Radicalization of Education Reform

David Wiley posted a concern about feeling out of place at the OpenEducation Conference in Vancouver last week. Since he started the conference four years ago, his sense of disconnection from the zeitgeist of the event is interesting. In particular, he’s concerned about the radicalization of education. I tried to post a response last night…but his site informed me it was a “duplicate post” (whatever that means). If I can’t use Wiley’s microphone, guess I’ll use my own here. This is the comment I tried to post:

Hi David,

Interesting post. I remember reading something about you proclaiming the end of universities by 2020 if they don’t change…and even offering your own certificates for course completion. Or perhaps I’ve read about you in a recent Fast Company article on higher education transformation. How radical of you! :)

A few somewhat random, but loosely connected, comments:

I share your concern about some of the conversations occurring in the edtech field (I think it’s broader than the OpenEd conference) relating to the role of universities. Thinking on educational reform is increasingly radical (ok, maybe it’s been radical for decades – i.e. Illich, Freire, and even Dewey). A good bit of radical thinking can be healthy, as long as it is radical thinking directed at the right object at the right time and in the right manner.

Experiences like you detail here are great for clarifying what a person actually believes. Sometimes I think I believe something…but, as I face the logical outcome of a world organized on those principles, I often find I pull back and rethink (or moderate).

At the opening of our policy meeting at OpenEd09, I mentioned that I was concerned we were going to become “Stallman” if we did not find a way to begin to speak at the power table. A group of bloggers and grassroots movements will not re-create the education system. Why? Integrated systems (networks of networks) are very difficult to change. Universities as we know them today will continue to play a role because of their tight integration to the power structures of society. In this instance, I think we need to “play within” the system in order to enact change.

However, and this gets to our conversation in your previous post, not all aspects of education are integrated in a networked manner. When an aspect of education is linearly integrated (like textbook publishing), significant disruption can occur without impacting the system of education. If all textbook content was made available in digital form, would we really suffer? I think not.

Now, to turn to your discussion of confusing means and ends, OERs are a lever of change. (I addressed university-level change in relation to OERs here as a post-OpenEd reflection: http://www.connectivism.ca/?p=151). Education is concerned with information creation/exchange. As Frank and Gabler argue, universities map the reality of the society in which they exist. As we begin to do new things with information, we also need to begin to shape our institutions differently. Higher education is in a period of rebalancing. I recently read a UNESCO report (.pdf) (pre-reading for the world conference on future of HE in France) that explored the dimension of change impact universities: globalization, technology, internationalization, research agendas, etc. Change is in the air.

While highly integrated systems don’t disappear overnight, they do change and evolve. Consider the growth of international education in Australia. Education is their 2nd or 3rd (depending on which report you look at) largest export. Entire university systems (King Abdullah University) are being built from scratch for a few meager billion. World Bank, UNESCO, OECD, and other international agencies, have turned their attention to the “virgin forest” (Fast Company quote) of HE.

I think we will see radical change in parts of education. I’m not sure where we’ll see radical change and where we’ll see evolutionary change. Teaching is the most obvious area of dramatic change given the communicative aspect of technology development. Online learning is a viable option (EDUCAUSE and Sloan-C support this development…as does the report released by US Dept of Education a few weeks ago) to classroom only learning.

The research roles of universities, on the other hand, are well integrated into society. Accreditation also continues as an important role for universities to play in society. For now at least, these two roles of universities is fairly secure in society.

In my youth, I went on a silent spiritual retreat. Days without speaking – except for ~1 hour each day with a spiritual adviser. On day 3, he made a statement that has guided much of my thinking since: never move away from something – you never know where you’ll end up…always walk toward something – this ensures you end up where you want to be. If we desire to do away with universities because we think they are obsolete (and in many ways, they are), we really don’t know what the future will look like. Change is about moving toward what we desire. But many reform advocates are not really clear on this yet. For that matter, I’ll direct the question to you: What type of higher education system are you moving toward? What are you working to achieve?

3 Responses to “Radicalization of Education Reform”

  1. Gary Lewis says:

    Good morning, George – The topic of this conversation between you and David Wiley is too important to relegate to blog posts and comments.

    You ask: “What type of higher education system are you moving toward? What are you working to achieve?” These are big, complex, powerful questions that deserve their own forum for extended exploration.

    How about if you and David figure out some way to take the conversation to another level and forum (eg, for starters, maybe create one of those group blogs where invited guest bloggers can provide a real diversity of opinion)?

    I’m so glad we’re finally at this point. Please push it forward.


  2. sgbulfone says:

    Open, accessible and innovative. That is the educational system we are moving towards. Higher ed. must enable our creative capacity so that the next generation of leaders and thinkers are equipped to handle a variety of problems that are impossible to forsee.

    Personally, and this is the thing I “think I believe,” higher education – the type you pay for and are accredited in – will focus on technical training and advanced sciences. Engineers and nano-technicians will populate the universities while intellectuals and radical thinkers will no longer need a physical educational setting to learn. Will academics accept a change in how they are acknowledged as academics? Schools of Business and Economics will be the most resistant to change, but eventually they will realize the “real” coversation is occuring in the halls of cyber-space.

    While the technicians labour on in well-funded futuristic labs what will the scholars do to recogize and acknowledge their own accomplishments if they can be celebrated with degrees from the top schools? Will something replace it? What will it look like? When will it start to happen?

    Maybe non-traditional sources (I’m thinking the non-rich here) will force this change. The United Nations Univesity of the people http://www.uopeople.org/ABOUTUS/FAQs/tabid/191/Default.aspx
    will probably be an agent of change if they do achieve an accredidation process that is acceptable. Now I sound like a radical.

  3. [...] stated in the past that I’m concerned about open education suffering the fate of Stallman – marginalized [...]