• Hot Topics:
  • Contingent Faculty
  • Program Closures
  • Employee Benefits
  • Napolitano
  • Online Education

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Governor’s Thinking Has Become Very Uptight

By Toby Higbie, Department of History, UCLA

Mulling over Jerry Brown’s recent comments on the disruptive impact of digital technology on education, I’m reminded of the lead character in the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski. Another spokesman for the California Dream, The Dude lumbers through a mystifying course of events that seem to be related, but are not. At one point he thinks he’s figured it all out and quips, “My thinking had become very uptight.”

Yes, Governor Brown’s thinking has become very uptight, myopic, and apparently funneled through the tiny screen of his iPhone. When he thinks about the digital revolution in education, he sees only online courses. When he reads an old out of print book on his iPhone, he sees Only Google Books and not the library that contributed the book. When he Googles “university education online” he just reads the hits, and doesn’t see the educational infrastructure that trained the computer scientists who wrote algorithms and designed his iPhone.

Fact is, the University of California is plenty familiar with the creative destruction of digital technology, even if UC Online, the darling of our administrators, is apparently a failure. Setting aside the huge impact of digital technology on research and scholarly communication (digitization of sources, data mining, online publishing, etc.), and looking only at undergraduate teaching, our practice is thoroughly hybrid. Our courses use digitized readings, online discussion forums, e-mail, and other interactive, distance education tools.

What more do Coursera and Udacity offer? Without diminishing the potential of these platforms, it seems their courses are mainly recorded lectures. Even the best lecture video is just a rehash of a technology that’s been around for a while. There are distinctions. Technical courses (computer science, for instance) seem to be well suited to the digital platform. History courses, on the other hand, are mostly lectures. As cool as it is to watch a pre-eminent scholar in my field, recorded lectures delivered online are not too different from audio books, which is to say, marketable but not revolutionary.

What the massive online open courses (MOOCs) have going for them is reach, and the illusion of cost-free communication. The governor, it seems, has caught MOOC Fever. The fever-dream of one course enrolling tens of thousands of students is hard to shake, even in the face of the huge drop-out rates that always dog these courses. It may be that you can have a single course with 10,000 students. But they cannot be students in a meaningful way without expensive educational infrastructure.

The truly disruptive potential of digital technology in education waits beyond the paradigm of the “course.” Courses are administrative units, rather than educational measures. Digital platforms, while they clearly can deliver courses, are most effective when communicating granular elements of education—sources, problems, and skill-based activities. For instance, what if we reimagined “prerequisites” and even some elements of “general education” as sets of skills rather than courses? Digital media could deliver and evaluate students’ mastery of these skill sets, leaving professors to work with students on writing, communication, and complex research problems.

A system like this could operate as a supplement to face-to-face courses. It would allow students to catch up quickly when they fall behind, to change majors without fear of adding another year to the course of study. Professors teaching face-to-face classes who find a student is unprepared for course work could direct the student to these online platforms to strengthen his or her basic skills.

Imagine if this system were created and administered by a consortium of faculty, in collaboration with high school teachers and counselors—perhaps completely outside of the traditional administrative structures of higher education.

Of course, all of this is speculative, even dreamy. And it presupposes a commitment to public higher education on the part of the state and federal governments. The point is that we can imagine a future of education that uses digital technologies to serve educational purposes, rather than one in which education is crammed into ready made online boxes. But to do this we have to think more about knowledge and human development and less about administration and market-making.


Gerry Barnett said...

Not speculative or dreamy at all. Spot on. The "digital" version of MOOC is to broadcast a record of a classroom environment, with ancillary "social media" appendages. In a similar way, digital textbooks recreate many of the patterns, and compromises, of printed textbooks.

A MOOC, however, is not a course, but the exhibition of a course, just as a recorded football game is reproduced and is not the event at the stadium, but an event-in-transmission, socially a very different thing. Consider the difference between playing in a football game and watching an "open" game telecast. "Course" gets used, then, in two different ways. The question is whether the differences matter.

cloudminder said...

well, Larry Summers (at that Nantucked sorta Aspen Institute type shindig) said that traditional non online in person instruction will always be around and coveted b/c it is like the superbowl and people will always want to see it in person for the spectacle that can never be fully captured in person- but if you play than analogy out fully then you end up back at the Ananya Roy comments about online instruction and subprime education...

cloudminder said...

NantuckeT-(sp)-anyway, here is the link:


cloudminder said...

oops forgot to include above--fyi blogged about it a while back - that post contains other related links

Joel Norris said...

Most topics and most students require two-way interaction (remote or in person) with an instructor for learning to occur. I don't foresee any computer AI on the horizon that is capable of replacing (rather than supplementing) a human instructor. The continued need for two-way interaction means costs won't come down. What may instead occur is a redefining of education for the masses to a dumbed down version that can be delivered one-way. Or a large decrease in number of instructors and large increase in number of tutors that students must pay for out of pocket to help them get through the MOOCs.

Joel Norris said...

What I find curious is how often assessment of student learning (either as feedback to the student or information for potential employers) is left out of the discussion. Assessment is costly because it requires sustained attention by a human expert for most topics. Peer-grading, scantron multiple choice, and 2-minute robograding (by human or computer) of 3-paragraph essays isn't going to cut it. MOOCs may be free, but you can bet the students are going to have to pay a lot for an assessment credible to employers. In fact, if UC wants money, I'd recommend getting out of the content provision business and into the assessment business.

Joel Norris said...

One criticism that could be levied at UC is that we already have MOOC-like courses -- 500 students in a lecture hall taking scantron tests. I wish it were not so, but that's one of the ways we've dealt with budget cuts. And even if there's no real loss of quality in switching from 500-person lecture courses to MOOCs, there's no real cost savings either. And if we switch to a system where students take lower-division courses via MOOCs outside of UC, then upper-division education will become even more expensive to students because of the loss of cross-subsidy from lower-division courses.

Vanessa Vaile said...

I'd been thinking how this UC corner (not regents) would have the right stuff to see both potential and potholes. Another way to think of moocs is as platforms, to be customized but by all users, not just instructors.

So when do you think Moonbeam will get it right?

Yet again I am reminded how much I miss this blog when I resume regular reading after a period of (rss reader overload induced) distraction.

Gerry Barnett said...

Thesis 1 is that money that should go to instruction is being diverted to other university activities, such as covering the huge losses in organized research and research administration. At UC, in a recent year, the shortfall was $700m+ in a $3b organized research budget.

If undergraduate tuition is covering the full cost of undergraduate instruction at UC, then why the focus on restructuring undergraduate instruction? Why is not the focus on, say, reforming organized research, at least to conform to UC's written policy that it must cover all its costs? Why is not the focus on whether the outputs of that research serve the citizens of the state? And why is tuition and/or research income being used as collateral to improve credit ratings to support bond issues to raise money for--yeah, not undergraduate instruction.

Why is undergraduate education, that great social mission of the university, depicted as a private credentialing available for purchase merely as a buyer-beware product that may augment future personal income, while research is seen as an untouchable entitlement granted by the state to permit futzing with pretty much anything that an outside sponsor will half pay for, with the state happily making up the difference without considering why? Of course, in the absence of state subsidies to divert to research administration, tuition appears to be the best green target for the locusts of research administration.

Don't get me wrong: this is not about being anti-research, but about legitimate questions regarding the conduct and administration of organized research. The best argument around for state subsidies for research is that research is "an industry" that has its impact by *expenditures* rather than *outputs*. That should be shocking to policymakers, to think that the best thing about research is that it captures a big share of federal government handouts. For that, students have to carry crushing debt under the name of "privatization".

This is also not about ignoring change in how instruction is conducted and degrees earned. Even if there's enough money for instruction before the administrators' thumbs have sampled the pie, that doesn't mean that no changes in instruction should be undertaken. But it does mean that that the changes can and must be driven by academic insights, not strange calls for financial efficiencies, as if all that is needed is the application of Taylorism to education manufacturing, quality being left to brand marketing.

So, yes, there are ways digital can enhance instruction, just as television and radio and telephone and air conditioning technologies can enhance instruction. But access is not the primary issue. Nor is global reach. Those are actually financial considerations, tied to an administrative desire to expand the rents from tuition--presumably to serve some other financial purpose than undergraduate instruction.

It is to the point to ask about assessment, to ask how best to arrange learning environments, how to take advantage of digital technologies, and even how to engage in better instruction at lower cost. But none of that is involved in "change or die"--which sounds more like "do what we want or we will kill you off"--a rather different message. If that is the message that social media companies and venture capitalists have for UC, then perhaps that is where to take the fight.

EF said...

Excellent article. I have one comment:

"Fact is, the University of California is plenty familiar with the creative destruction of digital technology, even if UC Online, the darling of our administrators, is apparently a failure."

Was it though? Seems more like a lever of corruption endemic in the UC. People were enriched from those contracts, however much of a "failure" the educational goals of UC Online are.

Anonymous said...

Not sure why folks are saying UC Online is a failure. From what I can see, it is moving slowly precisely because it is trying to address faculty concerns before it launches. And it is set up as an experiment to see if a more "high-touch" online can be created. If you are worried about the MOOC direction that Jerry Brown and some of the Regents want to take us, UC Online seems to be the appropriate and measured response.

Gerry Barnett said...

Here's a recent story about UC Online.


UC Online didn't raise the private money that it set out to raise--that's a bad sign right there. It ends up with a $6.9m "loan" from UCOP--money not going to instruction.

Why does UCOP "loan" rather than "allocate"? Does the "loan" fiction mean to indicate "it really doesn't cost us anything to do this"? Does the "loan" mean that UCOP takes a cut of repayment as "interest", meaning unrestricted funds?

Perhaps UC Online is "going slow" because folks have the "challenge" and "mystery" of how to create a really quality digital diploma mill. I guess WGU isn't a good enough. Note the involvement of the tech industry on the WGU advisory board and Board of Trustees. WGU in CA has about 2,500 students. UC Online needs to launch with more students than WGU is drawing in CA now, and needs 2x of that in 4 years or it will, er, have money problems.

Draw your own conclusions about WGU here:


Discussion here:


And here:


Another story on UC Online:


The Berkeley Faculty Association:

"The danger is not only degraded education, but centralized academic policy that undermines faculty control of academic standards and curriculum," it said. "It is also likely that the whole thing will be a boondoggle."

Anonymous said...

Most start-ups don't make money the first few years. And even the administrative side efficiencies take years to pay off. UC Online is an attempt to invest a small amount on the academic side to see is economies of scale can be created in delivering instruction. People don't blink when tens of millions are spent on a central payroll system but then they expect something much more fundamental to UC's mission to succeed immediately on a very modest investment of $7 million...the centralized academic policy is a red herring since the courses are still being created by individual UC faculty from campus academic departments...

Gerry Barnett said...

By "course" you, Anonymous, perhaps mean the supply of "content" to "populate" a software platform and the available "tools" by which the platform "delivers" the "course". Students "take" the "course" by clicking through screens and taking quizzes, interspersed perhaps by "interactivity" where they click on links or post microblog comments in a "social media" forum. Oh my. Ever worked with Blackboard?

We have here a paradigm shift where the words mean very different, even incommensurate things, to you and me.

There is no need to build any new software, really. A "course" of this sort can be done on Facebook or with WordPress or with Google tools such as Google+ and YouTube at virtually no cost. Throw in Moodle and you are good to go. What is that $7m going for? Not, I'm sure, primarily to pay faculty for their "content". Certainly not to work directly with students.

Yes, venture investing is one frame of reference. That provides a diverting cover for spending $7m. Here is the difference: when venture investors put $7m into a startup, 1) they do diligence on the concept, the market, and the management team; 2) they sit on the board of the company; 3) they fire senior management when they don't deliver on time or bullshit investors; 4) these days, increasingly, they push to market quickly and revise and improve with income from sales; 5) they shut down incompetent investments as soon as they know they are toast.

Bureaucrats do none of this. Bureaucrats have a lousy track record playing at venture capital. So find a better metaphor to put my heart at rest. Or call it what it is, a bureaucratic adventure with millions of dollars to see if faculty can be cut out of the "education" cost stack in favor of spending on "technology" that allows uncommon "scale of access" to "students" who have never known what it is like to have a competent mentor.

I'd be a lot more comfortable with venture investors trying to build something--even in UC--if only they have the power to fire senior administrators at any time who bullshit them and/or cannot execute the plan.

Do you hear the faculty clamoring for UC On-line? Is that what attracts the fresh PhD with oodles of potential to move west to CA to work for UC? Ah, yes, to supply content to a bureaucrat's dream! Is this too what the talented cream of CA high schools long for, that they can be on-line with Max Headroom and Scooby Doo guiding them through the mysteries of radio button quizzes to get a credential so they can earn big bucks? What else am I missing? Halo 4 as the new "first person shooter" team-building classroom? Save time and money and offer UC credit for a course in Halo 4 then! The "course management tools" are already available via xbox live!

And if you say it will be nothing like that, but rather more like pages from a textbook "on-line" pasted up with "links" and "rich media" then Ugh on you, you backwards 90s person!

I rather like digital stuff. And I learn a lot by reading and watching things, even on-line. I just don't think any of that is anywhere close to what I mean by--and what I have experienced as--a university "course".

I am not arguing to preserve forever the "classroom" or "curriculum" as that has petrified, but rather to save on-line from the cold thumb of the bureaucratic adventurer who thinks to play the "investor" and petrify the digital world, too.

Anonymous said...

Actually there are many faculty (such as myself) interested and open to increasing use of digital platforms. And certainly for lower division and information based sciences and socsci, which are already relying on large lecture classes and armies of TAs grading papers, have very limited direct interactive contact with faculty.

But to answer your question to (a different) ANonymous above, ie what does UConline offer that one can't do for oneself in cobbling together online resources-- my understanding is that there are course designers working with those faculty. It's not a question of cobbling together a heterogeneous mix of existing online tools. It's about using C21 technology to improve faculty's ability to create pedagogy for particular classes-- these are qualitatively different kind of media, requiring us faculty to learn new pedagogical skills.
I am not involved in the UC online pilot classes but would like to be involved in the future-- we are so woefully behind in using online resources, and faculty are not to be looked to for innovation in this regard in part because we/they are largely content to get on with their relatively cushy positions at UC (compared to the wider range of academic conditions). I too love the seminar experience best but the realty is most UC students only get a small fraction of their contact in that format. Large lecture classes are terrible at integrating student engagement-- online platforms with real time engagement can be better that the status quo in this response. And that's what we need help with, using new software, II etc that allow for this.
So please stop dismissing all faculty interest in developing online platforms. It's not the future we're trying to avoid, it is the present in some regards, and not always in the dystopian 'neoliberal" capitalized caricature that too often appears on this blog.

Michael Meranze said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Meranze said...

Anonymous 3:08, I think that the caricature is in your depiction of the discussion of online to be honest. There is a lot of interest displayed in online (including in the Higbie post that we are responding to) but online and UCOE are not the same thing.

Nor is it the case that UC is necessarily "woefully behind" in using online resources. Online resources are used in a variety of ways on campuses and in classes throughout the system including a number of online courses.

The question is how to do the online courses and more immediately (since that is what came up) whether UCOE is a good model. I tend to think that it isn't. UCOE is depending on course designers that are already on campuses. What UCOE has "added" was a plan for marketing and a multi-million dollar contract with Blackboard.

UCOE expenditures have not been driven by the issues that you are raising about aiding faculty in improving the educational experience of UC students. Instead, most of the money that has been spent has been spent on the old UCOE plan of finding huge numbers of non-uc students to raise revenue. That has been necessitated in part by the need to repay the loan which they needed to get after Edley's boast about his ability to raise money fell flat. The money could be spent on all the things Toby mentions to benefit education rather than to sign up for marketing through Blackboard. But that is not the way it worked out.

If we emphasize the impact of what you call the "capitalized caricature" (or perhaps the financial logic) of UCOE that is because it has shaped so much of what UCOP's program has been.

Gerry Barnett said...

Let's reset. The state cuts UC's budget. UC says this hurts students. Brown says, "change or die" and suggests on-line to save money and add revenues. UC ignores what faculty are doing with digital and starts UC Online.

During all these cuts, research and administration were not significantly affected. Even so, UC admits research--and particularly research administration--is losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Over $700m in a recent year! Under UC policy, organized research *is supposed to pay its own way*. It is not supposed to have *losses* to be covered by other sources of funds to UC, provided for other purposes.

So the state subsidy drops, research grows, construction expansion continues, faculty salaries stay constant but for hot new research prof salaries, and tuition goes through the roof, while there are layoffs and reorganizations to save money in instructional departments.

Conclusion: tuition is being diverted to things like research administration and capital projects administration. UC has to be getting the $700m+/year from somewhere, and tuition is the thing that's bouncing around saying "pick me". Correlation ain't causation but it's a good starting point.

Thesis 2: This situation is based on a continuing, decades-old conceit by UC administrations that instruction is subsidized by the state.

UC administration has led the state to believe that instruction is where the huge losses are, with poor students as the poster children for donations and restoration of state subsidies. It hasn't worked for decades. It is a dead parrot.

So now rich students are the object of attack and a claim that raising tuition and expanding the number of out of state/foreign students for their ability to pay is the solution.

Thus, we have the idea floated that UC could save money by on-line courses that would also increase income from enrollments, but we have to act fast because Johns Hopkins or Stanford will jump on this and steal all the cream of CA high schools, who apparently would rather sit at the mall texting in their courses on their smartphones than go to a UC campus.

TThus, UCOP makes a show of trying to save money in instruction by cutting out faculty and going on a spending adventure called UC Online.

The place to consider reforms, and perhaps even a UC admin On-line is research policy and administration.

If students in the sciences, say, want to subsidize research losses due to inefficient administration stuck in the 80s or 90s plus continued expansion of research to make those losses greater every year, then put it to those students whether that's a good deal for them. If they think so, they will happily take out loans, go deep into debt, and let financial officers dick with their course loads and approach to learning.

UC's deception has caught them out. Instead of coming to an epiphany, or confession, or revolution, UC simply sticks it to the students, and faculty are relieved UC didn't stick it to them, or at least not nearly so. But UC should have been sticking it to its own administration!

That's why UC Online is a boondoggle. If it were merely about enhancing instruction, it would be a project in a department that saw a purpose for doing so, led by faculty and students. Not administrators and course designers, who last brought UC on-line ethics and harassment courses. How did you like *those* fine pieces of work? Were you more ethical after your radio button experience? Would interactive animation have helped you there?

Bob Samuels said...

One major issue is that UC is now talking about two very different strategies: 1) use online to generate revenue from non-UC students; 2) move high-impact classes online. As I have shown, in case 2, this will be a money loser because we have already driven down the cost of instruction through the use of large classes and non-tenured faculty. Case 1 will result in a watering down of the UC brand. This all interacts with the rebenching plan, which is itself based on six years of increased state funding with no strings attached. Gerry is spot on concerning what loses money, but needs to add the high cost of professional and doctoral education. The saddest argument is that we should move large classes online because our large classes are already such low quality. What we need to do is make our present classes more effective.

Gerry Barnett said...

@Bob Sameuls. Exactly so.

cloudminder said...

"UC Davis has sought to avoid layoffs whenever possible, but it has pruned its administrative staff levels, through attrition and consolidation, resulting in more than 500 fewer state-funded faculty and staff employees. At the same time, the campus has instituted administrative efficiencies and program reductions that help to ensure that as much of our financial resources as possible are devoted directly to scholarship and teaching. Innovative on-line instructional technologies are creating additional efficiencies.

Our campus has also generated new revenue from a variety of non-government sources, including raising more than $100 million from donor gifts each year for the last five years.

Some academic units across UC, such as professional schools, are using their diversified revenues to reduce the need for state funds so that money can be transferred to areas, such as the arts and humanities, which are more reliant on state money.

At UCLA and UC Berkeley, the business schools are reducing their reliance on state funds, which will make those funds more available to other instructional and research programs on their campuses." from " Steve Currall Dean, Graduate School of Management, University of California, Davis
it would be helpful to separate the buckets and explain which bucket the online Birgeneau referred to at the UC Regents meeting falls; and where the online that Lansing and Poizner etc. are engaged in falls etc.; also, no one is really making clear how might all of this affect certification for licensing programs for various professions and are certain industries pushing back on that happening. Or, will the certification costs just continue to rise? Some people don't rely on advanced degrees but on gaining certifications within their industry to advance and make better salaries - with that continue, or?? How are the UC professional schools interacting with the pricing of certification?

cloudminder said...

there needs to be an updated color coded key graph for all the different types of online at UC and it needs to be used in discussion of online at UC so that all can follow along, understand the arguments/positions fully.

Gerry Barnett said...

Cloudminder quotes an exemplar of dead parrot rhetoric.

Consider: "pruned its administrative staff levels, through attrition and consolidation, resulting in more than 500 fewer state-funded faculty and staff employees."

The overall gist is, I think, supposed to be that UC Davis administrators are taking action to save money to support instruction. But look closely: "Administrative staff levels" ends up meaning "faculty and staff". Why are faculty positions included if program cuts elsewhere were to save money for teaching? Same deal if "staff" cuts were in instructional support.

Consider as well:

"retirement and consolidation"
1. What happens in "consolidation"? 2. What does "pruned" mean here? 3. Does "staff levels" mean "number of staff positions"? or "target figures for total employment"?

"avoid layoffs"
1. as distinct from firing or retirement or shifting positions around? 2. what does "whenever possible" mean here? One could avoid layoffs by cutting senior admin salaries by 30%, but, er, I guess that's not "possible".

"fewer state-funded...faculty and staff employees"
1. were positions shifted to non-state funding? 2. does this mean faculty are leaving UC Davis? 3. If so, is the administration here taking credit for this exodus?

"administrative efficiencies and program reductions...that help to ensure that as much of our financial resources as possible are devoted directly to scholarship and teaching"
1. were instructional programs were "reduced"? 2. does reduction mean "layoffs" or "fewer students"? 3. what is an "administrative efficiency" and does that mean "layoffs"? 4. does "help to" mean, roughly, "intended to but may not have"? 5. Why is "scholarship" referenced with teaching? 6. What is the UC Davis budget for "scholarship"? 7. what is the meaning here of "possible" in "as much as possible"?

As for other parts of Dean Currall's statement, donor gifts don't much go to instruction--typically they are for construction of research facilities and hospitals and corporate funds for research endeavors. In 2012, $32m of the $132m in donations to UC Davis went to the health system, $10m to a museum, and corporate donations were $33m--typically not the stuff of routine instructional support. And what about those diversified revenue programs? Are the "savings" really going to instruction elsewhere in UC? To quote John, "we'd all love to see the plan".

There is no discussion of the use of funds from tuition increases--up $175m+ by my calculation from fy08 to fy12. That's quite a "new source of revenue". Is that $175m extra going to instruction? or only to instruction "whenever possible" meaning "however little we possibly can spend on instruction"?

To add to Cloudminder's thought--it would be *forthright and honest* in addition to "helpful" to separate the buckets and account for each.

Gerry Barnett said...

The Economist has a new story about American higher education.

The "cost of university per student has risen by almost five times the rate of inflation since 1983...."

"Despite so many fat years, universities have done little until recently to improve the courses they offer..., expenditures on instruction have risen more slowly than in any other category of spending, even as student numbers have risen. Universities are, however, spending plenty more on administration and support services."

This tracks two themes. First, that universities do have cash, but aren't spending it on instruction. The University of Washington reports that it has about $3.2b in cash reserves--in addition to its endowment. But it has fought to prevent faculty from getting raises, and complained bitterly when Western Washington U spent $3m on faculty raises (salaries there were well below median).
Second, a split between courses and instruction. It is this second issue that opens up the technology debate. If one can't motivate changes in instruction, then at least change the course--and if one can't improve the course, at least cut out costs--and especially the excess baggage of faculty salaries.

You can see how devastating the rhetoric of "cost per student" has been. Dividing total expenditures by the number of students makes it appear that the spike in costs has to do with instruction, with faculty salaries. The offensive rhetoric is in the form of a deceptive, false, UC-advocated ratio.

Now Thesis 3: faculty are not going to win back funds for instruction with continued status quo curriculum and habits of instruction. There has to be for instruction a big idea, a differentiator, that gives it new value in the institution--even, like a comet--outshining the moon of research. "Technology" is one such big idea. Admit it, there's a buzz around MOOCs. And there isn't any around large lecture courses with TA quiz sections.

There is a technomachia going on. It is a proxy fight over technology in instruction. It is folks capable of creating buzz vs the same-old-same-old. "Technology" here is the name for a deliberative rhetoric for instructional change. Don't like the vision of on-line everywhere smartphone UC "degrees"? Then knit together a) a demand for the tuition money; b) a vision for fundamental, new instructional approaches that create quality graduates; c) and may involve cool investment-worthy technology as adjunct to, not a substitute for, faculty-led instruction.

In a way, Brown is right--change or die. It's just that the UC faculty doesn't have to change in the way he proposes. Brown proposes changing technology because he doesn't believe he can persuade faculty to change. He proposes technology to save costs because UC has never reported what it spends on instruction, so Brown believes it is the cost of instruction that is sinking UC and driving students into debt. That is, the UC administrative rhetoric leads to this conclusion: spending on faculty has to be reduced, and technology offers a way to do that without engaging in salary reduction negotiations.

UC faculty are being sunk by their own administration, which has made the argument, repeatedly, that they are the root of the problem. If UC's rhetoric is right, then embrace smartphone degrees. If it is not the problem, then show what the problem is. The word "audit" comes to mind.

Gerry Barnett said...

I might add, the flip of "the high cost of faculty so let's get rid of them via technology" rhetoric is the "need" for "new sources of revenue" by "scaling the number of students" by using technology to provide "access". The argument goes: "we love our expensive faculty, and if we are going to keep them, then we will have to educate the world by finding customers (not students, really) willing to pay for a lot less than they could have--so long as it is what they want to pay for and therefore presumptively better than what they have now. Ergo, digital! mobile! on-line! new sources of revenue!

If the expense, however, is not so much instructional faculty, but rather a combination of administration, research, sports, construction, health services,and internal banking, then the discussion turns to what one would do with the money in instruction that's *better* than all these other UC adventures. It's not just stating a need, but prying what's rightfully instruction's from the white knuckles of those that have it now.

If faculty would rather "do research" than teach, or hold out for getting their status quo refunded by the state, then the despite the qualms, faculty-led instruction is going away.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to follow this lengthy thread and am a bit confused-- I can see the value of auditing/identifying the cost of instruction vs all the other expenses mentioned. How exactly would that be done? For my lecture class there's my salary and (sometimes) a TA's, but also our dept staff, all the central staff in enrollment, student services, the Blackboard fees, the physical overheads, janitors, IT support, etc. That vast network makes possible my one little class, so where do instructional costs begin and end? thanks

Gerry Barnett said...

@Anon 1154. Yeah, well I figure it's an old comment thread and whoever has visited has done so, and thought I'd leave a trail since I've been working on this issue.

You've hit the core problem. Without financial boundaries for instruction accounts, there's no accounting. It's just rhetoric, not actuals. Yet with organized research, there is a well developed set of accounting pools to deal with indirect costs. Not that UC has shown it can work within the limits of their federal F&A rate, but there is no similar accounting, or even estimate, for the indirects attributed to instruction. Do you know UC's internal indirect cost rate for instruction? Ever heard it discussed?

With no accounting, then a whole lot that *doesn't* support your class, or any class, is also potentially booked as "instruction"--and you wouldn't know, and certainly students won't know. How to untangle that vast network from the still vaster network dealing with research, construction, sports, medical centers, and the like?

How much of IT supports instruction, for instance? If there's no answer except "all of it" then there is a lot of spending going on that has no academic justification, and no faculty request for it.

Keep it simple. Tuition has gone up 40% in five years at UCD. Do you think that all that extra $177m over 2008 is going to instruction? How would anyone find out? Or is it pretty keen if no one can find out? Perhaps if a university is running more like a business--that is, it can document actual expenditures--at least then there could be a discussion about money grounded in validated information about money. If digital is supposed to save tons of money and bring in tons of new revenue, then wouldn't, like a business, folks want to see the numbers now, as well as projected changes in the numbers?

Gerry Barnett said...

If you want to see what the venture investors are seeing in opportunities for disruptive investment in education, check out Mary Meeker's talk:


Slides 50, 51, 72, 78, with attention to slide 58.

If you want to see what university administrators in the know are being told about how to finance all this--and to feed sales to venture-backed technology companies--then see Samuel Giles's talk on university charter banks to issue debt to fuel an economic renaissance led by university investments.


Put two and two together and you can see that the best available advice is for universities to go into debt to cash in on disruptive mobile media applications, starting with ones that "disrupt" the education "market"--meaning, ones that shift revenue streams in favor of the business interests of major investors.

The major investors want education, they want it with digital technology investments, and the advice is, change or die.

When Sesame Street was being developed, they introduced the concept of the "great disrupter", which was a television showing random pictures. The developers would show a beta episode of Sesame Street to a focus group of youngsters, and if they watched the disrupter in preference to the episode, it was back to the drawing board.

Here, UC large lecture classes are the great "disrupter" *for the on-line folks.* All they have to do is do better than the most boring compromise/compromised form of UC content-delivery and they win. Again, change or die might be serious advice. But it's up to UC folks how they decide to change. You may not want innovation, but sometimes innovation wants you, so to speak.

jimmy wilson said...

well done
Black Necklace Gift Box

Join the Conversation

Note: Firefox is occasionally incompatible with our comments section. We apologize for the inconvenience.