Mariya P. Ivancheva, Rebecca Swartz, Neil P. Morris, Sukaina Walji, Bronwen J. Swinnerton, Taryn Coop & Laura Czerniewicz(2020)Conflicting logics of online higher education,British Journal of Sociology of Education,DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2020.1784707
The advent of massive open online courses and online degrees offered via digital platforms has occurred in a climate of austerity. Public universities worldwide face challenges to expand their educational reach, while competing in international rankings, raising fees and generating third-stream income. Online forms of unbundled provision offering smaller flexible low-cost curricular units have promised to disrupt this system. Yet do these forms challenge existing hierarchies in higher education and the market logic that puts pressure on universities and public institutions at large in the neoliberal era? Based on fieldwork in South Africa, this article explores the perceptions of senior managers of public universities and of online programme management companies. Analysing their considerations around unbundled provision, we discuss two conflicting logics of higher education that actors in structurally different positions and in historically divergent institutions use to justify their involvement in public–private partnerships: the logic of capital and the logic of social relevance.
Unbundling – the disaggregation of educational provision and its delivery, often via digital technologies
Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot’s (2006) framework of different orders of justification, connecting them to the sociological literature on institutional logics
We suggest that more explicit and nuanced national and institutional policies need to be produced around unbundled provision, which are cognisant of emerging trends in and dangers to the evolution of unbundling at public universities.
Unbundling the traditional university ‘bundle’ affects not only property, services and facilities, but also administration, evaluation, issuing credentials and even teaching (Wallhaus 2000, 22). This process involves separating educational provision (e.g. degree programmes) into component parts (e.g. courses) for delivery by multiple stakeholders, often using digital approaches (Swinnerton et al. 2018). Universities can unbundle on their own, offering individual credit-bearing modules outside bounded disciplinary curricula, or in partnership with OPM providers, offering MOOCs or credit-bearing courses or programmes. Proponents of unbundling suggest that the disaggregation of television and music production and its re-aggregation as on-demand digital content like Netflix or Spotify could represent a template for universities (Craig 2015; McIntosh 2018).
The introduction of market logic into the sector happens even if higher education is a stratified positional pseudo-market with scarce excludible resources only available to groups with access to a few prestigious institutions; its outcomes and value are difficult to measure in purely economic terms
Under accelerated marketisation, Tomlinson (2018, 714 and 724) argues, higher education is reduced to the latter frame and measured in terms of income generation, employability, consumption and performativity. Building on this framework, and relating it to unbundling, we identify the emergence of two organisational logics of higher education: the logic of social relevance and the logic of capital.
Institutional logics are ‘supra-organizational patterns of activity by which individuals and organizations produce and reproduce their material subsistence … [and] symbolic systems, ways of ordering reality… rendering experience of time and space meaningful’ (Friedland and Alford 1991, 243). Unlike new institutionalism, which remained focused on processes of institutional isomorphism or the replacement of a static single logic by another, the institutional logics perspective offers a more dynamic multi-level view: a plurality of logics coexist in complex interrelations within organisational fields like higher education
experts in distance learning warned that it can magnify inequities, with the most able and highly advantaged learners humming along while learners who need more support fall far behind.
ParentsTogether, in its survey of 1,500 of its members across the country, discovered big gaps — both by income levels and between families with and without children in special education. The online survey wasn’t a scientifically weighted sample, but it was geographically, racially and socioeconomically diverse.
These scenarios omit two critical components of the campus: the many men and women who can’t work from home and extracurricular activities.
Layoffs and furloughs must be the last option; pay cuts/freezes and other cost-saving opportunities must be exhausted before even one person is laid off this fall.
Extracurricular activities must be undertaken with an abundance of caution. Only those activities that are essential and can’t take place virtually must be held. Social distancing must be practiced, no matter the health conditions that exist at the particular time.
How the Coronavirus Will Change Faculty Life Forever
As the pandemic wears on, expect heavier teaching loads, more service requirements, and more time online
Whether we use synchronous or asynchronous online sessions, whether we call it distance or virtual learning, we’re all challenged to provide meaningful education experiences at a distance as the education world grapples with the impact of Covid-19.
Second, another reason that there cannot be a definitive answer to this question is the diversity of stakeholders in online education. Yong Zhao: Does it Work? The Most Meaningless Question to Ask about Online Education https://t.co/LNqv2YYb40pic.twitter.com/SKG1jCyudo
One of the most frequently and persistently asked questions about online education is “does it work” or “is it effective.”
The question is meaningless because there cannot be any definitive answer for a number of reasons.
First, online education (and its variants such a online instruction, online teaching, distance education and distance learning) is a big umbrella that covers a wide array of different practices, which vary a great deal in terms of quality. Comparing the effectiveness of online education with face-to-face education has been the most common research approach to examine the effectiveness of online education. And the answer has been, for a long time, that there is no significant difference between the two. This answer, however, does not mean online is effective or not, it simply means there are plenty of effective and ineffective programs in both online and face-to-face education. In other words, the within variation is larger than the between variation.
Second, another reason that there cannot be a definitive answer to this question is the diversity of stakeholders in online education.
And unfortunately what works for one stakeholder may not work for the others.
Third, even within the same program and with only students as the stakeholder, there cannot be a definitive answer because no program can possibly have the same effects on all students equally.
Fourth, yet another reason that the question cannot have a definitive answer is the multiplicity of outcomes. Education outcomes include more than what has been typically measured by grades or tests.
Fifth, the rapid changes in technology that can be used to deliver online education add to the elusiveness of a definitive answer to the question. While pedagogy, design, and human actors certainly paly a significant role in the experiences of online education, so does technology.
The Babson Survey Research Group, an organization that tracks online enrollment, notes that between 2012 and 2016 the percent of online enrollment in universities increased 17.2 percent while overall enrollment decreased. But that expansion doesn’t necessarily correlate with how the public perceives the quality of online courses, historically questioned for its lack of rigor and limited measurable learning gains.
A Gallup poll conducted back in 2015, found that 46 percent of Americans “strongly agree” or “agree” that online colleges and universities offer a high-quality education—up 30 percent from when the poll was conducted in 2011.
However, researchers caveat these findings, noting that these perception changes happen within particular pockets and are sometimes the result of strategic practices, such as universities not listing the medium of learning on student transcripts.
The last academic leader perception survey released by the Babson Research Group was in 2016.
“We’ve had more and more of the group in the middle that said, ‘I’m not sure’ move into a pro online learning stance,” says Seaman, speaking of the academic leaders he surveyed in the past. “The negative group [those who viewed online learning negatively] had not wavered at all. The positive group did not waiver at all, but we had a steady migration flow of academic leaders in the middle.”
Lowenthal has also researched student perceptions of online learning in the past, finding that learners tend to give such courses more negative evaluations than in-person courses. He says that the findings may represent the lack of experience some educators have teaching in online classrooms. He expects that to change over time, noting that good teachers in person will eventually become good teachers online.
Flipped classrooms seem to be growing exponentially
Robert Talbert, a professor of mathematics at Grand Valley State University and author of the book Flipped Learning. Talbert recently tabulated how many scholarly articles are published each year about “flipping” instruction, meaning that traditional lecture-style material is delivered before class (often using videos) so that classroom time can be used for discussion and other more active learning.
More professors are looking to experts to help them teach. (Though some resist.)
By 2016, there were an estimated 13,000 instructional designers on U.S. campuses, according to a report by Intentional Futures. And that number seems to be growing.
There’s also a growing acceptance of the scholarly discipline known as “learning sciences,” a body of research across disciplines of cognitive science, computer science, psychology, anthropology and other fields trying to unlock secrets of how people learn and how to best teach.
And what does it mean to teach an age of information overload and polarization?
Perhaps the toughest questions of all about teaching in the 21st century is what exactly is the professor’s role in the Internet age. Once upon a time the goal was to be the ‘sage on the stage,’ when lecturing was king. Today many people argue that the college instructor should be more of a ‘guide on the side.’ But as one popular teaching expert notes, even that may not quite fit.
1. Determine what the customer craves and deliver it. In the case of college and university students, there are limits. Balancing student wants and desires with what they actually need to be successful students and engaged citizens can, in fact, be extremely challenging. “The customer is always right” philosophy practiced by many businesses simply does not fit with the mission of postsecondary institutions. Instead, the role of educators is to advance and apply knowledge, facilitate the exploration of ideas, foster cognitive dissonance, prepare students as lifelong learners and productive workers, and even, hold them accountable for their actions or inactions. Ideally, the college experience should be transformational—helping students become the best person they can be. With that said, failing to align teaching methods, curriculum, academic programs, and institutional services with the needs and expectations of students is a perilous path.
2. Create unexpected value. Incumbent institutions tend to focus on known problems (e.g., student attrition causation factors, poor service delivery, cumbersome processes, undersubscribed programs, insufficient class availability). True disruption seldom occurs in this space. Creating value where it did not exist before or was not expected spawns disruption. In the private sector, such intuitive value ideation is seen in Disney’s “Imagineering” the attractions in its theme parks, Apple’s invention of the iPhone, and Airbnb’s alternative to staying with the multitudes at expensive, disturbingly uniform hotel chains. This is what the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy characterize as swimming in the “blue ocean”, where there are few, if any, competitors (Kim, W. C. & Mauborgne, R., 2005). No disruptor is found in the “red ocean” crowded with similar competitors.
3. Avoid being average. If your school is one of the elite, well-known few, with highly selective admissions, it is not average. However, the vast majority of colleges and universities do not fit this profile. They have to find other ways to distinguish themselves. A capstone student experience, an innovative curriculum, guaranteed internship placement or study abroad, digital career portfolios, or a unique pricing model represent just a few examples. While it would be ideal to find something that makes your institution distinctive throughout the nation or the world, that is highly improbable. A more attainable goal is to position your institution uniquely among your direct competitors.
4. Identify the potential for expansion. As it relates to student enrollment growth, expansion opportunities are usually found within one or more of four domains: (1) thorough penetration of your existing primary market, where the institution and its academic programs have a strong presence, (2) the introduction of new programs into your primary market, (3) promotion of the institution and existing programs in a new market, and (4) diversification—new programs and new markets. Each domain has inherent risks and potential rewards. Risk levels are illustrated in Figure 1 and are described here.
Primary market penetration possesses the lowest risk, requires the least investment of resources, and has the fastest return on investment. Depending on an institution’s primary market, this domain also may produce only modest new enrollments. Option two, mounting new programs in an institution’s existing primary market has risks associated with conducting the proper market research to determine student and industry demand as well as market saturation. Another common risk relates to the degree to which new program offerings are adequately promoted. An obvious upside to this domain is that the institution already has visibility in the market. Takingthecurrent program array to a new marketrequires the time and resources to develop a presence where none has previously existed. Sending recruiters to a new territory once or twice a year is woefully insufficient. Creating such visibility requires a sustained physical presence with area recruiters or alumni volunteers, targeted advertising, networking with schools and other organizations in the region, and strategic partnerships. Finally, diversification carries with it the highest level of risk because it involves assuming all the risks of launching new programs in a market with no prior visibility. If executed effectively, however, this domain can generate an abundance of new students.
5. Disruption always comes at a cost. It is true that your institution may create a disruption by leveraging existing technologies and human capital. Yet, no organization can avoid the cultural and real costs associated with unlearning old ways, creating new programs and business models, scaling innovations, or marketing a new approach. These costs must be weighed judiciously against potential benefits of such a paradigm shift. Once a decision is made to pull the trigger, the change process must be managed carefully with the upfront inclusion of key stakeholders.
6. Equate disruption with innovation, not extinction. The rise of educational disruptors can be unsettling. If disruption is simply perceived as a threat to the way of life in the academy or ignored, the results will be devastating for many higher education institutions. Conversely, if disruption pushes college leaders and enrollment managers out of their comfort zone and they reinvent their institutions, the educational experience of students will be greatly enhanced. In a time of creative destruction, the winners are those who exert extraordinary efforts to go beyond traditional norms, which is not always the early adopters of a new educational model or practice.
7. Successful disruptors pursue four disciplines simultaneously. The four disciplines translated into the higher education lexicon include low costs, relational connections with students, program innovations, and rapid time-to-market. Of these, student connections is the only discipline college and universities excel at consistently. To thrive in a future with a seemingly infinite number of nimble disruptive innovators, educators must compete in the other three disciplines as well.