Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The role of marketing in educational development

When a university marketing department spends most of its resources on branding and brand awareness campaigns like billboards, newspaper ads, 15 second tv and radio commercials, sponsorship, calendars and diaries, and another large portion on the website, open days, visitations and international representations, little if any of this has any educational benefit. We promote study with our university with glossy, promising messages, and leave the quality and delivery to under resourced, sometimes stressed staff and admin. All this effort and expense is potentially undone by that form of marketing we cannot control: word-of-mouth through social media. That word of mouth message goes far and wide once the reality of our service is apparent to our paying customers.

It just so happens that social media has a vast and impressive potential for learning, research, education .. and even assessment. A marketing driven engagement with social media brings them into a direct compliment to teaching and research efforts at the University. This post sets out a proposal on how marketing expenditure can be used to improve the quality of media and teaching resources, while at the same time achieving significant brand awareness objectives that marketing departments traditionally engag in.

Take the $5000-10000 that is typically spent on a billboard, use it to produce and publish a series of lectures, panels, interviews, mini documentaries, add the branding information that you would have on the billboard, and upload to Youtube. The views and response rates will be significantly higher than a billboard. Go further, package the lecture videos with links to openly accessible readings and resources, as well as the assignments and assessment criteria, and make it available for free on the popular social media channels, and offer reduced fee-based assessment and certification services to people who are using these open educational resources for self directed study. By rethinking marketing expenditure, and educational services in this way, we are not only generating glossy promising messages, but delivering glossy promising products as well, linked to user pay services that are more clearly in our mid to long term 'business' (and education) interests.

The point of difference for the University of Canberra
Producing open educational resources is not new. Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Open Courseware was an early mover in this direction - but criticised for the quality and depth of their resources. Many other universities have set up open education initiatives, none are taking advantage of the full opportunity before them. UC has an opportunity to be 'first to market' and with real points of difference...

Add Creative Commons to the Intellectual Property Policies
As UC reviews it policies on IP, it needs to add a clause that enables and supports staff who want to use Creative Commons licensing arrangements. I hope UC will go further, following Otago Polytechnic's lead and set Creative Commons Attribution as the default recommended copyright license over outputs from the University, with a process in place for restricting copyrights down from that. This actually works in the interest of a Commercialisation Unit or IP Unit in the university as they try to monitor and manage IP being generated. By defaulting to CC By with an opt-out process, anyone who wishes to apply copyright restrictions down from the default CC By, would need to see the Unit to apply whichever restriction they think is necessary. This assists in the 'better' management of IP at the university and captures anything that does have real commercial possibilities. As copyright is managed at present, All Rights are Reserved by default, and no real procedure with an incentive exists that involves a unit like a Commercialisation Unit or IP Unit.

If UC were to adopt CC By as a default, this will generate a vast amount of media and industry attention. UC would become the first Australian tertiary learning organisation in to move towards open education and research. It would be the 2nd in the Southern Hemisphere, following only Otago Polytechnic. UC can also take the advantage in the moral delima by taking practical steps towards returning access to publicly funded research outputs, where they are presently caught up in a publishing cycle that closes that access and sees large profits going out to offshore publishers.

Assign resources to the development of 5 show piece units
Changing the IP policy to one that gives options for open education and research practices will generate media attention, but having little to no follow-through will only undo the benefits of that attention as people see the hollow promise.

In many ways, this was the weakness in the work at Otago Polytechnic. It has so-far been unable to coordinate library, marketing and IT services effectively to adequately support teachers and researchers taking their work to an international arena. Yet, despite this absence of support, an analysis of their effort reveals a 125% return in the first year of their investment.
It cost $4000 to properly train 1 teacher/researcher how to effectively use popular social media for their work, and in the first year each person would generate over $9000 worth of marketing, infrastructural savings and quality improvements to their work.
With such a return it is arguable that a greater investment can be made. One that involves production promotion expenses from marketing, support and development from the library, improved ICT and admin services. An investment like this could well leverage even greater returns than Otago Polytecnnic's largely uncoordinated and unsupported efforts by a few motivated individuals.

UC should identify at least 5 units for development and packaging as open education units. This development involves resource production, teaching staff training and intensive support with the objective to bring the staff member up to a point where they are able to independently work with the materials and media in an enhanced and publicly accessible unit.

Use popular social media
Leading open educational initiatives like MIT Open Courseware, Utah State University and Johns Hopkins University make their educational media available freely online, but on their own web spaces. This approach undoubtedly misses a large majority of people using the Internet for informal learning, as they browse through more popular channels for information such as Youtube and Wikipedia.

Harvard Law has twice presented open courses well packaged around popular social media. Firstly in 2008 with their Law in the Court of Public Opinion - where they used, Second Life, a Wiki and a Blog to run the course for formal and informal enrolments simultaneously. Secondly in 2010 with Justice - a unit heavily using Youtube to present a TV-like series around the unit. Closer to home is the University of New South Wales on Youtube, where it features some of its better lectures. None of these however, are sophisticated in their use of social media, nor do any of them go beyond mere marketing, such as linking it to actual teaching and assessment.

The UC approach to social media
UC should package and publish quality recorded lectures (in the broader understanding of the term - including panel discussions, interviews and mini documentaries), topics and supporting study material, assignments and assessment schedules across popular social media channels for at least 5 show case units.

Lectures would be produced for authenticity, short and engaging and useful to people studying the unit for interest as well as for certification. These videos should be loaded to Youtube, both on the lecturer's channel and a UC channel and playlist, with copies spread across other video sites such as, and backed up to the Australian National Archive. Youtube would be the focal point for the videos.

As well as the video series, each unit takes a Wikiversity page and lists the topic schedule ensuring all readings and resources have copyright release for use on Wikiversity, or are at least openly available online. This page includes the assignments and assessment criteria. If a text is used in the unit, the text should be loaded into Wikibooks, with a print version available under normal royalty arrangements. This work should be done in the spirit of collaboration, with UC positioning itself as one of potentially many 'providers' of teaching and assessment services that compliment the Wiki study materials. Once complete, a link to these pages can be placed on all the related Wikipeia pages.

Each unit has a course website where all these resources are gathered and compiled in one central place. Links to this website are included in the description text for all the videos and wiki pages. This website is primarily used for announcements and updates on the course and its development, as well as notes, examples and feedback on work submitted by people undertaking study in the course.

Position assessment and certification services for new 'markets'
The units that are packaged and published this way need to be designed in such a way to be useful both to people interested in learning, as well as people seeking assessment and certification services. In other words, the stated learning objectives, assignments and assessment criteria need to be aligned and robust enough for both self directed learners using the open educational resources independently, as well as for dependent learners who have enrolled up front - seeking teaching and learning support services while they study.

Self directed learners can simply engage with the materials, where appropriate - discussions and forums, even gain access to labs and equipment as a fee-for-service arrangement, and complete and submit assignments for assessment. Assessment and certification services can take place when that person enrolls in the course. That enrollment essentially takes place when they are confident of a completion. Front loading a course, making it possible to enroll on completion, obviously has a positive impact on performance indicators that impact funding to the course - such as completion rates. Only those who are have effectively completed, are enrolling for assessment services.. in other words 100% completion rates, and quite likely very high satisfaction and continuation rates, not to mention better student profiles engaging in fee paying services.

This design aims to attract people already in full time work and struggling to make necessary career changes. To parents seeking distant and self paced study options. To people in regional and remote areas reluctant or unable to relocate to Canberra for study. To experienced and/or self directed learners seeking recognition for their knowledge and skills. To local and international people looking for less expensive study and certification options. As yet, most universities do very little in identifying and servicing this sort of demand.

As long as the developments compliment the needs of existing up-front enrolled students, then this development will simply open UC units to possible new 'markets'. Obviously by engaging marketing resources and librarian support in improving media and resources used for teaching and learning, with those resources being publicly available in the style I've outlined above, there is not only an improvement on services to existing students, but it goes a long way towards marketing departments developing and servicing new 'markets' as well.


Minhaaj said...

Interesting idea. You have developed a taste for useless writing like most academics during this while however. This all could fit in 3 paragraphs. Moving to CC-based IP would be good idea actually. Would get them quite a repute for being 'open', 'generous' and 'human' educational institute even though they will have reserved all litigation rights with CC like copyrights. Nice gimmick anyways. That could somehow related to your earlier post about Opencourse Ware being a scam in the sense its more marketing and preview than honest help in form of complete courses. As much as you are a fan of distributed learning systems instead of LMSes i can see where its going. Good post.

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks for the frank comment as always Minhaaj :) the fluff I packed around the key concepts is for the benefit of the people I work with who have never been exposed to this thinking before. I am trying to pre-empt any questions and counter arguments they might come up with, based on my experience with other Marketing departments.

As you know, my goal is to influence the institution's practices to be mutually beneficial to both their selfish needs, and to the idea of helping more people through the educational hoops at less cost.

The developments (if they get up) will be in formats and designs that enable reuse and adaptation for those emerging initiatives that look like challenging the institutional arrangement for education. That challenge isn't there yet, so it will be interesting to see which way this will tip. Either empowering the institution further with new markets and business models more appropriate for the times, or to the deinstitutionalised educational options...

Either way, I don't think anyone has a choice. The American institutions have taken large strides occupying the 'free' learning space, but as their economic crunches down on them, an opportunity exists for international institutions to occupy that space and do it better.

Simon Leonard said...

As one of the people you work with, I still have a number of questions, but I'll bring it down to one. You describe separating 'course' and 'assessment and certification'. Clearly this is a model available but it is a very limited teaching method - essentially you seem to describe a multi-media 'reading' course and I don't think I can compete with the ABC if I go that way.

When I write a unit I write the assessment first and work back from there. It is the key teaching tool that is supported by the various information I provide or suggest. Can you tell me more about the pedagoical options in this approach?

Leigh Blackall said...

Hi Simon, you're right.. this model puts 'teaching' squarely in the back, and assessment right up front. It is designed for the 'students' we are currently not already engaging, enabling those with existing skills, knowledge and self directed learning abilities an opportunity to get credit at a reduced time and cost, as well as freeing up time for participating staff for activities such as research, funding applications and learner support.

Hopefully such a development can compliment the needs of existing models, such as servicing dependent learners with a set pace of weekly lectures, labs and tutorials. Most obviously, high quality media used in this model is a benefit.

Again, this model is more about enabling another way, than it is about removing the main way. If the ABC does it better on all or any of the subjects we aim to assess, then we should be using their resources and focusing on better assessment services. Certainly we should be using their resources already in existing models, as with any quality resource we can find. I am interested to find out just how many units could be 'packaged' for self directed learners using all the available media, readings and communication channels available today.

With skilled librarian and production support to help develop that package, and smart economic models for the unit, staff on those units may find more time to focus on the effective assessment, research, funding and learning support service.

It is no doubt not suitable to all units and all staff, but might be suited for more than we currently know. I'm looking for only 5 units to find out.

Ben Rattray said...

Nice post Leigh.

I think it's an interesting post. As you know I like the concept but the practical side has a lot to be developed, as we discussed. But not insumountably so. Leonard points out a good point tho, although I'm not sure he has thought it through. I think this approach is inevitable in the long run and so the chances of being successful and sustainable is either to be big (with lots of resources behind you, E.g. the ABC) or get in early. But that takes balls. I'm not sure if UC has them.

Leigh Blackall said...

I think we have some "ballsy" people in UC, and I get the feeling that the key gate keepers are willing to try it out... need 5 units at the ready...

Minhaaj said...

Either you have 48 hours a day or you have been extremely consistent with trying to rectify defunct educational institutes. :) I have never seen someone so motivated to fix the institutions which are structured to fall. Specially after the administrative fiascos you have seen in Wikiversity, Wikieducator and Facebook i thought you would learn. Illich, your ideal also shed sufficient light on decentralization for you to use that as beacon.

Fragility of Creative Commons and legal absurdity and meaninglessness of its licenses further makes it asinine to support them in larger entities like universities or schools. You did a wonderful job at Otago but you got resistance even from teachers. Nobody is as passionate and to be honest insane enough to grade free participants for online courses.
Ending up with marketing bit, if education is selfless and meaningful it doesnt need marketing, specially new forms of penetrations e.g social media.

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks Minhaaj, its less about spending a lot of time on it, than it is about finding the right trigger points. In this case, value adding marketing expenditure to not only do what they currently do - better, but in a way that compliments core 'business'. If someone rejects that proposal, I'd be interested to hear the argument. Also, the perceived need in management that the university needs to better manage "intellectual property". Its harder to demonstrate, but CC By as a default causes a better management of IP. I'll be interested to hear any arguments from them that reject that proposal. As far as I know, there is no other proposal for managing IP on the table yet.

Once those trigger points are found, hopefully the rest will snowball, bringing educational culture in Australia back to its social values, and away from it irrational user pay, restricted values.

Some think this is too late. Those who say that imply that they agree it was a better way. So, its not too late so long as the memory of it is still there.

Anonymous said...

I think the core of the argument is valid. Why can't the assessment be of two types: one for enrolled students and one that is broad feedback to indicate to a 'student' (as yet un-enrolled) that he or she is in the right learning place for taking up official enrolments - or not? I do like the intellectual challenge a traditional university should emit but that does not negate a much greater diversity of enrolment practices, modes of 'delivery' and assessment.

Jon Awbrey said...

A paper of possible interest:

Awbrey, Susan M. (2003), "Making the “Invisible Hand” Visible : The Case for Dialogue About Academic Capitalism". Online.

Leigh Blackall said...

Great title! Reading now...

Leigh Blackall said...

Many thanks for the link Jon! Susan's paper is great. My notes on it.

Leigh Blackall said...

The pushback on academic capitalism in the USA