Tuesday, November 26, 2013

...or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not Hate the Udacity Pivot

Of course it’s hagiography; it’s in Fast Company, and Sebastian Thrun is in Silicon Valley. Of course he screwed the kids at San Jose State (though more on the virtue of what Cottom does with that conclusion below); that’s what privatized higher education does when “students from difficult neighborhoods” turn out to be unprofitable. And of course he wasn’t making any money; that’s the Silicon Valley business model spoofed so well by South Park. Now if we’re all done doing our best Claude Rains impressions, I want to take a more pragmatic look at the Udacity “pivot” (which admittedly sounds like a chess strategy rather than pedagogy).

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Bit of History from The Other Jeff

I've been blogging on higher education, among other topics, intermittently for a while at The Other Jeff. I'll start this new blog with a few highlights from the old.

One of the big themes in higher education policy has been cost. Soaring costs. Uncontrollable costs. Extravagant costs. Administrative bloat costs. I've had a couple of posts on that, one responding to the 2013 State of the Union Address and one to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Both take the perspective that that "cost" problem confuses cost per student with cost to students, and thus is really a very different problem for different institutions. For UVU, the problem really is state appropriations. Our inflation-adjusted spending per FTE has remained basically constant since the 1990s. During that time funding has been slashed. Students, of course, pay the price. Cost was also one of 12 supposedly inconvenient truths about higher education that economist Richard Vedder posited that I got about halfway through taking down before other duties called.

Another big theme that I've addressed repeatedly is my research on how educational institutions use data. I've argued at several conferences that "big" data processes such as data mining and predictive analytics raise some very serious ethical concerns. That has morphed into a more argument that we need to think about data as an issue of social justice, both within and beyond higher ed. This spring I'll be presenting papers on the constructive nature of educational data processes and how that embeds a host of normative issues in the data itself and the conclusions we draw from it.

"The Other Jeff" wasn't a higher ed planning blog specifically, so there's a lot of other content there: a good bit on teaching, a lot of rather abstract political analysis and philosophy (strange for a former political theorist, I know), and a few rather random musings on life, the universe, and everything.

About this Blog

Are MOOCs going to replace the traditional classroom? Will states ever fund higher education like they did in the 20th Century? How do we adopt a monastery model to a society in which non-traditional students are the norm?

These are the kinds of questions that UVU faces as we plan for our future. This blog is a space for exploring them.

Part of my role as UVU's Assistant Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Planning is to serve as the institution's resident higher ed futurist. (I promise, the term wasn't my idea.) Thinking in the language of SWOT analysis, it's my job to look ahead and try to understand the opportunities and threats that the university may see in the near future. I see it as especially important that these ideas be subjected to critical investigation given the hype that accompanies so many of them.

This blog is part of that role, but not in the way some might expect. I'm not offering a definitive view of the future here. Partly, that's because such views are wrong a lot more often than they are right, and unlike pundits I expect to be held somewhat accountable for the substance of what I write, not just the number of pageviews. What's here is speculative, a rough draft or first take on issues confronting higher education. Expect to see a lot of the ideas in here abandoned later. Expect to see me happy, not heartbroken, to find that I was wrong.

In fact, I'm really not even intending for this site to be read regularly. My approach to prognostication is mainly curatorial. I follow a lot of really sharp people on Twitter (and try to avoid the idiots that have the media's attention). That's a pool of news and ideas being circulated about higher education. These blog posts draw on that pool to pull together the ideas about a topic, a place to systematize my thinking on them and bring some coherence to the ideas. Ultimately the posts themselves will be brought together in some bigger, more synthetic form to be presented to the campus community.

Needless to say with that kind of description, this is an unofficial blog. It certainly doesn't represent the views of the university or of Institutional Effectiveness and Planning, and may not even represent my own views. I may bat around ideas that I'm not really buying, giving them the most charitable presentation possible in order to figure out what I don't buy about them.

This being a blog, of course, I will say one other thing: Don't read the comments.