Monday, October 15, 2012

From Abelard to Apple with Richard DeMillo

English: A photo of Richard DeMillo
Richard DeMillo (Wikipedia)
Today's presentation in our MOOC, "The Current and Future State of Higher Education" featured Rich DeMillo, according to his introduction, he is "a Distinguished Professor of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the seventh ranked public university in the U.S. He also currently serves as the Director of the Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U). He returned to academia in 2002 as the John P. Imlay Jr. Dean of Computing at Georgia Tech, after a career as an executive in industry and government. He was Chief Technology Officer for Hewlett-Packard, where he had worldwide responsibility for technology and technology strategy. Prior to joining HP, he was Vice President and General Manager in charge of Information and Computer Sciences Research at Telcordia Technologies in Morristown, New Jersey, where he oversaw the development of many internet and web-based innovations. He has also directed the Computer and Computation Research Division of the National Science Foundation. During his twenty-year academic career, he has also held academic positions at Purdue University, The University of Wisconsin and the University of Padua (Italy)."

English: Apple II Plus computer.
Apple II Plus computer. (Wikipedia)
He is the author of the book Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities (MIT Press 2011). This is the book description from Amazon: "The vast majority of American college students attend two thousand or so private and public institutions that might be described as the Middle--reputable educational institutions, but not considered equal to the elite and entrenched upper echelon of the Ivy League and other prestigious schools. Richard DeMillo has a warning for these colleges and universities in the Middle: If you do not change, you are heading for irrelevance and marginalization. In Abelard to Apple, DeMillo argues that these institutions, clinging precariously to a centuries-old model of higher education, are ignoring the social, historical, and economic forces at work in today's world. In the age of iTunes, open source software, and for-profit online universities, there are new rules for higher education. DeMillo, who has spent years in both academia andin industry, explains how higher education arrived at its current parlous state and offers a road map for the twenty-first century. He describes the evolving model for higher education, from European universities based on a medieval model to American land-grant colleges to Apple's iTunes U and MIT's OpenCourseWare. He offers ten rules to help colleges reinvent themselves (including "Don't romanticize your weaknesses") and argues for a focus on teaching undergraduates. DeMillo's message--for colleges and universities, students, alumni, parents, employers, and politicians--is that any college or university can change course if it defines a compelling value proposition (one not based in "institutional envy" of Harvard and Berkeley) and imagines an institution that delivers it."

He started out by saying that "Traditional American universities are no longer the gatekeepers." I loved hearing this because most of the hand wringing I hear and read about MOOCs are about getting the model to work in such a way that traditional colleges don't have to change. Or how to redefine MOOCs to preserve the gatekeeper function. "Traditional universities are the incumbents.." He compares where universities are with newspapers. We are still using a 100 year old model of higher education that was created for a different population with different needs.  He says that experiments in higher ed stopped 50 years ago. There has only been one new research university since the turn of the century.

He discussed "Three Tiers" of education institutions - Elite (70 - 75), Middle (1000's), Proprietary (100's). This model has been keeping the costs up for education. Pew found that the current model is non-sustainable. The economic realities include:
  1. Higher education is a multi-sided market (many stake-holders with competing needs, portfolio of services, they are a platform)
  2. Bypass economies (Services are desired by many, affordable by few.)
  3. In a marketplace with many alternatives, the only way to survive is to have
    • Unassailable brand (only the Elites have global brands)
    • Best price (the Middle wastes money)
    • Best value proposition (the Middle has misjudged its value)
He discussed who will succeed over the next 100 years: defining value and architecting form. Architecting means changing your institution to balance faculty and student centrism; create the best technology; cut costs in have; meaningful measures of success; societal success.

How do the Middle colleges waste money?
  • Sponsored research is usually viewed as a way to expand the bottom line. A research university often spends two dollars for every one they get in sponsored research.
  • The way that we view capital plants - spending a million dollars on climbing walls in dorms 
  • Intercollegiate athletics saps the moral and financial strength of the institution.
I think the cost of textbooks should be thrown in here too. 
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