How I think we small liberal arts colleges can stay in business in an OER world

I wrote this a few weeks ago in response to a discussion I was having with some faculty about the value of distance learning vs. residential learning:

I don’t think we need to choose between models; I think we are in a great position to cherry-pick from the best models. We can offer the highly personalized, spontaneous FTF teaching environment, and we can offer ubiquitous access to connective technologies that allow us the freedom to teach and learn in ways that meet the needs of students with different learning styles. We can offer these things in a blended course formats or in discrete formats, depending on the student, subject and course needs. Our online model can continually be enriched by our FTF campus, and vice-versa.

One of the uncomfortable truths of for-profit colleges is that they can show proof of improved learning outcomes, which would be impossible without technology affordances and standards. Whether we like it or not, students/parents/employers do see college as a means of achieving the ability to compete for jobs, and so we had better be able to prove we can measure up or else be relegated to world of elite (and largely unemployed) hobbyists. For-profit colleges don’t pretend to be research institutes; they are teaching institutions, which is a serious problem for small colleges that don’t tie P&T to teaching but rather to research.

To compete in this future as a small liberal arts college, we should offer the best in human engagement while proving that we have the acuity to use technology where it makes sense to do so (and more and more often, it does make sense). So long as we can prove we vigorously make use of the modern tools needed to showcase the skills we teach, we can outperform “business model” schools by providing a social, personalized and communally connected experience for undergraduates. The faculty who adapt to the use of technological resources most nimbly will be the ones who evolve into the most successful professors of tomorrow. We should value teaching at least as much as research, so I (not too surprisingly) think we should enable faculty to develop these skills.

Ok, stepping down off the soap box now and returning to my alter-ego status as humble administrator.

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