My Trip to Fresno State

I just got back from Fresno State, where I participated in the launch of CSU-Fresno’s Red Balloon Project.  I have now participated in three kinds of Red Balloon events:  A statewide meeting in New Hampshire that included public and private colleges and university, both 2 and 4 year institutions; a statewide meeting in Missouri of public 4 year institutions; and a single institution project launch.

When I arrived in Fresno, I met with the Red Balloon Committee, a terrific group of faculty members and others working on the Project.  Their insights, wisdom, enthusiasm and commitment were apparent from the moment I sat down with them.  We had a rich conversation about issues that appear when trying to do a campus-wide project.  Two of the most thoughtful questions were these:

1.      What are the strategies for launching and maintaining interest in the project?

2.      How do you deal with the critics?

I’ll come back to those two questions in a subsequent blog, as I think they are critical questions for any campus.

The next morning, I participated in a campus-wide meeting, attended by more than 100 people, that was the launch event for Fresno State’s Red Balloon Project.  I was especially pleased to see students involved in the meeting and discussions.  I was impressed with the organization and thought that went into that meeting.  For several weeks before the event, fliers and posters announced the project but in somewhat obscure ways, a strategy to heighten interest.  The event itself was replete with red balloons, red balloon stickers on name tags, and a focus on the 6 core areas of potential “re-imagination.”  President John Welty started the session with brief remarks, and then I was introduced by the Provost, Bill Covino.  Following my comments, the audience had an opportunity to select one of the 6 areas of focus by going to one of the pre-designated tables.  Following a short report-out, Dennis Neff from Academic Affairs made some concluding remarks, and then Bill Covino, the provost, was asked to come forward to select winning tickets for three door prizes (two iPod Nanos and one iPad…pretty cool prizes!).  (Because I was so impressed with everything that happened, I’ll only mention in passing the problems the Committee had with getting a large red weather balloon tethered in the middle of campus.  It’s actually a pretty funny story.  They found what was described as a humongous weather balloon, but it was white.  They finally got it painted red, and even inflated with helium, only to discover the next day that the balloon was slumping badly, and eventually the balloon went flat; I said I hoped that didn’t suggest how the project would end!)

One of the interesting parts of the morning was a brief Q&A following my remarks.  One participant didn’t like much about my presentation, which I always find helpful.  In the combination of that session (where only 3 people got to ask questions) and the report back from the small group discussions, I heard the range of comments that one might expect, from enthusiastic advocate of change to those with substantial concerns, about direction, administrative support, institutional capacity and the like.  I noted that after one table’s report-back, which included a comment about too many initiatives underway at once, there was applause.  I’ll come back to some of these issues in subsequent blogs.

Ellen Junn, the Associate Provost, did a wonderful job of organizing the project launch and the day’s activities.  The concept behind the morning’s events was that following a time of introduction and initial discussion (the Friday morning event), the organizers would take all of the ideas and responses that were generated, and then form task forces around the core topics or issues.  I thought that strategy, that encouraged open and honest discussion, and a willingness to wait until that conversation was completed before further organizing the project, was a brilliant strategy.

Overall, I left Fresno with enormous hope that something not only useful but indeed nationally significant will come out of the efforts at Fresno State.  There was a wonderful spirit about individuals I met, even those who had serious reservations about the project.  The team that Ellen has assembled, both faculty and administrators, clearly has the creativity and imagination to take on this gigantic challenge.  I enjoyed my visit to Fresno State immensely, and look forward to hearing about the great things they achieve in the months ahead.

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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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Featured Campus: California State University, Fresno

As part of the Red Balloon Blog we are highlighting campuses which are starting to launch their own Red Balloon initiative.  We are hoping that these ideas will help you as you begin the initiative on your campus. We will follow the progress of these campuses throughout the year.

Today we are highlighting California State University, Fresno. The Red Balloon Campus Leader is Ellen Junn, Associate Provost.

What strategies are you using or do you plan to use for implementation?

California State University, Fresno first became excited about the Red Balloon Project during the Summer of 2010.  At that time a group of faculty, staff, and administrators came together to form the Red Balloon Project Steering Committee.  This team has been facilitated by Dr. Ellen Junn, Associate Provost & Interim Senior Academic Technology Officer.  The Steering Committee has been meeting together since its inception discussing ways to engage the various stakeholders of the University into a creative and productive dialog focusing on re-imagining higher education.

The Red Balloon Launch event will feature national visionary and Higher Education Red Balloon Project inspirational leader Dr. George L. Mehaffy.  At the Launch faculty, staff, administrators and students will have the opportunity to focus on one of the six Red Balloon areas and collaborate with colleagues to develop ideas. This collaboration will result in more than simply creating a vision. Participants will find out how they can get involved in a project team to move toward implementing those ideas to revolutionize higher education here at California State University, Fresno.  This event will take place on October 29, 2010.

Following the Launch event, all interested parties will be able to self-select an area of focus and participate in planning sessions and virtual meetings of these teams throughout the year. Each team will have a team leader selected from those who expressed interest in that particular Red Balloon area.  It is our goal that each of these teams will be capable of producing several suggestions that can be adopted by the campus community resulting in a real change in the years to come.

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What if?

What if a single campus was devoted, for even a short time, to a laser-like focus on learning outcomes? What if everyone—faculty, staff, and students—thought deeply about how to maximize the learning outcomes for students, both in and out of class.

It’s obvious that many people already think deeply about these issues on every campus, both in academic and student affairs. Indeed, students often talk about the learning experience. But what I’m struck by is how very seldom, in an institution devoted to learning, we talk about it collectively, learn from one another, and undertake collaborative initiatives. I think we need to make learning outcomes the subject of public conversations, not just private thoughts.  We need to make learning outcomes visible instead of invisible.

We’ve dreamed of building a national collaborative, with people working together from institutions all over the United States. While a grand vision, it may also be a bit daunting. So one place to start is to get an entire campus to work together on a shared problem of increasing learning outcomes for all students.  Imagine the power of even a single campus to create innovative and sustainable approaches and models by working together. That concept of collaborative work and networked knowledge is at the very heart of our work in the Red Balloon Project.

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Reflections on China and the Red Balloon Project

Whenever I come to China, I’m reminded that our Red Balloon Project (Re-Imagining Undergraduate Education)  is more than just a way to keep our AASCU institutions competitive; it’s equally about ways to keep the United States competitive.

China’s rapid ascent on the world stage has been the subject of many conversations, particularly once it gained the position as the world’s second largest economy this year, surpassing Japan.  But higher education, as part of that rapid ascent, is less often mentioned.  Yet here at the conference and EXPO we’re attending, where I have been coming each year for the past 10 years, the growth is both visible and stunning.  When I first came in 2001, China was completing a national plan that doubled the number of students attending college, from 6 to 12 million students.  Yet just in the time I have been coming, the growth has doubled again, now exceeding 24 million students.

One simple anecdote illustrates the problem we have.  Not only are many more students going to college; they also seem to be working harder than our students. We were at Anhui University, an inland area south of Beijing.  This is not one of the core large cities, like Beijing, Shanghai, or Chengdu but a less populated area.  Yet universities are thriving there, too.  Anhui University grew so fast that it outgrew its main campus.  So in 18 months, the University built a satellite campus some distance out of town for its 5,000 first year students.  We were touring the campus about 4:45 on a Friday afternoon, and I remarked to the travelers in our group that it didn’t look much different than one of our campuses on a Friday afternoon, largely empty, with just a few people around.  And then the bell rang…….and 5,000 students emptied out of classrooms all over campus.  We were all dumbfounded.  I said “I think we have a problem.”

That degree of hard work and purposefulness is found in Chinese students all over this country.  It’s a bit terrifying to think about, particularly in a country of 1.3 billion people.  I’ve often said that assuming that human intelligence is normally distributed within a population, then China has more smart people than the United States has people.

But we have a secret weapon, as the most creative and innovative people on earth.  China’s institutions, in the main, still “do” higher education in very traditional ways.  We have the chance to innovate ourselves to a new future in American higher education, making our system not simply bigger but massively more effective, producing graduates with greater skills, knowledge, and capabilities.

The Red Balloon Project holds the promise, therefore, of not simply making our institutions more competitive with others but helping our nation remain competitive in the global economy of the 21st century.  But I feel a fierce urgency to respond to this challenge.  As I’m reminded daily on these visits, the Chinese are not waiting around for us to transform; they, too, are hard at work to create their own set of world class institutions.

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Next Generation Learning Challenges

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Beijing, using the flat screen TV and a built in computer to simultaneously listen to the EDUCAUSE webcast mentioned below, read my email, and write this blog.  Meanwhile, my Blackberry, which I previously thought of as a marvel of technology innovation, and which for the past 6 or 8 years has received emails effortlessly during my travels in China, sits quietly in the corner, a pitifully less capable instrument now that I have found the magic of the computer on my TV screen.  As Dorothy said so long ago, we’re not in Kansas anymore (I don’t mean to disparage Kansas…but this is indeed a brave new world, and as I listen to this webcast, I think we haven’t seen anything yet. We are on the edge of some amazing changes in our knowledge of and understanding of teaching and learning; truly transformative innovations). I think we’re at a tipping point.

The Gates Foundation is committed to making that tipping process accelerate through the recently-announced Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC).  I think the NGLC program represents an enormous opportunity for the campuses in the Red Balloon Project.  At AASCU we’re looking carefully at the program to decide where we might find some support for our work.  The Next Generation Learning Challenges is starting by looking at four issues:  Open Core Courseware, Blended Learning, Web 2.0 Engagement, and Learning Analytics.

I urge you to go the the Next Generation Learning Challenges website and read about the initiative.  But even more importantly, I urge you to listen to a pre-recorded webcast, available on demand, from EDUCAUSE, the organization that is managing the Next Generation Learning Challenges project.

What is particularly interesting about this webcast is the presenter, Bror Saxberg (chief learning officer for Kaplan). For those of you who tend to think of the for-profit higher education world as largely composed of venture capitalists and flinty-eyed business people, Bror, a Rhodes Scholar, has a Ph.D in Computer Sciense from MIT…and an MD from Harvard Medical School.

One of the great advantages of places like Kaplan or the University of Phoenix, with their enormous enrollments (Phoenix has more than 450,000 students) is the ability to study learning at enormous scale.  That’s why, to be competitive, the Red Balloon is so important as a concept: linking large numbers of institutions and large numbers of students, to study large scale teaching strategies and learning outcomes.

Here’s a link to a webcast Bror did:

Posted in New Models for Curriculum, New Models for Enrollment Management, New Models for Faculty, New Models for Institutional Organization and Design, New Models for Instructional Design, Red Balloon General Thoughts | Leave a comment

Featured Campus: Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne

As part of the Red Balloon Blog we are highlighting campuses which are starting to launch their own Red Balloon initiative.  We are hoping that these ideas will help you as you begin the initiative on your campus. We will follow the progress of these campuses throughout the year.

Today we are highlighting Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne. The Red Balloon Campus Leader is William McKinney, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

How did you introduce the Red Balloon Project to your campus?

I used a two-fold approach to launching IPFW’s Red Balloon Project.  The first was to begin discussing the project goals publicly.  I used my remarks at the tenth anniversary celebration of our Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching in Spring 2010 as a kick-off.  Since then, all of my public remarks highlight Red Balloon themes in one way or another.  Shortly thereafter, I began circulating the Red Balloon white paper electronically among our University Senate, department, and college leadership.  This allowed the conversation to continue on an informal basis over the summer.  This gradual build-up led to the launch of our campus-wide “Re-imagining IPFW’s Academic Future,” which launched in late September.

What strategies are you using or do you plan to use for implementation?

We are using a combination of open academic forums, blog, podcasts and Twitter.  Our project website can be found here:

The first two open forums have sparked lively campus-wide conversations.  While the first was broadly introductory, the second began to focus on Red Balloon details specific to IPFW.  We are using the six broad Red Balloon themes as subject areas for six campus working groups, to be led by one faculty member and one academic administrator.  In addition, I am especially pleased that our faculty leadership has shown interest in the project, and we are working together to frame co-sponsored panel discussions for the remaining two open forums of the fall semester, with one to be focused closely on questions surrounding the scholarship of engagement.  Furthermore, since much the Red Balloon concept demands of future-oriented perspective, we will be using it to frame, at least part, of our on-going strategic planning discussions.

Finally, our campus dialogue is also being used to frame our work statewide and nationally.  There is considerable interest in Indiana’s public comprehensive universities being more actively involved in the AAC&U LEAP initiative, and conversations have begun within both the Purdue and Indiana University systems on how Red Balloon and LEAP principles can further the state’s higher education goals.  The release of the Indiana Commission on Higher Education’s (ICHE) revised policy document on regional campuses Policy on Regional Campus Roles and Missions has brought increased attention to public comprehensives statewide.  This coincidence of ICHE policy and national higher education initiatives has provided a genuine opportunity for discussion of our institutions’ most fundamental assumptions and values.

So far…the discussions have been positive, collegial, and energizing.

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Education’s Priority Challenges: A Context for Red Balloon Thinking and Action

a recent submission from Bill Graves at Sungard Higher Education

My draft article, “Education’s Priority Challenges,” addresses the goals of AASCU’s Red Balloon Project as they relate to both education providers and education’s external “investors” – students, families, donors, governments, employers, and suppliers.  The article also offers a theoretical example of the kind of win-win collaboration that might be viably piloted through AASCU and its “partners” of all stripes.  The theoretical “economic governance collaboration” described in the article draws on the research that made Professor Elinor Ostrom (Indiana University) a 2009 Nobel Laureate in Economics.

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Why Now?

Why do I think we have reached a Red Balloon moment?  I think we in higher education, particularly public higher education, face a substantial danger.  Things could happen very quickly, and the changes could be catastrophic for us.

Malcolm Gladwell writes persuasively about the concept of a tipping point, a moment when suddenly rapid change occurs.  As human beings, we’re really not well prepared for sudden change.  Ray Kurzweil describes the singularity as a similar moment, when what we assume will be a slow, steady advance is profoundly disrupted by a sudden and dramatic turn.  He uses a vivid illustration in comparing arithmetic to geometric progression.  If you take 30 steps arithmetically, at the end you will be 30 steps away from where you started.  But if you take 30 steps geometrically (that it, doubling the number each time), by the end of 30 steps you are a billion steps away from where you started.  The problem is that both arithmetic and geometric progression, when on a graph, look similar when they start but then geometric growth takes a very sharp upward turn, and change occurs with great rapidity.

One illustration of our vulnerability is the lower division coursework.  There are models being developed, particularly by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, to offer substantially less expensive and more accessible general education coursework.  What’s wrong with that?  Carol Twigg (and others) estimate that 33% of the undergraduate enrollment is found in as few as 25 courses.  What if those courses could be offered very inexpensively?  Could we see a hollowing out of the undergraduate credit hour production?  What might be the consequences of that?

Jane Wellman, whose work on the delta Project has been widely acclaimed, comments that higher education is plagued by cross-subsidies.  Graduate education is subsidized by undergraduate education; upper division programming is subsidized by lower division programming.  If you reduce the student credit hour generation in the lower division sequence, does that potentially lead to a collapse of the whole system?

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