A Quick Lesson in Web-Scale Education: Email Notifications

Second full day of my participation in Dr. Chuck’s Internet History, Security, and Technology. Note to self: the M in MOOC really does stand for massive, as in super freaking huge enrollment.

As with most online courses, the first activity is a short discussion board post about yourself and your interests, experiences or expectations for learning the course material. As usual, I posted my response and set my account to receive updates via email for additional posts to that thread. Emails spilled into my inbox all night, all morning and all day long. My most recent inbox purge found 225 unread emails. There were many more before that count and many more to come, I’m sure. I quickly unsubscribed.

Discussion boards usually have a daily digest option. I can’t find a digest setting so I just unsubscribed. I’m not sure I would want to read that fifty screen digest anyway.

I will need to come back to this problem of discussion updates. I suspect there is a setting somewhere that I have missed.

For now, I feel very much like a student in a lecture hall with 10,000 other students. This time, instead of everyone quietly listening, everyone is talking and saying something interesting and everyone one of them is speaking directly to me.

I am sure there is a better way to navigate the conversation. There needs to be.

Stay tuned.

The Quixotic Search for Magic Bullets

I have been trying for days to distill my thoughts about changes in higher education into a single, coherent post. I haven’t gotten there yet. This is not that post.

What I want to say is this: when things get really confused, uncertain and fluxy, we often tend to protect ourselves with mental shortcuts in a effort to simplify. We call these shortcuts magic bullets. Resist this urge. Difficult problems are complex and deserve complex, nuanced solutions. Long-term, systemic problems are never solved overnight. Finding the quick fix cannot be the goal.

Lay off the search for magic bullets.

Magic bullets distract us.

Magic bullets drain resources.

Magic bullets confuse the very people who are busy trying to build the long overdue solutions.

 

The Crisis in Higher Ed

There is a crisis in American higher education. Surely you must ┬áhave heard about it. It is always in the news. It has something to do with tuition and textbook costs and tenured faculty and student learning assessments and competencies and marketable skills and jobs that don’t exist yet. Or it has to do with student engagement and persistence to completion. Except we aren’t exactly sure what completion means — is it a degree or a certificate or a credential of some kind? Perhaps a feeling of satisfaction or a job hire that suits a person’s skills and interests.

The fix is pretty easy. It involves just one thing. Our best people are working on deciding which one thing it is going to be. Perhaps mobile technology or accelerated courses or free textbooks or open courseware or MOOCs. Stay tuned.

I’m not usually snarky but my head is swimming lately with the sense of urgency that has seized the legislators and administrators standing outside my profession. We are moving at light speed to innovate but can’t easily define our goals. We are eager to demonstrate agility and a willingness to make tough choices but we can’t articulate the nature of those choices and why we have to choose so quickly.

I am not being retrograde. I know the world has changed and we all need to adapt. The internet has matured, and things are possible now that were not possible just a few years ago. We can build administrative processes at web scale. We can design learning systems that capture real-time data about how students learn and then return that data directly to students in real-time to improve their own understanding about their own learning. We can mitigate distance with cheap or free web conferencing tools. We have developed flipped pedagogies and hybrid course delivery modes to blend synchronous and asynchronous learning environments.

I want to adapt. I want to help improve things. I want to help figure out how to use these great new tools we have so that students can learn better, faster and more deeply than ever before. I want to help build an education system that recognizes the strengths of individual students and can offer personalized learning at the point of need so that we can prevent the waste of potential talent that, today, many accept as inevitable.

I want to help people discover what they are passionate about learning and then wrap skills and resources around that passion to create opportunities for genius.

Before I can do that, I need someone to tell me what we want the world to look like and what we need these students to be able to do. There are amazingly smart, compassionate, dedicated teachers and staff in our colleges and universities ready to do whatever it takes to get there. We just need someone to make it simple, make it clear. Give us a picture of the necessary future, give us the tools and permission to use those tools and then get out of the way.