Now that my session is done, we get to hear from Anya Kamenetz, author of DIYu. Like our other speakers, she began with a focus on the rising cost of college for students, the amount of loan debt they acquire, and the general trend of shifting the cost of higher education to students and away from the general public.
But, and this is something neither of the two earlier speakers (Selingo, Cabrera) mentioned, is that demand for higher education continues to grow very rapidly, which means that “many, many models can exist in higher education.”
How then, can radical transformation happen?
Her prescription begins with, “You can’t improve higher education without improving the cost issue” and “we’re going to have to figure out how to do a lot more with the same amount [of money].” To accomplish this, we need to focus on Content (what we learn), Socialization (how we learn), and Accreditation (why we learn).
She argues that Content is not about Knowledge (the what). Instead, it is about Competency (the why). As her avatar of the future in which open content will reign, she promoted the Khan Academy as one example. [I will be interested to see over the next few days if any of our speakers reference the significant critiques of both the content and the teaching models of the Khan Academy that have begun to surface.]
“It’s a wonderful future,” she argued. [If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I am sanguine about the digital future in higher education. But a long time ago (in Internet years) I gave up on the notion that the digital future was, just because it was cool and transformative, necessarily “wonderful.” The hard part for those of us here, those of us who have to make change happen, is how to figure out what works, wonderful or not.]
Will higher ed lose our monopoly on accreditation? Her argument is that, yes, it will. One example she gave was smarterer.com, where you can create your own credential. Given the increasing amount of cheating that seems to be happening in MOOCs, how will accreditors such as smarterer police who is and isn’t demonstrating their skills? I’m entirely sympathetic to the argument that students ought to be able to create knowledge portfolios, and have been arguing since 2008 that this is where we’re headed.
But, and I think this is a very important but, employers aren’t going to accept a credential with a bunch of badges on it as valid unless they know, somehow, that the person they are interviewing actually knows what their badges say they know, or has the skills their badges say they have. Right now they out source that to us. Will they take on the expense of testing employee credentials? Maybe. But that’s expensive, and letting us do it costs them virtually nothing. So, call me a skeptic on the model created by smarterer.com and others. I could certainly be wrong. But for now I’m going to remain skeptical that employers are going to want to stop outsourcing credentialing to education.
In the Q&A she made an argument for the value of peer review, but in a non-hierarchical way, such as PLOS. I think this is a useful self-corrective to her earlier enthusiasm for badges and models like smarterer, because it provides a role for expert assessment of research/skills, etc. I agree with her larger point that we can’t assume that the existing and very hierarchical structure of higher education is going remain the main model for peer review. In fact, I think that model is largely doomed (give it a decade or two before it is largely displaced). What will be interesting to see is what sorts of alternate and more open and/or non-hierarchical models of what she calls “accreditation” will emerge.