Might a hospitality industry revenue management model work for higher (or post compulsory) education? This is a question that Kate Varini has recently explored with me in a paper (in submission – link to come). We probably need to further examine the similarities and differences between post compulsory education and the hospitality industry. I suspect there is more overlap than many in HE would like to see, but I also expect that there are key differences which might challenge such an approach. In principle I am in favour or pricing models which subsidise some participants. Where the subsidy is generated, how it is generated, and whether the subsidisers need to receive a different level of service are questions to be addressed. For education there has been an important notion of civic or national good, which is (or was) subsidised through the tax system, with all participants receiving (nominally, anyway) the same service. What value incentives can be offered to the subsidisers in order to allow more or less equivalent service to the subsidised? At the moment we are testing a “freemium” model in our fslt open online course. Everyone can participate for free but only those who pay get tutor feedback and academic credit. Could revenue management concepts such as advanced purchase discounts or bulk purchase discounts or late-place price auctions work for academic credit? Last minute education .com? Groupon for learning?
As an undergraduate in the US in the early 1970s, it was not uncommon for there to be people in our classes “auditing” the course. (Auditing in the sense, “listening”, i.e. attending but not enrolled.) While auditing was supposed to be governed by regulations there were a range of practices from entirely informal dropping in, to what amounted to full participation in all but the exam. There were supposed to be fees payable for auditing but as far as I could tell actual practice was to go under the radar and simply ask the prof (lecturer) if she or he minded. Mostly they didn’t. This practice was so wide spread there was even a national network TV comedy drama about it: “Hank”; “He’ll get his degree/ His Phi Beta key/ And get ‘em all for free!/ That’s Hank!”. Being an American comedy drama, Hank also ends up marrying the Dean’s daughter, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hank_(1965_TV_series) . The point is that a college degree was expensive, but access to the knowledge was free to those with the gumption to drop in. I audited Latin at the local state university before coming to Oxford to study historical and comparative linguistics. As far as I could tell the Classics Department was delighted to have someone interested come to classes.
MOOCs remind me of this practice of dropping in under the radar.
But times have changed a lot. Everyone teaching in higher education has a much less certain tenure, and that tenure depends to some extent on bums on seats in your class. If there are uncounted heads that doesn’t help your job security. But, on the other hand, the Internet makes learning so much more accessible.
MOOCs invert the ratios of enrolled participants to drop-ins. In FSLT12 this was the cause of some tension. Were the enrolled participants the “real” participants?
We will have to work this year to make sure that on the one hand, people who have paid for an accredited course feel that they have got their money’s worth, but equally on the other not to devalue the drop-in seekers after open knowledge.
Choose your metaphor. The discourse around MOOCs is congealing around a set of qualities. Bigger better; inherited authority; transmitted knowledge; cognitivist construction; solitary interaction with content. To some extent it is a matter of taste. Or learning preference. Or community. I saw the Police play Twickenham once. It was OK. Entertaining. But nothing was challenged. Nothing was changed. A few childhoods were relived. 50,000 people left with all they knew reaffirmed and comforted. I have never been to the Reading festival or Glastonbury. I love little local bluegrass festivals, folk clubs, jazz bars. Even in strange towns. I don’t just hang out with my friends. Though I do seek a level of homophily: people who share some interests. Sessions. Lock ins. Dad rock in pubs challenges my categories but I would rather enthusiastic semi – competence over slick synthetic commercialism any day. It saddens me that the values of slick synthetic commercialism seem to be driving higher education. And it saddens me that moocs are being conflated with stadium rock learning. It seems unlikely to me that transformative learning will arise in massive settings. Yes, for some, content will be transmitted, things will be learned and many will have their world view affirmed. But for challenging conventions give me seminars, reading groups, learning sets – most of the time.
I am developing a new online course on “Extending your online course” (how meta is that). We go live with it on 2 November 2011. This four-week short course focuses on enhancing teaching and learning by using new technology and tools – social media – for interactivity and engagement.
What does that mean? We are going to experiment with new “stuff” to teach with. This has been the most fun I have had at work in a while. The website will go live next week. Contact me (Twitter @georgeroberts) if you want a preview.
The course is primarily aimed at teachers who have some experience of teaching online, those who have done one of OCSLD‘s other online courses, or those who are bold about trying new things. You do not have to be a techie. In fact the course is not really aimed at techies. But, you should be willing to embrace social media technologies for education and get your hands a little dirty when we “lift the lid”. If you are reading this, please forward a link to any of your new colleagues who are getting into blended online teaching.
The course is going to be experimental. We are not going to tell you what to do or how to do it – though we will if we can. We do aim that through this engagement you will discover (and we might as well!) new ways to interact in learning environments and new tools to facilitate that interaction. We will adopt the motto (though not, perfectly, the method) of the MOOC, “… we suggest, you decide”. We will look at not just the tools and techniques, but also the social implications of going on-line through the social media world. Questions of privacy, identity and community in respect to academic practice will be raised. (These questions were explored in a series of online seminars and are the subject of another new course “Academic practice online”, which I am developing for later next year.)
As with our other courses, “Extending your online course” will be taught primarily through asynchronous group discussion. However there will be some use of synchronous audiographic virtual classrooms. We will use Wimba Classroom. It is a lot like Elluminate or Adobe Connect. If you are thinking about participating you might want to put Friday 4 November 1200-1400 (GMT) into your diary for the first of the live audiographic sessions. And, there will be two more live sessions on the two following Fridays.
The course is organised around weekly tasks supported by associated readings. In order to make a full contribution to the course people need to commit approximately a total of 4-6 hours per week to course related activity.
I hope people join!
As a relatively recent appointee to lead a PGCert (and an even more recent PhD), the references and insights in this discussion are very useful. I can only add personal anecdote, expanding a little on John Lea’s observations. Although the evidence is convincing that there is at best a loose correlation between research activity and teaching practice, I suspect the story is a lot more nuanced and is coupled with what might be called para-academic factors of economics, institutional and disciplinary micro-politics, and identity.