Different visions of CU’s online future debated at Board of Regents meeting

Consultant’s report followed by counterproposal from Regent Ludwig

CU's Online FutureLeadership recognizes the University of Colorado is at a critical juncture as educators and administrators explore the most effective avenue to enhance and expand higher education opportunities using online technology. Leaders are not in agreement, however, on how to go about it.

At a Tuesday meeting at CU Denver in St. Cajetan’s on the Auraria Campus, the Board of Regents heard a task force recommendation on new technologies from a report by Goldstein and Associates, and an alternative proposal by Regent Stephen Ludwig.

In recent months, Phil Goldstein of Goldstein and Associates spent time with each of the campuses, system administration and the systemwide technology committee to help determine the university’s best options moving forward as a system and as individual campuses.

“New technologies are about creating new pathways,” he said. Those pathways include online degree programs, fully online courses, MOOCs, hybrid courses and online programs developed as high-quality alternatives that let students graduate more quickly, he said. All of these allow enhanced accessibility.

For CU, Goldstein suggested adopting an institution-led model with a shared infrastructure, supplementing it with systemwide coordination and support, and establishing campus-specific online learning strategies within a common framework.

Challenges he sees include developing an enabling structure, faculty support, determining which resources should be shared and which should be unique to each campus, avoiding overlap in program offerings, and securing funding to fuel innovation and new start-up programs.

CU has already taken valuable first steps in exploring and promoting online courses, MOOCS and various other methods and venues for advancing technology in education, Goldstein said.

“It is essential to continue to participate in those things and determine which ones work and which won’t, it’s also an opportunity – with things like your engagement with Coursera – to influence the direction these online models are taking.”

Ludwig, D-Denver, advocated for a more aggressive approach saying the task force report didn’t go far enough. He asked the board to consider an online collaborative institution: the University of Colorado Rocky Mountain Campus.

Ludwig said pursuing the path CU is on and that is proposed by the task force for online education would leave the university behind.

“If we are to remain faithful to the commitment to be public educators and fulfill our obligation to the people of the state who have supported us . . . I would strongly argue that a stand-alone online campus is something we must do.”

The university was founded on a mission to provide a high-quality education and professional training, public service, advancing research and knowledge to benefit the students and community, he said. The university has done that well, but like the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News, Blockbuster Video and Borders bookstores, it is stuck in the tried-and-true, outdated business model that could prove disastrous, he said.

“I would offer that after a certain age every institution – nonprofit, social club, church, synagogue, government – forgets it was created to serve others and shifts its main focus to one of survival, that as an institution it moves further away from its creating and founding mission,” Ludwig said. “It begins to view its existence as the core value rather than the people it was created to serve. We confuse tradition with mission, survival with service.”

Goldstein agreed with Ludwig that an aggressive approach to advancing online education in all its forms is needed. He cautioned, however, that the ability to establish an entirely separate infrastructure in an environment with limited resources might create more problems.

“Rather than reinvent everything, it’s best to do from within or you have to construct something separate,” he said, noting completely online programs may be successful on their own but haven’t affected the core.

“Some have been successful, but they’re having to double back and decide, ‘How do we change the rest of our educational processes?’ You will get a force for change, but it will take a lot of time.”

Regent Glen Gallegos, R-Grand Junction, expressed concern that a separate, online institution would be done in isolation. “I don’t think we create a new school and that will be the answer,” he said. “We should move ahead together, not in isolation.”

Deborah Keyek-Franssen, associate vice president for digital education and engagement, told the board the technology committee had approved Goldstein’s report and plan of action, but was open to reconvening and will ask Ludwig to present his proposal to the committee.


2 Responses to Different visions of CU’s online future debated at Board of Regents meeting

  1. Sebastian Thun, Stanford professor who founded Udacity, one of the original massive online course companies (MOOCs), just admitted that the use of MOOCs at San Jose State (a massive trial of using large online courses for freshman and sophomores) has been a disaster. “MOOCs are not very good [...for college students who are not already good and motivated].

    Programs that have completion rates of 20 or 30% are not what CU needs. For most students the experience of having scheduled classes, classmates, mentors, and all the things found in person, on-campus, are critical in raising graduation rates. Regents would be well-advised to concentrate on what is known to increase success, and certainly not adopt technology just because it is there, or because the tech companies push them to spend money on tech. For instance, the CU “Learning Assistant” program, where undergraduates with good communication skills are used as junior teaching assistants, has been shown to increase course completion rates substantially. It is being copied at 40 other universities! CU needs to raise it’s 4 or 5 year completion rate and this program does that, at CU, at Penn State, at Arizona State, based on data reported this year. On-line instruction has NO track record of similar success.

    Online instruction is a “niche” area. It works for older, more accomplished students with specific goals (e.g. I need some class for my nursing degree.) I fear that the Regents may have bought the incorrect idea that “on-line” is economical. Wrong! Per graduating student it is not. Furthermore, employers are ALREADY COMPLAINING ABOUT CU GRADUATES HAVING POOR COMMUNICATION AND TEAM-WORKING SKILLS! (This is not unique to CU; it is true of all “texting generation” students.) They WANT us to give students more experience writing, speaking, and working in groups. On-line course do none of that. If the Regents put significant resources into on-line instruction they will be undercutting what the university does best: in person, student-centered and engaged instruction.

    Dr. Steve Pollock of CU Boulder just became the US Professor of the Year. THAT is what we should emulate: an engaged classroom, “clickers” that allow every student to participate, group work. The resulting students has skills employers want.

  2. Much of what Regent Ludwig is advocating for is correct: that in order for the university to be competitive it must be allowed to construct a newer model. Much of this argument is derived from Clayton Christensen’s (Harvard Business School)”Innovative University” and theories around disruptive innovation. Similar to Ludwig, Christensen suggests that new models must developed free from existing frameworks because of the thinking that he described.

    I would offer however, that if an awareness of this ‘rigid thinking’ is recognized, incubation models could be developed that still have strong ties to existing institutions. Harvard is both a good / relevant model, yet its funding allows it to have distinct freedoms.

    It seems worthwhile given San Jose State’s experience to also consider Salman Khan’s approach (Khan Academy) where the classroom is ‘flipped’. Students do on-line work at home – the deeper theoretical learning, and then return to the classroom (or rather meeting room) environment to do group-work, collaborative assignments etc. more deeply engaging with one another and oversight by the teaching staff.

    This model would be best accomplished within existing framework but would be more deeply supported by the technology department. A model such as this would also create important cross-disciplinary opportunities, and thus more real-world experiences.