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Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

Jerry Brown, Vanguard of the Digital Revolution: He Googled It

by Toby Higbie, Prof. of History, UCLA

At the last Regents meeting, Governor Brown mounted the digital barricades and sent a shot across the bow of every University of California professor and administrator.  Tossing a mixed green salad of metaphors about technology, education, capitalism, and revolution, he warned us to embrace online education or go the way of the Post Office and the daily newspaper.  Fossilized. Downsized. Out of business.  Also, we need to "fix this" in the next two years, and don't expect any money from Prop. 30.  

Helpfully, he's planning to recruit business and technology advocates of online education to make an hour-long presentation to the next Regents meeting (and maybe faculty will be able to reply).  Thanks Governor!

Listening to this eight-minute clip from the Regents meeting, I was struck by the reality that UC faculty should not count on our administrators to defend our interests, or those of students.

Brown steamrolled Yudof's meek appeal that we've already cut too much, and launched into an off-the cuff rant with a fairly clear message: change or die.  He portrayed the UC as a lumbering giant mired in tradition, choking on its own "excellence," and sorely in need of radical transformation.  All of these I can agree with.  Unfortunately, Brown thinks Silicon Valley will be our savior.  

Brown began with backhanded praise for the UC's institutional conservatism, and quickly moved on to harsh business realities.

"I appreciate the university and the durability of its ways.  I won't call them 'folkways,' but it's a powerful tradition and I, and half of me very much likes tradition....  [But] just while people were talking I went to my iPhone and I went to Google and I typed in 'university education online' and there's a lot there and we don't have to wait until January, or February, or March.  We can have it right now.  So that's the world we live in....  The newspaper, the Post Office, the university.  We can build the most fabulous buildings, we can have the teachers, professors, all this kind of stuff.  But if other people come along and offer the same, or better, when they want it, you're going to find there's pressure out there."

Warmed up, he suggested the educational emperor is not wearing any clothes...

We invoke the terms 'quality' and 'excellence', but those are highly abstract terms that provide no particular guidance to what we're talking about here.  So I think we have to get grounded here.  So: What takes place in a classroom? Are there other, equally fine alternatives that are so much more available?  I believe that to be the case.  

...then he rose to a crescendo with the triple threat: Schumpeter, McCarthyism, and Angela Davis:

... What we're talking about here is disruption. Make no mistake about it.  That's what everyone loves to celebrate about capitalism, the creative destruction of the capitalist model. Okay, so we're going to have to have some disruption here.  So I would propose that we invite some of the individuals who are pushing this technology.  Not that we have to agree with them, but the university is a place where you can accept ideas whether you like them or not.  This is not the time when the Regents used to censure someone for being a little bit too 'red.'  This won't be as threatening, or maybe it will be more threatening, than having Angela Davis teach on the campus.

That’s a lot to chew on, and a lot to spit out.  In any case, our problem is not mixed metaphors; it’s the coherent message.  And the message is this:  get your butts in gear, put your courses online, and don't expect a raise.  If not, kiss your sweet sinecure goodbye.

Is Jerry Brown a bolshevist for the digital revolution?  Or is he trying out for the part of west coast Rahm Emmanuel?  We’ll find out at the next Regents meeting, January 15-17 at UCSF.


Gerry Barnett said...

Wow. If the expense of the classroom was the limiting factor in higher education, then perhaps going "digital" would be the answer. But from what I've seen, on-line curriculum tends to be more expensive to produce, more expensive to maintain, and more expensive to change with changing circumstances. On-line also tends toward lack of tone and gesture. On-line tends to replace textbooks, not instruction, not lab, not performance. So something else is driving this.

If, however, the reality is that there will be change in university financial practice, it might be good to at least having competing efforts at change. One competing place to start is to disengage instruction from research administration, and accounting directly for the amounts spent on student attainment. Then we would see if the "cost per student" is the same as the reported "expenditure per student".

Unknown said...

Wow!! that was a great info..thanks

Universities in USA

Vanessa Vaile said...

Here's my takeaway: "Not that we have to agree with them, but the university is a place where you can accept ideas whether you like them or not."

Not to mention "change or die"

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Toby Higbie said...

Gerry: Thanks for the comment. I think you're probably right about online costing more in the long run. For some advocates (though not all) I suspect the "cost-cutting" in the short run lies in the the market-making function of online education. That is, the ability to break up the perceived "monopoly" on instruction held by the university, and marketize education.

For all of that, I think there are ways to do online education well. But I don't think they will lead to the out-sized profits/savings most advocates imagine.

Toby Higbie said...

Vanessa: I agree we can and should engage these ideas about online education. "Change or die" is of course the norm for much of life, but the question is, how best to do change?

Gerry Barnett said...

Toby: "how best to do change?" that is the question.

And is change to be the signaled direction of "dynamical leadership" that follows the "trends" of on-line, global,financial adventuring with higher tuition and fewer instructional services? Or is it to rebuild instruction and establish it on a sound financial foundation, drawing it out from under the shadow of loss-creating extramural research (which in the UC system, at least, by policy is not to incur losses)?

Yes, digital can be used as one method among others to rebuild instruction. The point of the question, however, is whose vision is going to lead the discussion?

Anonymous said...

I worked at UC Berkeley for twenty years (1987 – 2007), first as the assistant director of the Instructional Technology Program and latter as a senior strategist for Educational Technology Services (which resulted from a merger of ITP and the Office of Media Services). Also, as part of my role in ITP, I initiated the first campus wide Learning Management System service on the Berkeley campus. Finally, for about eight years, I staffed the Chancellor’s Computing and Communications Policy Board’s Instructional Technology subcommittee (the CCCPB-IT). In short, I have a fair amount of experience with Instructional Technology at the Berkeley campus.

So, for those who claim that the University has done all it can to find ways to reduce the cost of instruction through the use of information technology, I have one question: Who, if anyone, has the authority and the mandate to be in charge of this effort?

Some might think that units that provide services related to Instructional Technology and Education Technology might have some mandate and authority to pursue the goal of cost reduction, but they would be very wrong if they believed this to be the case. We could look for ways to improve the quality of instruction, but I know from personal experience that we would run into stiff resistance if we explicitly started even talking about ways to reduce the cost of instruction.

Also, it is very unlikely that faculty would look for ways to “innovate themselves out of a job” as one instructor put it to me.

So, if IT support staff are not mandated to look for ways to reduce cost, and faculty do not see it as being in their interests to do so, is it credible for representatives from the university to suggest that anyone is seriously trying to find ways to reduce the cost of instruction through the use of technology?

Fred M Beshears

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