Stacey Simmons

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Unify universities into networks that take advantage of each other's expertise.

Universities can no longer be universal. We must instead eliminate the competition between colleges and universities and instead create collaborative systems that allow for sharing across institutional lines. Let students choose, and let schools recognize their peers. What instead has happened is that empire building happens in the development of great institutions, but there are far too many specialties for a single institution to be able to contain specialists in every domain. So instead we must collaborate across institutional lines in teaching these specialties without having to require students to move around the country to study a specialty that they only THINK they might be good at or adapt to.

How do we take the idea of an Open Education and give credit for it? An open education is wonderful, but it is not YET possible to act as a democratizing force, because the system still respects a degree above experience, unless the experience is extraordinary.

It is possible, but it is so difficult to become extraordinary unless you are associated with an extraordinary place. This geospatial hegemony is unfair. Some people don't want to, or cannot leave where they are, they should not be kept from participating in creative, intensive study, learning, and productivity.

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    Oct 12 2011: that will happen very soon , in maybe a decade or two. Education is delivering information in a structured and organized way. So there is info , delivering it , and the Access to it.

    Up until now to have access to info being delivered at Harvard or MIT you had to Physically attend , but now iTunes U is just the tip of the iceberg.

    If we go to a restaurant and they don't serve what we we want at that day we would simply eat something else. why ? we should physically have access and we don't.

    But in a digital world there are no limits like that, of all those Photo Editing softwares why Photoshop is the most dominant, because we have access to all of them and we humans when we have the possibility we just choose the best one, not even the second best , THE BEST. Looking at the web , our Search engine is GOOGLE , Social Networking is FACEBOOK , Library is AMAZON , video center is YOUTUBE and... for any of those we mostly use just one.

    In the future the same will be true about everything else and not just universities, the world would Push us to get better and better at just one thing and be the best at it, We would need to be better SPECIALISTS , even more than we already are.

    About two years ago I wanted to take an online intro course for Psychology and Philosophy, I went on iTunes U and searched and watch like two or three courses from different Universities , For Psychology I got Paul Bloom's videos from YALE and Philosophy from Oxford , simply because I liked their videos more than others.

    It is gonna be the same for every learning center and training source all over the world.
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      Oct 21 2011: Amir I like what you have to say. I also think it draws attention to one of the pitfalls of this discussion. As we move forward in our technology access to information becomes easier and easier. As you discussed we as humans always choose the best option if the opportunity presents itself and the cost is comparative. The internet is a prime example of this- the costs for using Google and other search engines are the same, and the quality of the product has made Google the champion. When we apply this analogy to the concept of universalizing institutes of higher learning we see a dilemma, however. If access to education was achievable through the same cost or difficulty- all humans will choose the best option. Does this mean that the quality of all institutions will rise to the level of the highest performer? Or does this mean that all institutions will be surpassed by one great standard- as we see with Google, Facebook, and Amazon?
      If the key to this universalization is reducing the challenge of access and homologizing the faculties, than I believe we would destroy competition which is one of the great catalysts of creativity, ingenuity, and a hallmark of academia.
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        Oct 21 2011: Good points, both of you. One thing I've also found in my research that may be important to note: usability. I'm shocked in working with faculty how often a lack of this stands in the way of what we know to be good teaching. The technology cannot just be cheap and also has to be simple.
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          Oct 21 2011: Amy , simplicity and practicality are the key things that if we don't have them in the educational system most of the times what we say would be forgotten in a matter of weeks if not sooner.

          Apple got the world with Simplicity, Usability, and Beauty. People would flock to something that has all of those in one place.
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        Oct 21 2011: Timothy , you pointed out something so profound .

        The heart of soul of human progress is Competition, without competition we are going to do something over and over and won't change it or at least won't revolutionize it, Google, Amazon and Facebook have dominated the web and at this point it is almost impossible to have a website that can compete with them, even Microsoft could not do that, let alone someone independent.

        As you said without competition Creativity and ingenuity would fall, and this is the dark side of universal access.
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      Oct 27 2011: I hope so! That's why we created Omnicademy!
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        Oct 28 2011: You know there was a time that we went to see a movie just for one great sequence. Not anymore, Now a days a movie should be great from beginning to end.

        Universities used to attract a lot of Students just by having a famous Professor, again , Not anymore, to attract students everyone of your Professors should be great.

        I don't know if that makes sense but we have became more choosy and we do have the access, so why not ?
  • Oct 19 2011: This idea is an Utopia but I agree we should follow this way.
    On the other side there is the current view of the world ( the business of education, power of knowledge . . .and so on): we have to keep into account that in many places of the world is not still possible to access the internet without restrictions . . .
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      Oct 21 2011: Access is a very important point, Fulvio. I'm glad you mention it. Much of the world is still cut off and I'm curious to see how long it will take to provide this to everyone. It's important to note, though, that access doesn't necessarily equal use and use doesn't necessarily mean effective use. These are all steps that these corners of the world have to go through (just as we did) in order to be fully caught up.
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    Oct 7 2011: Here is Europe we've implemented "Plan Bolonya": [The Bologna Plan was born from the Bologna Declaration, an agreement signed in 1999, in the Italian city, by the Ministers of Education of the members of the European Union. The main goal of this Plan is to form the Superior Education European Space, which should be effective by 2010; ]

    It's not exactly what you are saying, which is a great idea by the way. But it's an important step towards improvement of higher education.
  • Oct 27 2011: The money factors will try to prevent it. The new communication and increased availability of complex tools will promote it.
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    Oct 21 2011: Fantastic question! As an instructional designer, a few of us in the St. Louis area in the U.S. have attempted the very idea you propose. STLIDT (St. Louis area Instructional Designers and Technologists) was formed by just a few of us who knew that we had limited abilities and resources in our institutions as long as we lived in isolation. In a few short months, we have grown to 35 members across almost every higher education environment in the area. We have a listserv, a shared google collaborative space and we meet physically each quarter to get back in touch and share ideas in an informal setting.

    Already we are finding solutions to problems that would have taken months or perhaps years to solve on our own. This is a growing specialty and even those of us interested in developing programs to train others can find a massive network of skilled talent to aid those with a desire to enter the field. I am curious to see if this type of collaborative effort takes place at different levels of the university.
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      Oct 27 2011: Amy, I'm dying to know more!!! What has been your most important finding working together? What do you need most? How do you find the students' and faculty's experiences to be??? Please let me know if I can be of any service to your working group. I'm so impressed that you guys have come together, it's so rare in this environment! YAYAYAY!
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    Oct 16 2011: As a Sophmore in high school, I hope this happens very soon.Although I'm doubtful that it will happen THAT soon, I can keep my hopes up
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      Oct 21 2011: Stay hopeful, Nathan. And keep in mind that you need to stay part of the conversation...don't let anyone tell you that voice doesn't have as much weight (sophomore or not)
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    Oct 10 2011: It is a great idea Stacy! I think that there are two functions of an educational institution. 1. teach and educate; 2. evaluate and certify. Since everyone has to survive, evaluation and certification happens on the curriculum offered by the same institution with some level of standardization.

    In my opinion, education has to happen first so if there is a database of universities, their courses and open access to online material, at least people will be able to learn if not certified. As a business model, universities can still charge full amount of the course for certification.

    I have worked at a global scale collaboration project and the biggest barrier I found in the way of knowledge sharing is the fear of losing the edge or competitive advantage. If this can be addressed in a model, people can become more open towards knowledge sharing.

    Your story seems to be very interesting. How are you finding your experience so far? How many universities and educational institutions are signed up to share their courses on your site? What is working and not working for you?
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      Oct 21 2011: You know, Hassan, I've been working in higher ed for some time and although I've understood the functions you mention I've never seen it communicated so succinctly. We so often forget part 2. Because this is such an important function, it's what will (in my opinion) prevent the predicted end of the university I keep hearing about from certain bloggers. It's also what makes it so valuable to employers. Finding a way to make our institutions more open but also maintaining those high standards will be the challenge.
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      Oct 27 2011: Universities are hard to motivate. They like the way things are done now, and many expect to be able to grow in order to meet the current demands of students. However, they currently grow with little cutting back of old programs that no longer are as competitive or necessary. This is in many ways not a bad thing- for example nuclear engineering has gone away on many campuses, but now there is increased demand- so had it been entirely market driven, it would be gone entirely. There needs to be a middle ground- where things don't go away entirely, but they're scalable when they need to be.
  • Oct 9 2011: Hi Ed,

    re: open credential system

    Standardization has the strange side-effect of standardizing the lowest common factors.

    If we see education as an enabling mechanism for the future prosperity of a nation, standardizing education is the worse possible way. One of the issues of current education systems in most developed countries is too much standards and tests. The reaction to tests and examinations is to teach to do tests and exams. That's how creativity and thinking skills are killed in school.

    I watched the documentary The Finland Phenomenon last year. It is worth the time of watching.
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    Oct 8 2011: In terms of collaboration across universities, I believe that scholars in most disciplines are engaged in frequent interaction with colleagues in their domains at other universities across the world. Collaborations take place in explicit ways, and those in a particular field gather at conferences on every, or almost every, continent.In some fields, thousands of researchers from the world over converge in summer to work even in the same facility, like the Large Hadron collider at CERN. In fact, the official collaborations there include hundreds of institutions with massive file sharing. Others here have commented on MIT's open courseware, which provides near universal access to course materials. There are other such compilations as well, focused, for example, on the needs of countries in the developing world. There is no degree associated with these.Then there is Harvard University extension, through which anyone anywhere with internet access can get a liberal arts degree. Students on almost every continent pursue this.
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      Oct 27 2011: And it's so important, we should be trying to figure out how to grow those experiences! How would you do it?
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        Oct 28 2011: Grow them relative to what? How they are growing already? These collaborative endeavors and online opportunities are growing. They are to the advantage of universities and scholars in them, they know it, and they are growing them.
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    Oct 7 2011: I like what you say Stacey. You are competing though against that inherent quality that both builds and destroys. Competition itself. Where there's a will there's a way - i believe you will find it.
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      Oct 27 2011: Thanks!! Encouragement is welcome and appreciated! :-)
  • Oct 7 2011: Hi Stacey,

    I jumped to Omnicademy and clicked on your photo. WoW, you are only 11 and have achieved so much. :-)

    My understanding of MIT OCW model is to release the lecturers and allow anyone anywhere free personal use. But to get a degree, MIT degree in particular, one has to have studied at MIT (I don't know if anyone can take MIT course as a distance). That's their business model. I think most university will have some model like that in order to survive.

    Collaboration is good as an ideal, but business decision will mean real collaboration is few, far in between and difficult to get management approval. A second class university would love to collaborate with first class universities, but not vice versa.

    However, I deeply believe that the current education system in developed countries are broken - from secondary to university. When information is just clicks away and search is ubiquitous, a model based on passing on knowledge is out-of-date.

    We must recognize the roles university play, (1) as a gate to sort people, (2) as information keeper and (3) creating new knowledge. An open university (base on distance learning techniques) can serve (1) more broadly and fairer. Function (2) has long gone. At the moment (3) is distinguishing factor of the rating of universities and it won't change for a while.

    While I admire your ideal, my experience told me that there is a long and hard road ahead.
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      Oct 9 2011: RE: gate to sort people - functionally this is done by credentialing some, rejecting others. What we truly need as a corollary to your idea, Stacey, is an open credentialing system. Every degree needs to be standardized, and what it takes to acquire must be testable (a la CLEP). Perhaps the US Department of Education could underwrite such a project.
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        Oct 27 2011: Hi Ed, I would love to figure out how to do that. I agree, a credentialing system would be great. Our system allows the colleges and universities to accent their peers- selling downstream and collaborating in parallel. Please tell me more of what you're thinking, I'd love to hear more.
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      Oct 27 2011: Albert, it is difficult. But the outcome of a university experience is sorting, not the goal. Credentials, education, workforce development, original research, these are all important. However, the esoteric knowledge needs to be kept in a university because we can't know when we will have need of it. The problem is that the workforce and original research areas need to be duplicated, while the esoterica needs to be maintained until it needs to be exploited. Universities can't afford to be universal.
      • Oct 28 2011: Confucius's idea of education is not passing on knowledge nor enhancing career opportunities. It is about the development of personal character and potential. I think he was right 2500 years ago and is still valid.

        We are transitioning into an information era (some may argue we are at the information era already) - where information are just clicks away. The frontier of knowledge is hard work and today's first degree hardly equip anyone to do any of that sort. Research institute is definitely needed for any country to remain competitive. For those aspired to do frontier work in knowledge, there is a long road ahead.

        For most people, we want a good life. A decent job and a decent reward, to live in peace, without hunger and a shelter. Does a university qualification lead to that? It used to be, but I think it is more and more likely that a university qualification cannot.

        That said, can a common people do some original work? Definitely, but...

        I think R&D should stand for "repeat and duplicate". The first step for innovation is to understand the current frontier and be able to do what those at cutting edge can do. That's the "repeat and duplicate" part. Only after one can repeat and duplicate, one can embark on improving the process, the theory and/or methodology. That's the cutting edge.

        There are areas in which the cutting edge are very costly and need to be well funded. Universities and research institutes are places for that to happen. Other cutting edge can be low cost, like theoretical physics - you just need a piece of paper, a pencil and good books. In these cases, are the cutting edge still clicks away?

        - to be continued
      • Oct 28 2011: Traditionally, university took a dual role - as knowledge keeper (and developer) and dissemination of knowledge. The side effect is of course the award of degrees and hence has been co-opted as a gate-keeper and sorting of people.

        In a world of increasing automation, repetitive work is decreasing at alarming rate. Automation means reliable repeat of work. If the work requires low skill level, they tend to be out-sourced to area of the world where living standards are lower. For citizens in developed world, if we want to maintain living standard, we *have* to engage in cutting-edge knowledge development, trouble-shooting and/or high-value work. What are these? That may be the billion dollar question the answer of which every politician is looking for.

        In my ideal world, there should be no intellectual property right. (I should have patented my surname - that would make me rich!) Knowledge is openly shared, tested, modified, improved and shared back. Universities and research institutes are tasked to continue to work on costly cutting edge work. Knowledge dissemination can be automated (through OCW initiatives etc) and people's qualifications are obtained via criteria-based public testing.

        In the above discussion, I have missed one of the MOST important value one can get from an on-campus education - the building of human network, of like-minded people with similar skill set.
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        Oct 29 2011: Stacey ,in the Jesuit system, we have from elementry school to post-doctoral studies, going trough all levels in the aboriginal structures in every country that we are present. The university has a peculiar history and the "esoteric" content is well keeped as a seed. Remember that we start when Saint Ignatius begin to teach children in Rome (in the very same place when years latter the Colegio Romano was builted). We took the energy from Trivium & Quadrivium and we transform in the Ratio. This transformation was possible by the jesuit original approach to education: MAGIS...this word means the better, the great, (mag=magnificent and excellent) and for us mean also transformation (not change) magister= magis=magic..In the Jesuit universities, we almost are universal.
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    Oct 6 2011: YES! Bring on the learning revolution. :) I totally share your vision of the idea but I'd like to start with more exchange programs or just more interaction between institutions at all. Collaboration of scientists always gave birth to great results.
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      Oct 27 2011: I'm there with you!!!~ I want to do more- and I agree that more collaboration will always statistically improve chances of success.
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      Oct 29 2011: Learning Revolution....??????
      Educative Evolution.....????
      Formative Intervolution.....????

      Plain people colaboration with common sense could help.


      We have to review our point of view. Not all in life and education is "success".
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        Oct 31 2011: That's just us thinking aloud. :) Of course, you're entitled to your own opinion. I agree though that not all in education and life is success.
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          Nov 1 2011: Silvia we have to redesign the education toward a sensible procces to interdimensional translation nets. The universities are just the knots of the net. The main thing is the connections between. Stacey is right, absolutely right.
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    Oct 28 2011: It's always good to understand what works so that one is not reinventing the wheel. I'd love to learn more about the procedures and practices that make it work. Thank you so much!
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    Oct 28 2011: It's pretty incredible when you think about it...10 years ago such a collaboration would have been unlikely if not altogether impossible. Our most important finding so far has been that we seem most effective when we are able to stay engaged and involved in the group. Our challenge is that we all have demanding jobs that get busy and then slow down at varying times during the year. The face to face meetings seem to bring everyone back together to re-focus.

    Our latest project, which I'm VERY excited about, is a local webinar series for faculty and staff. Each of us in the group selects a series of trainings or panel discussions to moderate and faculty/staff in any participating institution are welcome to join. This will, I think, be particularly beneficial for small institutions like ours. For example, it's not hard for me to get a large group to discuss our learning management software, which is widely used. For some of the more obscure research technologies, though, there aren't enough participants with the interest or expertise to contribute (one of the classic disadvantages of a small school).

    However, there are several other very large institutions in this group with many faculty that would be interested. In a way, we're not only collaborating as instructional designers across campuses, but we're (albeit in a somewhat sneaky way) connecting researchers in the area with particular interests through events like these. This is in the planning stages, but I'll definitely keep this conversation in mind if we ever need expertise. Thanks for the offer, Stacey.
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    Oct 28 2011: Jaime, Yes!!! Thank you for bringing it up! I frequently discuss the Jesuit universities and their success when I speak to groups or state systems. Do all of the universities though agree to accept the credit from all of the others? If so, how do they handle a course when it is not on the books of that individual institution?
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      Oct 28 2011: Stacey, among us in the Jesuit Universities we dont have that problem. Beyond the natural differences between lenguages and cultures, we have our own net in ciberspace. Our libraries are in net too, so we can consult a single book from Mexico in the intercredit subsistem we recognize all our grades and evaluations from our own universities. If the credits come from others we apllied a test. Also jesuits recognize the similarities in diffrences. In chinese, polish, spanish or english the main concept remain untouched. I believe in flexibility. Al least we practice flexibility since the xvi century. And works.¡¡¡
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    Oct 28 2011: Stacey, this idea is not new....we do since almost five centuries ago in the Jesuit Universities around the world.
    We have the biggest and wide universities sistem in all the world. And it works¡¡¡¡
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    Oct 28 2011: But how would anyone make any money from that? It's a great idea and I'd love to see it happen, but I doubt it would ever happen in America. Education is big money here, and, like everything else, is made worse by the meddling of the merchant class.
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    Oct 28 2011: I agree with you on building the human network. I don't think we should ever expect that education on the whole ever should exist without the campus experience. But I think it is as important for education to operate in the world where we communicate now.
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    Oct 28 2011: But conferences and academic meetings are very challenging for students to get exposure to. I hope to help facilitate professors collaborating in teaching in the same way they collaborate in research. What are your thoughts in expanding access?
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    Oct 27 2011: I can certainly see the internet acting like a shredder to today’s educational system. It has the ability to rip it apart, keep the best pieces and put it back together in a manner that will benefit a lot of people. Unfortunately once the people in power of the colleges see a threat they will try to clamp down and that is how dictatorships are born. I see today’s schools slow to adapt, teaching outdated models, not keeping up with current research on education and education reform, etc

    I can foresee one major change that would speed this process up and that is some kind of outside accreditation or experience factor. I believe a lot of companies look for a BA or a Masters or whatever because it does give them a gauge, but if there were to be another factor that held some weight then the changes might occur faster. I am currently looking at WGU for my daughter and/or myself. It is completely online and is competency based. You do not pass until you prove you can do the work. My understanding is that employers are beginning to like this since they know that the graduate carries a BA based on skill, not just being able to show up to class and do extra credit to pass.
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    Oct 27 2011: There is still the lingering consumer suspicion that "free" can't be as good as something you pay for.

    The internet is forcing change everywhere (see music industry,Yay!) but with Universities, they are as much about the cash as anything else in this day and age. This is what will prevent true collaboration (in the near future, at least).

    Also, the internet is a powerful tool but increasingly, I would say we are not living in the Information Age.

    More accurate to call it the "Propaganda Age" or the "Opinion Age".

    Real, practical and highly specialised "information" is still kept close to the chests of the owners.
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      Oct 27 2011: I don't see free as the model. I see royalties as the way to keep everyone honest about the credit and expense of teaching.
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    Oct 25 2011: I wish something like this has been available when I went to college and grad school. I didn't necessarily want to go to the schools I went to, but they were what I could afford and they were close (saving money on room and board). If the opportunity to 'take' courses from other universitys while onsite at the school I attended, I know many would have taken part.

    With the internet, iTunesU, online universities, etc. there is no reason schools cannot monitor students taking courses from other schools. If you transfer from one school to another, the credits follow. Why not an online version?

    More schools should look into this - courses they could never hope to provide because of costs/personnel/etc. could be offered to students who might otherwise go elsewhere. The costs of the courses could be split between the schools. Yes, more paperwork, but what a wonderful opportunity for the students!
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    Oct 21 2011: Hi Stacey, Really thank you about your idea and the world will thank you about this idea.
  • Oct 10 2011: Hi nice to meet you
  • Oct 7 2011: One of the main reasons that an open education will be difficult is that universities are, not only there to educate, but to also make money. That is the main barrier. The expertise of the professors and the prestige of the university that develops, as a result, are what allows them to attract more students to increase profits. It's like sharing trade secrets that give them a competitive edge. Once it's out there, it'll drive business down.

    I'm not saying that this wouldn't be a great thing for all of us, I just don't see it happening that easily in capitalist countries.
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      Oct 27 2011: But public universities in particular need to find ways to increase revenue- and they're not built for it. Their systems and administrative procedures are built to process (primarily) public dollars. As the public dollars go away, (from 71% of overall budget to 26% since 1991 on average), there is nothing there to take it's place except tuition dollars, and the gap is getting too big, too fast for families and students.
  • Oct 7 2011: I like the idea, but we need to evolve there, not jump just yet. Before going too far, you should check out the MIT model for on-line training. Here is the link:

    Some issues that need to be resolved:
    1) Labs and learning that requires hands on training with supervision.
    2) The best researcher, the best lecturer, the most interesting subject matter will all be very subjective and constantly debated subjects.
    3)The curriculum for a degree, the order courses are taken, and the requirements for grades will all be very debated topics.
    4) Students who learn best from live lectures with real time question feedback will be penalized.
    5) The group discussions and learning that takes place on campuses would be replaced by blogs, and a more isolated and independent learning experience. However, some jobs demand customer interface which is skill that should be part of degrees targeting these job areas.
    6) The college and university teaching industry is a big industry. Teach is a way researchers can stay in touch with core subject material and learn from students.

    I like the idea of an on-line University, and it is coming in the future, but I think getting there will be a slow evolution as these and several other questions get resolved. Right now, i see it as a great way to supplement existing programs with special lectures by experts (Like on TED) that provide depth to subject matter while the overall learning process is still guided by trained professional instructor.
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      Oct 27 2011: We're changing so much though. I think different skills emerge as jobs and technology change. Handwriting used to be a significant skill necessary for participating in the economy, it's not anymore. Same thing with horsemanship 150 years ago. Those skills are no longer required to do business and make a living in the 21st century. I highly recommend Michael Wesch's work as a way to provoke more discussion.
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    Oct 6 2011: Hi James, very interesting story of your experience! Yes, education should be about more than sitting in a classroom, or standing up lecturing. I look forward to hearing how you expand your journey, and I am hopeful that I can help with my platform, Omnicademy.
  • Oct 6 2011: Hi Stacey
    What a great idea, with video conferencing it could even be worldwide. I'm employed by experience but wish I could go to school to get a degree. I can't because I take care of my mom and will be here to do that until she is no longer here. I have had schizophrenia for over 30 years now and that's my experience, I teach doctors, residents, med students and psychology students about the recovery model as opposed to the medical model. It would be great if I could to school to be a collegue instead of a teacher. But for now this will have to work and it's not a bad way to make a living, the position required either a lived experience or a degree so I'm one of the lucky ones who got in on experience. I never did finish high school because of my illness but would love to learn the way you speak of. Take care.