My Trip to a Statewide Meeting in Missouri

A great trip to Missouri yesterday and the day before (Monday and Tuesday, October 25-26).

I was there to participate in a statewide conference on re-imagining undergraduate education.  Governor Nixon of Missouri began the conference session on Tuesday morning as he reviewed the four key points of his education agenda:

  • Enroll and retain more students who can graduate from college.
  • Conduct a systematic, state-wide review of all academic programs at its public institutions.
  • Institutions must become more collaborative.
  • A new funding formula that improves the coordination of missions, addresses strategic needs, and rewards better performance.

I was struck by several things in the Governor’s speech.  He was clearly seeking collaboration.  Over and over again, he thanked the members of the audience for their work.  He also announced financial support ($ 100,000) for course redesign.

In my remarks, I began by saying that the Governor’s focus on higher education, and particularly his focus on graduation numbers and institutional effectiveness is not unique.  We’re seeing those concerns expressed all over the country.

Dave Starrett from Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) gave a comprehensive review of Course Redesign (in capital letters to distinguish this work from commonly occurring course redesign).  He reviewed the work of Carol Twigg at the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT).  I was impressed about the efforts underway at SEMO in Course Redesign.  There’s a real passion for the work taking place.  It was an excellent presentation.

I’m struck by the degree to which Missouri is taking a real leadership role in this revitalization effort.  I was particularly interested in the Governor’s call for greater collaboration among public institutions.  In my presentation, I talked about the problem of scale, and the competitive edge that some of the largest for-profit providers have, if they ever focus on learning outcomes instead of simply making lots of money.  Large institutions, like the University of Phoenix with 450,000 students or Kaplan University with more than a million students worldwide, have enormous potential to study and understand effective content and effective teaching strategies.

I spent a good deal of my time talking about the various course models out there, and what might be a public institution response to calls for redesign, in the face of growing competitive pressure from large providers.  I think Missouri is in a real leadership position to do some very interesting redesign work.  Most of the work of course redesign has occurred on a single campus.  Missouri poses a fascinating question:  what would course redesign look like across institutions.  I suggested that if one thinks of a blended course, perhaps 50 percent of the course could be delivered electronically, and most importantly, collaboratively.  Could Missouri gather the best minds and the best resources for a course like Psychology 101, and then let everyone in the state use those learning resources.  The other 50% of the course would be delivered at different institutions by faculty.  Such a model has enormous potential.  Faculty could spend more time with students, and with diagnosing learning difficulties, if they don’t have to be responsible for either locating/assembling course materials or delivering some of the course content.  This is still a very strong faculty-centric model of course design and delivery but one that reduces some of the course design work.  In fact, it frees faculty to focus more of their time on students and learning problems.  It also allows faculty to collaborate across campuses on these shared courses.  Another virtue is that this kind of collaborative, statewide design could allow for research on issues like effectiveness of materials, and on different campuses, the effectiveness of different instructional strategies, with different populations of students.

I was very impressed by the work underway, and by the interest and enthusiasm of so many for this work.  I think Missouri could produce some national leadership around state models of collaboration that the rest of the country could use as we all re-imagine undergraduate education.

I’ll want to think about this a bit more as I get ready for my trip to CSU Fresno tomorrow.

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About George L Mehaffy

Vice President, Academic Leadership and Change at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).
This entry was posted in George's Campus and Conference Visits, New Models for Course Design. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to My Trip to a Statewide Meeting in Missouri

  1. MO interest says:

    Dr. Mehaffy – interesting commentary on the work going on in Missouri. As someone familiar with the situation there I couldn’t help but notice that your focus is on improvements in student learning, with no focus on cost savings for savings’ sake. You seem to assume, or at least call for, the faculty time (and therefore, money) that is freed up to be used to increase individual attention for struggling students and other activities that improve learning outcomes. That’s a reallocation of time (and thus money), not any sort of net savings. My question is, would you expect better or even the same improved learning outcomes if the time (i.e. money) saved by going to the “blended course” model wasn’t reallocated as described but was instead eliminated? Would you support moving to the “blended course” model if the saved resources weren’t directed back at improved student learning, but rather simply disappeared to address funding shortfalls? Thanks for your provocative work.

    • Paul: A great question. Thank you.

      I’d respond in two parts. First, the question is about whether or not I’d advocate for blended learning. Almost all of the results that I have seen point to increased student engagement, increased student learning, increased student satisfaction, and reduced costs, particularly in the research that Carol Twigg and her associates have done through NCAT. In response to your question, I asked Chuck Dziuban, a researcher at the University of Central Florida, for his thoughts. He has had enormous experience with blended learning courses at UCF. Here is his comment: “…we have data that indicates somewhat better success in blended courses and higher student satisfaction levels. And withdrawal rates are low. Aside from the data, blended courses provide more degrees of freedom for learning opportunities and course transformation.” Based upon these kinds of evidence, I would advocate for a move to blended courses solely for pedagogical reasons.

      But you asked another question as well. How can we be assured that the “savings” will be devoted to greater effectiveness, and not just swallowed up in the rush to save funding. Frankly, in the short haul, I’m not sure that when under enormous pressure, institutions won’t have to take “savings” wherever they are. But if that saves faculty positions, it may have to be done. I would hope that in the longer time frame, moving to blended courses, as Chuck notes, not only produces savings but provides more opportunities for faculty to work in new ways to improve student learning outcomes.

      As I have said more than once, I think we have to move away from faculty delivering courses to a place where faculty design learning environments. At the heart of this work, therefore, there is a focus on student learning outcomes, but equally important, a focus on the critical and vital role of faculty at the heart of the process.

      Thank you again, Paul, for your thoughtful question.

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