Thursday, June 20, 2013

Labor Department's Top Workforce Training Exec Heads to University of Phoenix

After running the federal government's largest community college workforce training program during the Obama administration, Jane Oates will now be doing similar outreach to industry for the nation's largest for-profit university. The University of Phoenix announced Oates' appointment this week. This switch says a lot about how fluid the workforce training field is today, when a top political official crosses the pitched battle lines from public workforce training programs to for-profit. A key priority in Oates' work will be to continue to identify employers' needs and ensure Phoenix can demonstrate its graduates meet job requirements. Assessment is a key lynchpin to this kind of effort--and finding ways to make the work products of school more transparent and aligned with those of the workplace.

For those not up to speed on beltway politics, Oates resigned earlier this spring from the Department of Labor's Education and Training Administration, accepting blame for budgetary overruns in the Job Corps program that runs 125 training centers nationwide. ETA has played a key role in disbursing $1 billion in funds to community colleges to accelerate retraining for displaced workers through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT). The budgetary problems led the department to turn away trainees beginning in late January of this year. Oates estimates roughly 10,000 trainees were turned away and about 700 people lost their jobs at the training centers. The training program was to resume in April.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Assessment for the humanities, MOOCs, and students

With all the attention that the sciences have received in recent years, now humanities educators say they need to defend the relevance of their field. A new report outlines their argument, which underscores the importance of preparing for a "career," not just a job, and being a good communicator across multiple cultures and fields. Accurate measurement of learning and clear, actionable feedback have ever been a problem in these fields, as anyone who has fled them can attest. Perhaps the reformers could start there. How many students have felt their humanities courses required the skill of "reading the professor's mind"? This perception stems from the lack of transparent or clearly defined learning objectives and grading standards, and these are practices every educator should cultivate.

In the meantime, more colleges are claiming they can "roll their own" MOOCs, from the Midwest to Australia. The Australians seem to be capturing the promise of offering low-cost alternatives--courses with assessments. The Americans continue to talk a lot about protecting faculty control and IP, the ever vexing problem of assessment, and student data privacy. What is interesting to me, as a researcher, is how tough it is for educational researchers to obtain access to student data, particularly learning data. We routinely must jump through IRB and FERPA hoops to show evidence of effectiveness, often ending with scant and flawed information. But in the MOOC era, the same universities that run external researchers in circles seem to be granting MOOC partners free access to student data by dubbing them "institutional partners," and the like. Student data is the core of the assessment problem, so the conversation needs to advance there--and students, not just administrators and faculty, should be involved.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

MOOCs and faculty IP entitlements

College faculty should seek to preserve their intellectual property claims for courses they create as MOOCs, according to former leader of a national college faculty association, who plans a book on the topic later this year. The issue arose some months ago when the academic senate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, questioned a MOOC agreement that awarded the university rights to online courses its professors created for provider, Coursera. Lots of righteous anger here, but what is really going on? And who might get stuck with the bill?

Apparently, some universities' faculty unions had won collective bargaining agreements in the past to give faculty, not their university employer, IP rights to the courses they created. But recently the game has changed as MOOC providers like Coursera set up course distribution agreements with those same universities. Coursera provides broad access to the professors' courses only when they voluntarily sign away those rights, a move unions perceive as undermining the agreements they have with their university bosses. For those scratching their heads, these agreements appear to have grown out of the scientific places on the campuses, where inventions created during research can lead to real money.

We'll see how the course story unfolds, but from what I can tell, the IP story appears a little different for all the academics who write courses. A course isn't so much an invention as a kind of written product, and like most written products, it depends on a distribution channel to give it life. Here's the rub: The owner of the distribution channel has rights too, and this arrangement has long been understood in the mass media realm. For example, journalists routinely sign away their creative rights to have their writing distributed on mass media venues. Researchers do the same when their work is published in peer-reviewed journals. Further, when that research or journalistic report is completed on company time, the researcher or journalist forfeits additional proceeds back to the employer because the employer already paid for its creation. Based on these analogous situations, under what terms should professors expect any proceeds from the courses they create on university time? How is having your course distributed on a MOOC mass media channel any different from having your work distributed via a newspaper or journal or the television airwaves? 

Inside Higher Ed 

Monday, June 10, 2013

California Dreams for MOOC Credits Getting Trimmed

In response to faculty protests during a hearing this spring, California legislators are trimming the ambitions of MOOC providers to offer academic credit at all three levels of the state's higher education system. The latest amendments to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's SB 520 transform the originally envisioned universal online platform to an "incentive grant program." The change shifts downward the number of eligible courses for MOOC credits beginning fall 2014 from the "50 most impacted" to a set of "20 high-demand" lower division courses. The change also moves away from framing the MOOC system as a "one stop" platform for California students to a series of grant-supported efforts led by faculty and leaders within each of the three educational segments. The legislation now calls for the grants to foster collaboration among the three higher education systems--the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges--and to offer the courses to high school students. In an April hearing, faculty leaders expressed concern about "unproven" private companies being put in charge of students' education.