lectures, but they are nonetheless still lectures. The final stage is the interesting one. It involves reinventing what we have always done. The process of mass production was completely re-conceptualized as if electric motors had always existed. That resulted in the flattening of the factories.
Higher Education has worked its way through the first two stages with computers over the last 25 or 30 years and is now entering that final stage called "reinvention." In other words, the Internet is going to flatten the higher education factory. The processes we have always followed are going to be radically changed.
Here is some evidence to suggest that we are entering that third stage of development. Three years ago I asked my graduate assistant to find out how many courses offered by US Colleges and Universities were on the web. She came back with a number of 5,000. The next year when I had my graduate student check again the number was over 11,000. Today it is impossible to count. On our campus alone we are averaging five new courses going onto the web every week. In fact, we have moved away from thinking about individual courses on the web and are concentrating on complete degree programs on the web.
Free standing cyber universities are springing up all over the world. There is the African Virtual University, funded and managed by the World Bank. Countries like Malaysia, India, and Kenya are all using the latest technology in distance learning with a goal of training an army of information technology workers overnight. England has the British Open University - the largest in the world. In the United States there are a plethora of such institutions. The best known is the University of Phoenix with 60,000 students. Some of the most prestigious institutions are entering the field. The former junk bond king, Michael Milken, put up the initial money to start Cardean University (named after a Roman goddess Cardea who could "open what is shut and shut what is open"). Cardean University is a virtual university without a campus, which utilizes faculty from Stanford University, Columbia University, The University of Chicago, Carnegie Mellon University, and the London School of Economics and Political Science. Some of these universities expect to make at least 20 million dollars as a result of their participation in this venture. Recently, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools - the US's largest accrediting agency - accredited Jones International University, the first all virtual university to achieve that status. Doubtless, more will follow. How are institutions like yours and mine going to compete when our students can take an economics course via satellite in their own home from a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science?
Clearly, the higher education landscape is changing. As I have witnessed this change take place, I've identified seven major short-term changes occurring in higher education, all a result of integrating computing into the curriculum and the Internet.
1. The definition of what it means to be educated is changing. Currently, we decide whether a person is well educated based upon their ability to answer questions posed by experts in their discipline. If you want to be licensed as a medical doctor, you must pass an examination put together by a group of medical doctors. If you can answer their questions you can become part of their guild. The ability to answer questions is losing its significance. Answers are all over the web. We are swamped by answers. The defining characteristic of a well-educated person in the 21st century will be the ability to ask sharply focused questions and to evaluate sources of information. That change in the definition of what it means to be educated has profound implications for the way that we go about delivering instruction. We have not even begun to think about how we can train students to ask sharply focused questions and to evaluate answers in the age of cyber space. The institution that comes up with a strategy for teaching and measuring those skills will immediately move to the forefront of the educational community.
2. The roll of the instructor will change from that of dispenser of knowledge to that of coach and mentor. There are several reasons for this. First of all, in the next century a large percentage of instruction will take place asynchronously. In other words, the student will able to select the time, the place, and even the mode of exchange with the instructor. Also, it is clear to me that in the future instructors will spend a lot more time designing their courses than they do now. Much of that time will be invested before the course even begins.
Modularized courses will become common. We have an ongoing project on our campus to modularize courses. The goal is to accelerate learning. The strategy is to isolate those parts of the course that can be codified and put on a CD ROM for students to learn on their own time at their own pace. If you think of Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) the first three levels lend themselves easily to modularization. For the last seven or eight years we have had a chemistry lab where students conduct over 30 percent of the experiments using computer simulations. We can document several benefits from this approach. First, we can do experiments that could not be done otherwise (for example, an explosion). Second, we can do experiments that would create toxic waste that would be difficult to manage. Third, we can do experiments that would be logistically impossible in a traditional lab (for example, an air quality sampling and analysis exercise). But the most important finding is that when we tell students that they can learn the material at their own pace, on their own time, they all get it. The level of learning has gone up. Of equal significance is the fact that students who already know the material do not have to waste time sitting and listening as an instructor explains it to those who have not learned it. On the other hand, students who have not learned the material can take all of the time they need cycling through the simulation until they finally master it.
The development of courses such as this takes time. We have discovered that - depending on the degree to which the instructor chooses to use new technologies and the amount of interactivity built into the course - designing a technology intensive course can take from two to ten times more effort than required for a traditional class.
3. The importance of seat time will continue to diminish. One of the major variables that we have used in assigning students credit is how much time they spend. If you spend three hours per week for fifteen or sixteen weeks you get three hours of credit assuming, of course, that you achieve some minimum level of content mastery. If you spend at least four years you can get a bachelors degree. In the age of Internet, such measures will be meaningless. If the student already knows the material, they get the credit. If they can learn the material quickly, they get the credit. The learners of the future will not accept the notion that they have to simply put in time before they can get a degree.
4. Competency-based assessment will become the norm. When seat time is no longer a measure of learning we will inevitably move to competency-based approaches to assessment. I currently serve on a task force established by the U. S. Department of Education to develop criteria for competency-based assessment in higher education. Next year, Jossey-Bass will publish a book reflecting the work of this group. This much is clear, in the future the reasons for any given assessment will need to be clearly articulated by the instructor. In the old paradigm, assessment was for the benefit of the instructor who needed some way to rank and sort the students in the class, A's, B's, C's etc. Of course, students expended considerable energy trying to beat the system. In the future, we will need to explain why we are giving students a particular test. Is it to prevent failure? Is it to provide them with information so that they can know how they are progress in the class? Is it to create a teachable moment where the testing process itself is a learning experience? Is it to provide information to the instructors so that he or she can improve the instructional process? Or, is it to certify to those outside of the classroom how much the student has learned?
Competency-based assessment also will force faculty to develop clearer course objectives. Without clear objectives it is impossible to establish competencies. Finally, the most profound impact of competency-based assessment could be on the admissions process itself. Educators have long avoided discussing the fact that some freshman know more when they matriculate than some of their fellow students when they graduate. Competency-based assessment is going to highlight those differences.
5. International accrediting standards will emerge and gain acceptance. I attended two meeting in Europe this summer that were supposedly unrelated to each other. The first was the International Association of University Presidents, which met in Brussels, Belgium, and the second was an International Conference on Quality in Higher Education that met in Manchester, England. One topic dominated both meetings: How are we going to deal with courses students have taken over the Internet from institutions around the world that we may have never heard of? A task force has been formed to develop criteria for international accreditation.
6. Articulated programs will become common. My university has articulation agreements with over 20 two-year colleges. If a student graduates from one of those colleges they are assured admittance into our university. Recently we have focused on what we call 2+2 programs where students take the first two years of a degree program at a two-year institution and then move seamlessly to our campus for the final two years. Some of these programs are being delivered entirely over the Internet. If you look on our web site you will find one such program that we have developed in conjunction with the Colorado Electronic Community Colleges and the Kansas City Metropolitan Community Colleges. It is a Bachelor of Science in Business Management degree where 18 two-year colleges feed students into our upper division courses. Incidentally, if you look on any of those institutions web sites you will also find the linkages to Northwest Missouri State University.
7. Finally, collaboration between institutions and across national boundaries will become common place. In addition to our linkages with the Colorado Electronic Community Colleges and the Metropolitan Community Colleges of Kansas City, we are part of KC REACH, a consortium of schools delivering instruction over television, the Northwest Missouri Education Consortium, and a partnership with three other Missouri universities formed to develop and deliver web-based graduate programs. We are developing similar links with Byuksung College in Korea and the Universidad Regiomontana in Mexico. The reasons for such collaboration are: to reduce the cost of course and program development, to use faculty time more efficiently, to pool the resources of several institutions, and to get into the educational market place faster with a better product.
Before discussing how we can prepare our institutions to participate in the coming age of Internet-based education, let me pause for a moment to emphasize one thing I have not said. I have not suggested that 17-22 year-old traditional students will not continue to seek out a campus environment for their college education. The campus experience provides several critical experiences that cannot be duplicated in any other setting. (However, there is no evidence that 35 year-old working mothers want or would benefit from student unions, football teams, or sororities!) IÕm convinced that those institutions that integrate technology into their campus setting and all of the courses and programs they offer will be those institutions most attractive to tomorrowÕs students.
How can you prepare your institution for the coming age of cyber education?
First, develop a computer-rich environment. This cost of doing this is dropping rapidly. On September 09, 1999, Sun Microsystems introduced a terminal that will connect into servers and compete with PCs. It will have a large color monitor, extended keyboard, sound cards, Internet access - everything ordinary users need. They are offering them for lease in the United States for $10 per month; they can be purchased for $500 and that price is expected to fall.
But, even if you choose to build your system around PCs like we have at Northwest Missouri State University, the system can be installed, upgraded, and maintained at minimal cost if you rigorously adhere to seven principles:
1. Focus on the instructional process. That is, learning and teaching. Historically students have been at the end of the line when it comes to computers, behind administrators and faculty. Students should come first.
2. Satisfy needs and not wants.
3. Agree that ability to pay cannot be a factor in whether or not students have access to computing. On our campus that lead us to place computers in every residence hall room on campus and include the cost in housing rates.
4. Strive for homogeneity. When everyone on campus has the same equipment it is much easier maintain. Further, when faculty know exactly what capacity a student has they will make assignments that will require students to utilize computers.
5. Minimize maintenance at the point of use. We do that by having removable hard drives. That allows us to send students out to service computers rather than high price technicians.
6. Control software proliferation.
The second strategy involves ensuring that your faculty and staff are technologically literate. We have learned that it is better to encourage faculty to move through stages. First, encourage them to modularize portions of their existing courses. Second, encourage them to integrate web modules into existing courses. Finally, on their own they will want to develop web-based courses.
Finally, seek opportunities for collaboration with other institutions. In our region of the United States the college and universities that have experienced growth during the 1990s are the ones that have kept up with technology, aggressively formed alliances with other institutions, and moved into distance education. Interestingly, two-year colleges have been leaders in that trend. All of the colleges and universities in the region that have not followed these steps have actually declined in enrollment. I would suggest that as a first step you form alliances with other institutions in your own country, then within your region, and finally globally. It is easiest to begin with specific courses and departments and then move on to complete programs and finally institutional articulation agreements.
In conclusion, I want to return to my original thesis. I began by suggesting that three forces are precipitating changes in higher education: the global economy, the global community, and technology. I suggested that three dimensions of what we do will be impacted: the design and delivery of instruction; the clientele we serve; and the way our institutions are organized and managed. In the future we will have the opportunity to serve non-traditional learners in our countries who cannot, because of family and employment responsibilities, come to our campuses to learn alongside our traditional learners. By helping them, we will aid our countries in their quest for economic development. As administrators, we will need to develop systems on our campuses for responding rapidly to opportunities. We will need to learn ways of collaboration with industry and other stakeholders as we design educational programs. In all of this we need to sacrifice some of our autonomy; after all, any time we cooperate we - by definition - surrender a portion of our autonomy. Finally, we need to welcome and facilitate greater mobility on the part of our students as they take courses in a variety of institutions, using various modes of delivery, throughout their lifetimes.
The coming age is going to require a level of innovativeness and flexibility on the part of faculty and administrators that we have never seen before. Those institutions that are able to adapt to change will experience a level of prosperity never before witnessed in higher education. Those that refuse to change will decline and gradually fade into insignificance.