Monday, July 12, 2010

Technology Can Bend the Cost Curve

By John Glaser

--Hybrid Classes: We are at the point in the evolution of learning technology platforms that we can create technology enabled courses that both increase class quality while reducing the number of "in-classroom" hours that need to occur. Moving one hour out of every three to an online asynchronous environment using a learning management system (LMS) can dramatically free up classroom space. These free classrooms can accommodate more courses, therefore increasing enrollments. Creating more output (students educated) with equal or less inputs (classroom buildings), while maintaining or improving quality is the definition of an increase in productivity. Learning technology platforms are much less expensive and can be scaled faster and more efficiently than new buildings. The argument that quality suffers with hybrid courses is no longer tenable given the twin developments in pedagogy and technology that define the last decade in higher education.

That is just one of the three major ways Joshua Kim at Inside Higher Ed suggests we use technology to "bend the educational cost curve." Do read the rest of them.

The argument has been made that tech-education is too expensive compared to today's in-class emphasis. But how does this line of reasoning account for the consistently decreasing inflation-adjusted costs of computers, software, and related technologies despite rising quality, while hikes in tuition costs over the rate of inflation, continue to be an annual (or even by-semester) occurrence? Furthermore, to the extent that online learning has been embraced in higher education, it has made classrooms much more efficient. Everything from digitally distributed syllabi to asynchronous online student inquiries on assignments has gotten easier, more convenient, and more effective.

Furthermore, I've seen exactly zero evidence to suggest that the use of technology is a major (or even a minor) contributor to rising tuition costs over all.

I will offer a speculation: it seems that much of the resistance tech-ed is facing is from professors who don't want to be crowded out by online classes and ebook reading. Take this case, where the Berkeley Faculty Association is objecting to the university "exploring a way to offer more online courses, promising that it can maintain high quality, save money, and expand access to courses," due mainly to its potential to "undermine faculty control" and wild accusations of it becoming "a boondoggle." These innovations and technologies have the potential to enhance the learning experience as well as cut costs, yet resisters are working hard to prevent their embrace. Talk about a cost liability.

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