Thursday, October 28, 2010

A crisis for institutions, opportunities for teachers

Richard Hall has posted another cracking post, looking for the opportunities in the fog of war that is the UK's latest review of their university education system. If Australian policy remains true to tradition, it too will face a similar fate.

The UK's review also prompted Inside Higher Ed to publish another excellent post by James Vernon from the University of California, basically summing up the downward spiral of the English speaking institutions of education since the 1980s. Quite rightly, James doesn't limit his criticism at the politicians either, squaring off the complacency of the people in the institutions as well:
Before rushing to join the denunciations of our short-sighted and philistine politicians we have to accept that no-one within the English university sector emerges from this process with much dignity. Administrators have grown fat, plumping up their personnel, enlarging their office and buildings, as well as inflating their salaries. Most damagingly they meekly accepted the economistic logics that drove the auditing of productivity and were naive enough to believe that the introduction of fees would supplement, not replace, state funding. They have turned away from the public they are supposed to serve in the quest for new ‘markets’: professional schools, overseas students, and creation of empires with institutions that franchise their degrees.
So its with complete agreement to that, that I look at Richard Hall's post - the first to respond to the cuts with a relative positive attitude - seeing the destruction of coercive academic capitalism as an opportunity for new and progressive practices.
In particular we might now revisit the critical work on the neoliberal university, the student as consumer and the marketisation of HE, in order to critique and negate the path that we are pushed towards. This work identifies the types of controlled, economically-driven, anti-humanist organisations that will possibly emerge, and the ways in which oppositional, alternative, meaningful social change might be realised.
Richard stops short of describing alternative approaches, pointing instead to a few worthy projects like School of Everything instead.

This is where I might cut in.

I've been trying to think inside out from the institution for 4 or 5 years now. How might those who presently work inside the institutions, work in such a way that makes ready, or feeds opportunities that are developing outside the institutions? I reckon HE teachers ought to beat the policy makers and bosses at their own game, and start setting up for independent, contract work. This means taking full ownership of the units you teach, and start running then independently from the institution, contracted back into the institutions, while they remain.

  1. Start with your unit outline. 
  2. Copy it to Wikiversity and chuck out all that guff, make it fun, engaging, and readable. Link to the guffy version if legal requires it. If your Institution has draconian IP policy, work to change it, or change the unit outline enough to qualify as original work.
  3. Start networking online around the subjects of your units, update the wiki as new resources and ideas come your way. 
  4. Refine your Wikiversity entry and start editing all related Wikipedia articles so that links are prevalent from there to your Wikiversity course.
  5. Set up a blog/website for your units, or create a page on your existing blog/website for the units you are developing to teach and assess. 
  6. Ditch the learning management system and any other platform the institution prescribes (such as email or lecture recording facilities), get it all out in the open, on commonly available and tried and true services, and use the links, RSS and embed codes to quickly populate an LMS if you must. 
  7. Set up a Google docs spreadsheet with all the data the institution needs for auditing, such as attendance, contact details, demographics, participation and completion rates, feedback, etc.
  8. Work out how much it costs your target universities to run the unit, then work out how you can teach and assess that unit for less. 
  9. Find other teachers going independent, try to build a network who together might be able to offer units for the better half of a degree, using this approach.
  10. Offer all the universities in the world your service, outlining the cost benefit analysis you've done for them (like Google Docs did).  All you need from them is assurance they will give your graduates the rubber stamp on your assessed and moderated say so.
  11. Negotiate a 3-4 year contract with each university, to make sure you have time to refine and develop, and so that degree hunting students have consistency in you. 
  12. Run your unit open access, inviting non enrolled students to participate, offering them post study assessment (Recognition of Prior Learning) should they ever be wealthy enough to pay for the paper.
  13. Author a textbook for the unit on Wikibooks, and desktop publish it to, charge a small royalty for the printed version.
  14. Create quirky merchandise for your unit, again charging small royalties.
  15. Set up a donation widget on your unit website to take donations from anyone who shows their love.
  16. Make sure your running costs include time for research and development. I reckon 5-10 hours for every hour of teaching and assessment as a rough guide.
  17. Get smart with your work, think about ways to use community projects like Wikipedia's Featured Article initiative and other ideas, or consider pay it forward assignments, to help with assessment and other workload challenges.

None of this necessarily preserves the work of teaching subjects that are in low demand unfortunately. In this regard, I would look to associations and other outside bodies to subsidise the running costs of your units with sponsorship. Whack a heritage order on ancient Greek studies etc. Try to find sustainable online markets for your niche service.

If this idea is too brief for you, you can look back at my previous posts outlining this idea.


Keith Lyons said...

It would be great to develop models for engagement and learning that celebrate non-zero sum outcomes. I keep returning to our agnostic exchange, Leigh, to understand my core constructs about education. I do think edgelessness is attractive and potentially enriching for institutions rather than threatening.

As ever, thank you for articulating these ideas.

Peter Rawsthorne said...

Awesome article! I like that you also included the revenue stream into this. I guess all we need now is some case studies... As you know I have been an educator for over 15 years, bouncing back and forth between institutions and being independent. I have always found my being an independent most rewarding and more lucrative. But that is due to my being an independent has me more in the role of systems architect and IT leadership. Though I would really like to see a small group of educators become independent like you describe here. It could be a positive and disruptive force.

Lana said...

Thanks for those amazing links. I'm going to send them on to some friends/colleagues/admins.