Wednesday, October 31, 2012


While Agility was originally based in software and application development, it is beginning to find its way out in many different directions including higher education. One of the primary examples has been SUNY Delhi who in applying agility to its IT practices can document $425,000 in cost savings to 30 projects that used an agile methodology--the CIO who designed the system is an ESC graduate student. (Educause 2010). In an Educause statement on agility, they note: “Universities need tools to be able to respond quickly to emerging needs and challenges. In this environment, agile may be precisely the kind of approach that is needed to unlock the solutions that will lead to progress—faster, with more flexibility, with improved collaboration, and at less cost.   One can also argue that the agile ethos is well matched for a world in which change is a constant and the pace of change seems to be accelerating. Agile's principles and processes may well be suited for this era of higher education, in which institutions are being asked to do more, faster, with less.” (2010)

The agile ethos, as the name applies, also places a great value on speed—an ideal which higher education seems averse to.  There is a belief that slow equals quality.[1]

In a similar vein, Anderson, Augustine, Avery, Cockburn, Cohn, DeCarlo, Fitzgerald, Highsmith, Jepsen, Lindstrom, Little, McDonald, Pixton, Smith, and Wysocki (2005) published a text called “The Declaration of Independence” in which they as project leaders claim that agility provided many benefits which could also benefit higher education, and their applications reach to post-secondary as well. They claim that agility leads to a constant stream of value; when too much emphasis is placed on the planning stage, value is lost at that front end. Second, agility delivers reliable results because the customers, in higher education's case, students and other stake-holders, are engaged in frequent interactions. If a new degree program spends two years being planned and approved, delaying the offering, students have no opportunity to have feedback; nor do faculty have the opportunity to better their courses or continue in their own lifelong learning through interaction with their students. Third, those who subscribe to agility expect uncertainty and are prepared to make the necessary changes. As the half-life of knowledge continues to accelerate downward and the world in which our students live continues to change, all programs and courses of study need to be able to evolve. Likewise, we as an institution also exist in a budgetary, regulatory, and economic environment in constant flux. As a result, an institution must be agile not only for itself but to benefit its students. Fourth, Anderson, et al., note: “We unleash creativity and innovation by recognizing that individuals are the ultimate source of value, and creating an environment where they can make a difference.” An agile graduate school supports its faculty in their endeavors and allows them the flexibility to better meet the needs of their students and to develop their own academic careers. Fifth, performance is boosted through group accountability; an agile organization quickly establishes teams and think tanks to complete tasks and to conceive new ones. It shuns committees as committees are designed to maintain a status quo (Clougherty 2007); in a rapidly changing world, status quo and change are no longer binary antitheses; the reply to such a statement need be “which status quo?” Finally, they argue that agility improves effectiveness and reliability. because each action can be adapted to meet specific needs and requires specific strategies and practices; more effective work can be done than an environment that assumes all should be followed equally.

In an environment which is open and agile work environment, all individuals have not only the right it participate, but the responsibility to. Julie Greenwald, Chairwoman and Chief Operating Officer of the Atlantic Records Group noted in an interview with the New York Times: “ I constantly talk about how we have to be vulnerable, and that it's not fair for some people in meetings to just sit or stand along he wall and not participate. If you're not going to participate, then that means you're just sponging off the rest of us” (Bryant 2011).

As an open university is decentralized into what John Kao calls a “decentralized cyber-nervous system” (node theory?) it depends on each node being active and participatory. Like the synapses of the brain, the strength of the brain/network comes not from the connections, but from their use. Thus, active participation of all is required.

This activity, however, must also generate results.  Dave Rodenbaugh (2010) summarizes Daniel Pink’s 2009 TED presentation when he notes that the “results-oriented work environment (ROWE)…focuses on three important ideas, which developers already love and embrace: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” (apply Wergin)  In defining mastery, Rodenbaugh defines it as where the individual “wants to get better at what they do.”

[1] Of course, Sun Tzu, in The Art of War (II.5) notes that “cleverness has never been associated with long delays.” (2003).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Crowd Accelerated Innovation (CAI)

One of the great advantages of open resources and public learning spaces is that it not only serves as an end point, but it also serves as a starting point.  The learning not only builds, but it builds quickly at a pace which accelerates over time.  This fits into a model of Crowd Accelerated Innovation.  Chris Anderson (2011), TED coordinator, introduced the concept of Crowd Accelerated Innovation (innovation which is sped up by community sharing), and notes how the use of internet video leads to an instantaneous sharing of best practice, ranging from dance companies to TED presentations. All innovation, according to Anderson, is the result of ideas being spawned from the ideas of others; he notes: “Crowd Accelerated Innovation isn't new. In one sense, it's the only kind of innovation there's ever been. What is new is that the Internet—and specifically online video—has cranked it up to a spectacular degree” (115).  Anderson argues that there are three factors which effect Crowd Accelerated Innovation: Crowd, Light, and Desire. These same factors, as Anderson defines them, all fit within the model of Active Learning, and they are homologous with the practices of an Open University.

A crowd, according to Anderson is simply a community; in the instance of an Open University, the learners—faculty, students, alumni, partners—form this community. In a broader sense, it is what Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) define as a community of practice: “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.[1]”  In short, what every class and learning community should be. 

Light is the visibility of the learning product where innovation can occur. In an Open University (similar to the references of Open Science), the public sharing of knowledge contributes to innovation and the advancement of the knowledge base within public discourse. The use of Open Educational Resources (as most Internet video is) and repositories (where a crowd can contribute) are major factors in light, and this same light, conversely, benefits the Open University as people know to turn to that University as a source of knowledge and innovation. The desire is that of recognition, as with any form of open learning or open source work, an individual seeks the opportunity to put their name forward to the innovation. This is true of any university and its community. The difference with an Open University is that it achieves these goals by being open rather than closed. The key to success of an Open University is participation, and participation is the key to success in an Open University.  The great model of openness has always been the development of Linux—the ultimate model not only of CAI, but of openness, agility, and all of the best practices which an open university seeks to emphasize.  The development of crowds also contributes to the institutions growth and evolution.  As Howard Gardner notes in 5 Minds of the Future (2008), the “wisdom of crowds” becomes a great source of creativity.

The desire is quite simply the motivation for entering a learning environment in the first place.

Crowd sourcing does, undoubtedly threaten the nature of traditional higher education.  As Cathy Davidson (2011) notes: “the fundamental principle of crowd sourcing is that difference and diversity—not expertise and uniformity—solve problems.”  In short, as she notes later in her work: “…the crowd is smarter than any individual.” 

[1] For an extended and brilliant discussion and definition of this concept, please see Wenger, McDermott and Snyder, pp.4-5.  While I would certainly hope you would read the entire book, if for some reason you cannot, these two pages are a MUST.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lifelong Learning

An open university is committed to lifelong learning in every way possible.  While nearly every institution proclaims a commitment to life-long learning, few have developed strategies.  As most institutions focus on providing degrees, the only opportunity for life-long learning is another degree, or in some instances, continuing education courses.  The issues which interfere, however, are governance structures which establish long processes for approval meaning that the most up to date proposal is dated by the time of approval, and as the half-life of knowledge is estimated to be 18 months in some instances (Siemens 2004); therefore, some programs are obsolete before approval.  Harold Williams (2002), president emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Trust, notes not only the dangers of faculty culture and its manifestation in governance, as an obstacle to change and development.  He further notes that he public university needs to “redefine its mission to include opportunities for lifelong learning through non-degree offerings as integral to its programs.”  There are ways in which many campuses try to connect with alumni, but these are few and far between and dealt with more as fund-raising events than lifelong learning.  Some offer continuing education, but not all courses offered through such are relevant to meet needs and some are specious—good continuing education programs built on academic substance are rare.  Some colleges offer incubators, but those are offered usually to increase funds only and not framed as lifelong learning, as either a continuing point or as an entry point.  Finally, the fixation on the academic course, and its termination at the end of a semester, becomes the antithesis of lifelong learning.  The very higher educational structures which claim a commitment to lifelong learning do not allow students to repeat course to update their knowledge; the fact that the student would have to repeat the payment as well, along with the belief that taking the course once is sufficient as the course does not update, all cause an end point.  A more effective strategy in technologically based learning, would be to allow the student to remain inside the course permanently.  That would allow the learner to become a lifelong learner in participating in new threads of discourse, gain updates as the course evolves, and current learners benefit from those who have previously taken the course and are now applying it (hence their reason for revisiting the course).  As opposed to increasing faculty workload, it would actually decrease faculty workload as the continuing participants would not require assessment and would provide facilitator support.  Another effective means of lifelong learning is George Siemens’ conception of the MOOC. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Thorp and Goldstein note: “Addressing complex problems requires diverse points of view, a deep level of practical implementation and openness to fundamental change.”  Open resources contribute to diversity in that they are created in smaller pieces than entire courses and may be compiled in multiple ways allowing an individual to create their own understanding, interpretation, and mediation of ideas.  The creation of diverse ideas is critical, Irish language poet Nuala ni Dhomnaill in the New York Times Book Review argued that linguistic diversity (and its resulting diversity of thought) is as important as bio-diversity (1995).   Similarly, T. S. Eliot argued that the very way in which pieces of knowledge are placed together create entirely different educations.  As he notes in his essay “The Perfect Critic”: “ the true generalization is not something superposed upon an accumulation of perceptions; the perceptions do not, in a really appreciative mind, accumulate as a mass, but form themselves as structure” (Eliot 1920).  

Diversity must be by culture, as culture defines the background an individual learner brings with them that they can apply to the intellectual material.  Diversity must also be by intellectual ideals, philosophies, ideologies, social class, aesthetic taste; in short, the diversity must make the university what it claims to be—a place where ideas can come together freely.  If a university is to teach civil and thoughtful discourse, it must model it.

The organizational architecture of an open university finds ways :to leverage the disparate knowledge assets of people who see the world quite differently and use tools and methods foreign to those we’re familiar with” (Chesbrough).  It is in this way that intellectual diversity is achieved.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


An open university is very careful to avoid what Ortega (1930) calls “The Barbarism of ‘Specialisation.’”  While a learner does need depth of learning in their specific discipline, they also need a wide breadth of knowledge, and an open university with its abilities to deliver in multiple modes and variability of faculty in alternative structures, can best deliver such.  Interdisciplinary study does not simply refer to offering general education courses. Interdisciplinary requires modeling interdisciplinary thinking at an institutional level.  It features courses team taught across disciplines as well as programs of study that cross lines and siloes.  This is not only an academic advantage, but in this millennium, a requirement. As John Kao (2007) notes in Innovation Nation, the world today faces “Wicked Problems.”  These are problems which require the thinking and approach of multiple disciplines.  An issue like world population is social, political, scientific, agricultural; in short, virtually every discipline has a place in confronting the challenge.  A student locked into one discipline may not be able to understand the relationships of complex solutions, or be able to participate in their development.  Multiple thinkers cited over the course of this work, ranging from Thorp and Goldstein, Kao and James Duderstadt (2002), all agree that the higher educational institution of this millenium must be interdisciplinary.

Werner Hirsch sees interdisciplinarity as being a key to higher education assuming its appropriate place in the world; however, they will have to take the appropriate actions and make the appropriate cultural modifications to make that happen.  He writes: “Universities will have to perfect new mechanisms, at times even to adjust their structures to become effective participants and even more pivotal key players.  Particularly they must provide incentives to facilitate and nourish creative collaboration in teaching and provide opportunities for cross-fertilization.  At the same time, they must create an understanding among their students of the merits and efficacy of an interdisciplinary education” (Hirsch 2002).  The State University of New York already has this mechanism in the form of Empire State College.  The college facilitates and nourishes creative collaboration in teaching.  The School for Graduate Studies, in its program development has focused specifically on cross fertilization by developing in regions of overlap to build on faculty strength, and then hiring into those cross-fertilized areas allowing a further step in development and evolution to build on those strengths and then to gradually expand and continue into new areas and follow new paths.
The interdisciplinarity which Hirsch addresses ties back to Kao’s ideas on wicked problems and innovation noted at the start of this section; Hirsch writes: “as challenges facing society become increasingly complex, multidimensional, and multi-faceted, education must stimulate horizontal, thematic thinking and exploration.  Emphasis on interdisciplinary curricula and research is thus in order.”  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Find the largest, most vicious Great White Shark that exists-you can even tell him that I said bad things about his family.  Regardless, I will gladly defend myself against this attack with nothing but my bare hands,…. as long as the encounter happens in a parking lot across the street from the beach. Ridiculous?  Very much so.  The ability of participants in any action should be determined not by their abilities in their indigenous environment, but in the environment of the encounter.

For the past week, my mail box has been filled with messages of concern which include forwarded articles about EdX—the new venture by Harvard and MIT to provide free online courses.  My comments here, however, are about environment , not about specie.  Sharks are beautiful creatures who dominate their indigenous environment.  Harvard and MIT are “beautiful” institutions who dominate their indigenous environment.  They do premier work (at a premier price); however, research institutions are vital to our world and make it possible for the remainder of higher education to be able to perform their missions.  However, the world also needs open institutions, and serving as a dean in an open institution, I welcome this venture and any institutions willing to support the effort to universally provide education.  To those of us working in the openness movement, EdX is not a threat but a resource.

I admire, respect, and appreciate what EdX is trying to do [except rhyming with TedX which feels cheesy].  This venture by two premiere institutions is a validation of the academic legitimacy of open education.  Those who for generations, or so it seems, now base their argument only on the fact that these institutions do not give credit or degrees for the work.   However, it reflects a greater irony—those institutions and individuals who most oppose open education usually cite the model of the research institution as the measure of all legitimacy.  Thus, the sad part is that the opposition by many to open education reflects a lack of confidence in themselves to validate and move into new untried circles of activity and new modalities.  Higher education is, as all of the literature now attests, is in deep trouble—deeper than any of us care to admit—the mold of the 18th century institution does not work in the 21st century.  The mold does not need to be modified or patched or shimmed, it needs to be broken, and we need to start from scratch.

Why then are “the masters of the mold” moving into this area?  Despite what some may argue, it does not make sense for these institutions to try to keep others out.  They really do not need to worry about someone competing with someone on their own level.  (They have no worries as it is inconceivable to think of the resources it would take not only to be able to compete with those two institutions but to remain competitive.)  It is more reasonable to assume that their motivation emerges from seeing the problems in the mold as it currently functions, and this action represents their way of contributing to improving higher education.  Harvard’s own Clayton Christensen, in his concept of disruption theory shows that it is the old stalwarts who dominate an industry.  However, these old stalwarts seem to be trying to do so.  Doing so is possible, as the history of IBM will attest to, when an organization is innovative, open and agile—in short, these actions represent the best of what a research institution does.

For those who are within open education and worry about the effect that this will have, you need not worry.  This is where environment comes in.  Other schools cannot compete with those stalwarts as stalwarts, but in the realm of openness, both for the environment as well as the nature of the business (open education and traditional education are as different as water and air), all things are equal and their dominance in the traditional sphere is no longer at play.

If we look at openness and its values, the emergence of EdX benefits on many fronts.  Just as the open movement is trying to unbundle higher ed, separating content from credit moves in that direction.  As open moves in new directions of certification such as badging, the idea of a certificate from these entities supports it.  If we accept that open is about collaboration rather than competition, then all collaborators should be welcome.  It is hard to write about openness (for me anyway) without invoking Sun Microsystem’s  “it’s not the computer; it’s the network.”  Open education is about the network of shared resources and EdX makes a great contribution to that network.  EdX is not a reason to fear but a reason to celebrate.

Welcome EdX, the entire open movement is bettered by your presence.  My only request is that you get a better name. 


Thursday, May 3, 2012


An entrepreneurial institution is a must.  If we look at the technology industry as a model where rapid shifts are happening, companies are at the top and gone in a matter of a few years.  The same thing is beginning in Higher Education where the rise of for profits willing to deliver in an open means that traditional institutions for the most part resisted, or where existing approval processes caused it to arrive late.  [see OPEN INNOVATION]  The major reason for this was explained by Sir John Daniel during the 2011 Boyer lecture when he noted that disruptive technologies rarely favor existing providers. An open university must be entrepreneurial in that it must remain one step ahead.  To do so, risk must be assumed [see OPEN LEADERSHIP]. 

An Open University must practice entrepreneurial science, which Thorp and Goldstein (2010) define as: “a high impact, problem-based approach to the world's biggest problems that produces measurable results in terms of public benefit.”  Most important about this definition is that it does not apply simply to research, but also includes developing needed programs to produce appropriately trained teachers or Health Care workers to meet emerging needs—especially new programs which can be developed quickly to meet the needs as they develop.

A great deal of this depends on the architecture of an organization.  As Chesbrough notes: “a valuable architecture not only reduces and resolves technical interdependencies, but also creates opportunities for others to contribute their expertise to the system being built.”  An open university must have an architecture which allows it to be entrepreneurial, as well as a leadership comprised of entrepreneurs.  The characteristics of an entrepreneur, according to Thorp and Goldstein, are:
  • ·         Willing to live with risk and uncertainty as the world they live in is uncertain;
  • ·         Not afraid to fail;
  • ·         Willing to venture outside of their comfort zone;
  • ·         Are lifelong learners;
  • ·         Willing to “make it up as they go along;” and
  • ·         Comfortable with ambiguity.

While the future of higher education in general faces the challenge of developing such a leadership, but while traditional higher education is designed to resist ambiguity and change, an open university is designed to embrace and build upon it.  The current Empire State College fits within this framework, in embracing the principles of entrepreneurship.