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

 

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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)

 

Call for Presentations: PhD Symposium on the Digitalisation of Universities on 12 July

The call for presentations is now open for the PhD Symposium on the “Digitalisation of Universities in the Future” on 12 July 2017. It is part of the Universities of the Future Research Network meeting in Hagen, Germany, 11 – 13 July 2017. The call for presentations is open until 30 April 2017. PhD students are invited to present on their research in areas that relate to the digitalisation of universities. Students will present to a panel of experts in e-learning and receive feedback. Presentations can be done in-person or online. Please take advantage of this opportunity to present your research-in-progress.

For more information, visit the website: http://unifuture.network/2017/03/02/call-presentations-phd-symposium/

The University of the Future: Round Table

A global summit was held on the Future of Universities, as part of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) Research Week 2016, 18-22 April 2016. On the 22nd of April, a 2.5 hour round table consisting of a panel of experts debating and discussing issues related to the University of the Future. The panel was open to students, researchers and academics at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya and other universities in Catalonia. The panel of experts consisted of:

  • Marta Aymerich, Vice President for Strategic Planning and Research, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain (Chairperson).
  • Martha Burkle, Knowledge and Learning Analytics, Information Technology and Learning Commons, Yukon College, Canada.
  • Alec Ian Gershberg, Chair of Urban Policy, Analysis and Management Programme, Milano School of Policy, The New School, United States.
  • María Antonia Huertas, Professor, Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain.
  • Michael Power, Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Laval, Canada.
  • David White, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning, University of the Arts London, United Kingdom.

The following sections highlight my notes from the discussions:

Changes in the University Context

The context for universities has changed. There is now a wider group of stakeholders involved such as the local community, industry and global stakeholders. Universities face financial and funding issues. There are different business models emerging, those that are tuition driven and those that are non-tuition driven. Online learning has also opened new opportunities for flexible learning. There is also increasing diversity in learners, greater number of women, learners from working class backgrounds etc. Universities are no longer accessible only to a niche, but need to have universal access. In a competitive world, universities need to stay current and relevant.

Universities need to be able to negotiate a series of tensions, rather than solve a set of problems. These are long-term challenges that cannot be solved overnight. These tensions relate to student independence vs curricula to be taught, creative learners vs doing what they are told. Universities need to provide access to knowledge and skills. Universities provide private returns to individuals and public returns to societies.

Balancing Academic Needs and Workforce Needs

The role of academics is to promote critical thinking, filter information and conduct research. They also need to negotiate between competing needs. Faculties try to defend their territories as knowledge holders, while industry says graduates do not meet their needs. Universities need to respond to the needs of societies, but also question those needs or challenge those expectations. For example, the importance of long term needs of specific disciplines such as the arts, over short term funding constraints. The skills required from graduates are permanent long term lifelong learning skills (21st century skills). Our curricula need to be different to develop the skills the graduates will need for future careers.

The Increasing Importance of Transdisciplinary / Interdisciplinary Knowledge

Graduates are working in increasing knowledge-based societies. The nature of jobs and career paths are changing. Universities need to build bridges between pure knowledge and reality. Students require a depth of disciplinary knowledge and skills, but also a breadth of related disciplinary knowledge and skills. Thus there is a need for specialised and deep knowledge, but also more general knowledge. Research groups with interdisciplinary team members can reveal insights and provide different ways of working and learning. Often universities are hierarchical and work in disciplinary silos, but flexible interdisciplinary approaches are needed  to solve complex problems. There may be a shift needed away from traditional disciplines to new to cross-disciplines. Workforces are increasingly teamwork driven to accomplish set goals. Yet mostly student are tasked to work individually. Where there are team projects, these are still often assessed individually.

Changes Needed in Universities

We need to open up universities to the broader community and shift away from being content producers to providers of expertise. The meaning of a degree has been stretched to be useful to different stakeholders. But we need to rethink the value of qualifications and match them to student needs. Universities also operate in a global environment and need to be better at incorporating different cultural viewpoints. Universities can often reproduce social structures, but need to be able to change those social structures as well. The aim of universities should be to equip people to negotiate life with confidence.