Josh Jarrett, Deputy Director of Postsecondary Success at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, delivered today's keynote at the Open Education Conference with a simple message (but no simple answer): Access alone is not enough to help people realize their dreams.
The Gates Foundation focuses on education because it is still the "primary arbiter of opportunity in this country," he continued. For many people, if you could change one single factor to change your future, the best thing you could choose would be your mother's education. The correlation between your economic standing and that of your parents lies strongly on their education, far more than race, health status, location, or many other factors.
Jarrett offered four challenges for improving education over the next decade:
- Completion challenge
We've done a remarkable job helping more students go to higher education in this country," Jarrett said. But our attainment rates have stagnated at about 40%, and we have jobs going unfilled. Labor economists estimate that 63% of jobs in the US will require post-secondary education in just a few years.
- Quality challenge
Half of students in the US don't improve their critical thinking skills in the first two years of postsecondary education, and more don't make any progress in four years. But there's an increasing quality demand from a global economy, which leads to the next challenge.
- Funding challenge
State budgets battle between healthcare and higher education, and for the foreseeable future, healthcare is likely to win, for a multitude of reasons including matching federal funds for healthcare and the ability to get more federal aid for education from higher tuition.
- Demographic challenge
Students are coming from all types of backgrounds, and the reality is that students who attend part-time and work are the new normal, not what we consider "traditional" students.
But institutions aren't ready to serve this new definition of traditional, nor quite ready to meet many of the other challenges. Public Agenda research on the opinions of higher education presidents referred to an "iron triangle" of cost, quality, and access, in which a change to any one will impact the others. "We've tied the giant down," said Jarrett. "The Lilliputians tied Gulliver with a thousand small ropes. We are Gulliver." The question is how to cut enough of those ropes that we can better serve students, and it's not going to happen by cutting one rope at a time.
"How can openness free the giant?" Jarrett asked. "That's the challenge I put on the table today."
First, he applauded what the OER community has done right, beginning with developing frameworks and rules to support OER. The community has established a culture on the expectation of sharing by default and done good work to create access to the rapidly growing amounts of open education resources. "But what problem are you solving with this work in openness?" Jarrett asked. Can you drive quality and impact, drive usage, and achieve sustainability?
He then offered three more challenges, specific to the OER community:
- Evidence: Translate OER cost savings into impact. Quantify how it leads to greater course completion, retention, and credential completion rates.
- Content development: This isn't a new challenge, but for OER, the challenge is remembering to design not just for sharing, but for reuse. Jarrett pointed to the issue of the reusability paradox.
- Integration, instrumentation, and distribution: How do we take all of these resources and focus them? This is the most difficult challenge.
For students and the general public, cost savings are great. But employability is important too--people are questioning whether quality is worth it. For educational institutions, Jarrett pointed to "the real 3 Rs" of education: resources, regulation, and reputation. How will it effect tuition, or the ability of the institution to demonstrate outcomes?
Jarrett suggests on approach that begins with focusing on a very narrow subset of content areas--a very specific population and goal. Then come the content and tools, from high-quality, interoperable learning modules to the localization and delivery. Curate the content and align it to learning maps. Follow it with assessment and analysis. Finally comes distribution. Find the institutions willing to try it together, and develop sustainable distribution channels.
"If we did all this, what would it mean?" Jarrett asked. Could faculty see the impact of OER on their students?
He concluded with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt:
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
"Citizenship in a Republic"
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910