Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I have just joined a mooc.  This is my first mooc.  I joined it because I wanted to get to know what it feels like to be in a mooc. I also joined it to learn what the mooc has to offer.
The topic of the mooc is the future of higher education - CFHE12

The first task is to use my blog to comment on a number of selected readings and contextualise them to my institution.  Now isn't it a good thing that I have a blog.

There are eight articles in the leading list for this week.  Here, in the sequence in which they appear, are my comments of how the context of the CPUT Faculty of Informatics and Design resonates with the eight papers.  Each title is hyperlinked to its article.

UNESCO's Trends in Global Higher Education:  identify the following trends: Globalisaion, massification, inequalities in access, increasing student mobility; teaching, learning and curricula; quality assurance, accountability and qualifications frameworks; financing higher education and the public good-private good debate, the private revolution, the academic profession, the research environment, information and communication technology, demographics and the impact of the economic crisis. From my perspective as the dean of a faculty in a South African University of Technology that has a deep commitment to disadvantaged communities and a stated mission to be "At the heart of Technology Education in Africa" interesting tensions arise. We are all too aware of our position in terms of globalisation and student mobility with overtures made to us by so many international institutions that we are beginning to be quite selective in who we partner with. One of the biggest obstaces we face is in providing access in an unequal society, and, yes, our students are very mobile - many of them coming from neighbouring provinces and even neighbouring states. We have just emerged from, and are embarking upon a new set of quality assurance efforts. As a faculty, specifically we have made the re-design of our curricula our highest priority - even surpassing research. As a University of Technology we are uniquely positioned through work-integrated learning, to be very close to the public good private-good debate.  We have also instituted a number of initiatives to get our students to be economically active even before their studies have been completed. We find ourselves affected in a strange way by the private institutions around us.  They do not take away many students from us, but they take away potentially some of the best students. And the students with the deepest pockets. Moreover many private institutions provide a service of a quality that is not nearly so much better than ours as the costs are higher than ours; while there are a number of blatant fly-by-night operators who cost unsuspecting students inordiate amounts of money, and when they present us with their certificates to engage in further studies, they have to learn that these are of no vanlue. The Faculty of Informatics and Design is blessed with a very strong cohort of enthusiastic academics who see the challenge of growing the institution from a former technicon to a powerful university as an energising activity.  We are developing ourselves as scholars, and we are constantly building our networks. We have even developed our own flagship Design, Development and Research conference. In terms of information and communication technology we are in an ironic position that we have an oversupply of unreliable technologies.  Our ratio of students to computers is 2 to 1, in other words there is one computer for every two students. But our bandwidth is slow and our connectivity is unreliable.  On the other hand, like many other developing countries we have leapfrogged much of the technology by the rapidly increasing use of mobile devices for learning.  Thanks to cheap connectivity on the Blackberry platform we have started to make extensive use of Facebook and Twitter as communication channels to extend the classroom beyond the brick and mortar.  We realise, though, that we need to revolutionise our pedagogy to keep abreast of the expectations and capabilities of our students. As a faculty we have developed a main research focus in the pedagogy of teaching design with the aid of technology. In this way we are integrating teaching and research, thus enhancing the effectivity of what we are doing, and this is our main attempt at surviving the economic crisis.  All in all, I would say that the Faculty of Informatics and Design is reasonably well positioned to face the challenges identified by the Unesco paper.

In his brief summary of the proceedings of the 2012 conference of the International Education Society of South Africa, entitled Africa must lead innovation in higher education internationalisation, Hans de Wit argues that Africa with its very young population, and also with its position as the "most internationalised" contitnent in the world, is best positioned to drive innovation. This is a novel idea, but not misplaced.  Africa is geographically positioned inside the triangle of the three great forces of the US, Europe and the East. In the Faculty of Informatics and Design we are privileged to have both lecturers and students form a multitude of African countries, from as close as Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania, to as far as Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Sudan.  This has enabled us to be the founding member of the "Network of African Designers". Our extensive collection fo African staff and students certainly place us in an excellent position to drive such innovation.

Joshua King provides 3 Reasons why India will lead EdTech in the 21st Century: Culture, Demand and Mobility.  Unfortunately for us we have only one of the three - the mobility.  How are we going to develop a culture of learning, and how are we going to create a demand for a high quality education?

Blogger "The homeless adjunct" explains How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps. 1. Defunding, 2. Deprofessionalising and impoverishing professors, 3. Managerialism, 4. Corporate culture and corporate money, and 5. the desctruction of the students.  Luckily our university scores only 1 out of five in all this, which is the rampant rise of managerialism.  The systems around us are being tightened so much that our eyes bulge.  We are lucky in that our state funding has remained pretty much unchanged (i.e. we are not being defunded more than we have already been) and that we have not been able to get enough corporations that are willing to suck us in. So on the one hand we have been lucky.  On the other hand, we have been working actively at professionalising our academics.  We spend large amounts of money on the professional development of our academics as well as on the improvement of their qualifications and their attendance of international conferences.  The improvement of the quality of our staff is already showing in terms of the increase of standards at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.  And, if our academics are seved well, then so will our students be...  I often jokingly say that as the dean it is my job to staff the complaints desk.  And I am happy to report that, to date this year, out of a student body of 3000, I have had only three complaints, and of these only one was a complaint about poor teaching. The others have been administrative.  In fact, this year the number of messages of thanks and congratulations have outnumbered the complaints.

Kevin Carey describes The seige of academe, giving us a preview of what may replace the university, by mentioning any number of web 2.0 inititatives, such as Coursera and Udacity that provide massively online open courses. He then speculates that, sooner or later, participants in these courses will want their certificates or badges or attendance points recognised by traditional institutions.  Of course that will lead to the possibility of there being an institution that is accredited to perform valid recognition of prior learning, and to award legal and credible degrees without the candidate's having attended a traditional university... So watch this space for my own announcement of my own mooc, quite soon.

An opposing view comes in the form of an essay entitled "Why the Internet is not going to end college as we know it".  The author argues that until the financial model for college education changes we will not have Internet-based colleges.  Of course, that is only half the story.  Just about every technology from 35mm slides, 16mm movies, U-Matic cassettes, Television, Radio, or even in the "Sixties the Encyclopaedia Britannica, whatever, has been punted as the disruptive technology in Education.  But people are missing the point.  The point of education is to give learners LESS knowledge, not more. My parents bought the Britannica. They subscribed to the yearbook.  We never used it.  It was just too overwhelming.  The good teacher is not the one who teaches you most. The good teacher is the one who teaches you the one thing you need.  And that thing, most often than not, is not a piece of information. It is more likely to be a piece of attitude.  And the more the Internet grows, and the more Web2.0 communities we belong to, and the more moocs we attend, the more we will yearn for that brief period of intimate physical human contact.

David Schaffer of the University of Albany highlights The Growing Role of Higher Education in Economic Development:  Higher education institutions and systems that are successful in this arena, the report said, appear to rely on a combination of four key factors:
  • Innovation — that is, using their research power to create knowledge that can have economic impact, and then actively working to help move new ideas into the marketplace.
  • Knowledge transfer that helps businesses grow and prosper, through programs such as job training, technical and other consulting assistance, and assistance to startups.
  • An activist role in revitalizing the communities in which they are located, such as efforts to help local elementary and secondary schools.
  • And their core mission of producing the educated populace that’s needed to build, run and work in the innovation economy.   (Schaffer, 2010)
It is astounding how close the Faculty of Informatics and Design is to these goals.  In Industrial design we have a project in which students learn, in their degree year, to move from product to profit. It is our hope that they will exit the university as employers rather than employees.  The department of Information Technology have their own "Hub" that directly addresses the element of knowledge transfer, job training and assitance to startups. Furthremore we are in negotiations with local incubators to locate our students with them.  The department of Architecture, with their Design Build project at St Michaels school fulfils the activist role, specifically with an elementary school.  Finally the whole faculty's research question, "What do people do, and how do we design solutions for them" resonates with the last factor.  However, the aspect that fascinates me most about this, is that the four factors listed by Schaffer, might as well be our very own rationale for the construction of our "Design Park".

Finally David Staley and Dennis Trinkle identify ten "faultlines" that contribute to The Changing Landscape of Higher Education.  I will comment briefly on how these resonate with the faculty of Informatics and Design.
#1 Increasing differentiation of higher education: Interestingly South African higher education is currently characterised by institutional drift with Technikons having achieved Univeristy status, and some Universities entering the domain of "professional" courses.  On the other hand there is much to be said for the renewed emphasis on FET colleges that the minister of Higher Education is wanting to model on the American Community Colleges. Here the Faculty of Informatics and Design is well-placed with existing MOUs in place between the IT department and some FET colleges, and the initiation of talks between the Design department and the College of Cape Town.
#2 The transformation of the general education curriculum: Need I say anything.  Not only is curriculum transformation the key activity of the Faculty. It even drives our new Faculty structure, and will determine how we plan our physical spaces during our consolidation phase.
#3 Faculty faces of the future: The Faculty of Informatics and Design recognises, more than most, the value of the development of Faculty, as well as the recognition of Faculty endeavors.  We spend a quarter of a million rand per year sending staff to the Design Indaba. We have six staff training and development days per year. We have had the highest number of ad-hominem promotions in the Institution.  Furthermore we are pioneering the use of ICT in education in a number of ways. We are at the forefront of using video essays and digital stories, we lead in using Twitter and Facebook, and we have just launched a project using Android tablets.
#4 The surge in global faculty and student mobility: Although there are some lecturers and professors who seem to be abroad more than they are on campus, we still lag behind in the mobility of our undergraduate students. Fortunately for us we are visited regularly by foreign exchange students, and, thanks to our DDR conference, if we can't visit the world, we at least get the world to visit us.
#5 The new "invisible college": We are in the process of developing extensive personal and institutional networks by being represented on any number of boards and academic institutes. We are harnessing the electronic media to ensure that, although we are geographically far removed, we nevertheless remain close to the action on a number of fronts.
#6 The changing traditional student: Here is our biggest weakness.  We have lost touch with how our students think. We still beleive that we can send them emails. We still beleive that they should hand in paper-based assignments that have been printed out. We still believe that they should work by hand and by desktop machines. When we have our annual media conference we sit there and we see what our alumni look like, and what our future students will look like. And then we go back and we teach in a traditional classroom and complain about the lack of air condiditoning.
We have an interesting mix of youg and old, rich and poor students, but we are still stuck to a predominantly morning-based, studio-based teaching system aimed at the middle class. We are doing very little to accommodate students who have to work. We are doing very little to encourage students to get work and integrate that work into their learning experience.
#7 The mounting pressure to demonstrate the value added of a college degree: In South Africa, unfortunately, we do not sit with this problem. The problem here is the reverse. Many students just want a degree - no matter what the degree is. Studying has so many financial and social advantages that the economic value of the degree is sometimes neglected. It is therefore our responsibility to ensure that there is such value.  As I mentioned earlier, we must change our aim from producing job seekers to producing job creators.
#8 The re-valuation of middle-skill jobs: This resonates so well with the renewed focus on the FET colleges.  The challenge for us, therefore, is to adjust our selection criteria upwards significantly, so that the colleges can find really good material in the middle sill market. No longer should those with middle skill abilities drop out of our courses. They should not enrol with us in the first place. Proper career guidance and proper selection is needed to protect students from making expensive mistakes.
#9 Higher education as a private rather than a public good: Once again it is a reassuring factor that South African Higher Education has been spared the pressure of being abandoned by Government. Although we are part funded, there is not the clear drive to continually reduce our funding, and thus, at this stage anyway, we remain a public good - and that is where we should be.
#10 Lifelong partnerships with students: Speaking for myself as a professor of education, rather than as a dean I can categoriclly state that I have maintained a very strong bond with just about every student ever to have graduated with me.  I have done this through the "Catts" mailing list, and through the "Elearning Update" conference.  I have done this by helping my alumni in their job-hunting efforts, and I have done this in assisting them with career counselling.  I meet them in person, I meet them online. Not only do I meet with them, I have created a community of them.  And that is what should be happening in the Faculty. Fortunately the PR department is taking the lead here by running alumni events, and, of course, by inviting their alumni to the Media Conference.  But yes, unfortunately the last "faultline" is actually a huge weakness in the Institution and in the Faculty.  But I have had a conversation with the new director of advancement, and he assures me that this is one of his key goals for the near future.  On the other hand, at a more intimate level I know that there are many of the Faculty staff who have similar networks with their alumni that I have. So we have something to build.

So there then are a number of elements that we need to consider in checking the extent to which the Faculty of Informatics and Design is ready for the future. I look forward to your comments.


Linda Keesing-Styles said...

What a thorough and fascinating analysis of the readings in the context of your institution and country. We too are an Institute of Technology in NZ and your experiences and direction are not a million miles from ours. Congratulations on developing up such a strong focus on learning and teaching and the scholarship thereof.

markwashere said...

Working at University of technology in Australia not that different good blog.