The impact of open education on higher education: a reflection

Has open education truly disrupted higher education?

My initial response this question was a resounding no! I thought that open education was simply a means for hobby enthusiasts like me to access the information required to learn more. I suppose I developed this frame of mind for two reasons. The first was simply because this was the means by which I came to enroll in my open course. The second reason is not so simple and in fact quite serious. It seems that initially I could not see past my privileged position as an able-bodied, middle-class Australian living in a city with three fantastic universities which unquestionably grant me a student loan of close to $100,000 to see that many rely on open education to learn. It only took one page of reading Belawati’s 2014 paper to come across the following quotes which immediately opened my eyes:

  • [Open education] is based on the belief that education and knowledge are public goods and that everyone has the right to access quality education
  • [Open education minimizes] hindrances of access due to aspects related to place, time, economy, geography and age

Open education appears to be the only way forward for without it equality could never be a reality. Certainly, this fact is enough to disrupt higher education. Yet, unfortunately, I could still not shake two realities that stand in the way of open education truly disrupting higher education.

Firstly, education of this nature costs money. Even the MIT course that I have enrolled in did not come free. Firstly, consider that the teaching and administrative staff that enabled this course to be online for free most likely did so within their usual salaries; it was simply a matter of then copying and pasting the course for users like me. Further to this, d’Oliveria et al. (2010)  states that the facilitation of the entire project costs some $3.7 million each year. Although this reference comes from Science magazine, it is worth noting the credentials of the authors. MIT pays for half of this and uses grant reserves for the other half (d’Oliveria et al. 2010). Interestingly, d’Oliveria et al. (2010) are concerned about the rapidly depleting grant reserves and states that they will have to reach out to obtain funds though corporate gifts, visitor donations and additional grants, to name a few. Reflect also upon the Open Universities of Australia which embraces the concepts of open education to provide accredited courses yet still charges its students the same amount of money as those who attend the classes physically (Open Universities Australia, n.d). At the moment, it appears that only the University of the People offers accredited courses for free (except for a small examination fee of $100 per course) (Belwati, 2014, p. 8). Belwati (2014, p.8) states that the university is run voluntarily by expert staff. It would be interesting to know the private finances of these experts. The concept of free higher education is, sadly, so eccentric to me that I truly cannot even imagine a way that it may come to be except through tax. That is not to say that it won’t come to be, rather, I simply cannot imagine how yet.  I believe that the act of making higher education free to students would require a complete shift in the status quo of all counties. Higher education cannot be isolated from the rest of society. (I have not researched this but I would like to). Without this financial support, it is difficult to believe that open education could truly disrupt higher education.

Secondly, open education, generally, does not provide official qualifications (Yuan and Powell, 2014, p.14). In this way, open education can hardly be considered competition enough to be disruptive (Yuan and Powell, 2014, p.14). Yuan and Powell (2014, p.14) state that it is only when this changes that higher education could truly be disrupted. For the meantime, higher education is the only path to gain these qualifications.

Despite all of this, I can’t help but believe that the simple acknowledgment of the idea of open education has already disrupted higher education beyond repair. Yuan and Powell (2014) reveal that the seed has been planted, some fruits have already started to grow. These fruits can even be seen within IFN612 through the employment of remote and asynchronous learning, as well as the Open Universities of Australia and the University of the People, as mentioned earlier (Belwati, 2014, p. 8; Open Universities Australia, n.d). Although Yuan and Powell (2010, p.18) state that open education is not yet a threat to higher education, they state:

The potential of MOOCs to open up higher education to the masses has challenged the traditional way of thinking about delivering higher education

I believe that the verb ‘challenge’ is very optimistic; ‘disrupted’ would be more appropriate. How these course are funded or accredited will follow in time, although, as I have stated, I am yet to imagine how. Within time (and perhaps this will be a very long time) higher education will be completely disrupted.

Watch out NASA! Or, how I came to enroll in a MIT open course in physics

Have you ever had one of those afternoons where you go to YouTube for the very specific purpose of, say, watching the newest Doctor Who trailer, and then, 4 hours later, you realise you are watching a documentary on the migration patterns of humpback whales? Well, once I went to YouTube to watch an interview with the hosts of my absolute favourite daytime television show, Pointless, and ended up enrolling in MIT’s Physics open course. You see the host of Pointless, Alexander Armstrong, is in a comedy duo with Ben Miller. Ben Miller also happened to undertake a PhD in Physics at Cambridge and recently wrote a book called ‘It’s not Rocket Science’ that discusses the fun bits of science for people like me. I ordered this online, read it and then felt inspired to learn more! (I should state that this happened over four months rather than four hours). I simply googled ‘free university courses online’ and happened to stumble across MIT’s open course website. Now, weeks later, it is my task to write about this course!

I chose to enroll in an introductory physics course (although I had my eye on the astrophysics course!). This course is studied individually without a teacher. Enrollment and commencement is ongoing. I plan to undertake the course during the winter holidays. The truth is I desired to enroll in an introductory chemistry course but found all of the course profiles so bland! The physics profile oozes excitement and enthusiasm for the subject. I suppose that this comes down to the fact that these courses are the same as those that are offered to MIT’s students (Belawati, 2014, p.4). If the teachers of the course are excited and enthusiastic then this will show. I find that this course is easily accessible and structured in a way that is easy to follow. I wonder, though, if someone who has no experience in a university setting would think the same.

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Further, I also find it interesting that it seems the course is just copied and pasted from Blackboard. This means that information about assessment and public holidays etc. are included throughout the course.

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It is peculiar that the university which essentially began and leads the MOOC movement does not yet edit courses appropriately for students like me (Belawati, 2014, p.4).

Assignment 1 Reflection

I am grateful that this assignment required us to “research” our own use of technology in our personal and private lives. I monitored the way that I used technology on my iPhone and my desktop for a week. My use of technology was tracked with the trusted technology of pen and paper; I would write down my interactions once or twice a day from memory. When the time came to make sense of my data, I was pleasantly surprised to see how calculated my use of technology was. My surprise arose from the fact that my generation, Gen Y, are constantly reprimanded by older generations for their mindless and constant use of technology. For example, when describing Gen Y, Millennial Marketing (n.d.) writes:

digital media so pervades their lives they cannot imagine living without it.

Until I completed this assignment, I always allowed myself to believe that my pervasive relationship with technology was something that I should be ashamed of. I believed that the time I spent with technology was detracting from living my life in the ‘real world’. Now I am able to recognize that technology is a part of the ‘real world’ and I argue that today it plays an essential role. The truth is that technology does so pervade our lives that we cannot imagine living without it (Millennial Marketing, n.d.). This statement is truthful and it must stop being reproachful. I can’t help but imagine millennials of the 20th century also being subjected to a similar scolding. Extra, Extra! Electricity so pervades the lives of 20th century young adults that they cannot imagine living without it! I am not suggesting that all Gen Ys have a healthy relationship with technology or that there aren’t issues concerning technology and social etiquette that are still to be addressed. However, as Kerner (2013) states, ‘for Gen Y, technology is more than an addiction … it is how they discover, understand and experience the world around them. And it’s how they always have.” Without technology I would not be so connected with my friends, I would not have learnt so much about my hobbies and interests, I would not have a part-time job, I would not have completed a bachelors degree or even high school. Could all of these things be achieved without technology? Yes. But in the 21st century we choose to achieve these tasks with it. I learnt that my use of technology is indeed pervasive but in no way mindless or wasteful.

My research for the persona allowed me to recognize how useful personas are. Firstly, my research allowed me to notice that I have specific goals, needs and motivations for using technology that are not generic or even shared with all of Gen Y. I identified myself as ‘The Inquisitive Postgrad’ – I can imagine that many others would be able to identity with this persona. Should ‘The Inquisitive Postgrad’ be the likely users of an organisation’s products or services, this organisation can use this persona to develop their technology in a way that suits the users (Goltz, 2014). This suitability is profitable for the organisation for it makes the users more likely to use their products and services (O’Conner, 2011). It is, however, also profitable for the user for they are dealing with products and services that strive to meet their needs. In this way, I see the use of personas and user design as a valuable endeavor.

I was, however, intrigued as to why organisations would go to the lengths of creating a persona, rather than just using the data collected from the interviews and observations with users (Goltz [2014] states that interviews and observations are the most common way of collecting data for personas). As a library and information practice student I have always been taught that a product or service is redundant unless it meets the needs of the library’s users and I believe this is true to almost the same extent in business settings. Therefore, I understand that a large amount of research must be put into developing products and services, drawing upon data gained from user surveys and statistics, for example. I had never heard of personas being used, though. Goltz (2014) states that using personas is more effective than using data for two main reasons. Firstly, you do not have to deal with the data of the hundreds of people you surveyed. this data is reduced to only a couple of personas (Goltz, 2014). Secondly, when the data is used to create personas, it becomes anthropomorphized (Glotz, 2014). That is, it is a lot easier to design for a human who has goals, needs, motivations and pain points rather than pages of data; personas become people (Goltz, 2014). I thought it was rather sweet when Goltz (2014) stated that people in his team refer to the personas by name when mentioning them in their design discussions.

One aspect of the assignment that I struggled with was knowing which technologies to include in the persona. I chose to create my persona in order to address the following issue in assignment three: ‘a library that is seeking new ways to connect with patrons to encourage higher attendance at their events and also feedback and suggestions regarding events’. At first I thought it would be important to include every aspect of my interaction with technology so that the library would have a holistic understanding. This proved impossible! Where do you draw the line? Technically a book is also technology! How would I quantify every way that I achieve my goals outside of the parameters of electronic technology? I do it so intuitively. After consulting some personas that are publicly available, such as these ones from Xtensio (n.d) I discovered that they very specifically reflect the product or service that is being created. When I realized that the library was looking for a way to publicize and communicate with its users, I realized the library would only be interested in ways that ‘The Intrigued Postgrad’ used technology that would allow the library to promote and communicate. Therefore, I only included these technologies,

I believe that this assignment has allowed me to learn more about the way that I interact with technology and my understanding of personas and how they are developed.

 References:

Goltz, S. (2014). A closer look at personas: What they are and how they work (Part 1). Retrieved from https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/08/a-closer-look-at-personas-part-1/

Kerner, N. (2013). Trying to understand Gen Y? Get confortable with being uncomfortable. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2013/07/03/trying-to-understand-gen-y-get-comfortable-with-being-uncomfortable/#4d7986ad263c

Millennial Marketing (n.d). Millennials tech-dependent, but not necessarily tech-savvy. Retrieved from http://www.millennialmarketing.com/2010/04/millennials-tech-dependent-but-not-necessarily-tech-savvy/

O’Connor, K. (2011). Personas: The foundation of a great user experience. Retrieved from https://uxmag.com/articles/personas-the-foundation-of-a-great-user-experience

Xtensio (n.d) User persona creator. Retrieved on 14 April 2016 from https://xtensio.com/user-persona/

Quantified Me: Week 4 Play and Reflect Activity

 

“One day, young lady, that’s all going to catch up with you!” said almost every woman over the age of forty to me while I ate an entire tub of Connoisseur cookies and cream ice cream. Of course I took no notice of them. Why would I? I was twenty-something and invincible! By the age of twenty-four, I discovered that I wasn’t so invincible after all and in fact, it had all caught up on me. In a short amount of space I gained an uncomfortable, but not unhealthy, amount of weight. More importantly, I realized that I did not truly know what I should be eating in order to be a healthy adult. I decided to follow my mother to her weight loss group, New Mind Weight Loss Solutions. This group encourages members to recognize their detrimental food behaviours and teaches each individual how they might influence these behaviours to become healthier. New Mind is not about quick fixes, but creating a new mentality towards food that is healthy, enjoyable and sustainable. It ensures that a healthy lifestyle can be maintained forever. It was then that I started to quantify myself; today, I still track my daily calorie intake, my daily exercise and also my weight once a week.

Like Spyridopoulos in this week’s learning materials, I quantify myself because I am trying to improve an area of my life. And as Spyridopoulos states, “progress is made when progress is measured.” When speaking about weight loss in particular, Bruno (2013) states:

If you want to manage your weight … you need to measure your weight. You also need to measure the two things that control your weight – your eating and exercise habits.

Although everybody’s campaign will be different, the science behind it is the same (Freedhoff, 2013). As Dr. Freedhoff (2013) writes, “If you consistently eat more calories that you burn, you’ll tend to gain weight.” Therefore, in order to not gain weight, your calorie intake must be equal to the calories you burn. In order to lose weight, your calorie intake must be less than what you burn (NHS, 2014). Luckily the scientists also did the math for us!

I have always used the Calorie King app to track my weight and calories and exercise. Naturally, then I used Calorie King over the past three days.

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(My daily calorie intake number of 1200 for sedentary days has been decided by me and a professional after taking many factors – such as my age, height and health – into consideration)

The Calorie King app is an electronic version of Allan Boruskek’s Calorie, Fat and Carbohydrate Counter book (Calorie King, n.d).

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The Calorie King app allows you to:

  • Track the calories that you eat each day.
  • Track the amount of exercise you’ve done and how many calories you burnt during this exercise.
  • Track your weight.
  • Save recipes and the amount of calories in these recipes.
  • View reports of your weight, calorie intake and exercise.

I chose to use Calorie King over the more poplar app, MyFitnessPal. In order to evaluate Calorie King, I hope to be so bold as to display why I personally choose Calorie King over MyFitnessPal.

Pros

Calorie King is simplistic but its value, I believe, rests in its simplicity. It offers what is required in order to successfully track your weight, calories and exercise and nothing more.

  • It is not connected to the Internet, unlike MyFitnessPal. This means there are no frills such as blogs, private messages, notifications or forums, like one might find on MyFitnessPal. However, to me, tracking your calories is as mundane as brushing your teeth everyday. Could you imagine engaging in blogs and forums about brushing your teeth everyday or would you just want to get on with it? Secondly, being disconnected to the Internet also means that the food portions are more standardised than those offered on connected apps because those apps often end up as wikis. This standardisation makes tracking a little easier.
  • Secondly, Calorie King cannot connect with devices such as fitbits, like MyFitnessPal does. To me, this means that I’m not consumed with how much many calories I’m burning in comparison to how many I’m eating. Rather, I’m encouraged to plan my meals and exercise in advance, giving more structure to my week and allowing me to focus on other tasks at hand, such as obtaining a masters degree!
  • Quite simply, the format is very easy and enjoyable to use.Cons
  • It can sometimes be difficult to find rare ethnic foods. Ironically, I have to Google search the calorie value of these foods and enter them manually
  • It uses a strict controlled vocabulary. Let’s just say it took me a good six months before I figured out how M&M’s was entered into Calorie King.

Since Calorie King has played such an essential role in my weight loss and maintenance, I thought it would be easy to write a reflection on how this app impacts upon people who are not healthy with their weight, and by consequence help reduce obesity and diabetes, to name a few. Now, upon reading on the subject, I find that it is not that simplistic.

As Bruno (2013) states “self-monitoring isn’t magic, you still have to create and maintain a caloric deficit to lose weight.” Therefore, it is not just tracking your calories that allows you to lose weight but actually eating and exercising in way that will ensure you lose weight. Yes, in order to lose weight one’s calorie intake must be less that calories burnt and in order to ensure this is happening, these factors must be tracked (Bruno 2013NHS, 2014). However, if you, the reader, wanted to lose weight and all I gave you was a suitable calorie intake number and the Calorie King app, I argue that you would struggle to reach your goal weight and also maintain that weight. This is for two reasons.

Firstly, in order to achieve long-term success, one’s food behaviours need to be addressed and altered (Davis et al., 2016). In order to explain food behaviours, I thought I would provide examples of my own.

Positive: I only eat three and a half  meals and day and I rarely eat snacks in between meals.

Negative: I cannot eat only two 4 squares of a block chocolate and leave the rest in the fridge to eat over the remainder of the fortnight. It will be eaten in a night or two.

The obvious solution would be to stop eating entire block of chocolate in one night, or even refrain from buying chocolate in the first place. Certainly, I am able to do this for some space of time. Sometimes even months on end! But the fact is that this behaviour has developed over the past seven years of my adult life and it won’t change overnight just because I want it to. Ongoing advice about how you might overcomes these habits in the long run is required. (APS, 2007: I don’t necessarily propose this support come from psychologists, I believe the statistics in this article are useful). Calorie King doesn’t tell you how to change these habits, it just tells you whether you have changed them or not. A health professional, or weight loss profession or even a book or online resources can tell you how to change them (even the Queensland Government’s website (2015) on weight management provides and suggests these resources, for example).

The second reason is that weight loss and maintenance success is found more frequently by those who are supported by a group of people. (Kulik et al., 2016Moisio and Beruchashvili 2010). Generally speaking, people tend to lose weight and keep it off when they are not relying on their own strength (Heska et al., 2003). When talking about Weight Watchers, Moisio and Beruchashvili (2010, p. 827) state:

… the Weight Watchers support group does more than just lead members towards leaner bodies. The support group, as a spiritual and therapeutic companion, provides a commune for like-minded members sharing the same afflictions and struggles… the support group is a disciplinary guardian that oversees their quest for well being.

Calorie King doesn’t support you when you confess to eating another tub of cookies and cream Connoisseur ice cream. In fact it turns a furious red colour and tells you that you’re about 1000 calories over your daily limit. On the contrary, when you confess this to your weight loss group, the woman sitting left of you tells you a similar story from her week and the woman to the right tells you how she overcame a similar problem over the past five years.

These two reasons have shown that professional and personal support are generally required to successfully lose and maintain weight. Therefore, in order for an app to be impactful in its own right, it must provide these two elements, like MyFitnessPal strives to do and Calorie King fails to do. Although Davis et al. (2016) argue that apps like MyFitnessPal still do not provide these two elements to their fullest potential, MyFitnessPal is, by the the criteria woven into the literature, more effective. However, I still choose to use Calorie King. I can see now that Calorie King is only impactful when when used in conjunction of outside support, as I use it. The app’s ongoing success can perhaps be attributed to the fact that it meets the needs of those who are connected outside of the app and therefore don’t require the it to fulfil this necessity.