The Digitalisation of Universities: UFN Meeting Part 2

This is the second post about the meeting of the Universities of the Future Network (UFN) held at FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany, 11-13 July 2017. The theme for the meeting was “The Digitalization of the Universities of the Future”. The meeting consisted of 6 key themes that were discussed and debated (see part 1 here). This post looks at the last three themes. The facilitators of each theme were asked to discuss the key trends and issues as well as provide suggestions for policy and strategy development.

Theme 4: Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open Educational Resources (OER) have the potential to decrease the development costs of tuition, both for universities and for students in the form of, for example, open textbooks. However, OERs are not widely used and progress towards large-scale adoption is slow. OERs were preceded by the concept of Learning Objects which were a focus for researchers from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. This represented a great demand for the then emerging online learning that required online (and reusable) learning resources. However, reusability represents a paradox, as the pedagogical value of a learning object (highly contextualised in the original setting) diminishes as the potential for reusability (ability to be used in numerous settings) increases, and vice-versa. This potential for reuse also varies according to the academic level (primary, secondary/technical and tertiary). Universities have been the main developers of OER, with little production at other levels. From the mid-2000s, the term Open Educational Resources (OER) gained more traction. Openness became valued as resources could be made freely available on the internet with as few restrictions as possible on the use of resources. The adoption of licenses such as Creative Commons that protect intellectual copyright and allow for easy reuse has enabled dissemination. The aim of OER is to share knowledge and equalise access to knowledge worldwide. One of the challenges within the area of OER is the main focus on producing or developing content (content being seen as knowledge) and less of a focus on how content is used for learning. Key issues for promoters of OER in developed and developing countries include raising awareness and promotion, building communities and networking, sustainability and capacity development.

OERs exist within a wider open movement that includes open access, open source software, open badges and MOOCs. OERs seem to have been left behind in the preoccupation with the development of MOOCs in the early 2010s, however the early hype of the MOOC phenomenon has since waned. One of the challenges for OER production is that the production of learning materials (open or not) is generally not recognised nor rewarded in universities, with research more valued for promotion and career advancement. Another challenge is that there is often a disconnect between universities publically supporting OER initiatives, while discourses and practices within institutions do not change.

Channels and strategies for change

  • Recognition for teaching activities in addition to research activities
  • Recognition of the development of OERs for career promotion
  • Awards for innovative OER production to promote quality and sharing
  • Adoption of Creative Commons licenses
  • Promotion of peer-review for OERs, similar to peer-review mechanisms for research

Theme 5: University Business Models and Value Propositions

One of the functions of universities is to develop students to be able to access employment opportunities and build social capital (thus improving quality of life). There is thus economic value to a university degree as graduates earn more and have access to certain employment opportunities. Universities equip students with advanced skills (teaching) and further human knowledge and understanding of the world (research). However, universities face pressure to stay competitive and relevant when education costs exceed inflation and revenues are decreasing. Social mobility and emerging technologies are other challenges for education. Therefore universities need to consider the value proposition they offer to students.

There are different forms of colleges and universities who target different groups, have different research and teaching orientations and cost/revenue models. This ranges from elite universities that are highly selective and research intensive, to community colleges that are open to local communities and learning focused. Universities may also be privately or publically funded. Different types of universities will require different value propositions. However, business models need to focus more than on financial operations. One approach is the Value Proposition Canvas that focuses universities to focus on students (the customers) and thereafter on strategies and revenue models. This canvas enables universities to analyse student needs, taking into account pains (obstacles, risks, negative outcomes) and gains (positive outcomes). Using a value proposition framework, universities need to consider:

  • The services which the value proposition of a degree is built around (the bundle of services that addresses the needs of targeted student profiles)
  • The ‘pain relievers’ outlining how universities alleviate student burdens in a changing society (pains to reduce or eliminate before, during and after degree completion)
  • The ‘gains creators’ outlining how universities generate positive outcomes and benefits from the services they provide to students

The value proposition needs to link to the overall business model: key activities, resources and partners; customer relationships and channels for different segments; and a sound cost structure and revenue model. Rather than focus on a traditional model of expecting students to enrol because a degree is necessary in the labour market, universities should focus on what students need to thrive in a fast paced and changing labour market. The focus of each institution’s value proposition will depend on the type of university and where it wants to be in the future, but universities need to evolve to meet a clearly defined value proposition within the constraints of business models, resources and capabilities.

Theme 6: Virtual Networks: Research and Partnerships

Operating in a growing global marked has a crucial impact on shaping the missions, strategic planning and operational practices of universities. The global market and digital technologies have led to both increased competition as well as collaborative ventures. Virtual networks between universities are increasing. There are several themes affecting research and partnership in a digital age:

  • University rankings: different league tables influence research planning and undertakings.
  • World class universities: the globalisation of higher education has led to universities that incorporate high levels of international students and professors
  • International funders: UNESCO, the World Bank, OECD, the European Union and other networks fund international and local research, where researchers are encouraged to work with institutions in different countries
  • Government funding: National or regional governments provide funds that encourage collaborations at a national or regional level
  • Research Centres: Outside of universities, researchers can operate with international or national research centres
  • Research Dissemination: The open access movement encourages the widespread dissemination of scholarly research

Research is not the only form of partnership between institutions, although it is more common than teaching activities. However many universities collaborate to provide joint-degrees or participate in international MOOC platforms. Other institutions work together to facilitate global campuses in different countries.

Policy Channels and Strategies for Change

  • Policies are needed at international, national and institutional levels that facilitate virtual networks and collaboration in research and teaching activities
  • While most higher education systems operate at a national level, universities need to enhance cooperation internationally
  • Universities need to encourage research undertaken across disciplines and across institutions (enabled by virtual networks)
  • University leaders need to carefully evaluate which international and virtual networks to participate in
  • Universities need to prepare for growing numbers of international students and global campuses, as well as facilitating the movement of students between universities

 

The Digitalisation of Universities: UFN Meeting Part 1

FernUni Hagen

I participated in the second meeting of the Universities of the Future Network (UFN) held at FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany, 11-13 July 2017. The theme for the meeting was “The Digitalization of the Universities of the Future”. The meeting consisted of 6 key themes that were discussed and debated. This post will look at the first three themes, while a second post will look at the last three themes. The facilitators of each theme were asked to discuss the key trends and issues as well as provide suggestions for policy and strategy development.

Theme 1: Towards a Policy of Access: Digitalisation for All

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education focuses on expanding access to post-secondary and university education and lifelong learning, on the basis of inclusive and equitable practices. Thus, there is a need to balance equitable access on a national and global scale and the improvement of access, scale and the quality of teaching and learning in a digital age.

Looking back, access to print materials with the invention of the printing press meant the book provided a means of education that had mainly been done by oral lecture before. Now the internet and other digital technologies provide a similar means to change education provision. Some of the associated changes are open educational practices, reform of accreditation and quality assurance and the development of teacher professional competencies. While digital education can expand access, developing countries still battle with high illiteracy rates, low participation rates in higher education and massive capacity development needs.

Policies are needed to respond to national economic needs and social development goals. Digital education requires resources to be sustainable.

Policy Channels and Strategies for Change

  • Institutional strategies to support systems and practices (widen participation to those who were traditionally excluded, access to technology and connectivity, support mechanisms for different students, relevant financial and human resources for digital education, recognition of prior learning)
  • Open education policies for the transformation of teaching and learning (vision of open education to inform and support open educational practices)
  • Redefining the changing roles of institutions (competencies for digital education, sustainable business models, industry partnerships, accreditation and quality assurance)
  • Creation and optimisation of open educational content and skills (development and production of OER, development of lifelong learning skills and digital literacy skills)

 

Theme 2: Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age: Challenges and Opportunities

The use of technology in teaching and learning varies depending on the methods of education provision: Fully online, Blended or Face-to-face. In reality, however, this distinction is blurred as most education provision is blended. Another development linked to digital teaching and learning is the open education movement. This includes Open Educational Resources (OER) such as open textbooks and MOOCs.  There are several challenges and opportunities for digital teaching and learning:

Challenges for digital teaching and learning:

  • Technical infrastructure development and maintenance
  • Costs in the development and use of digital processes and procedures
  • Digital literacy skills of teachers and students
  • Lack of incentives (rewards and recognition) for innovative teaching methods
  • Changing roles of educators and support staff and other stakeholders

Opportunities for digital teaching and learning:

  • Reaching new target groups
  • Promotion of student flexibility and mobility
  • Improvements in teaching and learning quality
  • Potential cost-savings for institutions and students
  • Increasing collaboration between institutions
  • Facilitate the co-creation of knowledge

Policy Channels and Strategies for Change

  • Strategy and change processes
  • Prioritisation of digital literacy skills
  • Expanding infrastructures for digital teaching and learning practices
  • Funding for developing and distributing digital learning resources
  • Frameworks for digital teaching (teaching load, data protection and copyright issues)
  • Investing in support structures
  • Collaborative projects

Theme 3: Redefining Knowledge in a Digital Age: Internet and Social Media

The internet and social media have had a massive effect on knowledge creation and dissemination in the digital age. Key drivers in the changes of knowledge production and recognition are:

  • Decentralisation and disintermediation:  The internet has diversified means of knowledge production and information dissemination and universities are no longer regarded as the main providers of expertise.
  • Massiveness and growing demand: Universities are facing unprecedented demand for higher education. Learning is also offered in flexible ways.
  • New forms of knowledge production: knowledge production is more distributed and collaborative. There is also unprecedented growth in information online. The rise of artificial intelligence systems will open a new frontier for knowledge production and application.
  • New forms of knowledge recognition: In addition to traditional forms of recognition (diplomas and certificates), new forms of recognition include digital badges and portfolios. Alternative forms of assessing the impacts of academic research have also emerged.

Policy Channels and Strategies for Change

  • Discovery: Building original and significant research, generating new and relevant knowledge (strategies: open data policies, building Artificial Intelligence infrastructure, digital literacy policies and data management plans)
  • Integration: Build connections across disciplines, integrate new discoveries and promote use of knowledge across disciplines and communities (strategies: connection between disciplines, promote digital scholarship, technology integration models, implement new computational approaches to explore large data sets)
  • Application: Knowledge needs to offer different forms of helping society and professions to address problems and the dissemination of results to different stakeholders (strategies: build new tools to assess and validate knowledge in formal and informal settings, explore mixed reality technologies, such as augmented or virtual reality, development of Open Education Resources (OERs))
  • Teaching and learning: optimising connections between learning and practices and enriching pedagogical approaches through research and dissemination of good practices.  (strategies: developing less formal learning cultures and community support, development of alternative credentialing mechanisms and university ranking systems, design of new assessment systems)

 

UOC Research Showcase 2017

On 31 May 2017, the UOC held its Research Showcase for 2017 at CosmoCaixa in Barcelona. The aims of the research showcase are to foster collaboration among the University’s researchers and educators and to improve the visibility of the University’s research and research projects.

21 research and innovation projects were selected to be showcased. These were grouped into three different streams:

  • Living and learning with technologies
  • Our society in a smart world
  • Research unboxed: Health, Culture, Tourism

I attended the living and learning with technologies session. Here is a short summary of my notes of each of the 7 presentations in this stream:

Emotions in Context: Estimating how People Feel

This research focuses on looking at how machines can process and understand visual images to be able to estimate emotional states. This can be applied in situations with empathetic machines such as personal robots, self-driving vehicles, gaming and medical areas). The research created an algorithm to analyse faces and estimate 6 basic emotions and 26 secondary emotions. The algorithm does not only look at the facial characteristics, but also looks at the circumstances or surroundings in the image to help estimate emotions. In order to train the system, crowdsourcing was used to build up a database of 18 000 images that people annotated with the emotions. This database has been used to train the machine to estimate emotions. (This presentation won the best presentation in our stream).

The Intelligent Industrial Internet

In an increasing digitised society, this research looks at industries (such as manufacturing) that use machines and components that were designed before the advent of the internet (e.g. in the 1960s or 1970s) that cannot take advantage of possibilities related to the Internet of Things. An open source component device was designed and developed that can fit onto components of existing machines to make them have an element of “smart deviceness”. The device can be solar-powered or even powered with a lemon “battery”.

The Use of Feedback to Improve Learning in Online Environments

In universities, lecturers often complain that students do not incorporate their comments or feedback to improve their writing, while students frequently complain that the feedback that they receive is too general or not helpful. How can these issues be resolved as lecturer feedback can play an important role in the development of the student? This research looks at the use of feedback as a support tool to improve student writing. Feedback can be considered as a circular process where the feedback is generated by the lecturer or even the student (with different characteristics), this feedback is processed (comprehended and used), and then the feedback is implemented (changes are made), which then gets sent for review again, starting the cycle again. The research has found that the type of feedback and when it is given matters. Feedback should promote discussion, it should consist of questions and suggestions that promote critical analysis and that the feedback should be provided during the writing process (and not at the end).

Returning to Studies After Taking a Break

This research looks to address the problem of dropout at UOC, which is a major concern. After the completion of the 1st semester at UOC, almost 30% of students take a semester break. Of those students that take a break in the 2nd semester, only 20% enrol in the 3rd semester again (although some do enrol at a later period). This research looks at being able to predict student dropout so that student dropout can be prevented. It takes a holistic approach to encourage student continuance. The research looked at the dimensions that affected dropout such as student issues (motivation, learning experience), external issues (work or family) and how these dimensions can be factored in to encourage students to continue.

The Use of Learning Analytics to Inform Decision Making in Higher Education

Similar to the previous presentation this presentation focused on the use of data to reduce student dropout. This research focused on the design and development of a teaching dashboard that helps lecturers make informed decisions to help monitor students and avoid dropout. The dashboard consists of different sections. One section checks updates are done at different times of the course (instructor emails sent out, calendars updated etc). Other sections of the dashboard focus on assessments (tracking of submissions of assignments, a plagiarism map that looks at similarities between the written assignments of students, and an overview of marks for different assignments), interactions (students connecting to the VLE, number of messages read and number of messages posted). It also has an abandonment tracking section where it looks for issues where students are no longer connecting to the VLE, or where students are still connecting to the VLE, but have not yet submitted their assignments.

Lifelong Learning Ecologies

This research looks at the context of learning changing as it becomes a lifelong and lifewide necessity. It focuses on the development of learning ecologies that incorporate physical and virtual aspects. A learning ecologies framework sees learning occuring across a dimension of formality (informal, non-formal and formal) and a dimension of space (Face2Face, Blended, Online). The research will focus on the identification of learning opportunities and improving learner self-awareness.

The Use of Short Novels to Spark Learning

This research looks at the use of novelettes to encourage learning, instead of the use of textbooks as learning materials. The aim is to take advantage of the power of stories to facilitate learning In a Criminology course, 2 short novels were used to facilitate learning about youth crime and immigration issues. The novelettes incorporated teaching aspects such as highlighted concepts that were linked to further descriptions. The novelettes were found to be able to transport students into the worlds described (sustaining their engagement and interest).

 

 

My Interview in the University Research Newsletter

UOC publishes a monthly Research and Innovation newsletter. For the December edition, a research staff member interviewed me about my doctoral journey so far at UOC. Here is the link to the interview: http://www.uoc.edu/portal/en/ri/difusio-publicacions/noticies/noticies-OSRT/2016/noticia_020_interview_Greig_Krull_PhD.html

Celebrating Teaching at Unisa

The 2016 Unisa and Teaching and Learning Festival, held 20-21st October, aimed to celebrate teaching and learning at Unisa. It was also an opportunity to hear from the nominees for the Unisa teaching awards. The theme of the festival was to celebrate the new generation student. I found this to be quite a strange theme, as Unisa has a diverse student body profile that incorporates a range of age groups. I’m also not sure that there is such a “thing” as a new-generation student. I suspect the context also has to do with the move from more traditional distance education towards making more use of online learning. The timing of the festival also had the very pressing issue of #FeesMustFall hanging over the proceedings.

The keynote speaker was Koffi Kouakou (from Wits University) who pointed out that teaching and learning go hand in hand, and that you can only be a good teacher if you learn well. He adapted an expression from EM Forster to say “How do I know what I learn until I learn what I teach”. He also emphasized the role of storytelling in teaching and encouraged teachers to develop the art of storytelling. Prof Rosemary Moeketsi spoke about the need for the decolonialisation and transformation of curricula. A frequent topic in the festival was how to better support students in the South African context and focus on what is relevant for students. Another keynote speaker, Prof Paul Prinsloo from Unisa, encouraged lecturers to make use of newer technologies such as learning analytics in a caring way to improve support to students in a way that does not add to teacher time. e.g. a tracking system that sends automated reminders (email or sms) when students do not submit an assignment.

Although the main part of the festival comprised short presentations from the nominees for the teaching awards from various colleges, teaching and learning support staff also presented on the support provided by their departments.

Here are some of the points that stood out for me from the nominees’ presentations:

  • Team approach to course design: In the Unisa approach, teaching is a collaborative process. Not only do lecturers sometimes work together to develop courses, they also get input from other stakeholders to improve the quality of the course. This includes members of their departments, industry representatives, course designers and others.
  • Incremental improvements: Many of the presentations highlighted small but meaningful changes that are made in their courses each year, rather than a completely innovative approach. Put together, a series of small incremental improvements can make a major difference to students.
  • Use of multimedia and OERs: Although not widely used yet, lecturers are experimenting more with the use of short podcasts, videos and animations that they develop themselves. They are also increasingly making use of existing open content out there to enhance their courses e.g. YouTube videos.
  • Use of instant messaging communication tools: Several lecturers have been using WhatsApp as a communication platform to engage with their students and go to “where the conversation is”. This also enables lecturers to stand back and let other students answer questions first etc.
  • Formative assessments: Many lecturers are encouraging students to use online self-assessments as part of the formative assessment process.
  • eTutors:  More and more courses at 1st and 2nd year level are making use of e-tutors to support the teaching process.

Congratulations to the award winners, the awarding of the teaching prizes closed the festival.

Seminar: Future of eLearning

UOC organised a face-to-face and online research seminar on The future of e-learning on 16 September 2016, presented by Dr Terry Anderson. These are my notes from the seminar:

Part A: Future of eLearning

Background

  • There are many predictions of the future of elearning, but we wanted to look at the implications for future learning.
  • Definition: E-learning is a combination of methods, structures and networked electronic tools orchestrated into systems that bring about, or are intended to bring about, learning.
  • E-learning will be in ascendancy in the next decade.
  • For traditional universities moving into e-learning, most of the takers are current students, not distance students.
  • There is growth in investments in elearning.
  • Number of MOOCs have kept increasing, and more are being offered as self-paced.
  • eLearning is not only institutional, almost everything online is an opportunity for learning, either deliberately (Wikipedia, Youtube) or as a side-effect (email, Facebook).
  • Online, almost everyone can be a teacher and a learner.

Reviewing the Edinburgh Scenarios

The Edinburgh Scenarios (Bell & Stewart, 2004)

  • Virtually vanilla – move online, but institutions and pedagogies do not change. Examples: blended learning, LMS, recorded lectures, MOOCs.
  • Back to the future – rejection of elearning, and return to face-to-face. Examples: ban of mobile devices.
  • Web of confidence – expand and enhance opportunities for formal and informal learning. Examples: Wikipedia, Learning analytics
  • U Choose – move beyond schools and universities, focus on own learning. Examples: DIY learning, makerspaces, Youtube, open badges.

Part B: Generations of Distance Education Pedagogy

Three Generations of Distance Education

  • Cognitive-behaviourial (instructivist)
  • Social constructivist
  • Connectivist

The Fourth Generation of Distance Education

  • Learning analytics – traces of learning activity to help teachers and students
  • Collective technologies – the crowd e.g. social media
  • Artificial intelligence – mimic aspects of human learning
  • Disaggregated tools – move away from LMS to multiple tools
  • Mobility and device diversity
  • Internet of Things
  • Virtual and augmented reality – mobile apps
  • 3D printing

Elements and characteristics of the next generation

  • Focussed heavily on the individual learning
  • Distributed: technically, socially and organisationally
  • Crowd-driven and emergent
  • Integrated, just-in-time and authentic
  • Courses will play a less significant role
  • Learning will be divorced from accreditation

Threats from the Future

  • Open vs closed – open access, OERs
  • Loss of mind, the loss of soul – affected by technologies
  • Lack of adoption by formal education

Conclusion

  • Challenging times for open universities – focus on research on teaching and learning within disciplines, not disciplinary research
  • The future will be something like the past – low adoption rates by instructional education
  • Adjacent possibilities of new ideas and technologies always bring unanticipated and emergent opportunities and challenges
  • However, institutions may provide the stability necessary for human scale adaptation to technology induced hyper-change

Seminar: A critical review of online learning theories and research methods

UOC organised a research seminar on Theories for learning with emerging technologies on 15 September 2016, presented by Dr Terry Anderson. These are my notes from the seminar:

Part A: Theories to Guide Online Research

Need for theories: necessary for scholarship, extend past learning, project to future research and practice

Traditional theories of educational technology

  • Presentational view – present content using quality presentation – xMOOCs, YouTube, Khan Academy
  • Performance-tutoring – present contest but also test and reinforce – cognitive behavioural theories, instructional systems design
  • Epistemic-Engagement view – social learning – social constructivism, peer learning
    • Online Social Constructivism – active engagement, net presence (building trust), multiple perspectives and sustained dialogue, scaffolding, authentic tasks (relevance), problems are ill-structured and open-ended.
    • Challenges of social constructivism: group-based, pace and time limited, teacher-controlled?, little room for introverted, individual learners.

Distance Education Theories

  • Transactional Distance Theory (Moore) – structure and dialogue and learner autonomy
  • Theory of Instructional Dialogue (Caspi & Gorski)
  • Community of Inquiry (Garrison et al) – Social presence, teaching presence, cognititve presence

Business and Organisational Theories

  • Systems theory – components of distance education, beyond teaching and learning
  • Complexity theory – parts of systems affect each other, emergence and unanticipated events, importance of context

Newer Theories

  • Heutagogy (Hase & Kenyon)– self determined learning
  • Connectivism (Downes & Siemens) – knowledge distributed across a network of connections.
    • Connectivist learning requires network effects, persistence and accessibility (extends beyond the course)
    • Challenges – requires net literacy, openness can be scary, new roles for students and teachers, can be manic.
    • Social aggregation makes a difference – individuals  (behaviourism, cognitivism) > groups  (social constructivism) > networks/sets (share an interest, but not necessarily a social connection) (connectivism)

Part B: Paradigms & Online Learning Research

Research Paradigm

  • Philosophical/theoretical framework of a discipline or common set of beliefs about how problems can be understood and addressed, a worldview
  • Informs questions, literature and methodology
  • Paradigm: Ontology + Epistemology + Methodology
    • Ontology: view of reality and what exists e.g. realist, critical realist, relativist
    • Epistemology: our relationship with the knowledge we are discovering/uncovering – knowledge governed by laws of nature (objective) or interpreted by individuals (subjective)
    • Methodology: how you go about finding knowledge (quantitative, qualitative)
  • Types: Positivism, Constructivist, Critical, Pragmatist

Research Paradigms – Positivist

  • Ontogoloy: There is an objective reality, we can understand it through the laws by which it is governed
  • Epistemology: Scientific discourse derived from positivism and realism
  • Method: Experimental, deduction, randomised control trials, only measures what you can with scientific accuracy, based on hypotheses
  • Research questions: what? How much? Relationship between? Causes?
  • Evaluation: validity and reliability
  • Examples: Community of Inquiry content analysis, Meta-analysis

 

Research Paradigms – Constructivist / Interpretivist

  • Ontogoloy: World and knowledge created by social and contextual understanding
  • Epistemology: Understand a unique person’s view
  • Method: Qualitative (narratives, interviews, observations, ethnography, case study)
  • Research questions: why? Lived experience? Meaning have?
  • Most common type of DE research but more difficult with distance between researchers and participipants
  • Evaluation: Credibility, transferability, dependability, engagement
  • Example: participants views of delivering online courses

Research Paradigms – Critical / Postmodern

  • Ontogoloy:  Society rife with inadequacies and injustice
  • Epistemology:  Uncover injustice and empower citizens
  • Method:  Ideological review, civil actions
  • Research questions:  who has power? Vested interest? Who is excluded? How can I change this?

Research Paradigms – Pragmatism

  • Ontogoloy:  Truth is what is useful
  • Epistemology:  Best method is one that solves problems
  • Method:  Design-based research, mixed methods
  • Research questions: will this intervention improve learning?
  • Features: intervention, natural context, iterative, development of theory