Higher Education in the Information Age

Distance Education and Globalization I

Alice Irby


Michael Eleey: Thank you very much, Sir Graeme. I think that some of that background on the Open University will be interesting context for our later discussion about the Western Governors University Initiative. Yesterday afternoon a couple of people made reference to an interesting possibility, and that is the potential segregation of the research teaching and certification roles of the university. Our next speaker comes to us from ETS, so it'll perhaps be interesting in the day's discussion to pursue that theme a bit. Alice Irby first came to ETS in 1962, an assistant program director in the College Board program. From '72 to '78 she served as Vice President for Student Services at Rutgers University, thereafter returning to ETS. She served ETS as Vice President for Field Services, with responsibility for government relations; contract work with state agencies, universities, and professional associations; domestic and international marketing; and technical assistance program evaluation and consulting services. Subsequently, she directed ETS's Center for Occupational and Professional Assessment, overseeing assessment, training, and guidance projects and services in the workplace, military, and professional and adult education environments. She is now President of The Chauncy Group International, a wholly owned subsidiary of Educational Testing Service. She will describe for us today the business model and the role of technology underlying this global venture in certification and career development services. Alice.

Alice Irby: Thank you, Mike. Well, as Mike said, I don't come from a University. I've spent some time in several during my career, but I come to you today from sort of the outsider's perspective. The Chauncy Group is named for the founder of the Educational Testing Service, Henry Chauncy, and we specialize in the assessment and credentialing of people entering professions and increasingly in the workplace. So I'll try to give the discussion that perspective today.

I think it's fair to say that we are in the middle of a revolution. I don't know whether the historians will count it as such or not, but since I'm not a historian, I can say that I think we are. And the technological revolution is certainly affecting the economic and political relations among nations; the social, business, and professional exchanges among individuals; and it's bringing about shifts in the labor force and the economy. Just a point or two on the labor force affects as they pertain to wages and skills in education.

As all of us know, global competitiveness has lead to the development of high performance work systems and teams, and of course they depend on our technology. But still, only about two percent of the capital investment per year is in computer equipment and technology, though that percentage is growing very fast and has doubled in the last several years. Clearly workers, then, in order to be successful in this new economy, need three or four kinds of educational skill development. First it is generally conceded that just about everybody now needs some kind of education beyond high school. They also, though, need preparation and a specialty or occupation, and they need formal and informal training on the job, which is becoming increasingly significant. And last but not least: access to and use of technology. Strangely, the economic returns of a college education are going down measured in time of lifetime income in relation to the cost, but the economic cost of not going to school beyond high school is increasing rapidly. Tony Carnavelli, one of my colleagues at ETS, is a labor economist, and he is known for this message: there is only one course of action more costly than going to college, and that's not going to college. So as with any revolution, I think there are salutary affects on the one hand, but excessives and consequences on the other, and those affect these young students and workers and adults.

There are also winners and losers, and I think one of the questions that has come up yesterday and will come up today is to what extent will higher education be a winner or loser. I happen to think that higher education is eminently adaptable, however inefficient, but we'll be able to be the major player going forward. I think in the past it's been assumed that the academy controlled what is learned, how that learning takes place, how education is delivered, and controls the certification of that learning. In a simpler time, we can think of it in terms of control of the content, what is taught, how and where it's delivered, and what is the credential of that achievement. Who certifies it? I think what' changing is that now there are more players and the roles are becoming confused, and the stage is getting crowded. I'm going to come back to that.

One person's view of the need to change in higher education is described here. The skills that we need will evolve and change. We can no longer operate a system based on the principle that education is like a dose of chickenpox which is caught early in life and never recurs. We must build a system that allows people to move in and out of jobs, in and out of full-time education or training much more easily. So clearly we need not a one-shot, sustaining vaccine, but something close to a megavitamin every day to be sure to keep our minds fresh and to insure against unemployment or disease and to demonstrate fitness in terms of our competence.

I'd like to go back to the second point in the learning process because I want to make a distinction between emphasis on delivery and emphasis on content and certification. I happen to think that the delivery mechanism channels are really overshadowing the other two things that I mentioned: the content and the credentialling. But that's clearly where the hype is--the Bill Gates techies, the software and hardware wizards, and the communications giants, as well as the small fries. And I think all too often the focus is on the medium, often more than the message, and therein lies some of the risk, I think, for those of you in the academy that have set the standard in the past. I'd like to describe a major development in my own field as illustrative of that.

One of the major reasons for establishing the Chauncy Group was to enable us to focus on credentialling with the use of technology and to combine assessment or testing with training and with the use of technology. So we are, I think, one of the leaders in the development of computer based tests. Those tests are delivered certainly all over this country and increasingly all over the world. We have faced, in doing that, some of the same things that came up in the discussion yesterday. There are huge infrastructure costs in doing that. You have to find facilities, and now I'm talking about what we call high stakes tests or licensing exams. Those are the ones required by regulatory authorities of one kind or another. So the high stakes nature of the test requires one to make sure that the environment is very secure. So these tests are delivered through proctored testing sights, and that means finding buildings, equipping them, developing communications systems, etc. The one that is--but at the same time, it's been demonstrated to be quite worthwhile to do that in terms of the professional associations and the candidates that take advantage of that. So let me point out some of the advantages.

The big change is that, when you move away from paper and pencil exams and move to computer-based exams that can be delivered in these centers, you make possible the individualization of the certification. Every candidate can get a somewhat different test. The schedule can be at the candidate's convenience. The test can occur every day of the year if the center is opened. It can also occur in any country in the world. The results can be very rapid. As a matter of fact, they can be on site. Therefore, it's a big advantage to the candidates because there's a much shorter time to their employment. In the past people sitting for the medical exam or the architect's exams or other exams had to wait weeks and weeks before they knew whether they were licensed or certified.

The developments in terms of cognitive science and psychometrics enable us to shorten those tests considerably. The nurses exam, for example, used to be a two-day exam. That's now a five hour exam. The average candidates finish that exam in two and a half hours. And finally there's a considerable improvement in security. What has made this possible though is not just the delivery technology; what's made it possible is the advance in the psychometric modeling that is not possible. However, it is possible to just put traditional exams on a computer, and with the emphasis on delivery, that is also what is happening. It's very easy to simply take, as someone said earlier, you take what you've been using in the classroom and throw it on the Internet. It's also easier to take a multiple choice test and throw it on a computer based network environment. What is much tougher is to try to change the nature of the testing or the nature of the credential itself, and there's been some headway made in that area.

I was talking with one of our colleagues here from MIT who happens to be an architect. There's a new examination for the licensure of architects in this country, and it was just made operational last February. It moves well beyond multiple choice testing into simulations of professional practice, and those simulations are in effect case studies of vignettes that are developed out of architects' files. The artificial intelligence algorithms in that model permit the on-site scoring of those simulations. That's an example of where the advances in technology and the advances in psychometrics can come together to make a significant improvement in the ways in which we can credential people for occupations.

However, because of the expense in doing that, frequently the move to computer based testing focuses largely on the delivery. That's also partly because it's very expensive. Someone mentioned yesterday one of the problems is not so much in what is possible, but the time it takes, the authoring tools. It took five years to develop that architects exam, none of that having to do with whether we could deliver it in a testing center. All of it having to do with the scoring algorithms. We had to write our own authoring tools to begin with. So we need to be able to condense that time. One of the big advances we look to is being able to develop those kinds of programs in a year rather than five years, and we're seeing some improvement there.

With all this focus on delivery, we see all kinds of companies cropping up to serve the educational function and the assessment function. You've talked most of yesterday and today about the universities and the university roles, but I want to mention some of the other players. You've probably heard of some of these, and you'll hear a lot about the second one. There is a new organization, a new company, called Caliber. It's been organized by Sylvan Learning Systems and MCI technologies. They will actually have 50 to 100 sites around the country in the next year. They will have production facilities in at least one or two places in the country. I believe they are either talking with or have talked with the people at Johns Hopkins about providing that production facility. If that doesn't work out, they will create their own. They will be able to provide training in those centers, distance education. They will have video, instantaneous feedback, and they will be able to test for certification. It's an ambitious undertaking.

I won't mention or talk about the Western Governors Association Virtual University because that's next on our program. There's another much smaller company named Randomex. They are mainly a software company in distance learning and education and not so much in assessment. They offer tailored delivery and they focus on large corporations, some of the Fortune 1,000 corporations. Another company that just came into being--it's behind the scenes. It's really called Princeton Learning Systems, but they have named this particular aspect of their work Financial Services University. They have started with a professional development program for the National Association of Securities Dealers.

The next one is the Interactive Health Network. That is an organization that provides software, combining training and certification for long-term health providers. It was a small company. They've just been acquired by a large company that's in the long-term healthcare field. There's a Philadelphia organization SCT that is beginning, and SCT provides a lot of institutional services to universities, all kinds of support services in the academic arena, and they're beginning new Internet services. And finally the Gartner Group, and someone I think is here from the Gartner Group, so I won't dwell on that either. But these networks permit computer-based training, records management, cataloguing, scheduling, assessment, tracking credits to degrees, matches with jobs, Internet or intranet delivery, training assessment, and records management.

It used to be that the same people who controlled the delivery also controlled the content and the credentialing: the faculty, the instructors, and the teachers. But now the question is what happens when the course is a piece of software and not a professor and not a library list? Or the instructor or examiner is not face to face with the learner? Or that you can't be sure that the person doing the work is the one registered for the course? Or that you need to insure the knowledge and skills outcomes, but there's been no time in class and no face to face communication?

We know that these learners are not in our typical institutions. They're in the workplace, they're in between jobs and careers, they're in some continuing education programs, and they're in new kinds of college degree programs. Someone made reference earlier to the size of the market. In 1995 American business spent 51 billion dollars to train workers. The continuing education market is estimated to be about the same size. Now, I'm sure there's some overlap between those numbers. They're not mutually exclusive. But never the less, the market is quite substantial. That means or that in part is the result of what I think of as the new employment contract.

I mentioned earlier the effects of the economy and the labor force in terms of the changes having to do in part with technology. I think the new contract, the new employment contract, is something like this: "We will help you grow and develop, we will provide you with opportunities to learn, to be involved, to practice new skills, to have responsibility, to be respected and valued, and to be rewarded and recognized for your contribution. In return, we seek your commitment to our company's mission," for this is what's key I think. "We cannot guarantee what is going to happen in the future, but if it doesn't work out, you will leave here a more talented, responsible, self-confident, and employable person. In other words, we can't promise you employment for life. We can't give you the kind of tenure that we have in the past. At best, we can try to make you employable." I think that's what a lot of companies are saying to their employees now.

That means that the focus is on skills and expertise and a mobile labor force and a changing labor market. The company and the employer needs to know that the training they offer these workers really works, and the employee or the job seeker needs to be able to demonstrate competence. And seat time or certificate of attendance no longer suffices. There is a need to assure continued competence. Everybody's getting into the act, not just the universities. Although I do want to mention one university program that came to my attention when I was reading about some of these things. That's one that MIT has developed. MIT has a program now which is a Master of Science in Efficiency in Management in their System Design and Management Program. It's a Master's Degree. It takes 24 months. It's one month in residence, one month at the beginning, four and a half months at the end, plus some multi-day business trips and visits. The thing that I found interesting is that the tuition for full-time degree students, presumably in residence, is $42,000. The tuition for part-time, distance learning students is $50,000.

There's also an effort underway at the University of Michigan--I see some chuckles around there-at the University of Michigan in conjunction with the auto manufacturers. The auto manufacturers are interested in making sure that their--O.K. close to time--that their workers are certified in certain skills across the world. Some of the others that are involved in this are professional associations, American Production and Inventory Control Society, National Council of Architecture Registration Board, the Dental Interactive Simulations Corporation--this is a consortium of dental groups, the National Association of Securities Dealers, and a number of medical groups. There are also training companies that are doing computer-based training and are now coming together with assessment companies to put the packet of training and assessment together.

Let me end with what I think is one of the core issues having to do with all of these different kinds of delivery and education. Reference has been made to a lot of the junk or the issue of standards. I think as we go forward, not just in terms of what universities provide, but what these professional associations or companies or other learning companies might provide. The core of the matter to me, for the traditional providers as well as the new providers, is the issue of access versus authority. The democratization of access in this revolution can be extremely beneficial, but the democratization of authority or the spread of information, unqualified or disconnected from expertise or expert judgment, I think can be very dangerous. The question really becomes what becomes of the standards, what constitutes expertise, what results when there is no generally accepted authority, and what is the outcome when any information or conversation over the wires passes for being as authentic and as authoritative as any other? Thank you.



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Last modified: 26 January 1998