Tag Archives: learning

Democratizing Higher Education: The Rapidly Changing Face of Online Learning

November 08, 2012

MSc ULOE Wordle

Imagine a world in which the best possible quality in higher education is available to all students, even those in the most remote parts of the planet, and you enter the world of MOOCs. There certainly has been a very intense buzz lately about the efficacy and future potential of MOOCs as the new wave in higher education reform. For those that don’t already know the moniker, MOCCs are “massive open online courses” offered by and in conjunction with some of the highest ranking, most elite universities in the U.S. The rapid rise of these online courses does not diminish the importance of institutions of higher learning, but it surely has begun to shake things up.

Up until now we characterized online learning as “non-traditional” however, there is a paradigm shift happening, as the undemocratic costs of higher learning have reached the breaking point. MOOCs offer a rapidly growing alternative. The trend is overwhelmingly gaining popularity as a way to level the playing field in a world where elite universities have the monopoly on the highest quality education at equally exorbitant prices.

And this is where it gets interesting. Many of the most respected and esteemed universities in the U.S. such as Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, U.C. Berkley and numerous others are involved in collaborative programs with developers to create new web-based interactive learning studies taught by award-winning professors and professionals at top levels in their respective fields. In addition, all of these courses are offered for free or a nominal fraction of the price. Suddenly, the highest quality of education becomes available to students around the globe. With the ability to source free online resources and open-sourced textbooks the price falls even further.

Want credits and a college degree?

Now that we understand the high points of MOOCs we can move onto the controversy surrounding online learning, which has been founded on the fact that although these courses teach an exceptionally high skill set, they do not push students any closer to an academic credential as they receive no official credits for course completion. But, things are changing. The next wave of learning-to- credits is being explored by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Richard DeMillo who is trying to put together a massive, open online seminar in conjunction with other universities, which will actually offer acceptable credits.

An interesting article on MOOCs appeared in September of this year on the website The Chronicle of Higher Education. In it the author Kevin Carey predicted that,”… Some accredited colleges—don’t forget, there are thousands of them—will start accepting MOOC certificates as transfer credit. They’ll see it as a tool for marketing and building enrollment. This is already starting to happen. The nonprofit Saylor Foundation recently struck a deal whereby students completing its free online courses can, for a small fee, take exams to earn credit at Excelsior College, a regionally accredited nonprofit online institution.”

It is interesting to note that Mr. Carey serves as the director of the education-policy program at the New America Foundation, a non-profit public policy institute, which describes itself as,“…New America emphasizes work that is responsive to the changing conditions and problems of our 21st Century information-age economy — an era shaped by transforming innovation and wealth creation, but also by shortened job tenures, longer life spans, mobile capital, financial imbalances and rising inequality.”

Providers such as edX, Coursera, Udacity, Class2Go, Khan Academy and Udemy are exploring how to translate students completed courses into campus credits, by using their earned MOOC credits as a substitute for Advanced Placement. There is also the idea that eventually these online courses will work their way into acceptable credits at universities, which will go towards a final degree. Not unlike the programs in place for transfer credits.

Who makes the money?

And let us not forget that people like profits! But what is fascinating here is that some of the burgeoning startup MOOC providers see eventual profits through creating a database of students who have taken online courses and helping them to get jobs by selling these lists of qualified students to recruiters in their specific geographical areas. Take an MIT course from your home computer in Mumbai and come away with the technical expertise needed to get a job right around the corner!

Connecting directly to these new provider platforms is the very idea that quality education is the most important way to enrich entire communities and to ensure that everyone prospers. This is really nothing new, though it seems to have been pushed to the back of the file drawer. An interesting paper appeared back in March of 2010 published by The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government/ University At Albany –State University of New York, titled A New Paradigm for Economic Development: How Higher Education Institutions Are Working to Revitalize Their Regional and State Economies, by David F. Shaffer and David J. Wright. In it they make the very clear point that,”…The twenty-first century paradigm, in contrast, is shifting toward putting knowledge first. For states, increasingly, that means connecting their higher education systems more closely to their economic development strategies.” For the entire paper see: http://www.rockinst.org/pdf/education/2010-03-18-A_New_Paradigm.pdf

What about quality?

While there is no substitute for the valuable teacher-student interaction, many online courses have begun to make use of social platforms, which allow students to have real time chats, discussion boards, and the ability to set up meetings and join groups in their own communities. This might be one way to alleviate the isolation of online learning.

Many of these institutions have “virtual office hours” and specific online forums that enable students to ask and answer thought provoking questions. Compare this to the normal stadium seating-400 student- classrooms, where not everyone is able to ask a question and not everyone is able to follow at the same pace. The structure of these new online courses offered in multiple languages, allow accessibility to information, which is ever available and can always be replayed until it is understood. In addition, many of these courses use teaching assistants to monitor the various discussion boards as well.

Enter Digital Badges.

And finally a system is being developed in which electronic images or Badges would be earned for completed courses of study, which could follow students throughout their lifetimes, be displayed on various digital forums and used for college applications and later as résumés. These would actually serve as portals of information that students can use providing opportunities based on achievements and competency accrued in “earning their badges.” With companies such as Disney-Pixar, Intel and NASA, Carnegie Mellon and the Smithsonian– to name a few, currently working to develop digital badges, there is a good chance that securely acknowledging and crediting learning achievement is just around the corner.

The badges are going to be loaded with metadata which will include; why the badge was awarded, the skill or achievement it carries and which school or institution awarded it, the teacher who verified the badge, and even the score the student received on the final exam. The badges will carry the power to legitimize learning, which is taking place online, all the time, all over the world. It reinforces the fact that collaborative learning in the classroom and especially online, can be a life long pursuit, and there is no turning back the clock.

For more discussions about the changing nature of higher education check out: http://edfuture.net/blog1/course-topics/

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com

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Filed under Credentials, Education, Politics, technology

Math on my Mind

February 24, 2012

The Never Ending Math Problem

After hearing friends rave about a new TV series called “Touch”, I finally broke down and watched the pilot on VOD. The series is about a man who lost his wife in the World Trade Center attacks and is left to take care of his emotionally-challenged eleven-year old boy who has a gift with numbers. The young boy is a mathematics genius and is able to see the interconnectivity of life and people through numbers and can predict events. Watching this series made me think of my own personal relationship with the subject of mathematics. While I relished solving word problems in crossword puzzles or writing stories, It had a difficult relationship with mathematics. What is it with mathematics?

In a study released in 2008 by the American Mathematical Society, it was determined that the USA has fallen behind in math education of both girls and boys. Much of the disinterest in mathematics appears to be cultural. According to the study, it is not part of the American culture to value talent in mathematics and this cultural mindset discourages boys and girls from excelling in the field. In fact the study showed that the boys and girls, especially girls who seemed to excel in math competitions in US schools were children of families recently immigrated to the U.S. from countries such as Russia, Romania, China, S. Korea, where the teaching of mathematics and its importance is a key component of those countries’ educational curriculum.

In my family, education has been first and foremost. I had the privilege of attending private schools in Iran and England, and here in the US. But I always feared mathematics, it was the least favorite of my subjects. I envied those classmates who seemed to just get it. For them solving mathematical equations was as easy as 2+2. Yet, I struggled. I avoided a math course in college by majoring in Political Science. But when I set my sights to grad school for an MBA, the dreaded GMAT with its math component sent me running to my uncle, a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics and a professor in mathematics, for intensive tutoring. Watching him solve the math problems on the GMAT test samples was like watching a master painter at work with his paintbrushes. It seemed so effortless and natural. He would chuckle at the problems and nod his head at their simplicity while I looked on enviously.

Why can’t we all benefit from the beauty of mathematics? Why can’t we all experience the same joy felt by those who get it? Is it cultural? Fearing to be labeled as nerds and ostracized at school, boys and girls almost intentionally avoid or dismiss math preventing any chance of excelling in the subject. Have we placed stigmas on math? We’ve all heard comments like “math is hard,” or “only boys are good at math,” and the best one of all “you’ll never use math in real life.”

In the TV series “Touch,” the little boy doesn’t speak, yet he communicates through numbers. Mathematics is a language and like any language we need to learn it at a very early age and we need to make it fun and interesting and relevant. Imagine how enriched our lives would be if we were able to see the interconnectivity of all life form, a gift that words alone do not accomplish, but with a little help from mathematics, we could see the world with a new perspective.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert

President & CEO of Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI)


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Exchanging Stories: Learning from Each Others Lived Experiences

by Abby Wills, MA
Shanti Generation

Every person has a story.

In our stories live countless lessons and possibilities for learning. Stories are living bridges between our past and future; our ancestors and our descendants.

The act of telling our stories opens the way for us to shape them. As we see our own experiences reflected through the listening eyes and ears of others, we gain new perspectives. Likewise, when we listen to another person share their story, we become mirrors reflecting back to them an understanding, a validation, or perhaps another angle, or question. During the exchange of stories, both teller and listener are affected.

The exchange of personal stories has been utilized as a tool for learning throughout history, and has a current presence in diverse learning environments.

I came to value story sharing during my studies at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena where I was required to write stories from my early years and other stages of my own life cycle. Rather than sending me to research the works of theorists right away, my professors first asked me to reflect on my life experience. This allowed me to locate myself in the theoretical information I would subsequently engage with.

The Human Development curriculum at Pacific Oaks introduced me to educators masterful in utilizing students’ stories as the “stuff of learning.”

“Education is not a preparation for life itself. Education is life itself.” John Dewey

The oft-quoted words of Dewey point to the essence of storytelling in education. Our stories are our lives. Our lives themselves contain the context through which we will learn best. In Dewey’s style of democratic education, the story is written in real time and is a shared experience of discovery. In this sense, each students experience enters the learning environment as vital content.

Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, utilized peoples lived experiences to help them learn to read, thereby empowering them with the tools to vote. Inviting someone to share their story provokes agency in that person. Bringing students personal stories alive in the classroom means that we make a space for learners to enter into the learning as subjects.

As our stories are told and heard, they come alive. In telling our stories, we gain a new view of our lives. Listening to other peoples stories reveals just how interconnected our paths really are. The context of my hardships may be very different from yours, yet we have all overcome many obstacles to be able to share our stories today.

Pacific Oaks College



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