Globalizing MOOCs

Link here for an Inside Higher Ed version of the same article.

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After nearly 12 years living in the United States, I continue to be perplexed by this country. As I noted when acting as a respondent to Anya Kamenetz at ED Talks Wisconsin last Friday night, the US is an amazing place when it it comes to unleashing and scaling up a multiplicity of innovations related to higher education. Kamenetz’s recent books capture many of these innovations; a veritable cacophony of experiments, some successful, some still with us, and some quickly dated (is anyone still talking about Second Life?!). This said, the US has a troubling history of seeking easy ‘silver bullet’ solutions to complex higher ed challenges that can only be addressed by the state and other stakeholders (including universities) in a strategic, systemic, and sustained way.

Back on the ed innovation topic, as an economic geographer it is mandatory of me to point out that all innovations are placed; they’re dreamt up, variably fueled, and then scaled up such that they can potentially leave their mark on multiple locales and/or larger numbers of people. The unruly process of innovation, being what it is, means that innovations are translated – the take-up/utilization process, the interpretation process, and the impact generation process, vary across space and time via the translation process.

A case in point is the phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). While we can argue about important histories and practices, we do know that the first online MOOC was dreamt up and run in Canada (see ‘What is a MOOC? 100k people want to know‘ and ‘All about MOOCs‘) courtesy of some innovative scholars, state-run funding councils (the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the National Research Council), and the facilitative work of two universities (the University of Manitoba and the University of Prince Edward Island).

It’s also worth noting that three of these scholars (Dave Cormier, George Siemens, and Bonnie Stewart) are co-authoring a book length manuscript about MOOCs. I’m thrilled that some reflective practitioners are crafting a book that uses MOOCs as a lens through which to make sense of the transformation of higher education. The narration of the early history of MOOCs is also an important activity as the scale of hype needs to be matched by quality analyses that factor in a wide array of developmental dynamics. See, for example, this informative talk in February 2013 by George Siemens:

Link here for a copy of his slides.

Keep an eye on the websites and Twitter feeds below, too, for insights and a range of reactions as the formative thinkers behind the MOOC phenomenon react with a mix of fascination and horror to what is unfolding right now.

MOOC.CA

Dave Cormier

Stephen Downes

George Siemens

Bonnie Stewart

While there is a lot of attention to the role of key disciplines (especially computer science), universities (Stanford, MIT, Harvard) and key city-regions (Silicon Valley, Boston) in the subsequent creation of the MOOC juggernaut we’re so intensively debating, it is also worth reflecting upon the way the idea of the MOOC has been taken up and interpreted outside of North America.

As noted in an earlier entry (‘Are MOOCs becoming mechanisms for international competition in global higher ed?‘), MOOCs are generating some serious attention and concern in other parts of the world. This has led an increasingly large number of non-US universities to tie up with platforms like Coursera and edX as was evident when they expanded a few weeks ago (see ‘Twice as Many MOOCs‘). Meanwhile, the UK has launched its own MOOC (Futurelearn), the University of Amsterdam is experimenting with its own MOOC, and a Berlin-based platform known as iversity has “relaunched” as a MOOC platform with an eye to “becoming the Coursera Of Europe.” Thus while we see the UK’s Futurelearn driven by the state (and public universities), this nascent ‘European’ platform is being driven ideas and capital associated with a German think tank and investors including “BFB Frühphasenfonds Brandenburg, bmp media investors AG and the Business Angel Masoud Kamali.”

On the other side of the world, the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade), though largely via its Washington DC-based office, has been tracking this phenomenon and recently published a report (‘More than MOOCS: Opportunities arising from disruptive technologies in education’) on MOOCs from an Australian perspective. Unfortunately the Austrade report cannot be publicly circulated which is unfortunate given the ostensibly ‘open’ nature of the phenomenon. In contrast the European University Association (EUA) has been happy to encourage the circulation of its early views on MOOCs via this February 2013 report. It is is worth noting that the EUA has launched a taskforce to consider this phenomenon in a more strategic sense.

All of the above, and many things I have not flagged, act as food for fodder for the MOOC I am just starting to develop with my colleague and GlobalHigherEd co-editor, Susan Robertson. The course is titled Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’ and it starts in January 2014. As we note on the course site:

Universities, and higher education systems worldwide, are being transformed by new or changing practices, programs, policies, and agendas. From notions of ‘global competency’ and the ‘global engineer,’ through to ever more common perceptions that international collaborative research is a desirable objective, through to the phenomena of bibliometrics, rankings and benchmarking that work at a global scale, contexts are changing.

This course is designed to help students better understand the complex and rapidly changing nature of higher education and research in a globalizing era. A complementary objective is to experiment with the MOOC platform and assess how well it works to support international collaborative teaching and service.

While we have not yet developed a detailed syllabus, it is clear that we we’ll be including one class on the long history of distance education, in which we’ll assessing MOOCs and their developmental dynamics. With some effort, and creative thinking, we hope to stretch the Coursera platform along the way so that it incorporates some of the more connectivist agendas built into the first MOOCs. Indeed this already happened in small but important way. To cut a long story short, the launch process involved providing a variety of forms of information about the course and the instructors to the CA-based firm. Coursera, however, signs contracts with individual universities and courses are listed by university name or subject. On launch day (20 February 2013) the platform implied Susan was a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor. After several hours of work Coursera’s engineers were eventually able to reconfigure the platform to recognize multi-institutional affiliations: this was not a surface edit of their website for an element of the entire platform had to be redesigned. While our course is still badged as a UW-Madison one (the University of Bristol is not affiliated with Coursera), this is, perhaps, a tiny step on the path to creating more effective and open international collaborative platforms for teaching, advising, and public service.

Kris Olds

Unpacking the ‘flexibility’ mantra in US higher education

‘Flexibility’ is genuinely slippery concept, one that provides some sense of coherence with vagueness. It is also a concept that is a resource to be used in the pursuit of power.

I’m most familiar with the concept of flexibility in relationship to the changing nature of production systems. There has been a long debate in Economic Geography, for example, about phenomena like ‘flexible specialization’ and ‘flexible accumulation’. These interrelated concepts have helped scholars and industry analysts make sense of how production systems are evolving to cope with increasingly levels of competitive pressure, the emergence of global value chains, new forms of territorial development, and so on.

The concept of flexibility was also used, in abundance, when I lived and taught in Asia until 2001. It was frequently used in association with the corporatization (aka autonomy) agendas occurring at the same time as Asian higher education systems and institutions (HEIs) were expanding. Since then numerous systems of higher education (including Singapore, Malaysia, China) have seen expansion going hand in hand with rapid increases in funding, along with enhanced flexibility with respect to governance. Implementation problems exist, of course, and autonomy and flexibility mean different things to different people, but this was and still is the broad tenor of change.

It’s surely a sign of the times in America that we have also seen an expansion of the use of the concept of flexibility, though linked not to increased levels of funding, but to striking budget cuts. Given this, the concept of flexibility needs to be interrogated. This entry does that, though only in a very exploratory manner.

As noted above, flexibility is emerging as a keyword in some ongoing higher education debates in the US. For example, it is frequently used in in association with the ‘Charter University’ agenda in several states (e.g., Ohio). Closer to home (for me), flexibility was a mantra in deliberations and communications about the proposed ‘New Badger Partnership‘ (NBP) initiative put forward by the recently departed Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Carolyn ‘Biddy’ Martin) as well as the University of Wisconsin System alternative known as the ‘Wisconsin Idea Partnership‘ (WIP). If realized, the NBP would have led to the separation of UW-Madison from the UW System, along with numerous flexibilities and enhanced autonomy (from the System & the State). See here for an April 2011 summary of key elements of the NBP (vs the WIP), including proposed ‘flexibilities’ with respect to:

  • Budgeting
  • Tuition/Pricing
  • Human Resources
  • Capital Planning/Construction
  • Financial Management
  • Purchasing/Procurement
  • Governance
  • Accountability

In the end, the NBP was not supported by the State Government due to a complicated array of political factors, as well as a problematic planning process that generated ineffectual support on our campus.

Now, while the NBP is unlikely to be resurrected, some elements of it have been incorporated into the unfolding governance agendas reshaping both the future of the UW System and UW-Madison itself.  A state-appointed “Special Task Force on UW Restructuring and Operational Flexibilities” was recently established to consider the future of the UW System (it will report back by January 2013).

Given the debates about the NBP to date, and the announcement of even more budget cuts last week, it is inevitable that the  ‘flexibility’ mantra will continue to exist. Indeed last week we witnessed one Wisconsin politician (Alberta Darling) state that:

[U]niversities could use budget flexibilities passed by lawmakers in June as part of the budget. “It’s not going to be easy, but it can work out,” Darling said.

But what is the full meaning and significance of flexibility with respect to higher education? I’m not 100% sure, to be honest, but what I have noted is that there is more missing from the debate about ‘flexibility as solution’ than there is present. In short, there is a surprising absence of information about what flexibility is and can be defined as, what it can help achieve, and what its costs and limitations are.

There is also an absence of discussion about the long-term implications of relying on ‘flexibility’ to play a significant role in resolving what are in reality structural problems including the steady decline of state support for higher education, as well as the absence of a compact about optimal and necessary levels of support for public higher education. In other words the flexibility debate is a problematically truncated one.

In the interest of helping myself sort things out, I’ve put together a few thoughts and questions about flexibility. Please feel free to disagree with them, and/or add more to the list:

  • Flexibility as legitimacy vehicle: The discourse of ‘flexibility’ masks the scale of budget cuts by tying painful cuts to a hoped-for (and unbudgeted, see below) mediating factor. The chance of new flexibilities generating enough savings or new revenue streams to significantly cover the costs of proposed and actual budget cuts cannot be anything but marginal. The language of new forms of flexibility can let politicians off the hook in that they do not need to accept, in public and in private, responsibility for the full scale of the cuts they themselves are proposing.
  • Flexibility as reward: US politicians seem to be putting forth new flexibilities as a defacto reward of sorts if HEIs accept deep budget reductions. But why were these flexibilities held back for such a long time, including by politicians (Democrats as well as Republicans) who are ideologically predisposed to a constrained role for the state in the development process? And are these rewards indeed rewards for all? For example, flexibility on tuition can generate enhanced costs for students, or flexibility on governance can weaken the ability of some key stakeholders to participate in governance.
  • Flexibility as a means to enhanced governance: The offer of flexibility usually comes in association with significant budget cuts and new found demands regarding ‘accountability,’ ‘efficiency’, ‘transparency,’ and the like.  In most cases enhanced flexibilities come with enhanced forms of governance by Government, not less. These forms of governance can entail an attempt to reshape curricula, course offerings, program funding, faculty practices, etc. Agreements about some forms of flexibility have the capacity to enable Government to burrow more deeply, not less, into what happens within higher education institutions. The irony is that there is no correlation between declining levels of public funding and the desire to govern public HEIs.
  • Flexibility unbudgeted: Flexibilities are often put forward as a key solution to coping with budget cuts, but the potential cost savings associated with proposed changes are rarely (if ever) modeled in detail, nor in a transparent manner. This is arguably a politically-based ‘wish and a prayer’ approach to strategic planning.
  • Flexibility costs vis a vis implementation capabilities: The provision of many forms of flexibility involves shifts in the nature of governance, not its erasure. The recalibration process — pushing responsibilities up, or down (which is usually the case) — puts additional demands on the other units and officials. It is important to determine if these HEIs and officials have the capabilities to take on new responsibilities. If flexibility is distributed more widely, downwards, is there a ripple effect generated such that multiple units are now responsible versus the one before? Are proposed flexibilities more or less costly (in terms of labor costs) to implement in aggregate (e.g., across the campuses of a system)?
  • Flexibility’s power geometries: the application of ‘flexibilities’ in most institutional contexts involves the realignment of power relations at a state-HEI scale, and at an intra-institutional scale, with a planned breakdown of the status quo for good and bad. The realignment outcome often increases the power of some parties, and decreases the power of other parties. It is worth reflecting if this inevitable outcome is an implicit or explicit objective of proffered flexibilities, with an eye to the developmental agendas of various parties.

These are but six aspects I see associated with the emerging ‘flexibility’ agenda for public higher education in the US.

Who could be against flexibility? No one, really, and certainly not me (having worked in some very rigid systems of higher education)! But surely we need to be more critical about what the concept of flexibility really means given how frequently it is thrown around in this era of austerity. Given the nearly 200 years of building up a world class public higher education system in the US, the stakes are simply too high to allow concepts like flexibility be accepted at face value, especially if they mask agendas that are facilitating the decline of said system. This is the era of the ‘knowledge economy,’ after all, and higher education is a critically important dimension of the systems of innovation we are dependent upon for future prosperity.

Kris Olds

Protests, debates & grace under pressure in Madison, WI

Editor’s note: this is a revised version of an earlier (16 February) entry in GlobalHigherEd.  It reflects my enhanced knowledge about what has been unfolding in Madison WI for the last several weeks.  This revised version was posted last week on our Inside Higher Ed mirror site. I stand by the analysis with a further week’s worth of reflection: indeed, the political atmosphere here has deteriorated quite severely in the last three days, almost to the level of farce mixed with brazen displays of political thuggery.

It is also worth noting that I have shifted the long list of links and videos in the original entry, and one follow-up entry, over to a stand-alone site called BadgerFuturesBadgerFutures will be updated every 1-2 days, and is designed to act as a resource site for people engaged in debates about the so-called New Badger Partnership (NBP), and the inclusion of a formal proposal, within the 2011-13 state budget, to grant UW-Madison ‘public authority’ status.  This initiative will lead to the separation of UW-Madison from the University of Wisconsin System, and generate a wide array of impacts, not all of which have been determined.  Interestingly, the relatively high place of UW-Madison within world university rankings, and the need to maintain this position, has been used as an argument for why the NDB should be supported. Please link through to BadgerFutures if you are interested in following the evolution of the debate over the next several months.  These debates are relevant and interesting to engage in, but I am wary of making GlobalHigherEd too Madison-centric.  Kris Olds

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It is not very common to see marches of tens of thousands of people in small cities like my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin (with a population of approximately 235,000 people). The issue that drew about 13,000 into the State Capital area on 15 February, 10-20,000 people on 16 February, 25,000 people on 17 February, 35-40,000 people on 18 February, 60-100,000 people on 19 February, and tens of thousands every subsequent day to the present moment, relates to the decision of the recently elected Republican Governor of Wisconsin (Scott Walker) to unilaterally remove the right of public sector unions to collectively bargain about employment-related benefits. The proposal also repeals, in perpetuity, the rights of some segments of society (including day care workers, faculty and academic staff) to collectively bargain at all, and will generate a defacto pay cut for all people associated with universities of 8+% if it proceeds.

As a Canadian who has lived in several countries generating regular surpluses, but WI resident and taxpayer since 2001, the State’s fiscal challenges are evident to me. However this ‘budget repair’ bill proposal is clearly underpinned not by a logical ‘share the pain’ approach, but by an ideologically-derived agenda regarding the posited rights (or not, in this case) of certain types of American citizens to engage in deliberations about their working arrangements and conditions. I can’t help but wonder how politicians who preach about democracy, human rights, and the value of a ‘small government’ approach, can rationalize an abrupt rebalancing agenda driven by defacto ‘big government’ approach that exudes surprising elements of authoritarianism and anti-democratic impulses. Isn’t this a deliberative democracy? Why no negotiations and civil dialogue via organized fora, speaking tours throughout the state with budgetary Q&A sessions, etc.? But, as E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post put it:

If this were just about normal budget cutbacks, the political earthquake we’re seeing in Wisconsin would not have happened. This is an effort by a temporary majority — I use the term because in a democracy, all majorities are, in principle, temporary — to rush a bill through the legislature designed to alter the balance of political power in the state.

Amazing, and a sign of the intersection of developmental debates at the state level with US-scale political currents regarding class politics, aspirational leadership positioning, and socio-economic networks (including the über rich/conservative Koch Brothers, and their organization Americans for Prosperity, as pointed out by the New York Times, Washington Post, and Mother Jones). Indeed the Koch Brothers have just opened up a lobbying office in Madison, and are launching, today, a $342,200 TV ad in support of Walker according to the Capital Times.

If these proposed changes proceed, the implications are profound and on a number of levels and scales, a point made by Governor Walker himself in the New York Times:

The images from Wisconsin — with its protests, shutdown of some public services and missing Democratic senators, who fled the state to block a vote — evoked the Middle East more than the Midwest.

The parallels raise the inevitable question: Is Wisconsin the Tunisia of collective bargaining rights?

Governor Walker, in an interview, said he hoped that by “pushing the envelope” and setting an aggressive example, Wisconsin might inspire more states to curb the power of unions. “In that regard, I hope I’m inspiration just as much as others are an inspiration to me,” he said.

This strategy is fundamentally dependent upon sowing the seeds of discontent between workers; something more easily done in a context of economic crisis and recession. This was certainly evident around the State Capital building on Saturday 19 February when I spent time listening to supporters of Walker lambasting other workers (for many of Walkers supporters were employees too, not employers) about the nature of their health care and pension benefit packages, and their ability to collectively bargain. The sad thing is this hoped-for inter-worker conflict, and defacto race downwards (in pay, benefits, and working conditions), is being encouraged by ostensible ‘leaders’ like Governor Walker. This is a cynical and short-sighted type of politics if there ever was one. But as Jeffrey Sommers rightfully points out in The Guardian on 22 February:

In short, it has been a return of the mean season. Briefly, in 2008, this frustration was directed against the Republicans. Yet, the Democrats delivered no tangible gains for labour since taking power then, and now, the right has helped steer working-class anger away from Wall Street and back to Main Street’s teachers and public employees. Deftly executed, private sector workers without benefits now blame workers who do have them as the cause of their deprivation. Instead of seeing the gains unions can deliver, private sector workers now take the lesson that these gains have somehow been taken at their expense – all the while ignoring the trough-feeding that continues unabated on Wall Street.

The new class war, as it is actually perceived, is not between workers and capital, but between private and public sector workers, with the fires generously stoked by the billionaire Koch brothers and rightwing money generally. One can only imagine Mr Burns of the Simpsons hatching such a scheme in caricature of capital; but this is real, and few seem to recognise the irony as they play out their scripted parts.

As noted above, the politics and political effects associated with the protests are growing, and getting connected to some stronger national and now international currents, not all of which are based upon a recognition of what is going on on the ground right now, with caricatures of all sorts being inaccurately drawn.

In the end, however it turns out, and regardless of political standpoint, it is important for all people to realize the important role, and strongly felt views, and breathtaking energy, of Madison’s university students, and their organizations (e.g., the ASM, Badger Herald, Daily Cardinal, TAA) in engendering critically important discussion and debate here. I really can’t say enough about their commitment, professionalism, good humor, empathy for older and very different types of people (e.g., union members from northern WI), and absolute grace under pressure. And while ‘off-the deep end’ ideologues like Indiana’s deputy attorney general urged police to use live ammunition against Wisconsin protesters (I’m sadly not joking), what will leave a lasting legacy, in ever so many minds, is the critically important role of students (both university and high schoolers) in shaping a window of February 2011 that is of genuine historic import.

In closing, here are four short videos that capture aspects of the university (and high school) student presence I noted above. The first three were produced by 22 year old Matt Wisniewski, and the third by PhD student Shahin Izadi. A fourth, by Madisonian Finn Ryan, focuses on the broader segments of society who have also been active, in an equally positive and constructive way, in conveying their dissatisfaction with the Walker agenda.

The temporal rhythm of academic life in a globalizing era

The globalization of higher education and research is associated with a wide variety of shifts and changes, many of which (e.g., branch campuses) are debated about in relatively intense fashion. Other aspects of this transition, though, receive little attention, including the temporal rhythm of academic life; a rhythm being simultaneously maintained, extended, reduced, and bracketed.

In many ways not much has changed for we continue to follow a seasonal rhythm: the build up to term, the fall and spring cycles (punctuated by brief breaks of variable lengths), and then a longer summer ‘break’. When I was an undergraduate my summers were associated with work at fish canneries, mineral prospecting, and drill camps (throughout British Columbia and the Yukon) – the legacy of living amidst a resource-based staples economy.

Summers during graduate student life in Canada and the UK were focused on research, with some holiday time. And summers now, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US (pictured to the right, at dusk), are associated with a mix of research and writing time, university service, and holiday time with my family. But the real temporal anchor is the twin semester (or quarters for some) cycle split by a summer break.

Scaling up, the rhythm of institutional life follows aspects of this seasonal cycle, albeit with noteworthy national and institutional variations. For example, research administrators kick into higher gear in the US and UK (where I am a visiting professor) during the summer and winter breaks before important national funding council deadlines, yet even research active university libraries shut down for much of the summer in France for the annual holiday cycle. Human resources managers everywhere get busy when new faculty and staff arrive in the July/August and December/January windows of time. We all welcome and say goodbye to many of our students at key windows of time throughout the year, whilst the term/semester/quarter cycle shapes, in bracing ways, the rhythms of contract (sessional) lecturers.

In an overall sense, then, it is this year-to-year seasonal rhythm, with fuzzy edges, that continues to propel most of us forward.

The globalization of higher education and research, though, is also extending, reducing, and bracketing our senses of time, as well as the structural rhythmic context in which we (as faculty members, students, and staff) are embedded.

For example, research on key ‘global challenges’ – something a variety of contributors to GlobalHigherEd have been reflecting about, and something international consortia (e.g., the Worldwide Universities Network) are seeking to facilitate – is inevitably long-term in nature. This is in part because of the nature of the issues being addressed, but also because of the practicalities and complications associated with developing international collaborative research teams. This said, government funding councils are resolutely national in orientation — they have a very hard time matching up budgetary and review cycles across borders and tying them up to the agendas of large international collaborative teams (CERN and a few other exemplars aside). So while research agendas and relationships need to be long-term in nature, we have really yet to develop the infrastructure to support a longer-term temporal rhythm when it comes to international collaborative research on ‘global challenges’.

Long-term thinking is also evident in the strategic thinking being undertaken by the European Commission regarding the role of universities in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), as well as the European Research Area (ERA), in the context of the Lisbon agenda. Related forms of long-term thinking are evident in a whole host of agencies in the US regarding ‘non-traditional’ security matters regarding issues like dependency upon foreign graduates (e.g., ‘the coming storm’), comparative ‘research footprints’, and the like.

Moving the other way, the reduction and/or bracketing of temporal rhythms is most obvious in the higher education media, as well as the for-profit world of higher education, or in the non-profit world once endowments are created, and bonds are sold.

On the media front, for example, higher education outlets like US-based Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the UK-based Times Higher Education, are all active on a daily basis now with website updates, Twitter feeds, and once- to twice-daily email updates. The unhurried rhythms of our pre-digital era are long gone, and the pick-up in pace might even intensify.

On the for-profit and ratings front, stock value and revenue is tracked with increased precision, quarterly and annual reports are issued, and university data from networks of acquired universities are bundled together, while fund managers track every move of for-profit education firms. Interesting side effects can emerge, including replicant or Agent Smith-like dynamics where multiple offerings of honorary degrees to Nelson Mandela emerge within one network of universities controlled by the for-profit Laureate International Universities.

Ratings agencies such as Moody’s are also developing increased capacity to assess the financial health of higher education institutions, with a recent drive, for example, to “acquire liquidity data to provide a more direct and accurate gauge of the near-term liquidity standing” of each rated institution (on this issue see ‘Moody’s Probes Colleges on Cash’, Inside Higher Ed, 16 June 2010).

Or take the case of national governments, which are beginning to develop the capacity to track, analyse and communicate about international student flow vis a vis export earnings (see recent data below from Australian Education International’s Research Snapshot, May 2010).

This bracketing of time, which takes place in the Australian case on a combined monthly/annual cycle so as to enhance strategic planning and risk assessment at institutional, state, national, and international scales, has become both more thorough and more regular.

These are but a few examples of the new rhythms of our globalizing era. Assuming you agree with me that the temporal rhythm of academic life is being simultaneously maintained, extended, reduced, and bracketed, who has the capability to adjust rhythms, for what purposes, and with what effects?

I’ll explore aspects of this reworking of temporal rhythms in a subsequent entry on the global rankings of universities; a benchmarking ‘technology’ (broadly defined) that bundles together universities around the globe into annual cycles of data requests, data provision, and highly mediatized launches.

Kris Olds

Deliberating about the meaning of “global competence” in a public US university

MasarahVanEyckEditor’s note: this guest entry has been kindly provided by Masarah Van Eyck. Masarah (pictured to the right) is Director of Communications for the Division of International Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before joining the Division in 2007, she served as a communications/development director and an editor for Wisconsin-based nonprofits. She is a freelance writer and holds a PhD in French history from McGill University.

This entry was just published in On Wisconsin, a magazine produced by the Wisconsin Alumni Association and University Communications for alumni and “friends” of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We sought permission to reprint it as the original article sheds light, in interesting ways, on deliberations about a key concept in global higher ed – “global competency”.  Representatives of universities throughout the world are grappling, in varying ways, with the notion of what a “global citizen” is, what “global competency” is (or even if it exists!), and to what purposes it should/could be used. Indeed it is worth noting that regardless of whether or not this complicated concept is a coherent one, global competency is being used to frame and legitimize the restructuring of policies, teaching and research programs, hiring, admissions, pedagogy, and even built form and aesthetics, on an increasing number of campuses. It is thus important to engage with the concept, and understand how it is being constituted in variable ways, in different places and times.

Our thanks to Masarah Van Eyck, and to the editors of On Wisconsin as well as University Communications, for permission to reprint this article (the original title is ‘Global Views’). Our thanks, too, to the following students whose photographs were used to accompany the original article, and which are included below. We include the original accompanying text here: Anna Green ’09 (placed first in the Urban Landscapes category of the UW’s annual Study Abroad Photo Contest coordinated by International Academic Programs. She shot the photo in 2008 while studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina);  With her photo, “Pottery Market,” shot in Cuenca, Ecuador, in 2006, Kathryn Broker-Bullick ’06 garnered second place in the People and Culture category of the UW’s annual Study Abroad Photo Contest; “Fira at Dusk” captured second place in the Urban Landscapes category for John Vanek ’08, who shot the photo in 2007 in Santorini, Greece; Adam Sitte ’08, who studied in Cairo, Egypt, in 2007, earned second place in the People and Culture category of the UW’s annual Study Abroad Photo Contest for his photo, “Ibn Tulun Mosque.”; Tyler Knowles ’05 submitted this photo following his study abroad in England. He shot the image of a musician on the island of San Marco in Venice; A girl signs “I love you” in this photo, shot in Ngileni, South Africa, in 2007. Libbie Allen ’08, who studied in Cape Town, South Africa, earned first place in the People and Culture category of the UW’s annual Study Abroad Photo Contest; Laura Burns ’09, who studied in Seville, Spain, in 2008, earned third place in the Natural Landscapes category for this photo, which she shot in Hallstatt, Austria; Emily Palese x’10, who studied in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2008, earned second place in the Natural Landscapes category of the UW’s annual Study Abroad Photo Contest for her photo, “Hierve del Agua.” Kris Olds

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la-boca-barrioGLOBAL VIEWS

A new expectation is making the list of must-have abilities for today’s students: global competence. But where do you go to get it, and how do you know when you have it?

Jill Spear doesn’t think she has it, but says she knows people who do. Natalie Eisner x’09, whose mother is French, thinks she possesses some degree of it, while Catherine Skroch x’09, a child of missionaries, is confident that she’s had it most of her life. Claire de Boer x’09 isn’t sure how much of it she has, but she’s certain that studying abroad in French West Africa will give her more of it than, say, spending a year in France.

It is global competence, one of the latest buzzwords in higher education. My interest in the concept was piqued last winter when I traveled to a training ground of sorts — Saint-Louis, Senegal, the site of one of the UW’s more innovative study-abroad programs. There, several UW students were studying at the Université Gaston Berger, living in dormitories with Senegalese roommates, and in the midst of producing a fifty-page paper based on independent fieldwork.

For four months they had been immersed in the French and Wolof languages, and in a largely Muslim culture. (It had been equally long since they had taken a hot shower or washed their clothes in a machine.)

After a week of talking with students halfway through this challenging educational experience, I learned that most were pretty sure that they were acquiring global competence — that essential set of skills, attitudes, and knowledge they will need to succeed in today’s world. But when I queried one of the directors of the program, Jim Delehanty, about the notion, the story got more complicated.

Masarah2Delehanty has been to Senegal “twelve or so” times, he estimates. He spent years in the Peace Corps and later conducted research for his doctorate in Niger. He’s lived in Kenya and Kyrgyzstan. He speaks French and Hausa well, and knows enough Wolof “to make people smile,” he says.

Yet he doesn’t consider himself particularly globally competent.

“It’s a nice concept,” he says during a conversation in his office at UW-Madison, where he serves as associate director of one of the nation’s premier African studies centers. “[But] I’m just not sure it exists in practice.”

Anyone watching the news — and the economy — knows that the world is getting smaller, if not exactly, as author Thomas Friedman puts it, “flatter.” Trade, migration, pandemics, global warming, and a radical shift in wealth from the West to the East — all of these factors and more indicate that we’re living in a world of global challenges that will require global solutions. Our graduates need a mindset to match the world around them. But how exactly do we teach and assess these skills?

Like many universities, UW-Madison committed itself to “internationalizing” its curriculum a couple of decades ago. No longer the exclusive domain of liberal arts departments, international education is increasingly important in professional schools such as engineering, health sciences, and business. Students in the UW’s College of Engineering, for example, can now earn an international certificate by taking sixteen credits of courses that focus on the language, history, or geography of another culture. And programs including Engineers without Borders and the Village Health Project provide students with a chance to participate in community development and public health projects around the world.

Masarah3Impressively, more than a third of UW-Madison’s business undergraduates earn some credits abroad, as do more than half of its MBA students. And these students are pursuing the experiences for good reason: the top-ranked Thunderbird School of Global Management, with its patented Global Mindset Inventory used to measure one’s capacity to conduct business on a world stage, says that “individuals with a high stock of Global Mindset … know how to manage global supply-chain relationships … and understand global competitors and customers.”

But as international outlooks and skills become integral to core curricula, universities increasingly face the challenge of evaluating their students’ progress. And this means starting by defining the result: global competence.

A team of UW-Madison faculty, staff, and students recently set out to write that definition. Called the Global Competence Task Force, the group released its findings last fall, delineating not only what the term means, but also how UW students might best acquire it.

Randy Dunham, a management professor who directs the business school’s Center for International Business Education and Research, chaired the initiative. On his desk sits a photo frame that rotates digital images of his own travels through the years: animals spotted on safari, a temple in Asia, and a ruin in the Middle East. (Interestingly, several iPods sit stacked on the table between us as we talk. I later learned that these were prizes for an annual, weeklong competition that drew MBA students from as far away as Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Copenhagen.)

Despite his own global leanings, however, Dunham says the task force took a soft-sell approach in its campus wide proposal.

“We are not recommending requirements or standards,” he explains. “We knew that if we said [global competence] is this many languages or this many area-studies courses, it would have been too contentious to be adopted.”

In addition, says Gilles Bousquet, dean of UW-Madison’s Division of International Studies, the group knew that there is no one-size-fits-all definition.

“Global competence isn’t going to look the same in engineering, the health sciences, or the humanities — and it’s also going to mean something different to an educator, an executive, or the head of an NGO [nongovernmental organization],” he says.

Masarah4Instead, the task force listed the components or “competencies” that make up a global mindset, hoping that each campus unit would adopt the definition. Predictably, perhaps, they include the ability to work and communicate effectively in a variety of cultures and languages, and the capacity to grasp the interdependence of nations in a global economy. Somewhat surprisingly, though, many of the core competencies indicate a kind of stance or attitude — the proclivity to engage in solving critical global issues, for example, and a willingness to see the world from a perspective other than one’s own.

What the team doesn’t define, however, is what level of competency is sufficient.

“Developing global competency is a lifelong process,” says Marianne Bird Bear, assistant dean of the Division of International Studies, who sat on the task force. “The university’s role is to make students aware that all disciplines — political science, agriculture, health care — have global, cross-cultural aspects to them. Our job is to provide the training and experiences to develop the global skill set necessary … to address a given problem or understand a certain condition.”

Accordingly, the team recommends that campus units require each incoming undergraduate to adopt a “global portfolio” to record the relevant courses and experiences he or she acquires while pursuing a degree. A second part of the portfolio outlines how these activities specifically translate into global abilities that would be attractive to future employers or graduate schools. In developing this portfolio, the team posits, students will plan their educational paths with an eye toward gaining global competencies.

With a goal of clearly defining expectations, Dunham says, “We asked ourselves, ‘What is it going to take to motivate students to see global education as essential?’ We want to create the impression as students come in that it’s normal, that global education is expected.”

Masarah5While instilling any kind of cross-campus mandate may be slow going, convincing students of the value of international education seems to be a no-brainer. These days, many are well on their way to global-mindedness long before entering college.

Before coming to Senegal, political science and agronomy student Brenda Lazarus x’09 had traveled extensively and studied abroad in high school. She values her friendships with international students on campus for the exposure they give her to perspectives from, say, Mexico or the Philippines. A Minnesota native, Lazarus says that international exposure helps her develop a good knowledge of diverse issues and cultures so that “if [I] go abroad for [my] work or deal with someone from a different culture,
everything will go well.”

What’s more, she says, learning about other cultures has given her the self-possession she’ll need for the work she hopes to pursue in an overseas governmental agency or NGO after graduation.

Anyone who has moved to another country can recount that moment when the romance of living in a new culture was tempered by everyday concerns — a visit to the doctor, for example, or the need to decipher a cell-phone plan. These are the moments when we see other parts of the world as equally complex and mundane as our own, and not just as the colorful backdrop for our adventures.

What is more, the challenge of independently producing, say, a fifty-page thesis or meeting the academic standards of a world-renowned university in another language means that students must take seriously the “study” in “study abroad.”

Masarah6“I’m more independent now,” Lazarus tells Delehanty and me at the Senegal university’s buvette, an outdoor snack bar, over instant coffee in cups stamped “Made in China.” “I’m more confident that, whatever situation I’m in, I can deal with it.”

(Of course, the UW’s International Academic Programs office concerns itself, first and foremost, with students’ safety, briefing them before departure, establishing onsite points of contact, and maintaining a 24/7 hotline.)

To Dunham, developing confidence is essential. “International exposure challenges the way people see, the way they think, the things they see,” he says. “It makes them much more competitive professionally.”

Such exposure also prepares students for jobs that are “outside of their comfort zones,” he adds. “If you’ve done a study abroad in India, is it going to be intimidating for you to live in New York City? I don’t think so.”

Even those who choose to live and work in Wisconsin will be ill prepared without a global mindset, says Mary Regel ’78, director of the Bureau of International Development in Wisconsin’s Department of Commerce, who served on the UW’s global task force.

“Companies are looking for employees who have a broad view of the world,” she says. “They want their workforce to be cognizant and respectful of other cultures. Wisconsin is becoming more diversified, and it’s a rare company these days that doesn’t have some interaction with other cultures.”

Dunham puts it bluntly: “If you only think domestically, you’re more limited in your own choices and, ultimately, you limit the vision of the firm or company you work for.”

For some students, success in the job market — while a welcome byproduct — isn’t the only reason to enhance their global competence.

“Globalization has offered enormous opportunities to the human race,” says Bousquet, who founded UW-Madison’s pioneering Professional French Master’s Program. “But it’s also opened many challenges, most pressing among these the need to keep the human condition — to ensure secure and just lives for everyone — at the center of our focus.”

Masarah7 Happily, studies reveal that global competence seems to go hand-in-hand with the kinds of qualities, such as open-mindedness and compassion, we’ll need to prevent and repair the inequalities that our shrinking planet presents. Recently, a senior scientist at the Gallup Organization released findings from a Global Perspectives Inventory suggesting that those who see themselves as global citizens most often also feel a need to “give back to society” and “work for the rights of others,” and demonstrate a willingness to grapple with complex issues that may present more than one solution.

The director of Harvard’s International Education Policy Program recently argued in the Chronicle of Higher Education that globally minded people would more likely respond to world events with empathy, interest, and understanding. Second only to these qualities are those that speak more to skills than attitude: the ability to communicate in different languages, for example, and a broad and deep knowledge of world histories and cultures.

Global competence, you might say, is a combination of cross-cultural knowledge and the kind of personal and intellectual inner journey that an international experience offers.

To Delehanty, who has overseen the progress of study-abroad students for a decade, and who knows better than most how the world opens eyes, it’s the notion of mastery that is troublesome.

Masarah8“I guess the idea of ‘competence’ makes me uneasy — the thought that there’s a skill set that we all need to master,” Delehanty told me on our last day in Senegal. “Isn’t it really the opposite? Isn’t humility the common denominator of people who function effectively away from home? There are uncountable opportunities in our lives to learn humility. I’m not convinced there is an internationalist version of it.”

Still, he concedes, going abroad will surely shake up your certainties if nothing has done so before. And that uncertainty leads to a new kind of insight.

As one UW student in the Senegal program, influenced by her everyday French, concluded, “It’s like there is savoir and then there is connaissance. You can know a lot about the world, but global competence is about understanding it.”

Masarah Van Eyck

Cisco, KAUST, and Microsoft: hybrid offerings for global higher ed

The globalization of higher education has been going hand in hand with novel experiments in the provision of education services, as well as in the production of knowledge via R&D. These experiments have been enabled by the broad but highly uneven liberalization of regulatory systems, and spurred on by the perception (and sometimes reality) of inadequate levels of state support for higher education and research. A myriad of policies, programs and projects, of an increasingly sophisticated nature, are now bringing many of these experiments to life.

Experimentation is also being facilitated on some traditional public university campuses, with hybrid units in development (e.g., see the Oxford-Man Institute of Quantitative Finance), offers to select foreign universities to establish a formal presence on another campus (e.g., see this entry regarding the University of Warwick), and even private ‘campuses’ under construction by firms that lease space to mobile higher education service providers (e.g., see this entry on Chaska’s ‘Field of Dreams’).

Over the last few weeks a variety of examples of such institutional experimentation have bubbled up.

Cisco Systems, Inc.

First, the San Jose-based firm, Cisco Systems, Inc., announced that its Networking Academy, which has been in operation since 1997:

has achieved a key milestone with a record 47 percent increase in the total number of students enrolled in Morocco in the past 12 months. Since the program’s inception, this brings the total number of Networking Academy students over 7,500. Each student undergoes a comprehensive technology-based training curriculum that can provide them with skills which they can utilize in their future professional careers.

According to Cisco, its Networking Academy provides educational services in more than 160 countries, reaching 600,000 students per year. The Network Academy topics (e.g., LANs, IT networks, network infrastructure essentials) can be standardized in a relatively easy manner, which enables Cisco to offer the same “high-quality education, supported by online content and assessments, performance tracking, hands-on labs, and interactive learning tools”, across all 160 countries.

And growth is rapid: in Morocco, for example:

The first Networking Academy in Morocco started in Ain Bordja in February 2001, long before Cisco’s office in Morocco was established. Today, the total number of Networking Academies has grown to 39 throughout the entire Kingdom with many more new Academies across Morocco to be announced in the very near future.

Cisco’s growth in providing these education services partly reflects problems in the Moroccan higher education system (see, for example, the World Bank’s 2008 report The Road Not Traveled: Education Reform in the Middle East and North Africa). It is noteworthy that nearly 1/3 of the students are female; a level of enrollment perceived my most analysts of the region to be significant and positive.

Further information on the Networking Academy is available in this short video clip. This initiative is akin to the Oracle Corporation‘s Oracle Academy, which has “partnered with more than 3,400 institutions and supported 397,000 students across 83 countries“. Today, coincidentally, marks the official opening of the Oracle Academy of the Hanoi University and Hanoi University of Commerce in Vietnam.

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

Second, over the last week the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), an institution we have profiled several times (see here and here), announced a series of major funding initiatives that will support other universities, around the world, to develop major R&D initiatives. The logic is to kick-start the creation of KAUST’s global networks (recalling that the KAUST campus is only now being built from scratch, as one of many photographs from the KAUST website, conveys).

KAUST’s Global Research Partnership (GRP) will be funding:

So three American universities, and one UK university. Further information on these centers can be found here.

KAUST also announced that its Center-in-Development scheme (note the in development moniker) will be funding one Saudi, one Asian and one European university in the form of:

Further information on these initiatives can be located here.

Thus we have a Saudi institution, which is really an instantaneously endowed foundation (to the tune of $10 billion), projecting itself out via funded programs, and translating institutional and researcher agendas in key centres of scientific calculation (to use some Latourian phrases), so as to enable itself to morph into a globally recognized, respected, and highly networked science and technology university within five years. Moreover, KAUST is forging ties with other types of knowledge-related institutions, including the US Library of Congress, so as to:

complement its academic and research programs in cutting-edge science and engineering with research and outreach programs aimed at giving students and faculty an appreciation of the rich history of scientific inquiry and discovery in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Microsoft & Cisco

Finally, my own university, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has embarked upon two initiatives that splice together the institutional fabrics of a major public university, and select private sector firms (in software and the life sciences), with both initiatives facilitated by the alumni effect (another topic we have recently written about).

In the first, Seattle-based Microsoft is contributing substantial support to help UW-Madison open the Microsoft Jim Gray Systems Lab, which will focus on the advanced development of database systems. As the formal UW-Madison press release notes, this lab is:

helping expand on a highly productive 20-year research and alumni relationship between the company and the University of Wisconsin-Madison computer sciences department.

The Microsoft Jim Gray Systems Lab, named in honor of the Microsoft executive who was a founding father of the database industry, will open in downtown Madison under the direction of UW-Madison emeritus computer sciences professor, and Microsoft Technical Fellow, David DeWitt, one of the world leaders in database research.

“Microsoft is here because we are doing some of the best database work in the world and we have produced scores of graduates who have gone on to successful careers in the industry,” says DeWitt. “Our focus will be on continuing the production of talented graduate students and taking on some of the great challenges in database systems.”

David DeWitt (pictured above) was the John P. Morgridge Professor of Computer Sciences, though he has now taken up emeritus status to focus on this initiative. Further information on DeWitt and this scheme is available here.

And returning to the Cisco theme, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) sponsored a ground breaking ceremony last Friday for the development of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (WID), a $150 million project we briefly profiled here. WID is being developed with funding and other forms of support from UW-Madison, WARF, John and Tashia Morgridge (he is the former CEO of Cisco, while she is a former special education teacher), and the State of Wisconsin.

WID will open in 2010, though it is already in action via the efforts of WID’s interim director Marsha Mailick Selzer, and pioneer stem cell researcher, James Thomson. It is worth noting, though, that even the private component of WID (the Morgridge Institute for Research) is not-for-profit. This said the competitive impulse was loud and clear at the opening ceremony, according to the local newspaper reporter that covered the event:

The building will house an ambitious effort by the state to capture what Doyle hopes to be 10 percent of the market in regenerative medicine and stem cell technologies by 2015. The building is the centerpiece of a $750 million inititiave to develop stem cell research and biotechnology in Wisconsin.

So experiments aplenty. Fortunately, from the perspective of 7,500 Moroccan students, and UW-Madison’s researchers, Cisco Kid was a friend of mine (it’s bad, I know :)).

Kris Olds

Forum today on the Global Public University: Canada vs the USA

Today’s event at the University of Wisconsin-Madison featured a relatively open and freewheeling dialogue between Stephen Toope (President, University of British Columbia) and David Ward (President, American Council on Education) about the challenges and opportunities associated with creating “global public universities” on both sides of the Canada-US border. The session can be viewed as a streaming webcast here even though it is now finished. Happy viewing…

Kris Olds