By Carol A. Twigg
High quality, interactive learning materials exemplify potentially new, exciting ways to think about delivering higher education. Many colleges anduniversities have tried to realize this potential by encouraging individual
Several explanations have been offered for this state of affairs. Citing the literature of diffusion, some believe the problem has as its source misguided strategies that focus on "early adopters" to the detriment of
Commercial publishers and technology companies have created materials as well. Publishers have also tended to work with individual faculty members to develop and evaluate their materials, mimicking textbook development and marketing strategies where faculty members both write textbooks and make
The absence of a critical mass of technology-mediated higher education learning materials may be attributed to a sense on the part of commercial entities that, unlike K-12, there is no viable market among colleges and universities. Critical to the creation of a robust market for interactive learning materials is the involvement of publishing and digital industries whose business is the development, production, distribution, and marketing of educational products. Without their involvement, the ad hoc production of interactive materials by individual faculty and institutions will remain the
This state of affairs has a chicken-egg-like quality. Higher education institutions want and need high quality solutions to the instructional problems they face; publishers have an interest in providing those
I suggest that we need to approach this dilemma strategically. Rather than working on this problem individually, colleges and universities could join together to issue an RFP to the commercial sector requesting the development of interactive learning materials according to a predefined set of specifications. We might begin by targeting those academic areas where change is most needed-- whether driven by educational ineffectiveness, by economic necessity, or both. Courses or subject areas enrolling a large
Let's use remedial or developmental studies as an example. National estimates indicate that between one- and two-thirds of all college freshmen need some kind of remedial work in subjects such as pre- calculus
A coalition of significant colleges and universities could issue an RFP for the development of interactive remedial learning materials. The initiating partners would be drawn from those institutions with the interest,
The RFP would be issued to publishers, assessment experts, and digital industries, specifying what the institutions want, and would include a commitment from them to purchase and use the materials once developed and approved.
Here are some suggested design specifications. The materials should:
By emphasizing modularity and pre-defined outcomes, such specifications would allow multiple companies to respond to the RFP and to develop pieces of materials according to their interest and expertise. Establishing technological requirements would ensure that the pieces will work together.
A key part of the process is to create the circumstances where faculty can say, "As long as it has X, I will use it." In preparing the RFP, institutional leaders need to be sure that faculty are involved in delineating the required content--the learning outcomes--of the materials as well as their form. Publishers would be required to work with participating faculty at each stage of development. The involvement of appropriate faculty from the beginning as well as a clear commitment by institutional leaders to change the way remedial education is offered is critical to guaranteeing institutional purchase and use. Without this commitment--that is, viewing the integration of interactive learning materials as part of a long-term plan for changing the way institutions do business--adoption will be unlikely.
Resolving chicken-egg dilemmas often depends on deciding who goes first. I say, it's higher education's move.