Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education


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Meanwhile, the skills gained through other postsecondary paths, such as employer-based training or certification programs, are often clearer, but those options tend to be viewed as carrying less labor-market value. In Beyond the Skills Gap , Mary Alice McCarthy, senior policy analyst at New America, cited a hypothetical example of a Michigan woman seeking to upgrade her skills to enter the medical assisting profession.

That woman would be confronted with some 2, institutions offering medical assisting certificate programs in the United States—59 in Michigan alone—with a wide variance in cost, credits, program length, and financial support. As this example illustrates, additional clarity about what various types of credentials mean would help make the system more navigable for all learners. A more connected system also makes it much easier for employers, who struggle to understand what credentials signify in terms of the skills and knowledge a prospective hire brings to the job.

Although college degrees are indicators of persistence and academic success, they do not tell those who are hiring much about the qualifications that candidates carry. Candidates with other nondegree credentials might have skills better suited for specific positions, but the lack of common definitions makes it difficult for employers to have confidence in those credentials. These changes will also wield huge benefits for the U.

America faces a pressing need for talent: workers with the skills and knowledge to fill 21st-century jobs. To alter that paradigm, we must ensure that our postsecondary credentialing system is viable. The most tangible impact of better connected credentials will be on the system at large. With a nomenclature to ensure that credentials can be related to each other, technology can be unleashed to build out a fully interconnected system. And higher education, as a result, will look dramatically different. The first is the effort to give learners tools for seamlessly navigating their options for pursuing postsecondary credentials.

Think, for example, about apps such as Yelp and Travelocity, which have enabled users to quickly mine data about dining and travel accommodations in a one-stop source. Similar innovations could allow users to explore various credentials pathways. Work on such initiatives is under way. George Washington University, for example, is collaborating with Workcred and Southern Illinois University to build a first-of-its-kind online resource enabling users to see and compare the value and meaning of various credentials.

The project—supported by Lumina Foundation—uses information from institutions issuing credentials to aggregate data into one source. Learners can earn badges through courses provided by traditional colleges and universities, but other entities—including employers, nonprofits, and government agencies—also can issue badges. In addition to course-based learning, badges can capture tangible measurements such as experience. And importantly, badges can be bundled into robust categories of expertise. All of these tools facilitate a new learning paradigm in which students build their reservoir of knowledge and skills through a lifetime of learning experiences.

At first blush, these changes could seem like a jarring threat to traditional higher education institutions, but colleges and universities have a unique opportunity to thrive under the new paradigm of higher education delivery. To seize the opportunity, campus leaders must reorient their approach in light of two new realities. First, in a system of connected credentials, it will become increasingly evident that degrees bestowed by colleges and universities are one of many pathways to an education beyond high school, an education that today is essential to obtaining a high-quality job.

Learners are likely, in time, to become more focused on whether credentials will lead them to a promising career pathway and to be less concerned about who is providing the credential. That will increasingly level the playing field of competition among the various credentials providers: colleges and universities, unions, employers, coding boot camps, cultural institutions, and more. Second, with learning at the center of how credentials are defined and evaluated and with technological tools enabling unprecedented transparency about learning outcomes, what will matter above all else in the new system is whether providers can help students gain knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Higher education institutions will be less able to rely on brand legacy, campus facilities, and smart marketing campaigns. To compete for students in the next era of postsecondary education, they will need to demonstrate results. Institutions also must move away from the credit-hour-based model that links progress to time spent in the classroom—increasingly a vestige of an antiquated system that lacks currency in the newly connected credentials world. Although the latter approach more closely represents what the future will entail, institutional leaders should keep in mind that any change toward a learning-centered system is a positive step.

Three examples illustrate different approaches to learning-based measurement. Without moving fully away from the credit hour, some colleges and universities across the United States are working to better assess student learning and are adapting their programs and faculty development accordingly. This gives institutions a roadmap they can use to navigate whether they are preparing students with the right knowledge and skills.

Colleges and universities are using these models to improve their programs and ensure that students emerge better prepared for the future. In Illinois, for example, McKendree University undertook a seven-year initiative to better assess student learning outcomes and link its new assessment system to faculty development. As one result of this exercise, McKendree decided to add a capstone experience in all fields of study and is working to create faculty-development experiences tied to the capstone.

Though not a fundamental shift, the moves at McKendree represent a step in the right direction toward focusing on learning and improving approaches accordingly. The program is offered through a bricks-and-mortar institution, Southern New Hampshire University SNHU , but is not anchored by the traditional markings of a university: courses, classrooms, and professors. Instead the program is provided solely online. Students can earn a degree in as little or as much time as it takes them to demonstrate the requisite knowledge and skills to establish mastery of competencies.

More than 3, students have enrolled in College for America since its inception in January , and more than have received degrees. Without being anchored to the credit hour, students can accelerate the pace of their learning and more quickly earn a degree, thereby saving on tuition.

But this model could, and likely will, be expanded to serve a broader audience. Meanwhile, more than other institutions are similarly pioneering competency-based approaches. SNHU, a traditional campus-based, fully accredited institution serving 4, students per year, spawned an online college in the s that now enrolls more than 50, students.

Empire State puts learning at the center of student advancement, but rather than move entirely away from the credit hour, Empire State has embraced a system called prior learning assessment , or PLA, to better capture the real learning students have gained from their experience, including jobs, military service, volunteer engagements, and independent study. Someone with years of work experience in office management, for instance, might be able to demonstrate knowledge in administration, supervision, and technology. Students then go through a formal, thorough process to show how their experience translates into competencies and to appeal for credit hours accordingly.

PLA does not fundamentally disarm the status quo, but it marks an important step toward enabling colleges and universities to divorce themselves from time-in-classroom as the central measurement of advancement. Realistically, higher education cannot be solely conceptualised by the human capital approach and similar quantitative interpretations, as it has cultural, psychological, idiosyncratic and social implications. However, the market and money value of higher education should not be neglected, especially in developing countries, as there is evidence that it can help people escape the vicious cycle of poverty and therefore it has a practical and more pragmatic purpose to fulfil Psacharopoulos and Patrinos, According to World Bank , education can contribute to a significant decrease of the number of poor people globally and increase social mobility when it manages to provides greater opportunities for children coming from poor families.

There are also other studies that do not only focus to strict economic factors, but also to the contribution of educational attainment to fertility and mortality rates as well as to the level of health and the creation of more responsible and participative citizens, bolstering democracy and social justice Council of Europe, ; Osler and Starkey, ; Cogan and Derricott, Mountford-Zimdars and Sabbagh , analysing the British Social Attitudes BSA survey, offer a plausible explanation on why the widening of participation in higher education is not that easy to be implemented politically, in the contemporary western democracies.

The majority of the people, who have benefited from higher educational attainment in monetary and non-monetary terms, are reluctant to support the openness of higher education to a broader population. On the contrary, those that did not succeed or never tried to secure a place in a higher education institute, are very supportive of this idea. This clash of interests creates a political perplexity, making the process of policy-making rather dubious.

Therefore, the apparent paradox of the increase in higher educational attainment, along with a stable rate in educational inequalities, does not seem that strange when vested interests of certain groups are taken into account.

Moreover, the decision for someone to undertake higher education is not solely influenced by its added value in the labour market. Since an individual is exposed to different experiences and influences, strategic decisions can easily change, especially when these are taken from adolescents or individuals in their early stages of their adulthood. Given this, perceptions and preferences do change with ageing and this is why there are some individuals who drop out from university, others who choose radical shifts in their career or others who return to education after having worked in the labour market for many years and in different types of jobs.

Higher education has expanded rapidly after WWII. Policy aims for higher education in the western world is undoubtedly focusing on its diffusion to a broader population. This expansion is seen as a policy instrument to alleviate social and income inequalities. However, the implementation of such policies has been proved extremely difficult in practise, mainly because of existent conflicted interests between groups of people, but also because of its institutional incapacity to target the most vulnerable.

Nonetheless, it has been observed a constant marketization process in higher education, making it less accessible to people from poor economic background. Concerns on the persistence of policy-makers to focus primarily on the economic values of higher education have been increasingly expressed, as strict economic reasoning in higher education contradicts with political claims for its continuing expansion. On the other hand, there are studies arguing that the instrumental model can make the transition of graduates into the labour market smoother.

Account Options

Such studies are placed under the mainstream economics framework and are also informed by policy decisions implemented by the Bologna Process, where competitiveness, harmonisation and employability are the main policy axes. The Bologna Process and various other institutions e. Nevertheless, this makes the job competition between graduates much more intense and also creates very negative implications for those that remain with low qualifications as they effectively become socially and economically marginalised.

The purpose of higher education and its role in modern societies remains a heated philosophical debate, with strong practical and policy implications. This article sheds more light to this debate by presenting a synthetic narrative of the relevant literature, which can be used as a basis for future theoretical and empirical research in understanding contemporary trends in higher education as interwoven with the evolutions in the broader socio-economic sphere. Specifically, two conflicting theoretical stances have been discussed.

The mainstream view primarily aims to assist individuals to increase their income and their relative position in the labour market. On the other hand, the intrinsic notion focus on understanding its purpose under ontological and epistemological considerations. Under this conceptual framework, the enhancement of individual creativity and emancipation are in conflict with the contemporary institutional settings related to power, dominance and economic reasoning. However, even if the two theoretical stances presented are regarded as contradictory, this article argues that, in practical terms, they can be better seen as complementing each other.

From one hand, using an instrumental perspective, an increase in higher education participation, focusing particularly on the most vulnerable and deprived members of society, can alleviate problems of income and social inequalities. The instrumental view of education has a very important role to play if focused on lower-income social classes, as it can become the mechanism towards the alleviation of income inequalities.

On the other hand, apart from the pecuniary, there are also other non-pecuniary benefits associated with this, such as the improvement in the fertility and mortality and general health level rates or the boost of active democracy and citizenship even within workplaces and therefore a shift of higher education towards its intrinsic purposes is also needed. Summing up, education is not a simply just another market process. It is not just an institution that supply graduates as products that have some predetermined value in the labour market. Consequently, acquired knowledge in education verified by college degrees is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the labour market to create appropriate jobs, where graduates utilise and expand this knowledge.

In fact, the increasing costs of higher education, mostly due to its internationalisation, and the rising levels of job mismatch create a rather gloomy picture of the current economic environment, which seems to preserve the well-paid jobs mostly to those from a certain socio-economic class background.

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As Castoriadis notes, it is impossible to separate education from its social context. We, as human beings, acquire knowledge, in the sense of what Castoriadis calls paideia , from the day we born until the day we die. We are being constantly developed and transformed along with the social transformations that happen around us. The transformation on the individual is in constant interaction with social transformations, where no cause and effect exists.

Formal schooling has become nowadays an apathetic task where no real engagement with learning happens, while its major components such as educators, families and students are largely disconnected with each other. In the context of a modern world where monetary costs and benefits are the basis of policy arguments, a massification and broader diffusion of higher education to a much broader population implies marketisation and commercialisation of its purpose and in turn its inclusion on an economy-oriented model where knowledge, skills, curriculum and academic credentials inevitably presuppose a money-value and have a financial purpose to fulfil.

The policy trends towards an economy-based-knowledge, through a strict instrumental reasoning, rather than the alleged knowledge-based-economy seems to persist and prevail, albeit its poor performance on alleviating income and social inequalities. Data sharing not applicable to this article as no datasets were generated or analysed during the current study.

For example, Confucian tradition is very rich, when it comes to education and human development. Perhaps the Chinese tradition in education, which mainly regards education as a route to social status and material success based on merit and constant examination can explain why the human capital theory is more applicable. On the other hand, additional notions in the Confucian tradition that education should be open to all, irrespective of the social class each person belongs to apart perhaps from women and servants that were rather considered as human beings with limited social rights , its focus on ethics and its purpose to prepare efficient and loyal practitioners for the government introduces an apparent paradox with human capital theory but not necessarily with the instrumental view of education.

This contradiction deserves to be appropriately and thoroughly examined in a separate analysis before it is contrasted to the Western tradition. For this reason the current research focuses only on the Western world leaving the comparison analysis with educational traditions found around the world, among them the Confucian tradition, as a task that will be conducted in the near future. The use of capital in Bourdieu is criticised by a stream of social science scholars as rather promiscuous and unfortunate Goldthorpe, They argue that a paradox here is apparent as in English linguistic etymological terms, the word capital implies, if not presupposes market activity.

Habitus is not capital, even if there is constant interaction between the two. Some might have valid ontological objections on this, in terms of the purpose of philosophy as a whole; however the concept of Bildung has given education a role within society that moves away from individualism and the constant pursuit of material objects as ultimate means of well-being. Apple M Comparing neo-liberal projects and inequality in education.

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What's the Future of World Education? How Online Education is Shaping the Future of Education

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Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education
Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education
Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education
Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education
Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education
Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education
Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education
Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education Technology and the Politics of University Reform: The Social Shaping of Online Education

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