A “Pixar” Model for the Creation of Educational Materials in a Digital World– Paper
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A “Pixar” Model for the Creation of Educational Materials in a Digital World– Paper

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Thomas D. Lairson, Gelbman Professor of International Business and Professor of Political Science, Rollins College ...

Thomas D. Lairson, Gelbman Professor of International Business and Professor of Political Science, Rollins College

Developing innovative digital education materials, incorporating all of the engaging value that digitization can offer and promoting complex analytical, and intellectual sensibilities in students are unlikely without significant conceptual and organizational changes. This paper develops the “Pixar” model, based on the disruptive innovation practices of Steve Jobs, to describe these changes and how they relate to the existing educational environment. An example of innovative digital materials, based on U.S.-China relations, is elaborated and related to the Pixar model.

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A “Pixar” Model for the Creation of Educational Materials in a Digital World– Paper A “Pixar” Model for the Creation of Educational Materials in a Digital World– Paper Document Transcript

  • A “Pixar” Model for the Creation of Educational Materials in a Digital World1 Thomas D. Lairson Gelbman Professor of International Business Professor of Political Science Rollins College Prepared for presentation at the NITLE Symposium: Inventing the Future Arlington, Virginia – April 16-17, 2012 The future is already here – its just not evenly distributed. William GibsonAbstractDeveloping innovative digital education materials, incorporating all of the engaging value thatdigitization can offer and promoting complex analytical and intellectual sensibilities in students, isthe main barrier to achieving the disruptive innovations many have anticipated from onlineeducation. At the same time, developing these materials is unlikely without significant disruptiveinnovation within the content creation value chain. This paper provides a conceptualization of thesechanges by developing the “Pixar” model, based on the digital business model of Steve Jobs at Pixarand Apple. The Pixar model provides the gold standard for successful operation within the world ofdigital business and establishes a path for likely change within the arena of digital education,including for liberal arts colleges.The Pixar model consists of a willingness to break existing product and business model molds byusing cutting edge digital capabilities, a refusal to be bound by many existing industry standards, anintersection of content – what Jobs referred to as art - and technology, defining new productcategories and redefining existing product categories, an obsession with quality, defining newbusiness models by leveraging distributed knowledge creation capabilities, and exploiting theextremely low marginal cost of a digital product. Liberal arts colleges will need to embark on self-disruption to adapt to this new world, with Pixar-like thinking relating to entrepreneurship,reconfiguring incentives, load definitions and skill sets for faculty and technologists alike, integratestudents into the content creation process, embrace a trial and error process of change, engage inradical experimentation with existing models of time and space for courses to adapt to new digitaleducational materials, link into new value chains for digital educational materials, and leverage theirapproach to ideas, learning, thinking and education into the digital age.High quality digital educational materials, some of which already exist, must meet the best standardsof education, by enhancing engaged, interactive, analytical, perspective and values-clarifying,decision-making, and information-evaluation learning. To do this, such materials must be highlyengaging, visually compelling, interactive over a range and depth of intellectual activities, embedunobtrusive testing and capture results, with differentiated levels of competence and achievement.Examples for a “course” on U.S.-China relations could include AI-based interactive 3D virtualenvironments with SIRI-like input and response capabilities. These can be built around developingsimulation environments of various forms of economic, political and military interaction thatchallenge students to understand relationships and scenarios. GIS-based layered maps with complexand embedded links to text and multimedia information will serve as the basis for a variety of game-like activities for exploring alternative scenarios in the U.S.-China relationship.Development of these materials will have three very significant effects on higher education. Thematerials will make the case for a large expansion of online education and thereby promote newforms for education. Second, the organization that creates educational materials will have acompetitive advantage in taking the lead in providing the education itself. Third, failure of liberal1Special thanks to Dr. Gary Williams and Dr. Kenna Taylor for their comments on this paper. Theusual disclaimers apply.
  • arts faculty and staff to play a key role in the development and use of these materials will lead tosevere disadvantages. Liberal arts colleges can self-disrupt and end up much stronger, adapt a littleand end up a shell of themselves, or react poorly and end up as a historical memory.Introduction The online and digital worlds greatly alter time and space as constraints oneducation, opening up new opportunities to change the ways we define and practicethe educational process.2 But much of this depends on redefining the nature andprocess of developing new kinds of educational materials for this world.Traditionally, most educational materials have been books, most of which arewritten by academics for a particular course. This book may have one or twoauthors (more if edited) who produce more or less the same kinds of materials:words and maybe a graph (perhaps an equation). These days many books will alsohave a website with more words and some links and more frequently books aredigitized as e-books. What is remarkable is how little we have been able to break the “book” mold3and generate genuinely innovative interactive and multimedia learning experiencesfor university students. The limitations on book innovation are connected to thelimitations on university innovation. This has just begun to change with optionssuch as Inkling and the iBooks textbook and more generally with some e-books.4Even more innovative options, such as scenario-based training, virtual worldsimulations, video game-like interactive environments and the like are largely foundin specialized firms whose clients are large corporations. A few universities andliberal arts colleges have models of innovation in digital materials worth emulating.But mostly, universities and colleges are left with Powerpoint-like options directedtoward pre-collegiate students. Compellingly rich, complex, and challenging virtualenvironments for collegiate education are possible but mostly don’t exist or exist inembryonic form because we lack the conceptualization, resources and organizationsfor their creation. Most important, the development of a digital education world willmean more changes than we have thus far imagined. This will be harder than we2 Thomas D. Lairson, “Rethinking the ‘Course’ in an Online World,” Campus-Wide Information Systems,16.5, (1999) 186-190. For data on online courses, see “Six Online Learning Trends,” The Chronicle ofHigher Education, November 6, 2011, http://chronicle.com/article/Charts-6-Online-Learning/129634/3 See The Institute for the Future of the Book, http://www.futureofthebook.org/ andhttp://www.futureofthebook.org/gamertheory2.0/ The minimal changes in the university areconsidered by Cathy Davidson and David Goldberg, The Future of Learning Institutions in a DigitalAge, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.4 Inkling can be found at: http://www.inkling.com/ ; iBooks is at:http://www.apple.com/education/ibooks-textbooks/ ; Lynn Neary, “At Last, They See: E-BooksDemocratize Publishing,” National Public Radio, February 19, 2012,http://www.npr.org/2012/02/19/147112456/e-books-flipping-the-page-on-publishing-standards ;Peter Meyer, Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience, O’Reilly Media,2011, identifies many digital enhancements to the “book.” The Economist, “Enhanced E-books: TrulyMoving Literature,” February 21, 2012,http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2012/02/enhanced-e-books
  • think and more consequential than we have realized. But, we may be at a tippingpoint for the creation of a vast array of innovative digital educational media. Getting from here to there will require transformations in organization,conceptualization and business model. We will need to think in a genuinelyinterdisciplinary fashion: drawing on analysis from business, technology andpedagogy, we will need entrepreneurship animated by imagination to grasp theopportunities in digital learning. To help understand these possibilities, this paperconceptualizes this set of disruptive innovations as a “Pixar” model, based on theextraordinary capabilities first created at Apple, then expanded at Pixar thentransported back to and expanded yet again at Apple. The description of a Pixar model for academia helps to identify just how farwe are from being able to achieve a digital education. We consider the variouscomponents of this model in terms of creating the environment needed to developtruly innovative digital educational materials. This is illustrated with an example ofsuch materials – focused on understanding the relationship between the UnitedStates and China – and the kinds of resources – personnel and otherwise – requiredfor their creation. The paper describes some of the interactive digital materials thatcould be developed and integrated to permit students to think deeply about thissubject. It then considers the kinds of organization and people needed to developthese capabilities and speculates about how and whether creating such teams mightbe possible within a liberal arts college setting. Based on the application of the Pixar model, three main propositions will bedeveloped and defended. First, high quality digital educational materials will play akey role in the transformation of the process of education. These materials willmake the case for a much larger online component for education by creatingactivities that substantially enhance the capacity to promote the goals of a liberaleducation: engaged, interactive, analytical, perspective, values clarifying, decision-making, information-evaluation learning. Locating these materials in an onlinespace will propel changes in education relating to time, space and process thatbreak with the 12th century model of education tied to agricultural seasons andphysical environments. Second, the greatest uncertainty is the source of thesematerials. Whether faculty and others from liberal arts colleges will play a key rolein the development and even use of these materials is unclear. Only with substantialchange in attitude and organization can this happen. Third, the organization thatcreates educational materials will have a competitive advantage in taking the lead inproviding the education itself. The initial point of disruptive innovation in thecoming years is not the college or university but at the level of creating digitaleducational materials themselves. Other disruptions will flow from control over thecreation and application of these materials.
  • The pathway forward will come only by transforming the institutional orderfor educational content, content creation and the organization of education.5 Thisdirection can be understood through the Pixar model of disruptive innovation, asdeveloped by Steve Jobs and the firms he created. Jobs is reported to have turnedhis attention to disrupting the world of textbooks just before he died.6 This paperapplies some of the ideas of “Jobsian” disruption – in the realms of organization,technology, content creation and business model – to the process of developingcollegiate educational materials for a digital world. I term this the Pixar Model, as away of defining not only how relationships in education must change toaccommodate this world but also how education itself will likely be disrupted bythese changes. To this point, what has largely held back the effects of a digital worldon education is not the hardware of the Internet or the computer but the lack ofcompelling and truly innovative software. The iPad is just a curiosity without theapps; so too, achieving the new world of digital education and the disruption itportends awaits compelling digital content, that itself awaits a new system ofcontent creation. If this is to take place on the terrain of the college and universityand not in a completely new and perhaps distributed environment, it will requirenew kinds of capabilities from “faculty” able to adjust to the complex connectionsneeded.I. The Pixar Model of Disruptive Innovation7 Steve Jobs had many serious weaknesses, as a person and as a manager. Asone person put it, “I am a recovering assaholic. So I could recognize that in Steve.”8But at some level, his obsessiveness and difficulties may have been the source forthe keen insights into how to understand and succeed in the digital business world.9This did not come at first, as many important failures and years of trial and errorwere needed to get it right, including understanding the real value of the Pixarcompany Jobs purchased. What he eventually “got right” was the creation of a model for operating inthe digital business world, a model I am calling the “Pixar Model,” for it was at5 For an apocalyptic vision of the effects of online education, see Megan McArdle, “Envisioning a Post-Campus America,” The Atlantic, February 13, 2012,http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/02/envisioning-a-post-campus-america/253032/and Joseph King and Michael Nanfito, “A Potential Academic Future,” Inside Higher Ed, February 9,2012, http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/02/09/essay-imagines-future-academe6 Isaacson, Walter (2011) Steve Jobs, New York: Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 508-509. Thisdirection seems confirmed http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/11/apple-aims-to-take-on-the-textbook-market/?partner=yahoofinance7 Clayton Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Harper Business, 2011.8 Isaacson, Steve Jobs, Kindle Edition, 185.9 Walter Issacson, “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs,” Harvard Business Review, April 2012,http://hbr.org/2012/04/the-real-leadership-lessons-of-steve-jobs/ar/1
  • Pixar10 that this system of business, creation and technology first began to congeal.The model was later carried back to Apple and reapplied over and over andperfected to transform Apple in fifteen years from near-death to (at least for a time)the most valuable company in the world.11 And this Pixar model helps usunderstand what needs to happen for effective content creation for a digitaleducation revolution. The main components of the Pixar model include: A willingness to break existing product and business model molds, specifically by using cutting edge digital capabilities. As Jobs certainly understood, these capabilities would not only rapidly fall in price; they also had many fungible features that provided leverage into additional capabilities. An example is the inclusion of electronic versions of an Oxford dictionary and the complete works of Shakespeare a pioneering use of digital content to sell hardware.12 A determination to fight against industry standards until it worked. The dominant design for the personal computer industry was established by the Wintel system that provided the core of the IBM PC: hardware and software were outsourced to separate firms and integrated to create an industry standard. For Jobs, these elements had to be integrated into one firm and made (somewhat) incompatible with other systems. This counterintuitive position eventually turned the industry upside down when this capability made it possible for Apple to define the post-PC world through its control of both the hardware and software.13 Pixar was the intersection of content – what Jobs referred to as art - and technology. Pixar was important not only for its appealing and popular animated films but also for its technology – RenderMan. In this sense, the people operating Pixar had to work assiduously to establish the idea of10 The Pixar story can be found at: Tom Hormby, (January 22, 2007). "The Pixar Story: Fallon Forbes,Dick Shoup, Alex Schure, George Lucas and Disney". In addition, see Issacson, Steve Jobs, KindleEdition, Chapter 19.11 The Pixar model focuses on the business model for a digital world. A very different sense of thesources of Apple’s success can be found in Adam Lashinsky, Inside Apple, Business Plus, 2012. Weshould remember that when Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 the company was on the verge ofbankruptcy.12 Isaacson, Steve Jobs, Kindle Ed. 223-25.13 Michael Cusumano, “Technology Strategy and Management: The Legacy of Steve Jobs,”Communications of the ACM, 54.12 (December 2011) 26-28. Isaacson, (2011), Kindle Ed. 335. JonnyEvans, “The PC is Dying: The iPad and Mac Are Not,” Computerworld, January 26, 2012,http://blogs.computerworld.com/19642/the_pc_is_dying_the_ipad_and_mac_are_not?source=CTWNLE_nlt_pm_2012-01-26 ; Miles Giles, “Beyond the PC,” The Economist, October 8, 2011,http://www.economist.com/node/21531109 . The ability to leverage hardware and software iswhat explains Google’s decision to buy the mobile phone business of Motorola. Of course, Apple hasan unmatched array of products that leverage hardware and software. Knowledge@Wharton,“Vertical Integration Works for Apple – But It Won’t for Everyone,” March 14, 2012,http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2959
  • linking technology to content and then to make the fusion into a viable business plan. This intersection of technology and art was pushed to the point that it transformed the movie industry, not the last time this would happen, and it was a result of an obsession with doing it right and a refusal to settle for second best. This began with Toy Story.14 An ability to define new categories of consumer products, usually by creating new products and markets where none existed or recreating existing products and markets in entirely new terms. This came with the Apple II, the Macintosh operating system, the NeXT operating system, and most clearly with the computer animated movie, the iPod, iTunes, iTunes store, the Apple store, the computer as digital hub, the App store, the iPhone and the iPad. The innovation in these products and services came from a readiness to think beyond existing products and markets and craft products that would lead consumers and markets into new spaces. But it also involved understanding markets that were full of poor products and redefining them with high quality products. An obsession with quality, be it in the content, the software or product design or in the people who worked for Pixar or Apple, combined with an obsession with simplicity and the quality this can bring to products. Creating new business models by leveraging the distributed systems created by the networked digital world and linking this to the integrated systems of technology and content that create platforms for distributed systems. Apple has been able to define a new ecosystem for production of digital products, combining physical products and digital products in highly creative ways.15 The iTunes store and the App store are the best examples. Here the iPhone, iPod and iPad are platforms that facilitate the distributed creation of content via music, books, and various media forms contained in Apps. The value of the iPhone, iPod and iPad come from the extraordinary diversity of capabilities that come from the legions of content creators. Beneath this is a system of software and hardware modularity that supports and facilitates this distributed process. A deep understanding of the way digital business alters the relationship between average cost and marginal cost and the business model opportunities this presents. The marginal cost for creating and delivering the next copy of a digital product is always close to zero. When this product is linked to enhancing a particular physical product, the best strategy is to charge a low price for the digital product in order to drive the sales of the physical product. The price of a digital copy of a physical product must also be decoupled from the price of a physical copy and tied much closer to the14 David Price, The Pixar Touch, New York: Knopf, 2008; Daniel Terdiman, “With Pixar, Steve JobsChanged the Film Industry Forever,” C/Net News, October 6, 2011, http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-20116912-37/with-pixar-steve-jobs-changed-the-film-industry-forever/ ; Austin Bunn,“Welcome to Planet Pixar, Wired, June 2004,http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.06/pixar.html15 Ron Adler and Rahul Kapoor, “Value Creation in Innovation Ecosystems,” Strategic ManagementJournal, 31 (2010) 306-333.
  • marginal price of the digital copy. This creates two business advantages: First, it builds a critical mass of digital products, which permits profits from the extremely large economies of scale of digital products. Second, this permits very large advantages to accrue to the linked physical product, making its value rise.16 This set of seven elements to the Pixar model captures the key features of whatpropelled Apple (and Pixar) to great success. More important, it defines the keyfeatures of a digital business model that we can use to evaluate the evolving worldof digital education. One passage from the Issacson biography of Jobs provides agood statement of many of the aspects of the Pixar model: [T]he iPod became the essence of everything Apple was destined to be: poetry connected to engineering, arts and creativity intersecting with technology, design that’s bold and simple. It had an ease of use that came from being an integrated end-to-end system, from computer to FireWire to device to software to content management. When you took an iPod out of the box, it was so beautiful that it seemed to glow, and it made all other music players look as if they had been designed and manufactured in Uzbekistan.17Of course, beyond the beauty was a remarkable set of generalized and specializedcapabilities along with an ease and flexibility of use. The Pixar model is aboutbreaking the mold of existing digital products through a combination of compellingcontent, a simplicity and beauty of design, with an extraordinary range of interactiveand innovative products, all defined by technology and made possible by aninnovation in organization.II. The Pixar Model and The Emerging Digital Value Chain The Pixar model defines a kind of “gold standard” for business models in adigital world. How can this be applied to the as-yet unformed world of digitaleducational materials for university students? In simple terms, the Pixar modelestablishes a point of attraction, a place to aim, and a set of ideals that can define afuture path for those who believe in the value of truly innovative digital education.The Pixar model provides a point of comparison for imagining the kinds ofintellectual and organizational features needed to create this digital educational16 This explains why the business model for iBooks is to set the price for the digital book at $15. It isonly feasible when the value chain includes both an iPad/iPhone and the digital book. Moreover, asplit of the iBook price of 30% to Apple and 70% to the content creator can work even if it is sodifferent from the traditional 15% to the content creator of a physical book. This system also worksbest using a distributed model of content creation. Knowledge@Wharton, “Textbook Case: Apple andOthers Strive to Be the Next Wave in Educational Publishing,” February 15, 2012,http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=294417 Isaacson, Steve Jobs, Kindle Edition, 393.
  • environment. Whether this can happen so as to strengthen or weaken the liberalarts college remains to be seen. The Pixar model will define the business environment for the development ofdigital educational media. First, and perhaps most important, is the closeconnection between hardware and software – in this case, between the device andthe content. Just as with iTunes and the iPad/iPhone, the business model that willdominate must integrate device(s) and content. As a result, the device and thecontent will co-evolve in quality and capabilities. This is why the three majorplayers in this competition will be Apple, Amazon and perhaps Barnes and Noble18,and this also explains why all three now compete with a unique combination ofdevice and content.19 Content providers that operate closely through a distributednetwork tied to one or all of these integrated systems will have a chance of successby their presence in these value chains. This can include existing publishers –dramatically restructured – but also the well-supported and redefined contentproviders in a university or college.20 The institutional affiliation of future content providers – if any – is unclearbut has significant consequences. Why is it important for professors to be thecreators? Why not just let specialists create and professors apply? Why do creatorsof digital materials need to be users of these materials? The answer – aside fromprofessors being the content experts – is that new materials will require newpedagogy, the creation of which will come hand in hand with a trial and errorprocess in the “classroom.” There is also a very good chance the best creators ofdigital educational materials, especially the aggregators, will also assume the role ofteachers. Users need to be creators because such a synergy offers great advantagesover specialization – development time and upgrades are shorter and the user cantailor and redefine materials in near real time. Thus, the creator-user amalgam willhave significant competitive advantages in delivering the engaging educational18 Julie Bosman, “The Bookstore’s Last Stand, New York Times, January 28, 2012,http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/business/barnes-noble-taking-on-amazon-in-the-fight-of-its-life.html?_r=1&hpw19 And this explains why successful tablets will need to link technology to quality content.20 The price of digital educational materials, following the notion of near-zero marginal costs, shouldbe quite low, but with variable pricing based on the complexity of the materials. Modular pieces of a“book” can be priced very low while complex and integrated systems may be priced higher. This isanalogous to the pricing of apps for the iPad/iPhone. The current price competition betweenAmazon and Apple, emerging from the government suit over agency pricing by Apple, is amanifestation of this very low marginal cost for digital products. This price competition will, in thenear to long term, considerably reduce the role of traditional publishers and contribute to thecreation of a new digital value chain, with a potentially large role for liberal arts colleges. DavidStreitfeld, “Cut in E-Book Pricing by Amazon is Set to Shake Rivals,” New York Times, April 11, 2012,http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/business/media/amazon-to-cut-e-book-prices-shaking-rivals.html?_r=1&hp
  • experience. This is why the point of disruption of existing education will be thedigital materials used to create a digital education.21 Dramatic changes will be needed for developing the creator-user role forfaculty in liberal arts colleges. Perhaps the easiest part is creating these materialswill require new kinds of tools, specifically new forms of software to ease thedevelopment of the complex environments for high quality digital education. Someof these capabilities already exist and are discussed below. But it will also requirenew kinds of faculty, those who combine sophisticated content knowledge withsophisticated technological understanding – the Pixar combination. Such personsdo exist today but they are still rare and the structure of organizations is such thattheir skills are mostly wasted. Faculty will need to be paired with advanced techsupport personnel, able to translate the content and pedagogy into new kinds ofsoftware systems. The creation of virtual 3D environments, for purposes ofsimulation or immersion experiences, will require sophisticated skills andconsiderable specialization of effort. Cultural changes are needed. Currently, efforts to develop new forms ofdigital education are invariably subjected to intense criticism from faculty, and thiscriticism can only be overcome with a stupendous success. That is, many – perhapsmost - existing faculty intensely resist using new digital materials (consider howmany use e-books, hardly a significant innovation), waiting until these are perfectedbefore considering adoption. Instead, we faculty should think in Pixar terms: trialand failure is not a negative but a positive indication of progress and should serve asa basis for improving the next effort. But, can the evaluation committees of newfaculty – composed of faculty and administrators – understand this process and theimplications for innovation? The development of new digital media, in conjunction with rising levels ofcompetition in educational markets, will hasten the creation of new organizationalforms. There are several possible directions. The successful version(s) will need tobuild on the Pixar model and adapt that to the needs of creating, validating,distributing and using digital educational materials. The organizational elementswill perhaps be the largest barrier to success because few if any existingorganizations have the internal capacities to succeed nor the ability to assemblethese capabilities into an effective business model. Is the digital educational worldgoing to be created by an alliance of Inkling, Apple, Facebook, the for-profituniversity, Knewton22, a video game developer like NHN23 and the animation21 Clayton Christensen, a highly regarded analyst of disruptive innovation, has recently focused onthe effects of new firms – for-profit online educational institutions – on existing educationalproviders – the traditional college and university. My analysis suggests the point of disruption willnot come from such competitors necessarily. Rather, it will come from organizations able to developand deliver new forms of education based on innovative educational materials. This could betraditional colleges and universities, radically transformed to adjust to this new environment.Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring, The Innovative University, Jossey-Bass, 2011.22 http://www.knewton.com/
  • studios of Moonbot24? Will the most innovative and technologically savvy liberalarts faculty, frustrated by the conservatism of their institutions, exit and link intodistributed networks to create the content “apps” for this world? And will onlinealliances of these faculty begin providing the education as well? Why not just rely on the existing partnership between individual faculty andbook publishers? Perhaps the best reason is current publishers are like musiccompanies before iTunes, relying on old technology and deeply concerned abouttaking any step that can cannibalize existing products. Few will be able to make thebreak with the past and change enough to become effective players in a digitalworld. Just as Apple was needed to develop digital music and Amazon was neededto create an effective e-book business model, this will require organizations/firmswith a clear position in the future of the digital world. What about universities and colleges, specifically liberal arts colleges? Canliberal arts college faculty play a central role in creating the educational materialsfor a digital world? The answer is they should because liberal arts colleges definethe best in education, and maybe they will. At the same time, our first instinct mightbe to see college faculty as a lot like music company executives, flailing aroundtrying to figure out how to deal with pirated music before the creation of the iTunesstore. But this would be unfair to the music executives: at least they understoodthey had a big problem. Most faculty have no idea the threat posed by the digital world; they aremore like the scribes in 1460 who were sure hand-copied books would always besuperior to the book printed on a machine. As one observer has put it, faculty anduniversities may have already “been pushed to the margins to watch as their worldis reconstructed elsewhere.”25 Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the mindset of mostfaculty, who have neither the time nor the inclination to analyze the situation beforethem. This leaves them in the position of these same monks in 1500, who cannotimagine how this same printing press soon will completely overturn their world.Some few faculty with the technical background have made important strides, butoften in spite of their organization not because of it. Even those who may want to beinvolved in using technology to create educational materials are forced to choosebetween teaching, research and technology. Only rarely do these areas coincide inincentives and evaluation. In short, it is unclear whether we liberal arts faculty willreact like the scribes of the 15th century facing the new printing press or more likefive year olds in the 21st century who pick up iPads and instantly know how to usethem.23 http://www.nhnusainc.com/usa/index.nhn24 http://www.moonbotstudios.com/about.html25 Richard DiMillo, “Let’s Party Like its 1995,” The John William Pope Center for Higher EducationPolicy, February 22, 2012, http://www.popecenter.org/commentaries/article.html?id=2656
  • What about administrative leadership at liberal arts colleges? The numberwith technical skills and interests is very small and few will stake their politicalposition on the role of technology. At the same time, only strong and veryinnovative administrative leadership, often a very scarce resource, in alliance withfaculty leaders with a clear vision (equally scarce), can leverage the values and skillsof a liberal arts environment to this task. Almost surely, making the leap from hereto there will require many leaders like Steve Jobs. Perhaps unpleasant, these will bepeople unwilling to accept the millions of excuses about why “X” cannot be done, forthere will be many, many obstacles. This pessimism is countered by the great natural role for liberal arts colleges.Because the core purpose of the newest versions of digital educational materials isthe development of highly creative, complex and exceptional quality forms of criticalthinking in students, the natural locus for creating these materials should be theliberal arts college. It is liberal arts colleges that have devoted great energy andresources to develop engaged teaching based on multiple perspectives thatpromotes critical thinking. But whether the faculty and administration of theseinstitutions will figure out how to leverage these resources into the digital age isquite uncertain. For this to happen, liberal arts colleges will need to disruptthemselves, and that is very unusual. IBM did it, but only after facing near death.26Xerox would not do it, and gave away the digital store they had created.27 Kodakinvented the digital camera and then was killed by it.28III. Examples in the Present? The key to creating great educational materials for digital natives29 will be toredefine them in terms of all of the engaging value that digitization can offer and linkthat with developing complex analytical and intellectual sensibilities in students.These new media must be designed and delivered in such a way that individualizedconfigurations of content can be provided on demand or even through adaptiveresponses.30 Interactive text, hypertext, semantic web, pictures, video, music,simulations and immersive environments, all integrated and mutually supportiveand deliverable on demand to a variety of devices, can be designed to be ascompelling as a great movie, video game, or book and used to make learning and26 Louis Gerstner, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance: Leading a Great Enterprise Through DramaticChange, New York: Haper, 2003.27 Michael Hiltzik, Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age, New York:Harper, 2000.28 Knowledge@Wharton, “What is Wrong With This Picture: Kodak’s 30-year Slide Into Bankruptcy,”2/15/12,http://www.knowledgeatwharton.com.cn/index.cfm?fa=article&articleid=2541&languageid=129 An interesting hypothesis about technology relates the capacity for change and adjustment to thepace of generational change. Only after a generation emerges for whom the technology is completelynatural can real changes associated with this technology begin. Everyone in advanced and manypoor nations seventeen years old and younger in 2012 was “born on the web,” thereby opening thedoor to significant future changes in the near future.30 One existing edutech startup devoted to this is Knewton, http://www.knewton.com/
  • knowledge the same. These materials should encourage and enhance face-to-faceinteraction between teacher and student, not in any sense replace it. But thematerials can expand dramatically the arc of interaction between student andprofessor – in virtual as well as face-to-face settings - by changing the nature ofclassroom discussion and experience. Most important, such materials can be usedto accomplish the educational goals much of the existing materials and pedagogy failto do: enhance the ability to absorb and process information, analyze, compute,evaluate, innovate and decide.31 One thing we should have learned from the birth ofthe PC era is not to criticize experiments, for we can never know which ones willchange through a creative mashup and provide a platform for radical innovation. Though compelling and complex interactive educational materials are rare,some early versions of parts of these kinds of materials can be found, often in thehumanities. Examples include both content and content creation systems:The first set of examples includes various kinds of software environments for thecreation of digital media. Scalar - http://scalar.usc.edu/anvc/?page_id=6 Scalar is a software environment for integrating text and multiple sources of video and images. Processing - http://processing.org/ Processing is a software environment for creating images, animations and interactions. Ani - http://www.looksgood.de/log/2010/06/ani/ Provides an animation library for Processing. GLGraphics - http://glgraphics.sourceforge.net/ Also supports animation for Processing. Traer.Physics 3.0 - http://murderandcreate.com/physics/ Another software support for animation in Processing. Unfolding - http://unfoldingmaps.org/31 Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,University of Chicago Press, 2011 documents the weaknesses in current educational outcomes. Thetradition of the lecture is also under question, again. Daniel de Vise, “Colleges Looking Beyond theLecture,” Washington Post, February 15, 2012,http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/colleges-looking-beyond-the-lecture/2012/02/03/gIQA7iUaGR_story.html?hpid=z4Many of the early efforts to develop simulations and immersive environments display theweaknesses coming from the absence of a clear connection between academic content and thetechnology. Many are “cool” but lack any clear academic purpose.
  • Software environment for creating interactive maps and data visualization. Tile Mill - http://mapbox.com/tilemill/ Software for creating GIS-based maps Gelph – http://gephi.org/ Gelph is an interactive platform for the visualization and analysis of data. Twine - http://gimcrackd.com/etc/src/ Software for creating interactive stories. Celtx - https://www.celtx.com/ Celtx is a software environment for managing, storing and developing digital media. JUNG - http://jung.sourceforge.net/ JUNG is a software environment for the modeling, analysis and visualization of data. Vue - http://vue.tufts.edu/ Vue provides software that provides a “visual environment for structuring, presenting, and sharing digital information.” Popcorn - http://popcornjs.org/ Software for linking web and video. Sophie - http://www.sophieproject.org/ Sophie is software for reading and writing interactive books and other forms of text and multimedia. Google Sketchup - http://sketchup.google.com/intl/en/yourworldin3d/ Sketchup is a 3D modeling tool.The following are examples of digital content that provide important features ofnew digital education. Ubuweb - http://ubuweb.com/ Archive of films and audio works USC School of Cinematic Arts (Walden, A Game) http://cinema.usc.edu/interactive/research/walden.cfm A virtual simulation of the Walden experiment by Thoreau. Hypercities http://hypercities.com/about/ An example of geospatial humanities, Hypercities permits a deep and detailed examination of cities through time with layered GIS maps.
  • OmnesViae http://omnesviae.org/ Interactive map with embedded information about travel in the 4th century Roman World There are intellectual resources on many liberal arts campuses that canbecome leaders propelling these institutions into the digital world. Whether theyare there by accident or by design and strategy makes all the difference. Almostcertainly, the most advanced digital educational materials are located in the naturalsciences.32 One impressive example is Mastering Biology, which provides anintegrated system for teaching collegiate biology.33 This system is based online andoffers a wide variety of visual aids for conceptualizing complex processes, a systemof engaging interactive activities to improve understanding, capturing the outcomesof these activities by student, online exams and direct feedback by student and byclass to the professor. All this creates a rich learning environment outside of classthat provides much information to the professor about the state of student learningbefore class. Use of Mastering Biology permits much more specialized classroomtime, focusing not only on particular problems for students but also encouragingclass time activities that investigate more advanced and higher order skills andanalysis. There are also examples of organizational innovation related to liberal artscolleges and technology. NITLE is an organizational innovation involving a coalitionof liberal arts colleges designed to promote the development of technology foreducation. Unfortunately, the depth of its effects at any given institution varieswidely. At Rollins, NITLE has a very low profile among faculty and administratorsand this may or may not be true elsewhere. Because NITLE is dependent on theadministrative leadership at member institutions, it may have difficulty engaging inthe kind of entrepreneurial and disruptive innovation needed. Mostly in spite of or outside of existing organizational structures, there arefaculty with advanced skills in computer simulation of social systems and with thetime, interests and incentives to work closely with faculty in specialized socialscience fields. Two examples are: One is an organizational model that is very interesting: the GIS-3D animation program at Washington College run by Stewart Bruce. Here Bruce has a reconfigured teaching load, employs and teaches many students, operates in an environment much of which is outside the university and the sources of funding require a much more entrepreneurial attitude. The result is a student-based entrepreneurial environment engaged in creating and using32 Many thanks to Dr. Eileen Gregory, Professor of Biology at Rollins and Dr. Susan Welch, AssistantProfessor of Biology at Rollins, for their help in my understanding of digital education in biology.33 http://www.masteringbio.com/site/product/for-instructors.html
  • advanced digital materials supported by funded from grants and contracts.34 This may be the best current example of a Pixar-like organizational environment in a liberal arts college. Its nature suggests some of the radical and disruptive innovations needed to migrate to the new world. A second example is Dr. Forrest Stonedahl at Centre College who is deeply involved in using computer simulations to analyze and understand questions that range across social, environmental and natural sciences.35 He is able to develop multi-agent simulations as part of projects using agent-based modeling of social (and other) systems. These are important not only for students to use and manipulate as a part of understanding various social processes, but can also be used as devices students can even build themselves to understand processes and test their own hypotheses. Stonedahl’s work in agent-based modeling of complex adaptive systems is a very different kind of computational social and natural science: creating and learning through experimental, interactive, hypothesis testing virtual environments. These simulation environments can be entirely built entirely in silico or as part of a human-based simulation built in virtual environments. One important premise is: to understand a social system you need to model it in a simulation environment and then examine its processes through experimentation. This generates powerful forms of interactive and experiential learning.36 There are other interesting examples of creative ideas for digital educationalmedia. An example of creatively developing learning environments from computer-aided and robotic environments is Constructionism. This approach works to designnew forms of person-to-person and person-to-computer interaction andengagement as a basis for promoting learning.37 An example of entrepreneurialeffort to move beyond the constraints of a structured university environment to acompletely online and free educational experience is by Sebastian Thrun, acomputer science professor at Stanford and Google fellow. He has resigned from atenured position at Stanford to set up an online university – Udacity - of sorts tooffer free courses to all takers.38 This is an example of potentially disruptive34 Personal communication to the author from Stewart Bruce, 1/9/12. For an example of the outputof this, see http://youtu.be/3XSLN7hGURQ35 http://forrest.stonedahl.com/index.html ; http://forrest.stonedahl.com/projects.html36 The Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation offers examples of such work:http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/JASSS.html ; Netlogo is an environment for the development andvisualization of computer simulations and is a creation of the Center for Connected Learning atNorthwestern: http://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/37 http://constructionism2012.etl.ppp.uoa.gr/38 Blake J. Graham, “Robotics Mastermind Takes Education Online,”http://www.linkedin.com/news?actionBar=&articleID=5567334726408077325&ids=dj8PdPsMe30Qdz8Td3cPdPoRdiMSd3cQcjwMd3kUcP4UdPcTdzkRb38QdzgVcj4Pc3cVc30UcjsSdjkIc3oVcz8Pc3sTcj4Sc3cOdPoRdiMUdPkSdPcQd3oOdjgOdPwRdzkR&aag=true&freq=weekly&trk=eml-tod2-b-ttl-4&ut=33TqmshA2uCl41
  • innovation coming from simply creating online lectures, the value of which isstudents can work through them at their own pace.39 Scientists at the University of Washington have called on the intuitiveguesswork of anyone willing to contribute to develop new ways to fold proteinsrelated to a model enzyme so as to improve the functioning of the enzyme. Theonline competitive game Foldit was designed to use players’ guesses aboutvariations in ways to fold proteins and create new proteins.40 Collaborative learningacross space is found in the course “Looking for Whitman.”41 An effort at organizational innovation linked to innovation in contentcreation is the Open Learning Initiative, based at Carnegie Mellon University.Linked to funding by several foundations, including the Gates Foundation, OLIfocuses on introductory courses offered in large sections and works to improvecompletion rates. The software systems designed for courses are based on learningtheory and work to build skills and provide effective feedback to students and toprofessors.42IV. Studying U.S.-China Relations in a Digital World If existing digital resources for studying U.S.-China relations are inadequate,what would really good digital media look like and do? 43 Some answers can befound through digital mashups of the best existing resources with a dash ofcreativity and specialization thrown in for this particular topic.44 The examplesdescribed below are well within reach but lack an organizational environment fortheir creation. The standard for these new digital learning media is to incorporatehigh levels of engagement and interactivity, provide factual and analyticalinformation of significant value, expand the ability to locate, evaluate and applyinformation in realistic scenarios, and improve the ability to develop effectivealternatives together with analysis of potential outcomes in policy environments. Inaddition, these media should support various forms of social media for engaging inteam-playing and sharing ideas and must provide a variety of “testing” settings39 For another example, see Kevin Carey, “College for $99 a Month,” Washington Monthly,September/October 2009http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/feature/college_for_99_a_month.php?page=all ;another example of this approach is Udemy http://www.udemy.com/40 Jessica Marshall, “Victory for Crowdsourced Biomolecule Design,” Nature, January 22, 2012,http://www.nature.com/news/victory-for-crowdsourced-biomolecule-design-1.9872 ; ScientificAmerican, “Foldit Online Protein Puzzle,” http://www.scientificamerican.com/citizen-science/project.cfm?id=foldit-protein-exploration-puzzle41 http://lookingforwhitman.org/42 Marc Parry, “Candace Thille Is Redesigning Courses,” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 2, 2012,A-10. http://oli.web.cmu.edu/openlearning/43 I teach such a course, both in the U.S. and in China, but without the benefits of compelling digitaleducational media. http://myweb.rollins.edu/tlairson/china/uschinarel.html44 I am unaware of the existence of any of these digital media in the forms described.
  • linked to adaptive responses to support learning. Finally, the new systems mustincorporate learning analytics by collecting data and providing analytics fromindividual students and from data aggregation across various professor-definedgroups of students. There are two important forms of digital media that could dramaticallyadvance the learning environment for studying U.S.-China relations.45 The bestmodel for compelling digital educational media is the video game with an AI-basedinteractive 3D virtual environment and incorporating SIRI-like input and responsecapabilities that asks and answers questions. This should be combined with acomputer simulation or important features of U.S.-China relations linked tointeractive maps with rich and extensive embedded data. At present, variouselements of such media can be seen in separate systems. The newest version of SimCity is a great example of an interactive game with considerable information,difficult problems in balancing competing problems and complexities in applyinginformation to develop choices and preferable outcomes. 46 The basic learning environment for studying U.S.-China relations is a GIS-based but enhanced series of maps, incorporating visual, audio, quantitative andtextual information and mashed-upped with Google Earth, Hypercities and multi-touch capabilities.47 These GIS-based and dynamically layered maps withembedded complex links to text and multimedia information provide the basis for avariety of game-like activities for learning through exploring alternative scenarios inthe U.S.-China relationship. This new kind of map will serve as a reference pointfor developing simulation environments of various forms of economic, political andmilitary interaction that challenge students to understand relationships andscenarios. Here are several examples of high quality information display and the use ofanimation and touch-based interactivity: Example of data effectively embedded in an interactive chart: https://www.tradingview.com/ Example of effective animation supporting conceptualization: http://hint.fm/ http://hint.fm/wind/45 And these media would surely contain considerable modularity that would permit reuse in othercourses. The creation of modular elements in digital technology will require theoretical analysis ofthe ways different knowledge components are related – the ways ideas are complementary andfungible.46 Nathanael Massey, “SimCity 2013 Players will Face Tough Choices on Energy and theEnvironment,” Scientific American, March 12, 2012,http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=simcity-2013-players-face-tough-energy-environment-choices&WT.mc_id=SA_CAT_TECH_2012031347 Google Earth http://www.google.com/earth/index.html ; Hypercities http://hypercities.com/ ;Also see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS-SLGAWxHY
  • Example of effective narration combined with animated data: http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/03/daily-chart-20 An example of intense interaction with maps and networks compatible with the “touch” experience of an iPad is http://max-planck-research- networks.net/ .http://max-planck-research-networks.net/Here is a good map, but we need to imagine how much more can be done to turn thisinto a dynamically interactive source of information:
  • Source: The Economist, http://www.economist.com/node/17601499What can be done to make this a really good map? First, this map should be GIS-based with a series of unfolding and dynamic and semi-transparent layers focus ondiscreet issues related to the South China Sea: various boundaries and claims for all nations in the area pictures of the various atolls and islands estimates of oil recovery and locations of oil fields potential points of military engagement actual points of military engagement between China and Vietnam locations of U.S. military bases with data on troops and capabilities Chinese military forces and bases, especially in Fujian province across the Taiwan Strait trade and money flows between the US and China data on the structure of GPNs for US firms such as Apple, including an interactive layered map with the locations, trade values and % of value chains for a Macbook Air, and iPad and iPhone and similar maps for manufacturing a Buick and a Volkswagen in Shanghai; systems of global production, animated so the actual movement of components can be traced through the value chain.
  • This visually compelling way of displaying information draws the viewer into thematerial leading them in true interactive fashion to explore, providing the userpaths for investigation and the resources to engage in this exploration. An example,though limited by its circumstances, is Burning Man by Flint Hahn.48Source: http://xmasons.com/prints/burning-man-infographic/Each of these dimensions is a doorway to a cascading collection of moreinformation, much like working down through a fractal but with links andconnections to topics and issues related to the learning simulations. The maps would serve as information repositories for the simulations of U.S.-China relations. The model for interactive learning is the video game, which in spiteof its often-deserved negative image, has very strong learning capabilities.49 Videogame-like experiential activities with varying kinds of tests built in to enhancelearning can be designed around important issues in U.S.-China relations.5048 http://xmasons.com/prints/burning-man-infographic/49 Robert Lee Hotz, “When Gaming is Good for You,” Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2012,http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203458604577263273943183932.html50 The learning efficacy of “tests” is well known, but the relentless time schedule of a semester classat a fixed time prevents repeated testing. The online world, especially one that alters this fixed pace,easily encompasses this role for testing and can do so in ways that are varied and even interesting.
  • An example might include a short simulation in which the U.S. engages inefforts to coerce China to revalue its currency by naming China a currencymanipulator and couples that with higher tariffs on some selected products.Students could take on either the U.S. or China role and play against the computer oragainst each other with the computer as moderator of actions and consequences. Tocomplete the simulation, students would need to examine two sets of information:1) Short case studies of trade wars in other contexts; and 2) a description of theresources possessed by China and the U.S. that could be used in this conflict. Thecomputer game would be written so as to include an array of AI-based responses toactions taken by either side. Following some prescribed sequence of action taken bya student, the game would prompt for an explanation of an action and referenceeither resources or case studies. Before proceeding, a student would need toexplain his/her actions – a kind of test. The game would collect together theresponses made by a student as a report and send this to the professor. Games likethis easily accommodate multiple players, which could include features that requireexplanation of proposed actions before a decision is reached. A wide variety ofskills and knowledge – decision-making, evaluating information, analysis ofalternatives and outcomes - are engaged by such a relatively simple game and manyof the issues of time and space are resolved with the online format. Even more complex simulations could be built around managing a conflictrelating to the South China Sea, in which the U.S. would need to deal with thediplomatic and strategic dimensions of a Chinese-Vietnamese military engagementover control of oilfields. Each of the online activities should be embedded in a socialnetwork that leads students to discuss what is happening with each other outside ofclass, a sort of blog, but one tied to the experiences involved in the course. Studentscould be engaged in making changes to the game(s) itself, which also involves a newlevel of learning. For example, a key element of the Netlogo environment fordeveloping simulations is the readily available ability to experiment with thesimulation by changing the parameters for the variables and rerunning thesimulation. More complicated, but still relatively easy, is changing the structure ofthe simulation through altering the code itself. Such capabilities invite a level ofinteractivity, engagement and learning not typically available in non-digital learningenvironments.51Wolf-Sheep-Grass Simulation in NetlogoDan Berrett, “Harvard Conference Seeks to Jolt University Teaching,” Chronicle of Higher Education,February 5, 2012, http://chronicle.com/article/Harvard-Seeks-to-Jolt/130683/51 An example is creating a model to forecast the development of slums in Mumbai:http://meridian.aag.org/callforpapers/program/AbstractDetail.cfm?AbstractID=41891
  • V. A Pixar Model for Liberal Arts Colleges What do liberal arts colleges need to do to leverage their capabilities as thebest form of learning into the world of creating effective digital teaching materials? 1) An institution-wide commitment to change, especially in support of an entrepreneurial mindset. At the very least, what is required is an institution-wide commitment to create, accept, protect and nourish a part of the institution (the Pixar unit) with such an attitude.52 2) A deep understanding by college leaders of the strategic value of the Pixar unit for the success and even survival of the institution. Providing the new forms of education will create its own demand. 3) 3) New incentives to support faculty-technologist collaboration in creating digital materials: reconfiguring load, evaluations, the nature of teaching and tenure, compensation, support resources, conceptions of time and space. 4) 4) Design a business model for the Pixar unit based on developing new digital teaching media and providing new forms of education based on those media.52 The value of a “skunkworks” for promoting innovation is considered in Aaron Shapiro, “StopBlabbing About Innovation and Start Actually Doing It,” FastCompany, April 16, 2012,http://www.fastcompany.com/1833190/stop-blabbing-about-innovation-and-start-actually-doing-it
  • 5) 5) Dramatic expansion of the technical skills and content skills of technical support personnel and a redirection of responsibilities toward creating digital media. 6) 6) Development of student technology resources for creating these materials – students as interns and courses devoted to content creation.53 7) 7) Acceptance of a trial and error process of change and an understanding of failure as a sign of progress. 8) 8) A willingness to link the institution into the value chain for the creation of digital educational materials, even if this means a deep partnership with companies like Apple 9) 9) Most important, liberal arts colleges need to understand their real competitive advantage may not lie in leafy campuses but in an approach to ideas, learning, thinking and education and leverage this into the digital age. The biggest question of all is can liberal arts colleges make this leap thatrequires self-disruptive behavior? We can estimate the chances through judgmentsabout the mindset of administrators, faculty and information technologydepartments. Most senior administrators are aware the liberal arts colleges arefacing “challenging” times, but the primary focus is on the unsustainable levels oftuition and the problems of controlling costs and increasing retention. Very fewthink in terms of an online revolution and disruptive innovation and the threats andopportunities this presents. Very few institutions have created a newadministrative unit with the resources and autonomy to operate in terms of a Pixarmodel.54 Some faculty “get it” and have made important strides in developing newideas, but they typically operate in isolation from each other and with limitedunderstanding and support from other faculty and even from administrators. Thebusiness school faculty are no more likely than in humanities (maybe less) to graspthe implications of the new environment. And IT departments, focused onmanaging the inventory of computers, the network and software support systems,have little time to imagine a changed role in the new digital content world. If askedabout this, most administrators, faculty and IT managers would probably assert thatliberal arts colleges are mostly immune from these challenges and have little toworry about.53 In addition to the examples from Stewart Bruce and Washington College, an international businesscourse at Rollins has students creating apps for mobile devices.54 Perhaps the best example of such a capability is the Center for 21st Century Universities at GeorgiaTech, http://c21u.gatech.edu/about-c21u . Here, experimental entrepreneurialism, partnershipswith private firms, and strong technology support for faculty experiments replicate many of thefeatures of the Pixar model.
  • VI. Strategic Consequences of New Digital Media They could hardly be more wrong, for the point of disruptive innovation willcome first and most powerfully from the creators of new digital media. Why will good digital educational materials change the way education takes place? Online education has made significant strides in the past decade, but it remains aniche mode especially in liberal arts colleges. Though the role of online education isprobably at an inflection point moving toward exponential rates of change, there arestill significant barriers to mainstreaming this mode of education.55 This is largelybecause the materials for online education are not especially compelling indemonstrating a case for the educational value of online education that is as strongas the cost case for such a system.56 None of the primary groups engaged by onlineeducation - students, faculty or even administrators – really believe the use of onlinecourses, even in a blended learning setting, is as good and certainly not better than atraditional classroom setting. What is missing from this system is the compellingdigital materials that are so good they make this case. Just as the spreadsheetprogram was sufficient to justify spending the money for a computer 30 years ago –the definition of the “killer app” – these kinds of materials are the missing link increating successful online education. Once these materials are available, the educational process will begin to changeand will co-evolve with the materials. New educational possibilities, primarily theability to live up to our own expectations, will flow from the relationship of newtechnologies and new practices. Four major structural changes in the “course” arelikely: separating the “course” from the semester; expanding and enhancing theclassroom in time and space; individualizing both the pace of learning and the levelof learning; and seamlessly embedding processes of student and course assessmentinto the educational materials.57 The relationship between time in and out of the classroom will change, so thatworking with and mastering digital educational materials will provide aprerequisite for attending class. This will elevate dramatically the quality of55 There are many reasons put forward for taking courses online, from cost to competition. But theonly good reason is that going online provides a value added that cannot come in any other way.56 Studies of the use of digital materials in class suggest a significant disconnect to learning goals. “Itfound that most professors relied on text-based assignments and materials. In the instances whenprofessors did decide to use interactive tools like online video, many of those technologies were notconnected to learning objectives, the study found.” Nick DeSantis, “Study Suggests Many ProfessorsUse Interactive Tools Ineffectively in Online Courses,” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 6, 2012http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/study-suggests-many-professors-use-interactive-tools-ineffectively-in-online-courses/35677?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en57 Lairson, “Rethinking the ‘Course’ in an Online World.” Some of these structural changes havebegun to happen.
  • classroom time. By sorting students into different levels of mastery of digitalmaterials, professors can work on different levels in different classes. Of course, thisrequires much more individualized and specialized classes, tailored to thecapabilities students bring to the class, and data supplied from the online learningactivities. Learning time away from class will be enhanced by social media, tied tovirtual learning spaces and integrated into digital materials. Students will play anactive role in creating and individualizing virtual learning spaces. Not only will what we call the “course” morph into unrecognizable forms, thenature of the “degree” will also be transformed. Virtually all universities and liberalarts colleges retain a “degree” that is a composite of courses that are the result ofpolitically negotiated relationships among faculty. The evidence linking thesedegrees to desired educational outcomes is minimal. The new world of complex andsophisticated digital materials will change this in dramatic ways. Most important,new forms of digital materials will make much easier and clearer the connectionbetween learning and specific educational competencies and capabilities, includingthe most sophisticated of those related to critical thinking. Digital materials willallow for the continuing individualized instruction needed to teach, examine andcertify various kinds of capabilities. This will have massive effects on the structureof degrees, turning them into composites of “courses” that lead to definable anddemonstrable abilities. For liberal arts to remain viable in this new world, it too willneed to have definable and demonstrable outcomes, which are possible but requirea completely new mindset among faculty – a Pixar mindset. And this process willalso accelerate the movement toward certification of specific capabilities ratherthan working toward a composite degree.58 Why will the organization that creates educational materials have a competitive advantage in providing the education itself? In short, why is the point of disruption at the level of digital educationalmaterials and not at the level of the university itself, as Clayton Christensencontends? The primary reason is new online forms will have decisive costadvantages over traditional education and once the educational experience in onlineis as good or even better than traditional classrooms (based on student reports andoutcome measures) disruption will proceed apace. But achieving this level ofquality will require much better digital materials and the “course” that emerges willbe as much changed as the materials themselves. Creating and using the materialstogether will provide a decisive competitive advantage over those who specialize increating or using.5958 Tamar Levin, “Beyond the College Degree: Online Educational Badges,” New York Times, March 4,2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/05/education/beyond-the-college-degree-online-educational-badges.html?ref=education59 One interesting but flawed precursor to the world of linked digital materials and digital educationis O’Reilly Media, which provides digital publishing and digital education. http://oreilly.com/
  • We are in the midst of a competition over the e-book, with various firmsattempting to leverage existing and new resources and capabilities to capture oreven dominate this market. Amazon will leverage its Kindle device and a wide arrayof content and Apple will do the same, with the iPhone and iPad and its iBookssystem. Both Amazon and Apple have created a integrated system linking deviceand content that attempts to design in a distributed system of content authoring.Apple has done this with the iBooks authoring app and Amazon with its publishingunit. Other competitors with one piece of the value chain will need to link closely toone or both of these systems. For example, NBC has entered the market for e-booksusing the leverage provided by pictures and video, but confronts theplatform/device problem and its lack of access to content authoring. Publishersenter the market with the most established system of distributed content authoringand selling e-books for about the same price as physical books, hoping to leveragelegacy assets but confronting problems of cannibalizing existing resources and thenegative consequences of disruptive innovation forces. Other potential players,such as Facebook and Twitter, bring important assets to the value chain and willhave the least difficulty integrating into a digital system. In the end, the winners inthis process will be those who are able to develop the most compelling content anddeliver it in the most flexible manner. In this competitive environment, liberal artscolleges and most liberal arts faculty largely do not realize they are potentially keyplayers, with much to gain from being in the process and even more to lose frombeing left out. Liberal arts colleges have an important opportunity to leverage the bestcontent and the best teaching but be unable to act on this advantage, withpotentially serious consequences. This is because of the tightly coupled relationshipbetween new digital educational materials and the development of online education.First, these materials will make the case for a substantial online component foreducation by creating activities that substantially enhance the capacity to promotethe goals of a liberal education: engaged, interactive, analytical, perspective, values-clarifying, decision-making, information-evaluation learning. Locating thesematerials in an online space will propel changes in education relating to time, spaceand process that break with the 12th century model of education tied to agriculturalseasons and physical environments. Second, the organization that creates educational materials will have acompetitive advantage in taking the lead in providing the education itself. Theinitial point of disruptive innovation in the coming years is not the college oruniversity but at the level of creating digital educational materials themselves.Other disruptions will flow from control over the creation and application of thesematerials. Third, the greatest uncertainty is the source of these materials. Whetherfaculty and others from liberal arts colleges will play a key role in the developmentand even use of these materials is unclear. Only with substantial changes in attitudeand organization within liberal arts colleges, and based on the Pixar model, can thishappen. Much hinges on the actions of faculty and administrators.
  • We have had our “Bach” of the digital world in Steve Jobs; now we need aHayden, a Corelli, a Mozart and a Beethoven and hopefully some will be in liberalarts colleges.VII. Conclusions There are many potential scenarios for future changes in higher education,but very few believe in the option of remaining the same. Many forecasts see someform of radical change, with disruptive innovation coming from online courses.There are great risks in any pathway of change.60 Perhaps the direction of leastresistance is to aim for the lowest common denominator of the educational market.This involves designing courses that substitute for the 500-student class commonacross the nation. Unfortunately, and in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, fewadvocates of this idea seem especially concerned about the low quality of theexisting lecture system in most universities (mass “education”) and readily envisiona simple porting of this system to the online world.61 At the same time, the demandfor low quality and low cost education should not be underestimated and manyexisting and new institutions will be happy to provide it. A more expensive butmuch higher quality alternative is to create digital educational materials for theonline world based on the educational principles of the liberal arts college but alsotailored to delivering pragmatic and demonstrable learning outcomes. In aknowledge-intensive world, the ability to provide such an education for areasonable cost will likely generate considerable demand as well. This paper outlines a plausible and perhaps likely direction for change: overthe next decade new organizational forms will emerge able to create exceptionalquality digital educational materials and use those to provide a reasonable cost butcompelling pragmatic education based on liberal arts principles. This system willuse some form of blended delivery and will provide a variety of options in time andspace for students, and will set the standard for education on a global scale. But what happens if the faculty and administration of liberal arts collegesdon’t make the transition to a digital world by becoming central players in thecreation and use of digital educational media? If creation and use of these newcapabilities are bound together, then one option – becoming users and not creators– is less viable. In a world where competitors are all alike except for branding,faculty and institutions can pick and choose these roles with little consequence.Today, virtually all content for university–level instruction comes from faculty60 http://www.snhu.edu/online.aspx ; Stuart M. Butler, “The Coming Higher-Ed Revolution,” NationalAffairs, 10 (Winter 2012) www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-coming-higher-ed-revolution ; Victor E. Ferrall, Jr. Liberal Arts at the Brink, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011.61 This is probably because the “low hanging fruit” are in the economies of scale of such an approach.Often cited as a innovator, Khan Academy primarily follows this model.http://www.khanacademy.org/ . There are many other examples of this approach. Also see JeffreyYoung, “Sal Khan is Killing the Lecture,” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 2, 2012, A11.
  • creators as established content experts. If and when this ends, or becomesrestricted to a tiny few faculty and institutions, liberal arts colleges may well be cutout of any role in creating the radically different media needed for teaching and maybecome reduced to the status of adjunct instruction. This outcome may be observedin limited form at Southern New Hampshire University, where creators of digitalcourse content materials do not typically teach the courses. Instead, adjuncts do theteaching, suggesting an interesting separation of tasks and differentiation ofstatus.62 Notwithstanding the marketing rhetoric, liberal arts colleges are not hotbedsof flexibility and innovation. The rigidities and conservatism of organization andmindset, also evident elsewhere, are perhaps even more deeply embedded ininstitutions long accustomed to facing limited competition and employing peoplewith a lifetime contract. If IT departments in a distinguished liberal arts collegecannot see the value of providing faculty with an iPad to engage in experimentationin creating digital media, how can we have any hope to see the dynamicentrepreneurialism and innovation needed to traverse this new world? The realtruth is virtually no liberal arts colleges have a viable institutional strategy formaneuvering in the new digital world. Sadly, the most likely successful organizational outcomes of the new digitaleducational world are outside of existing liberal arts colleges. This presages a futurefor liberal arts colleges much like that followed by Kodak and many newspapers.Surely some of the faculty of these institutions will participate in this processthrough self-organized arrangements that do not depend on their college affiliation– faculty start-ups are common in other technology-intensive settings63 - and thebest will migrate into the new digital education value chains. The great value theybring with them are existing teaching skills and liberal arts values, but they willalmost surely need new organizational forms within which they create the newdigital pedagogy. Many students will also shift into an environment wherecompelling content, flexibility, innovation, and demonstrable learning outcomes canbe found. In an environment of increasing competition and shrinking budgets fortraditional institutions, any existing flexibility and innovation will evaporate,leading to a nearly inevitable death spiral for many (most?) institutions. There ismuch room for a deep pessimism about the fate of the liberal arts college, exceptperhaps as the victim of a hostile takeover by educational entrepreneurs andfinanciers. The history of this coming period may well have a large dose of irony, as62 http://www.snhu.edu/63 And venture capital has recently surged into Edutech start-ups, specifically in higher education, afield some see as ripe for disruptive (and destructive) innovation. Nick DeSantis, “A Boom Time forEducation Start-ups,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 23, 2012, A1, A15-16. Anotherexample is John Markoff, “Online Education Venture Lures Cash Infusion and Lures 5 TopUniversities,” New York Times, April 18, 2012,http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/18/technology/coursera-plans-to-announce-university-partners-for-online-classes.html?_r=1&hpw
  • the values of the liberal arts college live on in new institutions we cannot nowforesee.Postscript What would a liberal arts college do if it wanted to prove me wrong? Hereare four brief ideas.First, adopt the Deng Xiaoping approach to creating change. This involves a form ofdistributed, incremental experimentation: “crossing the river by feeling for stones.”Second, adopt the Picasso approach to ideas: “Good artists borrow; great artistssteal.”Third, adopt the recombinant approach to innovation: Mash-ups and more mash-ups.Fourth, create a semi-autonomous unit based on these three principles.