Monday, December 31, 2012

Online for Higher Ed in California Event

A forum on online education will be held on January 8th at UCLA (Kerckhoff Grand Salon, 9-3). The ambitious title is the following: “Rebooting CA Higher Education: Leveraging innovations in online education to improve cost effectiveness and increase quality.” Here is the schedule of speakers:

January 8, 2013 9:00am to 3:00pm UCLA Kerckhoff Hall, Grand Salon
● Darrell Steinberg, California Senate Pro Tem Setting the Stage / Keynote 9:10-9:25
● Jeff Selingo, Editor at Large, Chronicle of Higher Education Online Educational Delivery Models 9:25- 9:35
● Phil Hill, Educational Tech Consultant & Analyst Scaling Education, Maintaining Quality 9:35-10:05
● Candace Thille, OLI Carnegie Mellon; Mo Qayoumi and Ping Hsu, San Jose State University; Michael Feldstein, Educational Tech Consultant & Analyst

Moderated Online Provider Panel 10:05-11:45
● Sebastian Thrun (Udacity); Burck Smith (Straighterline); Daphne Koller (Coursera); Phillip Regier (ASU Online); Andreea M Serban (Coast Community College); Chari Leader Kelley (Learning Counts); Don Kilburn (Pearson); Ray Cross (University of Wisconsin Colleges/ UW Extension), Steve Klingler (Western Governor's University)
Student Experience 11:45-12:00
● Student Representatives: Andrew Litt, UCLA; Martha Harding, College of the Canyons CA University/Policymakers Perspective 12:00-12:30
● Keith Williams, Interim Director UC Online; Barry Russell, Community College Vice Chancellor, Academic Affairs; Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, UC Regent, CSU Trustee; John Welty, Chair CSU Online

Moderated Faculty Panel with Questions to Providers 12:30-1:30
● Michelle Pilati, President, Community College Academic Senate; Diana Wright Guerin, President, CSU Academic Senate; Robert Powell, Chair, UC Academic Senate; Bob Samuels, President of University Council AFT; Lillian Taiz, President, California Faculty Association

In the advertisement for the event, it states the following: “The purpose of the panel discussion is to raise the awareness and discuss key issues regarding the potential for online education to lower the costs for higher education in California. We face a crisis in California in our ability to fully support public higher education. As a first approximation, the state should focus its attention on arresting the growth of the cost of education while maintaining or even increasing access and quality, not by simply urging educators to “do more with less,” but by enlisting their active participation in and contribution to innovative approaches. In accomplishing this goal, California could foster a working coalition that would be capable of attacking even more ambitious targets.” Although it is clear here that the frame for the conference is the idea that online education can make higher education more cost effective, I plan to use my time to show how the move to distance education will most likely only increase the cost of instruction.

What is interesting about this event is that it brings together groups that don’t normally talk to each other, and while I think that many of these stakeholders are well intentioned, I also believe that good intentions can lead to some very bad collective results. This event is free and open to the public so please come if you are able.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The One-Dimensional University: The Destructive Marriage of Technology and Administration

Close to fifty years ago, Herbert Marcuse wrote One-Dimensional Man, a radical criticism of contemporary society that has much to say about the current world around us. Marcuse’s central claim was that technological automation extends science’s domination over nature to a social domination over individuals. This domination occurs through a “total administration,” where managers oversee the rationalization of the social status quo through the elimination of all criticism and the provision of desired social goods. Perhaps, what we are seeing at the University of California is only the logical extension of Marcuse’s insightful analysis.

Not only does it appear that administrators have taken over the university, but they are promoting a form of education that transforms students into passive memorizers of standardized information. With the push to move students through the university system in an efficient and cost-effective manner, education is reimagined as an automated human assembly line. Meanwhile, students in large classes are socialized to internalize fragmented information without any possibility of interacting with knowledge in a critical or creative manner. All of these tendencies open up the door for an online education program that envisions mass producing standardized courses to an anonymous student body.

While this degradation of education increases, the university becomes a place of tax-exempt capital accumulation and a research wing of the military-industrial complex and the pharmaceutical-medical complex. As biology is turned into genetic code and culture becomes digital code, we find Marcuse’s warning that every aspect of society is being re-interpreted through the language of functionality and instrumentality. After all, the academic evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists now tell us that we are nothing but biological computers programmed by nature. Here, we have become things (computers) as things are given the power of people. For Marcuse, this confusion between subjects and objects is the end result of total technological rationality.

The lasting image of this transformation of education into administered functionality may be the representation of a campus police officer pepper spraying prone students with an attitude of total indifference. In the alienated world of planning, management, and calculation, there is no space for tension, dissent, or difference. Or maybe, the new logo for the university is an even better representation of the truth of how the administration sees the students: here the management replaces pepper spray with urine as it reimagines the university to be the giant Urinal of California. I say it is better to be pissed off than pissed on, and we need to do everything in our power to retake the university from the hands of administered technological rationality.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Seductive Mechanical Reproduction of the University

UC has released a new advertisement for new online program, and it is quite revealing. In fact, if you Google UC Online, you will most likely see the ad appear at the top of the page (I wonder how much this cost the UC). The sales pitch begins with the following: “Sign up today to learn more about the new, exciting, and fully online experience now being offered by University of California. Taught by the same instructors that have provided a top-tier education to some of the world’s best and brightest, these online courses immerse you in the world of high academic standards that, previously, could only be found on a UC campus.” Yes, it is new and exciting and just like the real UC experience. However, it is unclear still who will teach the courses or what academic standards will be applied.

The ad continues by putting down the real UC education: “Because our courses are online, they offer a level of flexibility that doesn’t exist in a more traditional college setting. Where and when you learn is up to you. What you learn makes this opportunity unique.” In other words, unlike those traditional universities (like the University of California), education in the online courses will be flexible, personalized, and unique.

The ad next shifts to a more threatening and dubious claim: “Many of our courses are great for fulfilling prerequisite or transfer credit requirements, such as the following; “Pre-Calculus 1A, Pre-Calculus 1B, General Psychology, General Chemistry, Introduction to Writing & Rhetoric,Intro to Probability & Statistics for Business.” So for people who are not yet matriculated into the UC system, they can start to earn credits and fulfill perquisites. This sounds like a good deal, but is it really? (On a separate page, you find the following disclaimer: “Please note that registering for any of the UC Online classes does not admit you to a University of California campus. Also, participating in this educational program does not in itself provide preference in admission to the University of California.”)

If you click on the Pricing link, you discover that the courses come at a steep price: Intro to Fresh Water: Processes and Policies $1,750 Pre-Calculus 1A $1,400 Pre-Calculus 1B $1,400 Beauty & Joy of Computing $2,100 Principles of Internet Citizenship $2,100 Intro to Writing & Rhetoric $1,400 General Psychology $1,575 General Chemistry $1,575 Intro to Probability & Stats for Business $2,100 Global Climate Change $1,050. The cost for 10 courses would be $15,050, and I do not see any mention of financial aid here.

So the way the university is going to expand access is to charge students more to get less and offer them less support for the hope that they can maybe use the credits in the future. This ad for a pricey possible education also contains a picture of an attractive blond female student wearing glasses as she holds her laptop near a fuzzy whiteboard. Welcome to the brave new world of the UC commercial!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Doing Online Right

Several of my recent posts have dealt with the negative aspects of the UC move to place courses online, but I want to clarify that many faculty members are currently using digital technologies in an effective manner. For example, many uc teachers are having their students produce web sites and analyze a wide range of web-based contents. There is also a growing use of digital courseware and class management systems, and many faculty employ online class discussions. Moreover, we are witnessing efforts to use digital and multimedia textbooks as we teach our students how to access and assess digital media. Finally, we already have thousands of classes that are either totally or partially online.

One reason the Regents may not know about the high level of digital activity in the UC system is because the Regents are not educators, and they have little knowledge of what really goes on in university classrooms. Unfortunately, the latest Regents meeting revealed that many of the UC administrators also do not know about the use of digital technologies in the UC system: we have online extension programs, we have networked classrooms, we have digital labs, and we have digital libraries – in fact, we may be one of the world leaders in high-tech education, but what we do not have is a replication of the University of Phoenix.

If you listen to the end of the discussion about online learning from the last Regents meeting, you will hear the exasperated Berkeley Chancellor Birgenou exclaim, “I have no idea what you people are talking about.” From my perspective, this was the new former Chancellor’s best moment. Yes, the Regents actually have no idea what is going on in the very institution they are supposed to be directing.