Thursday, August 23, 2012

Course redesign: Going beyond the content

The third and final reason why we should all be considering course redesign at this moment in higher education is: Redesigned courses can respond to increasing competition and even potential disruption aimed at "traditional" bricks & mortar universities.

Yes, there is increasing competition aimed at colleges and universities, and yes, colleges and universities need to respond to that competition. This doesn’t mean that we all have to turn into profit-seeking commercial enterprises and become the next University of Phoenix. But respond we must. Plus, the response itself--thinking through innovative ways to advance student learning, often by leveraging technology and virtual learning environments--gets at what is for many the “fun” part of course redesign.

First, we need to tackle this notion of competition and disruption. Indeed, there are strong prevailing reasons to think that change is coming and is inevitable. Increasingly, free content, and even free courses, are available on the Web. 2012 has been called the year of the “MOOCdue to the sudden (overblown?) excitement and buzz surrounding initiatives to offer free online university-level classes to any student who wishes to enroll. Venture capital and elite universities have partnered to provide MOOCs under brand names like Udacity and Coursera. Lectures by university faculty on nearly any topic imaginable are available on YouTube, and the Khan Academy alone presently offers more than 3300 videos providing content in Math, Science, Finance and Economics, and the Humanities.

Does it make sense any longer to think of a faculty member’s primary instructional role as “dispenser of expert knowledge?” Probably not. So what, then, is our real contribution to learning? What is our lasting claim to relevancy? Our institutions of higher education still play a unique role in credentialing student learning, and as long as that role continues to be trusted to colleges and universities, the faculty role has protection. I know of no higher education leader, however, who feels comfortable merely digging in behind the bulwark of credentialing. Already there are ongoing efforts to chip away at that protective line of defense and weaken colleges’ and universities’ monopoly on credentialing.

Over the long term, then, what colleges and universities can offer--what their faculty can bring to the learning equation--is design. Design includes the broad context for learning: the scaffolding of experiences, the careful application of content in service of skill-building, the integration of assessments and feedback opportunities, opportunities to learn from peers, practice with metacognition and self-assessment. All these aspects brought together in combinations uniquely tailored to subject matter and circumstance maximize a student’s chances for learning. They are what faculty need to pay attention to in order to remain relevant in this age of disruption.

While content delivery by the instructor can be substituted for with content found in open educational resources (e.g. Khan Academy, HippoCampus, MERLOT), there is no substitute for creating the most engaging and authentic circumstances for inquiry and learning--that is what course design is all about.