The Future of College January 15, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Education.
Tags: badges, coursera, edx, john hennessey, mooc, salman khan, walter mossberg
I just watched this fascinating 30-minute interview from June 2012, discussing potentially dramatic innovations in higher education. The on-stage interview was part of the Wall Street Journal’s “D: All Things Digital” series, and the host was the Journal’s legendary technology columnist, Walt Mossberg. The two guests were knowledgeable, brilliant, and well-spoken:
- Salman Khan, creator of the Khan Academy web site (with its instructional videos)
- John Hennessey, President of Stanford University
There’s a lot of serious change on the horizon. MIT and Harvard have teamed up to offer many of their courses online, for free, through EdX. Stanford has its own consortium of universities, also offering free courses online, called Coursera. These initiatives are called “Massively Open Online Courses” or MOOC for short. My employer, Washington University, just announced a partnership with ten top universities to offer online courses–but not for free, and only for students who meet admissions criteria.
Khan and Hennessey describe several potential futures. For example, maybe some students could get a college degree without ever setting foot on a campus. Maybe others would do a hybrid degree, with some courses on campus and others over the Internet. Khan proposed the most radical change: maybe employers will stop treating elite college degrees as a certification of your ability to do a job. Instead, your abilities would be certified by an entity that is unattached to any college, and anyone can take any test to demonstrate mastery of a specific ability or topic. It doesn’t matter how you learn it–on a campus, at home, in an informal study group with a few friends. If you pass, you would get a certificate that today’s digerati refer to as a “badge” (by analogy with boy scout merit badges). Khan talks about “separating out the teaching part of college from the certification part.”
Also see my post “Will the Internet Transform College?” from May 31, 2012.
What do you think the future will be?
Online “Badges”: Do They Threaten Colleges? January 12, 2012Posted by keithsawyer in Education.
Tags: badges, david wiley, khan academy
The Chronicle of Higher Education has just published an article (Jan 8, 2012) wondering whether online “badges” pose a challenge to colleges and universities. Here’s the phenomenon:
The spread of a seemingly playful alternative to traditional diplomas, inspired by Boy Scout achievement patches and video-game power-ups, suggests that the standard certification system no longer works in today’s fast-changing job market. Educational upstarts across the Web are adopting systems of “badges” to certify skills and abilities. At the free online-education provider Khan Academy, for instance, students get a “Great Listener” badge for watching 30 minutes of videos from its collection of thousands of short educational clips. With enough of those badges, paired with badges earned for passing standardized tests administered on the site, users can earn the distinction of “Master of Algebra” or other “Challenge Patches.”
This has the potential to be a serious challenge to the traditional university. The reason is that universities serve two functions in modern society: one function is to help students learn. That’s the one we professors spend most of our time thinking about. The other function is to credential young adults as being prepared for the workplace: what I call the certification function. That’s the one a lot of students (and parents) are mostly thinking about. The certification function is not necessarily linked to the learning function. Yes, in a well-functioning university, the certification attests to master of knowledge learned. But how many of you have heard the cynical phrase “You pretend to teach us, and we pretend to learn”?
Employers need information to help them know who they should hire. They could develop tests and systems in their human resources departments, but they don’t need to, because they are getting this information for free–from universities. If it weren’t for universities and their degrees, employers would have to come up with some other way to acquire information about potential hires. They don’t want to design their own evaluation system and manage it from their human resources department; they want to continue getting it for free.
Voila! Enter the badges. Exactly what employers need: A mechanism that serves the certification function, and that doesn’t cost anything. From the perspective of the employer, it’s the same function that universities serve. Of course one can argue about their relative effectiveness at serving that function. At this time in history, I absolutely trust the university degree a lot more than these badges, but things could change quickly. So will universities lose their monopoly over the certification function?
The Chronicle article quotes David Wiley, a professor at Brigham Young University: “We have to question the tyranny of the degree…As soon as big employers everywhere start accepting these new credentials, either singly or in bundles, the gig is up completely.” The potential is that a system of badges could completely reframe the relationship between employers and universities. Universities benefit tremendously from their monopoly over the certification function.
Is it really that serious? What do you think?