Sunday, August 23, 2020

Online Plus is the Post-COVID19 Future of Higher Education

Learning and teaching
, JISC, 2020
The UK's JISC think-tank have put forward the hyflex plus university as a vision for Higher Educaiton after COVID-19. This would offer options of online study, on campus with work placements, or accelerated intensive on campus study. However, the campus options appear to be a marketing strategy designed to prop up a fading business model, rather than based on pedagogy. There is one model for the university of the future: online plus. This can include online accelerated and work placement options, plus optional on-campus study.

Students can be offered fully online, part-time study as the foundation of their university experience. There can be work placement included in this and accelerated options. Neither of these require attending, or living, on a campus, although that can also be offered. This online anchored form of HE is not some fantasy: in 2011 I set out to learn to teach, starting in a classroom 2 km from where I live, six years later I graduated from a university I had never seen, 13,586 km away.

Any university which adopts JISC's long term vision for 2030 is likely to be out of business before then. While I don't have JISC's committee to back up my predictions, in the last paragraph of the capstone for my MEd in 2016, I warned that universities should be prepared to teach online if students were kept away by a global crisis. Also I predicted that students would be studying 80% online by 2020. Those who planned an online contingency before 2020, as I did, had less difficulty with the transition this year. Those who build campus options onto this online foundation, I suggest, will prosper.

It doesn't make a lot of sense from an educational point of view to have students on campus all the time. Studying exclusively on campus in a face to face classroom would hinder completion of a degree, by excluding quality online learning and co-curricular learning opportunities off campus.

Living on a campus is a lifestyle choice, unrelated to the quality of education provided. Apart from restricting student's opportunity to learn real world skills, being restricted to a campus would severely limit employment opportunities.

This is not to say students should study entirely at home, isolated in front of a computer screen. Ideally students should be studying part time while in related employment, so they have supervision and support from working professionals. Also the student should have access to a face to face group of fellow students and, occasionally, an instructor. This does not need to be on the main campus where the student is enrolled, or a university campus at all.

Some students will require specialized equipment and environments, however, COVID-19 measures show that much of this can be provided outside the university, and much can be simulated online. Some professions which previously relied on face to face contact, such as medicine and the law, have shown that they can be provided partly online, making online training more feasible and more realistic.

There will be students wanting a campus lifestyle and prepared to pay extra for it. This can be provided in the same way luxury cars are now manufactured. Bentley is thought of as hand built UK premium brand. However, hand built cars are less reliable than robot made ones and the engineering needed for a modern vehicle cannot be amortized over a limited production run. So Bentley cars are based on mass produced designs from their parent company Volkswagen. Components made by robots in Germany are imported to the UK, assembled and hand finished. The result is a car which looks premium but is also safe, reliable and profitable. The same approach can be applied to education: start with a well designed curriculum of online learning which is delivered to hundreds of thousands of students world wide, then add a campus experience. The student can follow the same syllabus as those off-campus, but with the option of a face to face instructor. The educational outcomes will be no better on campus for the average student and so this option should not receive additional government subsides, but some students will still opt for it, just as some pay extra for a Volkswagen with a Bentley badge.

Another aspect of the motor vehicle industry which can be applied to higher education is brands for different regions. The engineering design underpinning the German made Volkswagen Golf is also used for the Spanish SEAT and Czech Škoda vehicles. Some universities and consortia take a similar approach, offering the same curriculum nationally, or worldwide under different institution brands. Torrens University Australia is based in Adelaide and accredited to award Australian degrees, but is part of the for-profit Laureate Education Inc. in Baltimore. Laureate has almost one million students worldwide and so can spread the cost of course development better than it could for just their 11,500 Australian students., while still having local campuses. Laureate has also incorporated several specialist campuses in Australia such as the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School (BMIHMS).

Open Universities Australia (OUA) offers another model for the future university. This is a consortium of Australian universities which offers online degrees. Students can mix courses from the member universities, but graduate with a degree from one of them (not OUA). OUA students and courses are administered separately from the university's own students. However, the cooperation might be extended to allow regular students to enroll in online courses at member universities. This may require some changes to government regulations which restrict online courses for some students. Government might go further and require universities to allow and recognize such cross enrollment, but perhaps not to the extent of the vocational sector, where curricular are nationally standardized.


Learning and teaching reimagined, JISC, 11 August 2020, URL

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