Introductory thoughts on #CFHE12


This blog is a spin-off from my main blog to record thoughts about the CFHE12 MOOC on the current/future state of higher education in which I am doing my best to participate.  The blog is probably more for me than readers although it might help some others get a sense of what’s going on in the course.  As someone said: how will I know what I think until I read what I’ve written?  Due caution: it’s messy and not very well structured.  I’m writing this post at the end of the first week.

Overall reflections

Useful to be reminded of ‘first day of school’ syndrome in engaging with a new educational experience.  Presented with unfamiliar space and system and a whole bunch of new people.  Who knows what they’re doing?  Who are the smart ones? Who are the interesting ones? Who are the funny ones? Will I be able to do this and keep myself?  How do I balance investment in this activity against other networks and groupings? Where will I download, store and read documents, where will I keep my notes? What changes will I accept and embrace, what changes will I fight? Will I wish to classify the whole thing as ‘stupid’ and pull out?

Admittedly it has been hard to fit attention to the course into an already full life but would have to observe that so far there are only limited signs of new links being formed between participants.  There is some sign of existing linkages being reinforced.  Not helped by the fact that during much of Sunday Australian time the site appears to be down for maintenance.  So far I am glad I have taken part and I have learned a lot, including reading generally before deciding to actually signing up.


Prompted to get a better twitter tool and have moved to TweetDeck.  Nothing is perfect though as it works on the iPhone and the Mac but not the iPad.  First world problems.

Reflection on the importance of getting organised around engagement with social media and information streams.  Back to my research background in AI/systems interpretation: what are the important questions to ask, how do we form them, how can we answer them with the minimum of data collection and with what certainty? Are there important questions where decisions will have to be made without enough information?


Summary of readings

Probably got less out of these from a learning perspective than out of the introductory videos and connected reading from those running it, but nonetheless a useful set of prompts for considering the domain and very much of a theme with our strategic discussions at CSU.  Best thing I read prior to the course is Sir John Daniel’s overview of MOOCs which I think is a great coverage of the space (courtesy of Tony Bates).

UNESCO Paper on Trends in Global HE

Rehashes and summarises view of current state of Global HE.  Worth noting the conflicting tensions of problematising the cost and accessibility of HE and the salaries of academics.  Equally the lack of power of academics gets a run – not sure whether anyone has done a genuine historical study on this because my reading of histories of universities would not support the view that there was a golden age where academics were genuinely in control of the institution; except when they were so small that there were only a handful of professors who were required to do everything.  Perhaps when it was only Socrates and whomever he felt like inviting for a drink, the academy was truly in the hands of the academics.  Look how that ended.

Page xiv – I think there is a trend away from universities wanting to protect IP in recognition of the fact that even those best at it earn very small margins.

Page xvi – note that the assumption that broadband-based technology will solve the worlds problems is challenged by the infrastructure in many developing countries.  A point not generally considered by the promoters of the xMOOCs as universal social good.

Reminder about Mega-unis and important prompt – 24 of them, some with over 1 million students – the big red blob on my cartoon pictures of what might happen in the competitive space?

Page xvii – note on the growth of enrolments by women.  Will this become a gender equity issue?  There is no sign that is has yet reversed the dominance of men at senior levels of society, however, the creation of a class of uneducated young males is not something we should be sanguine about.

Side note – did not see reference to acknowledgement of enormous increase in research productivity as measured by publication – although remember graph showing enormous decrease in citations per publication.  More and more are writing more and more read less and less by fewer and fewer.

Africa Must Lead Innovation…

Presumably here to challenge cultural imperialism.  Useful to see for those of us outside of the North American continent.

Why India Will Lead EdTech

Could have sworn the author picture was of David Duchovny.  Interesting – see note above re mobile technology and broadband.  Is there another delivery paradigm which would genuinely work in developing countries (or parts of rural Australia for that matter).  Would have to skip the videos of Profs from Stanford of course 🙂

How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps

Fairly familiar from the Richard Hil Whackademia thesis, although the language is more colourful.  As Vice-Chancellor and President am I the chief madam to a cadre of ‘whores to the corpratized colonizers’ overseeing, perhaps to quote Woody Allen “a travesty of two shams of a mockery”?  The comments threads were entertaining.

This theme of corporatisation of higher education is regularly raised and the finger is perpetually pointed at Vice-Chancellors/Presidents, administrators and governments and the presumption that corporatism is an unquestioned evil.  However, university leaders seek revenue because it allows them to build strength in the institution, including the employment of academic staff. If there is a hope that open access will destroy university corporatism, presumably people are willing to take their chances as academic freelancers in the resulting landscape.  It reminds me of the Chinese curse: may you get what you wish for. Having said that, if we thought the public good would genuinely be served by open access would we stand in its way for selfish reasons?

The Siege of Academe

Probably the most interesting read out of the group; a vivid insight into the money and people that will fuel the tech-bubble around online learning.  Effectively a Darwinian approach by the sound of it.  And doubtless some really interesting things will come out of it.  The business model approach did remind of me Scott Adams in the Dilbert Principle: “5% of people who are nuts and 5% of people who will buy any damn thing.  This leaves a neat ten percent of the population who can be considered likely customers for your product.”  Important point at the end.  The dominant discussion about MOOCs in the media, dominated by the more elite institutions, has been that it won’t affect them.  However, usually they have a stronger focus on the educational modelswhich are most vulnerable to replacement by depersonalised online delivery  (such as very large lectures in first year).  And the students most likely to have the educational and social capital to take that up.  So will it really be regional universities that feel the worst of whatever flows from MOOCs?

Why The Internet Isn’t Going to End College As We Know it

A useful counterblast to MOOCmania but perhaps a little too complacent.  Whilst autodidacts may not get the traditional on-campus formative experiences they might get other, more interesting ones.  We all have networks from more than just our undergraduate days – what proportion of crucial contacts come from university and what proportion from other work or life experience?  True, currently online courses are not doing too well at forming networks but is this they key innovation to resolve?  What benefits would we get from a connection of higher education in the workplace – could we get the best of both worlds?

The Growing Role of Higher Education in Economic Development

Implicit in this is that traditional educational pricing models have allowed cross-subsidy from teaching to research.  Will the increased competition from online education undermine this business model and what will society do to address that?

The Changing Landscape of Higher Education

Important note that, as in Australia, the US Higher Education landscape has diversified enormously.

Enjoyed the references to “The Invisible College” and the decreased importance of the university in facilitating research and scholarly networks.  If the true value of the university is the logos or dialectic, what if you don’t need a university to carry on the conversation?  What are the spaces that will draw well informed and intelligent people together to discuss issues of importance?


Some good free-ranging discussion on the Discussion Groups.

Reference to John Daniel’s ‘the iron triangle’ of cost, access and quality.  Certainly one way of putting it but is also the case that profile and reputation is an important issue.  That is, it’s not just about the instructors, it’s about the students – who you can bring to the table, who do you want to hang around with?  This leads to a virtuous circle because the higher the educational capital of your students, the further you can take them.  At least in theory, although when you look at the educational models of many hundreds of students in a lecture is it also the less you have to do – in fact exclusivity is precisely what drives costs down?