Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Next Generation University

New alternative paths towards higher education are opening up every month. The growth of open educational resources mean that the content for a course is freely available and does not need to be developed by the university or school. Collaborative learning means that students learn in groups and through their own personal learning networks. The missing ingredients in the mix are the teacher's role of facilitator/guide/mentor and role of examiner. Those elements do not necessarily have to be provided by the same institution and thus courses can be offered free of charge and based around a flexible and personalized infrastructure. Students of the future will be able to follow personalized learning paths following courses provided by a variety of providers, sometimes completely net-based, sometimes work-based and sometimes more traditional campus-based courses. In the end the student's e-portfolio can be presented to a university or accreditation institute for assessment and a degree can be awarded.

Study by Kevin McShane, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  Kevin McShane

This model has been adopted by another player in the open education field called Next Generation University. NGU has dubbed itself "the world's first free university" though this seems a debatable issue since University of the People and Peer 2 Peer University have been active for the past two years. Information on the site is still rather sparse but the list of collaborators and funders is certainly impressive. They plan to start by offering a limited range of courses, mostly in health sciences.

"NextGenU's learning model builds on educational best practices, including using high-quality online learning materials (e.g., text, videos, images), interactive peer activities (e.g online chat rooms, and creating and assessing peer-generated case studies, images, and multiple choice questions), and hands-on mentored experiences (e.g., seeing and discussing patients). This model mirrors and expands on the traditional university experience through interacting with peers and experts in the field of study, while learning basic knowledge on one's own via online learning materials. It does not have active faculty involvement (that's part of how we can offer the trainings for free), though course creators, advisory committee members, and other experts will participate some in chat rooms."

Students work their way through the open course material and discuss and interact online. Every student is urged to recruit a mentor qualified in the subject being studied either in the student's geographic vicinity or online. These mentors receive mentoring guidelines from NGU and are then expected to offer guidance and be part of the assessment process. This process is a mix of self-assessment, peer assessment, mentor assessment and tests. At the end of a course the student should be able to offer a portfolio of work to a nearby university for assessment and hopefully credentials. In this way NGU does not need to provide any credentials but must make sure the students' work can be validated by a "regular" university.

I've already written several times about the OER university initiative which certainly seems more robust and sustainable than this one but whether or not NGU manages to take off it is clear that we're only at the start of an innovation wave in higher education and further initiatives in this direction are in the pipeline.

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