Monday, March 18, 2013

More Attention From Institutional Leaders May Not Benefit Branch Campuses

Through most of my career, I both enjoyed and benefited from the fact that people at the main campus paid little attention to their branches.  For all the frustration and difficulty of getting programs or courses approved, the circumstances worked to our advantage.  In addition, because we were financially separate from the main campus, we developed a deeper understanding of higher education finance than most of the chairs, deans and vice presidents with whom we worked. 

(Not bragging; just sharing the facts.  My experience with finance or budget administrators really was no different, because they tend to focus so strongly on cost control and risk avoidance that we found negotiations usually worked to our advantage.  Keep in mind that I am a devotee of mutual gains bargaining, so our success was mostly a matter of careful listening and addressing the interests of others, but with a strong understanding of our own interests.  Thus, it was the lack of others’ understanding of our interests that gave us an advantage.)

I’m saying this, because I am concerned that “flying under the radar,” or being “out of sight and out of mind” have become liabilities.  Branch campuses, along with online learning programs and main campus programs for adult learners, can best serve their institutions if they aggressively pursue an entrepreneurial tack.  Being entrepreneurial and highly service oriented tend to be natural for people who have served for a long time on branch campuses.  Bluntly, however, although I meet a lot of institutional leaders who talk about entrepreneurship, I meet very few who really get it.

Given the growing importance of outreach types of initiatives, we can expect institutional leaders to take more interest in branch campuses.  However, to the extent that they do not understand the mission, the student populations, and other elements that make branch campuses a unique form of delivery, branch leaders can expect some unfortunate choices to be made at the main campus.  Put another way, if main campus administrators do not understand the interests of branch students and communities (i.e., do not understand what they value or how they make decisions), those administrators will make assumptions that are off the mark, leaving the branch all that more vulnerable to competitors.

All of this makes me believe that the need for good research and literature on branch campuses will only increase.  It also suggests to me that the main campus individuals with oversight responsibility of branch campuses need to have a legitimate background in the area, or at least to have strong support people who can deliver good advice on important decisions.  Institutions need their branches and online programs to thrive, but thriving can only occur when there is deep understanding of those adult or non-traditional audiences we hope to attract and retain.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Organizing Thoughts on Delivery and Assessment

There is no question that lots of things are happening in higher education.  New programs and new strategies show up at a rapid clip.  As you think about the future, you will necessarily make choices about course and program delivery, and those choices will have a major impact on how attractive you are to prospective students.

Consider this range of possibilities for delivery:
·      Face-to-face in a traditional classroom
·      Synchronous delivery with some students in the same classroom as the instructor and others participating through interactive video
·      Hybrid delivery, which may include asynchronous streaming videos, online elements, and occasional classroom meetings, which themselves can occur in a variety of forms; this might include use of the “flipped classroom,” which offers significant creative opportunities
·       What I’ll call “traditional” online, with an instructor teaching 15-25 students
·      Scalable online, enrolling, say, 75-300 students in each course, with one instructor and facilitators supporting smaller “sections” of students
·      What I used to call “massively scalable” courses, with a thousand or more students per section, but still supported by a team of facilitators, working under the supervision of a faculty member
·      Massive open online courses (MOOCs), sometimes with more than 100,000 students enrolled, usually for free, but typically not offered for credit

Now, consider how students might be credentialed for their work:
·      Traditional grades, leading to a degree
·      Traditional grades, leading to certificates that document specific skills and experiences
·      No grades, but the awarding of a badge (similar to a certificate) or a certificate of completion; students might receive traditional course credit through some additional process, probably for a fee
·      Recognition of prior learning and the awarding of academic credit for that work

And how might we assess student learning?  How about:
·      Traditional exams, projects and papers, perhaps with exams taken at a testing center
·      Portfolio assessment
·      Demonstrated competencies

Then, how will institutions generate revenue or otherwise cover their costs?
·      Through tuition, fees, state support, and endowments
·      Employers pay a fee to access resumes of top course/program completers
·      Content producers, such as Coursera and Udacity, license high quality course content to institutions, which then provide support and flipped classroom experiences to students; colleges and universities can create niche opportunities to do the same, including internationally
·      Industries/employers “sponsor” courses and programs, covering the cost of development and delivery
·      Students pay a fee to have competencies assessed and “certified”

Each of these lists can be expanded, and some of my bullet points may need further description to be clear.  My advice is to read newsletters, surf the Internet, and network with creative people.  I don’t think it is all that overwhelming, explored in a thoughtful way, but it does take time and energy.  Hence the concerns I expressed awhile back about making sure that you focus on the so-called “important but not urgent” items that will create your future. 

As you consider audience, cost, price, content, delivery and support services, you can work your way through the options.  You may well make different choices for different programs and audiences, and your competition will affect what makes sense.  It’s important to be nimble and engaged!