Permalink for this paragraph 0 Higher education in 2012 seems to be on the brink of disruption, given rising costs, emerging technologies, competition from for-profits, global education, and other often-cited forces. Leaders of elite liberal arts colleges express concern that their business model, which typically involves high costs to deliver small, intimate face-to-face classes, may not be sustainable. Open education ranks among those disruptive forces confronting colleges. For example, as Jon Breitenbucher (College of Wooster) argues, MOOCs may threaten liberal arts colleges by offering “extremely low cost options for obtaining skills” and replacing grades with more flexible, open means of assessment. However, Breintenbucher also suggests that liberal arts institutions may be able to adapt to this challenge by adopting a “symbiotic relationship with open education resources,” so that faculty focus more on guiding learning than on delivering content.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The key challenge, Breitenbucher argues, is for liberal arts colleges to evolve while remaining true to their core values. In some ways, the values of liberal education correspond with the values of open education: lifelong learning, an integrated approach to learning, a sense of civic responsibility, and the belief that education is important to global citizenship. Yet there is also a fear that open education may lead to an instrumental approach to education, a focus on gaining specific skills and attaining badges or other credentials rather than taking a broad-based approach to learning. Liberal arts colleges can address these concerns by infusing open education resources and courses with best practices such as collaborative projects, civic learning, learning communities, and undergraduate research. In formulating strategies for open education, institutions must take into account “the risk of doing nothing,” given pressures to face increasing competition, reach global audiences, determine the role of technology in the curriculum, reduce costs to students, and design and implement environments that improve learning. As Barry Mills argues about the larger implications of the information technology revolution, liberal arts colleges “cannot responsibly ignore the changing dynamics in the way that information is stored and delivered, because these changing dynamics will undoubtedly change our role as educators.” If colleges don’t begin to confront disruptive forces, they may be flattened by them.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Open education can be part of a college’s strategy for expanding access, experimenting with online learning, or shaping pedagogies for the information age. In his book on the future of higher education, Richard DeMillo advances 10 “Rules for the Twenty-First Century,” among them “Be open.” DeMillo emphasizes that universities should embrace the broadest possible community, expand access to education, use as well as produce open educational materials, and practice democratic values. Openness could also mean adopting open technologies, offering courses open to a wide community, and collaborating with peers to advance common goals. Likewise, Judy Baker, Dean of Foothill College Global Access, emphasizes that colleges can lower costs, stimulate innovation, and avoid obsolescence by supporting open education: “In a cost-conscious and rapidly changing educational environment, failing to embrace low-cost open content and support innovative teaching is the surest path to obsolescence.” No matter what strategy institutions pursue, they will need to articulate a position with regard to open education, one that engages with ongoing transformations.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  Jon Breitenbucher, “MOOCs and the Future of the Liberal Arts,” Playing with Technology, March 12, 2012, http://jon.breitenbucher.net/moocs-and-the-future-of-the-liberal-arts/.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  “What Is Liberal Education?” Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), http://www.aacu.org/leap/What_is_liberal_education.cfm.