Unbundling, Design Thinking, Et Cetera: Leaders’ Collection 10.18.2016

A hand-picked (lovingly) collection of news, reports,  and essays of interest to leaders in higher education by Keith Hampson, PhD. 


Unbundling is ‘Separating Gold from Gravel’

Georgetown U’s Carnevale on labour and higher ed shares insights on future of intertwined industries.

Full Interview

An Introduction to Design Thinking: Process Guide

From Stanford’s d.school.

Access the document (pdf)

How to Conduct Strategic Planning

A high-quality description of the strategic planning process – well-suited to higher education. From the World Economic Forum.

Access the document (pdf)

What Makes a College President?

Experts weigh in on critical higher ed leadership traits needed for surely one of the world’s least desirable jobs (IMO). From EducationDive.

Read the full interview.

The Impact of Ambiguous “Student Outcomes” on Technology. By James Wiley, Eduventures.

Read the full article.

The Academic Job Market Is Tottering, But Nobody’s Telling Graduate Students

A reminder of the dismal prospects for graduate students hoping to land a full-time gig – from the Pope Center – one of the few conservative-leaning (US-style) voices in higher education.

Read the full article. 

Universities Are Churning Out the Next Generation of Higher Ed Bureaucrats

Read the full article.

Learnings from colleges that have gone through mergers and transformation from the good people at JISC.

Access the podcast.

Original blog. 

Diversion of the Week

Betty Crocker cake mixes.

Edtech’s Betty Crocker Moment

Betty Crocker introduced its cake mixes in the 1950s. The mixes made the process of baking cakes less prone to failure. Faster too. For many, especially over-burdened women working at home, this was a huge leap forward.

But the cake mixes didn’t sell especially well. So, using market research and input from psychologists, the decision was made to design the baking process so that the customer would be required to add an egg or two to the recipe. Sales took off. Today, few people bake a cake “from scratch.”

At its core, this anecdote speaks to the need to design technologies with a deep understanding of the context in which it will be used. Big increases in value depend on it.

More Ambitious Educational Software

Edtech is going through its’ own Betty Crocker moment. For us, it’s a shift from instructionally agnostic software to instructionally intelligent software, and from incremental to substantial gains in efficiency.

Consider the LMS our starting point; it’s the environment in which the vast majority of online courses are built. The LMS is a relatively straightforward product. It is designed for use by lone instructors with little to no knowledge of programming, graphic design and, too often, instructional principles. It places (again, by design) no restrictions on what the end-user does with it. It’s an empty vessel to be filled. This aligns the product with traditions of faculty autonomy while also maximising the size of the market for the vendors.

Now, though, things are getting more interesting – but also more complex. There’s a growing recognition that LMS-based courses are inherently limited. There’s only so much a lone instructor can accomplish, given their limited skills, time, and funds. And, we want to start to take fuller advantage of software. We want to use software for what it does best – extend our human capacities; so we can do more given our available resources. Adaptive software, for example, personalises learning to serve each student’s unique needs. Applications that enable automated feedback ensure that students get immediate feedback on their efforts – not once they have moved on to other topics and challenges. In each case, the software captures and embodies our best understanding of what constitutes an effective learning experience, and puts this knowledge to use in a cost-effective way.

A New Mix

Like the LMS, these relatively new, more ambitious educational technologies need to be built so as to fit neatly into higher education. They need to align with the talent mix, budgets, timelines, and other organisational factors.

This was relatively easy with the LMS. We knew “who would be doing what, when and how” because it was (and remains at most schools) based on the classroom model of education: one course, one instructor, limited resources.

But these new types of applications don’t have a ready-made organisational scenario with which to work. We don’t know, for example, how many people will be working on these courses; one, two, ten?. Will they be using all of their own content, or are they planning to lean heavily on publisher content, as some of the faster growing online institutions do now? What level of skills should we assume for the course developers in the client institutions? Do we need to train them? How much time are they willing to put into the course development process?

Whatever scenario we concoct, it’s likely to change quickly. And the division of roles and responsibilities are dynamic: as one changes, so will the others. As faculty roles change, so must the technology. As instructional staff take on larger roles, new instructional strategies become possible, and so on.

This is an important moment in digital higher education. We’re seeking to add far more value; to increase what institutions can achieve in the online environment. We hope to finally bend that iron triangle of cost, quality and access. But moving beyond relatively simple, agnostic software can’t be achieved in isolation; we can’t simply toss the software “over the wall” to our client institutions and hope that it works. Like the good people at Betty Crocker, we need to craft these software applications with a good understanding of the people and the organisations that will ultimately put them to use.


Keith Hampson, Ph.D. is the founder of digital / edu / strategy, a research and consulting service that helps colleges, universities and education businesses develop better strategies for maximising value. 

10 Rules for Students, Teachers and Life (via Immaculate Heart College)

See Brainpickings.org for more http://bit.ly/P8nWzd

via @brainpickings. Love it. Attributed to Sister Corita Kent, with contributions by John Cage.

Marketing “Resistance” in Higher Ed (From the Archives)

Traditional advertising continues to seek out ways to circumvent consumer fatigue and resistance to its messages.

A common approach, particularly since the 90s, involves leveraging the consumer’s resistance to consumer culture, and then redirecting that resistance into supports of the vendor’s brand. If, in other words, the consumer is cynical, define the brand as a reflection of that cynicism.

Two Examples of Redirecting Consumer Resistance

Dove (personal grooming), for example, has conducted several campaigns that reflect consumer fatigue and resistance to traditional definitions of beauty promoted by the beauty industry, of which Dove is, of course, a key player.

This tactic offers consumers an alternative vision (in this case, of beauty), and exposes the logic behind the mainstream messaging of the vendor’s competitors. The “Real Beauty” campaign deconstructs what’s behind the strategies of its competitors and consequently manages to position Dove in alignment with the consumer.

Like the Dove campaign, a  campaign by Kotex attempts to draw the consumer’s attention to the marketing tactics of its competitors. The premise of the message is that other vendors in this market are speaking down to its audience. (Best line in the ad: “You can relate to me because I’m racially ambiguous.”)

In both the Dove and Kotex campaigns, the advertiser attempts to offer the audience an opportunity to belong to a group of people that are socially sophisticated enough to recognise that other advertisers are untruthful, even manipulative. But like the vast majority of appeals made by multinational corporations that employ this strategy, all consumers can belong to this “exclusive” club.


Resistance in Higher Ed Marketing

Although this advertising tactic is widespread, you likely haven’t seen it being used in higher education.

Few organisations in higher education veer far from the safe and predictable in their marketing efforts. Advertising in higher education regularly focusses on the promise of the institution to transform the student; to open up new possibilities for their lives and careers.

I was surprised, then, to come across marketing from Straighterline (SL) that deviated from the norm. Like the examples of Dove and Kotex, described above, SL is critical of the practices of its own industry (i.e. higher education).

Straighterline is a Baltimore-based company that offers online general ed courses at significantly reduced prices. The credits earned from SL courses can then be used at various colleges with whom SL has an alliance, or at school that accepts ACE-evaluated credits. SL is one of the few business models that has successfully addressed the problem of tuition increases in higher ed. This factor alone places SL in a select category.

In 2010, Straighterline released a white paper of sorts that positions SL not only as an alternative to traditional higher education but in opposition to its practices.

“8 Secrets Colleges Don’t Want You to Know”

Yes, American colleges face hard times. But they aren’t talking to reporters or mentioning these problems on their websites. Why? In order to generate income, colleges need students – lots of them – which they won’t attract if they hang out their dirty laundry for prospective students and their parents to see.
Just the opposite … many colleges want to distract would-be students from noticing what’s really happen- ing on their campuses. They have unpleasant secrets they don’t want you to know.

The eight secrets provided are . . .

1. Financial Aid Is Not What It Seems
2. Courses and Professors Listed in the Catalog Might Not Be Available
3. You Could Be Required to Take Courses Elsewhere
4. Students Get Pushed Out of Classrooms and Into Computer Labs
5. Your College Might Want You to Drop Out
6. State and Public Colleges are Losing Their Bargain Status
7. Colleges are Doing Weird Things to Achieve Higher Rankings
8. Colleges Favor Income-Producing Applicants

The SL campaign emerges at a time when criticism in higher education is especially heated. As Peter Sacks notes:

College bashing is very much in vogue. A batch of new and recent books portray the campus culture in dark tones: College is an expensive fraud, pandering to its entitled student customers with soft courses and inflated grades; college is for dummies, it’s bad for your brain, and it’s even worse for your pocketbook, your children’s, and the financial well- being of generations to come.

There’s much to admire about the Straighterline campaign. It’s certainly more honest than most. And to the extent that it might help create a more informed customer, it’s useful. Lack of understanding about the costs and value of higher education is a theme that runs through many of the current debates in higher education (c.f. For-profit higher ed and gainful employment).

Tactically, though, this campaign is more difficult to understand; here’s why. In one respect, Straighterline is positioned as an alternative to higher education, in so far as students can take the SL courses independently of an accredited institution. Here, adopting a contrary stance in relation to higher education makes good marketing sense.

But the SL business model is also dependent on institutions within higher education to serve as its partners. In many cases, the students will take their credits obtained through SL to the partnering institutions and apply them towards an academic program. The value that SL offers in these instances is highly dependent on a securing a wide range of partnering institutions. Could SL – by adopting this stance in relation to higher education – act to discourage traditional colleges from partnering with the company, and thus reducing its value proposition? I don’t know. But it certainly can’t help.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in the ways in which alternatives to higher education position themselves in relation to the traditional higher education sector, you may wish to check out these two sites:

PersonalMBA. “You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library.” This online collective of learners uses widely available readings and peer-to-peer learning to mimic an educational experience that typically costs tens of thousands of dollars, and two years of lost wages. The significance of the PMBA is, first, that it targets a well-known and often profitable university franchise. Second, the tone and language used in the PMBA community often reflects a willful rejection of traditional ideas about what constitutes legitimate learning.

UofPeople. “Join the Education Revolution.” This is the online initiative started by Shai Reshef. U of People offers learners not merely a chance to learn, but to be part of a “revolution” that challenges the ways that higher education traditionally operates.