MOOCs won’t disrupt Higher Education, employers will

Last week I wrote a post on ‘students as customers’ in the context of a more corporatised, commoditised Higher Education market. It was interesting then to see another post today discussing the emerging trend of employers dropping requirements for degrees as part of their recruitment criteria, instead selecting candidates

based on merit, rather than credentials, often by assessing candidates with psychometric testing or other performance based tests

This caught my attention for two* reasons. Firstly, it returned my thoughts to the student as a customer, and the likely increase in their willingness to leave the Higher Education system (or not engage in it at all) if it is not meeting their expectations – in this case employability. Secondly, it made me reflect on the role of MOOCs, not as a replacement for a degree, but as a potential perceived indicator of merit in a landscape where a degree is no longer a necessity.

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#censusfail – a case study in how not to manage peak load

CensusFailWell, I think its safe to call the result of this year’s Australian census, making it a much quicker call than our Federal election last month – the results are in, and the ABS lost. Lost to the point that makes the Australian cricket team’s recent performance against Sri Lanka look not all that bad in comparison.

It was, on pretty much all fronts, a train wreck.

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The Student Services conundrum: Part 3 – graduate outcomes and the (potential) role of the service centre

20151002_162309In the first two posts of this trilogy I discussed the background of the Flinders Connect student service centre and a strategy for driving the highest value from a combination of online self-service, service centre support, and more focused interactions. In this final post, I want to explore something which sets the University context apart from that of (say) a bank, a telco or a government department.

That something is one of the goals of of all Universities: to develop strong graduate capabilities within students as a fundamental outcome of attending University.

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The Student Services conundrum: Part 2 – the complexity vs capability equation

In the first post of this trilogy I set the scene around the creation of a new student service centre, and noted that many of the enquiries answered during our first ‘peak’ period at the start of Semester 1 could have been very easily done by students online. The question I posed at the end was which enquiries could have we avoided by having them done online via self-service, and how could we have achieved that?

Before I get into proposing answers to that question I want to consider another one – why should we drive enquiries online in the first place? 

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The Student Services conundrum: Part 1 – setting the context

FlinConSign

Me: ‘You know you can make this purchase online and you won’t have to wait in a queue here, right?’

Student: *shrugs shoulders* ‘Yeah, but I’m here now anyway, so I might as well wait’.

This was a conversation, or a variant thereof, that I had more times than I can remember during the last week of February and first week of March this year. As you may already know, I accepted a role almost one year ago at Flinders University to lead the creation of a centralised student support centre, which went live in October last year, and which met its biggest test at the start of Semester 1 last month.

It was these many conversations that, about three weeks ago (just as the smoke was clearing from the start of semester frenetics), started off a blog post in my mind that I’ve been struggling to write ever since. It was only on the counsel of two people very close to me that I realised the post (which was seeming even more long and rambling than my usual efforts) was actually three separate posts, and should be written as such.

This post marks the first in the trilogy.

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Student retention – not how, but why

For the last two days I’ve been in attendance at the Strategies for Student Retention conference in Melbourne. The conference was an interesting mix of background information on retention stats in Australian higher education, strategies to improve these retention rates, arguments around the concept of students as customers, and plenty of discussion about the challenges that lay ahead for higher education. To summarise the themes of the conference in five points:

  • attrition at universities is a thing;
  • some of it is largely unavoidable, and relates to external factors in the lives of students;
  • some of it correlates to student demographics, but to varying degrees;
  • sometimes behavioural indicators can predict it;
  • sometimes intervention strategies can help students stay on if the challenges they are facing can be worked around.

I’m not going to spend time going into more detail on the above though – there are plenty of fine scholars already doing that far more justice than I can here. I will however demonstrate the variation of opinions on the matter by sharing some responses to the following question I posted on Twitter:

If I had a dollar to spend on increasing student retention, where would it be most effectively spent, and why?

Here are some of the responses I got…

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The MOOC as a network broker

Inspiration for blog posts can happen at the strangest, and most inopportune times, and this happened to me on Thursday last week, the penultimate day of preparation for the opening of Flinders Connect and a time when my mind was flying around the many last-minute jobs we still had to knock off. The inspiration didn’t so much hit me, it was more delivered in person as I was coming back with a quick bite of lunch, courtesy of Prof Colin Carati, the Director of the Flinders Uni Centre for Educational ICT. After exchanging pleasantries about the opening of Flinders Connect, Colin mentioned the blog post I wrote a couple of weeks back which in summary posited that the next big challenge for Universities could be how best to connect their students to large, open networks as a means to improve employability (based on research from the Booth School of Business).

Colin’s thought to me was a strikingly simple one – what if the real value of a MOOC is to act as a broker for students into these large, open networks?

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The ‘work ready’ graduate and the problems of perception

RegrowthAs often happens, a valued node in my professional network friend has got me thinking, and thinking to the extent that I need to write a post to help structure out my rambling thoughts.

The background to this is a post by Techxplorer about his perspective on universities teaching ’employability’ skills, and in particular this quote from his post:

I’m not convinced that I want higher education institutions teaching students to be ‘work ready’.

On thinking through this statement I couldn’t help but feeling a general vibe of disagreement, but it took a little time to work out why.

As Techxplorer goes on to discuss, the conversations that go on around being ‘work ready’ or ’employable’ can be viewed through a number of different lenses, and I think this is where so much of my discomfort was springing from, and so I thought it was worth delving into that a little deeper here on this problem of perception.

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Employability, entrepreneurship and the future of Higher Education

As part of the lead up to the opening of Flinders Connect next month, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the concept of ‘students as customers’, and the role that Universities (and our student services team one part of that greater whole) are expected to play in this relationship. In a recent staff forum I heard our Vice Chancellor muse that students may be customers, but they are not customers simply buying a commodity – they are more like adventurers signing up for a trek through the Himalayas, with an expectation that they will need to put in significant effort as part of the deal to get to their goal.

There must also, however, be the expectation from these customers that at the end of that trek there is some sort of payoff – most likely in the form of gainful employment – and yet we see plenty of stories like this one highlighting graduate employability being at its lowest level in Australia in over twenty years. We see the terms ‘job ready’ and ’employability’ skills’ bandied about, and yet we also see the counterpoint that Universities should absolutely not attempt to ‘educate to suit employers‘. So what then do we do to ensure that our students are getting the value they expect from their education?

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