Eduvation Blog

Bold Thinking, Transformative Ideas, and the Unthinkable

Good morning, and TGIF!

We join our southern neighbours in sober remembrance of 9/11 today – while also recognizing that COVID19 has already killed 64 times as many Americans. A recent poll finds that 25% of US voters won’t ever get vaccinated for COVID19, and 66% say they won’t rush to get it when it becomes available (which might be sensible, considering the political interference going on).

For a sense of the scope of the vaccination challenge, btw: the IATA reports that it will take 8,000 Boeing 747 cargo aircraft to deliver a single dose to 7.8 billion people around the world, in a time- and temperature-sensitive “mission of the century.”

As promised, today we continue our Post-COVID strategy series with some interesting ideas about PSE technology and transformation. I’ve got some more updates about CdnPSE response plans and precautions, winter 2021 announcements, fall enrolment at CMU, a COVID19 case at RRC, and a new strategic vision at Royal Roads…

The Unthinkable

Yesterday I shared some potential scenarios for post-secondary post-COVID. First, a reminder that governing boards need to consider the unthinkable as part of their duty to manage risk…

Thinking about the Unthinkable

In a virus-charged world, “thinking unthinkable scenarios is no longer a fantasy exercise,” says Capital Power Corp chair Don Lowry, “it is pragmatic risk management.” Boards need to consider the possibility that directors might be unable to discharge their duties for health reasons or PHO restrictions. To enable continuity, consider establishing vice-chairs and committee co-chairs in different geographic regions. Directors should be recruited with experience in crisis governance: “The world will never be slower than it is today, and the speed at which disruption can occur is only increasing.” Boards also need to ensure they set the right environmental and social governance directions. Finally remember, “good governance is not passive; it adapts and enables organizations to be resilient and thrive on disruption as a competitive edge.” Globe & Mail

Boldly Go…

The biggest weakness I see in PSE strategic plans (or brand strategies for that matter) is a tendency to be all things to all people, rather than to make tough decisions, identify actual priorities, and focus on some big ideas. These need to be followed through with resources, and a long-term commitment…

Strategic Investments

Institutions should be considering significant strategic investments in instructional technologists, faculty PD, student supports, online/mobile services, psychosocial supports to faculty and staff, and modifications to on-campus programming.  RRU

Innovation Isn’t Enough

A plethora of innovations in teaching, technology, credentials and student supports over the past decade still didn’t fundamentally transform the higher ed business model, increase PSE participation or graduation rates – because ultimately what is required is increased financial aid and advising, reliable labour market data, career-oriented programs, credit transfer mechanisms, academic and non-academic student supports. “Perhaps the pandemic will prompt us to tackle the inequities and inadequacies that are baked into the existing system. We can only hope so.”  Inside Higher Ed

“By simultaneously eroding revenues and driving up costs, COVID-19 is accelerating the pace of an ecosystemwide postsecondary reckoning.” – Joshua Kim, in Inside Higher Ed


Fortune Favours the Bold

McKinsey & Co draw lessons from prior global disruptions to help consumer/retail companies remain flexible and resilient through the COVID19 crisis. (Here I extract what might be of use to PSE by analogy.) Top-quintile companies after the 2008 recession outperformed by building operational efficiency and agility during the downturn, cutting expenses 3x as much, reallocating resources, building a flexible/WFH workforce, providing compelling customer experiences, and divesting their non-core assets. They recommend rethinking structure and hierarchy from the ground up, streamlining processes and simplifying organizational structure. The integration and coordination of traditional and digital operations should be a priority, investing in technology and PD, and putting the customer first with an “omnichannel” mindset. (While they also recommend embracing automation, education is ranked at the bottom of all sectors for automation potential based on demonstrated technology to date.) Agile, cross-functional teams and empowered front-line staff can accelerate decision-making and approval processes and make an organization more responsive in times of change. McKinsey

“The organization should set bold aspirations that represent a step change in performance, as typical, incremental aspirations will not be enough to deliver results in the next normal.” – McKinsey

No Turning Back

In ordinary times, we could say that strategy and pedagogical innovation don’t necessarily have to involve technology. But the pivot to online delivery and WFH, and the likelihood that this public health precautions will continue into 2022, mean that technology inevitably will be key…

No Turning Back from Online

2020 is a turning point for online ed, as colleges were forced to pivot to online delivery and in the process legitimized a mode of learning that has traditionally appealed primarily to graduate and mature student markets. Mega-universities like Arizona State, Western Governors, and Southern New Hampshire are scaling up their already-massive operations with 100,000 students or more. Grand Canyon U has 80,000 online students who subsidize the 22,000 on campus. uArizona and Purdue have recently bought struggling online colleges. Smaller institutions are partnering with OPM companies like 2U, Pearson, or Wiley. The Minerva Project is licensing its learning system and technology to traditional institutions. “This is like the point of no return,” as students and faculty start growing more comfortable with online and blended delivery. “Even if you’re on campus, you’re going to be online.”  World Economic Forum

Instability in the EdTech Boom

With the abrupt pivot to online learning, edtech companies have been swamped with exponentially greater demand for their services. 70% gave away or discounted their offerings this spring, and those without a solid revenue model have been unable to scale their infrastructure and personnel to keep up. Half of the $803M invested in the sector this year has poured into just 6 companies, including MasterClass, Udemy, Niche, and ClassDojo. Two-thirds of companies report they are 6 months away from a cash-flow crisis. And of course their customers – school districts, colleges and universities – are battling deficits and trimming budgets. Analysts expect a wave of acquisitions.  Ozy

Corporatizing Credentials

Tech giants have been teaching employable skills and certifying vocational competence, from Google’s 6-month Career Certificates to Microsoft’s coding academies, and their trillion-dollar market caps put the endowments of the richest universities to shame. Retired economist Richard Vedder argues that, a few years from now, there will be perhaps just 200 luxury residential colleges in America, with their “strange triple functions of country clubs, hedonistic party sites, and halls of learning.” A few hundred public institutions will continue to imitate those colleges as best they can, while many more “minor-league” schools will be dead or dying. But he half-expects Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple will be offering extensive educational options, and some sort of “National College Equivalence Exam” to be established, either by or for employers.  Forbes

“In a few years… we will have, figuratively, intensive care rooms and cemeteries filled with dying/dead minor league state universities and private schools.” – Richard Vedder, retired economist, writing in Forbes


Transformative Ideas

So what’s a college or university to DO, in the face of all this emergent change? The range of possibilities is almost infinite, but here are some interesting ideas I’ve come across in the past few weeks…

Opportunity for Transformation

A group of 15 digital learning thought leaders believes this is a “once-in-a-generation moment” to support Canada’s recovery and accelerate change in higher ed – with government aid not to preserve the status quo so much as to support system-wide transformation. The international pedagogical consensus is that future PSE should be “technology-enabled, demand-driven, work-integrated, more accessible and flexibly oriented to the needs of lifelong learners.” CdnPSE will require “radically enhanced student access and support,” blended and work-integrated instructional design, and “shorter, modular, transferable programs and credentials, designed with employers.” They recommend fast-track approval of “rapid-response” career programs, competency-based evaluation, “emergency credit transfer provisions,” incentives to adopt open source technologies and OER materials, and the development of more robust open data on system inputs and learner outcomes.  First Policy Response

The Great Unbundling

As human lifespans continue to extend, lifelong employment and retirement will fade away, to be replaced by lifelong learning and reskilling. (It’s coming anyway, just because so many Gen Xers are stuck in precarious work and can’t afford to retire.) Some predict a “great unbundling” of traditional degrees, to be replaced by shorter private-sector offerings of focused training in soft skills, core skills, and critical thinking, lifelong learning options, and even networking opportunities through coworking spaces, accelerators, private networks and peer mentoring. The Lambda School’s income-share model offers students tuition-free core IT skills, in exchange for 17% of grad’s wages for 2 years. World Economic Forum

AI-Powered Education

Traditional institutions are based on a “factory-inspired, 19th century model of education” that made sense when teaching resources were limited – but AI has the potential to scale personalized learning. Thus far, online platforms work for mature learners but can harm weaker students, and just 3% complete MOOC courses. What seems to be missing from AI delivery are meaningful communities, which act as force multipliers, make learning fun, and create peer accountability.  World Economic Forum

In a world with increasingly mobile access to knowledge and classrooms without walls, the key value that a college or university campus can bring is the interaction of a community of bright and supportive minds. We’ve spent billions of dollars over the past century to construct wonderful spaces in which the architecture shapes our connectivity – the challenge for 2020 and 2021 will be to find a software platform that can approximate that kind of dynamic social interplay in a virtual space. (Somehow I really doubt it will be “Facebook Campus,” announced yesterday, but I will have to take a look.)

Out the Other Side

Since it’s Friday, let’s try to wind up on a positive note…

Collaborating in California

California colleges and universities were among the first in the nation to pivot online for Fall 2020, but PSE leaders hope it also provides opportunity to improve access, equity and graduation rates for students across the UC, Cal State, and community college systems. The state is working with internet companies to provide low-cost plans to families, and get more tablets and laptops into students’ hands. “For telehealth, job searches, working from home, there are lots of reasons now where computer access and broadband access is a basic need.” The governor hopes to create a “state higher education coordinating entity of college leaders” to streamline student transfers and to collaborate on joint strategies to improve student success and employment outcomes. Already, California is developing a statewide longitudinal student tracking system. EdSource

“In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s hard to imagine what could exist on the other side… At some point, whether it is 12 months or 36 months from now, we are going to recover from the twin crises of the pandemic and economic recession… We need a unified, cohesive and coherent vision of what higher education should be.” – Lande Ajose, Senior Policy Advisor for Higher Education, California


5 Reasons for Optimism

“We are suffering just now from a bad attack of academic pessimism,” writes Joshua Kim. Without a doubt, the pandemic will cause short-term pain for the sector: “By simultaneously eroding revenues and driving up costs, COVID-19 is accelerating the pace of an ecosystemwide postsecondary reckoning.” But at the longer, generational time horizon, “our grandchildren’s higher education will be better – if different – from ours.” Outside of wealthy, aging societies, by 2040 the number of PSE students on the planet is projected to triple. Edtech like VR, AI and adaptive learning platforms will eventually reduce costs and increase quality through immersive and personal experiences. Improving healthcare and life expectancy should boost enrolment by older adults, and the emerging global middle class between now and 2050 will create immense opportunity for global brands. Our institutions will play a key role in the shift to a clean energy future. “Higher education will be the industry of the 21st century.” Inside Higher Ed

CdnPSE Updates

Canadian Mennonite U, the only MB university offering F2F classes and on-campus housing this Fall, reports an overall 1.9% decline in enrolments. Retention of returning undergrad FTEs is up 6%, but first-year enrolment is down 20% – driven significantly by a decline in international students. 8% of students have chosen to attend classes online.  ENC

Red River College announced Wednesday that a construction worker at its Innovation Centre site tested positive for COVID19. Employees who work regularly at that site were sent home to self-isolate.  RRC

Royal Roads U has released a new 25-year strategic vision, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary: “Inspiring people with the courage to transform the world.” Learning for Life identifies 3 values (caring, creative, and courageous), 6 commitments, and 4 goals: 1) “any age, any stage, any place”; 2) “explore, share, advance”; 3) “invite in, venture out”; and 4) “vibrant and sustainable.”  RRU

COVID19 Responses

Bishop’s U has released its COVID19 case response plan, just in time for students returning to campus. It seems to make clear that 2+ linked active cases will move the institution to the “red” level, moving the campus to an essential services model, cancelling all in-person activities and pushing all academic activities virtual.  Bishop’s

UNB will track the movement of faculty, staff and graduate students on campus for contact tracing purposes, using card readers (at the St John campus) or QR codes (at the Fredericton campus) at each building entrance. Undergrad movements will be tracked by mandatory class attendance records and use of bookable spaces. UNB

Red River College shared its 6-step Response Plan for positive COVID19 cases associated with the campus. After notifying those who shared a space, RRC will notify the campus community and any impacts to service delivery. RRC

Simon Fraser U has launched a COVID19 Safety Ambassador Team (CAT), which will patrol all 3 SFU campuses in blue SFU Ambassadors vests, “to provide information and friendly reminders about COVID19 safety measures.” CATs will also respond to tips submitted to a dedicated email address or web form, and will perform daily data collection.  SFU

Winter2021 Plans

UNBC says it is “continuously searching for more ways to offer F2F in class instruction to their students,” but “many courses will be offered through alternate modes of delivery” in the Winter 2021 term.  CKPG Today

uRegina announced yesterday that the Winter 2021 semester will continue much like the Fall: “Courses will primarily be delivered remotely with the exception of a limited number of low-density face-to-face classes, labs, studios and clinical placements.”  uRegina

uSaskatchewan announced yesterday that the current hybrid delivery model will continue throughout the Winter 2021 semester. “Physical instruction will only occur when necessary, including for some clinical and laboratory work.”  Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

StFX plans to hold 70% of all classes F2F, beginning Sep 14. The decision was driven by a consideration of the institution’s capabilities to offer online learning, and the overwhelming preference of students to return to campus. “Intimate personal environments… [are] part and parcel of what StFX is.” Precautions include green bracelets to identify individuals cleared to re-enter campus, and plexiglas shields at lecterns. More than a third of StFX students will be coming from outside the Atlantic provinces.  The Record

Thompson Rivers U has announced that 90% of its students will study online for the entire academic year, including Winter 2021. Trades programs will continue on campus with social distancing in place. On-campus housing will operate at about 30% occupancy, and about 30% of staff and faculty are expected to be working on campus at any time.  Kamloops this Week


I hope you found this issue worth reading – let me know what is working and what isn’t, from your perspective!

Have a wonderful weekend, stay safe and be well!


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