The Commission Meeting

So the Commission meeting is over and my testimony is given.

There were three speakers on the panel on “Innovative Teaching and Learning Strategies.” First was Tom Magnanti, Dean of Engineering at MIT. He spoke very clearly about the benefits of MIT OCW and the role of OCW in the future of education. He recommended the creation of a national OCW repository including materials from secondary / high school levels through graduate school.

Next was Joel Smith, Vice Provost and Chief Information Officer for Computing Services at Carnegie Mellon. Joel talked passionately about the desparate need to apply what we know about learning and effective teaching when we design online courses. He pointed to the cognitively-informed tutors they’ve developed as part of their Open Learning Initiative, and described a study run by CMU’s own Statistics Department which ran their online Introductory Statistics course head-to-head against their normal face-to-face section. The (un) surprising findings? The students did equally well in both sections. Joel attributed this success to the design team’s interdisciplinary nature (statistics, learning science, HCI, educational technology, etc.) and their application of basic, well-understood principles. Joel recommended that more emphasis be placed on communicating to teachers what we already know about “what works,” making an explicit reference to the What Works Clearinghouse.

I gave my testimony more or less as posted several days ago. New material included a new introduction and new summary:

We are at a rare moment in time: a time when the right thing to do is also the best thing to do. Jim said yesterday that we should commit ourselves to a vision of providing all citizens with universal educational opportunity and create the world’s most advanced knowledge society. The Morrill Land Grant Acts and the GI Bill were mentioned as bold initiatives that changed the face of higher education and vastly expanded access to educational opportunity. Today, I not want to suggest that another such move on the part of higher education is not only the right thing to do, but exactly what higher education must do in order to remain relevant.


In summary, higher education has fallen out of step with business, science, and everyday life. In order to realign itself with changes in society and in its student base higher education must find the will to innovate in the area of openness, and then in connectedness, personalization, participation, and other key areas. Openness is the key to enabling other innovations and catalyzing improvements in the quality, accountability, affordability, and accessibility of higher education. The open infrastructure of the Internet has enabled a huge number of innovations at a speed and scale that could never have occurred if this infrastructure had been closed. I submit that content, faculty support, and peer support are the infrastructure of teaching and learning. To the extent that we open these, we can speed the adoption and scale of innovation in the teaching and learning space.

My recommendation to the Commission is this: please, set a bold goal of universal access to educational opportunity. It is the right thing to do for the citizenry, and the best thing to do for higher education. Openness can play a significant role in enabling this access and many other innovations in teaching and learning.

The message of the panel was extremely well received and I am hopeful that our recommendations will make it into the Commission’s final report to the Secretary. The video of the panel should be online in the next week or so and I’ll point to it then.

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