Wednesday, September 18, 2013

MOOCs in Future of UWA

Paul Johnson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Australia (UWA) issued "UWA Futures: White Paper" in August 2012. There were responses from UWA academics over the next few months, UWA Academic Staff Association (March 2013). In November 2012, the UWA Vice-Chancellor issued "UWA Futures: The Response". This appeared a useful, if somewhat limited exercise in consulting the university community on a difficult issue, of what a university is. The ANU embarked on a consultation process in mid 2013, but this concentrated on possible budget cuts, rather than the nature of a university.

The original white paper suggested that Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from new commercial and not-for-profit organizations will compete with universities for students. The paper argued that UWA should seize these opportunities which result. However that was the only mention of MOOCs in the white paper, so it was not clear what it is proposed to do. The responses discussed MOOCs and the issues with e-learning and provision of technology to students in more details.

The paper argued there will be negligible growth in student numbers for the remainder the decade, which seems to me be at odds with the rapid growth in the middle class in developing nations, who can now afford university education. However, UWA proposes to increase its student fees, which could price it out of this growing market.

Under "Proposal 1" UWA would "... conduct a full review of pedagogic purpose and practice in 2013, with the aim of introducing new pedagogies from the beginning of 2015". This would appear to be essentially about the role of e-learning, but the large scale Interactive Engagement being introduced at ANU could also be an option. Some of the responses discussed this, with approaches such as the flipped classroom. The UWA Academic Staff Association went further, proposing that MOOCs could be used for teaching, complementing a Humboldtian model of the university, where students are not locked into a rigid program.

Proposal 3 envisaged "... personalised mentoring and academic support  for all... students...". However, there was no mention of the new skills which staff will need to provide this support, not how they will acquire it. Some responses asked about training for faculty in mentoring.

ps: I will be in Perth, WA, 23 September to 18 October 2013.

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