Leadership in higher education: 14 pieces of food for thought

A useful little article from the Guardian HE network on some leadership tips.

There’s nothing here that might not already have been covered in LFHE courses, or in our own Leading for Success programme.

The article usefully concludes with a summary of desirable leadership qualities:

“Humility, competence, ability to simultaneously ‘own’ issues/stories and still give credit to those who did the hard work. Political skill, both internally and externally, is good . Never losing sight of the bigger picture, the ability to think and act strategically, compassion and a sense of humour”

Venture Capital and MOOCs

In “Venture Capital’s Massive, Terrible Idea For The Future Of College“, Maria Bustillos highlights some of the more interesting and less sensational issues around MOOCs.

She includes reference to a debate between” Aaron Bady and Clay Shirky who had an exchange recently on Inside Higher Ed that sheds light on the current thinking regarding MOOCs among academics.

“The two represent a certain polarity within the academy. Bady, known on Twitter and in the blogosphere aszunguzungu, is a Ph.D. student in African literature at UC Berkeley, where he teaches; he’s also a well-known writer on politics and culture. For all the edginess of his style and his high profile on social media, Bady is a newly-minted prof in the classic mold: a scholar largely concerned with learning (and teaching) from the past. Shirky, though he has taught at NYU for over a decade, is a hypermodern public intellectual and author, a mandarin of the Internet, focused on the future.”

The views of these two well know protagonists are expounded, together with an indication of where they agree. A useful diversion is provided of Richard Feynman teaching polarisation of light – always going to appeal to a physical scientist.

But in Maria’s concluding comments, we see:

“MOOCs are an essentially authoritarian structure; a one-way process in which the student is a passive recipient required to do nothing except “learn.” What he “learns” is only useful if it results in direct, measurable economic production. (Hence, for example, a degree in literature has an economic value of zero.) As a convenient by-product, the purveyors of this “education” can be “incentivized” by the profit motive. The invisible hand at work once again.

Or we can look at education as an interactive process whereby the job of the teacher is to encourage the student to think, thereby introducing him to an adult world in which he may devise a contributon of his own making.”


“Let’s put ourselves in the undergraduate student’s position. Someone eighteen years old, embarking on an academic career, might well ask: Will this world welcome me, welcome my potential abilities? Or am I being trained for a life on a hamster wheel? Is my value simply the value of a hamster that can run, a bioform for the Matrix to plug into and extract my essence for the benefit of a larger machine? Is this world full of possibilities, is it asking me to contribute, welcoming my contribution, valuing me for the things known and unknown that I may one day be able to contribute? Or am I being wronged from the start, treated as a “customer,” which all too often means, alas, someone to fleece?

Is the world full of smart and welcoming adults who are interested in what I have to say, encouraging me to work hard and learn and try things, or is it full of thieves and charlatans who are out to rip me off and saddle me with debt and enslave me before I even get a chance to start my adult life??

Let’s consider this from the educator’s point of view, as well. Doesn’t the quality of a culture rely in part on a deep, dynamic interaction between those who are adults now, and those who will be soon?”

The Week University (As We Know It) Ended – or more on MOOCs

The Week University (As We Know It) Ended was published in the Huffington Post, and is one of the most florid tub-thumping articles for MOOCs I have yet read.

Don Tapscott, reporting from Davos, writes:

“At one session here at Davos, the presidents of Harvard, Stanford and MIT all readily acknowledged that the experiments in new models of online learning will soon radically disrupt higher learning.

One expert suggested many universities are facing the early days of bankruptcy. Another predicted there may only be 10 universities that survive this transition.”

Wow. Just 10 universities.

Mind you  in the same article he refers to Sebastian Thrun ” Google vice-president. He led the team that developed the Google self-driving cars that have circled the globe taking pictures of streetscapes for its Street View service.”.

Google has developed a self driving car. Fact. Google have produced streetscapes using Street View. fact. Google HAVE NOT used self driving cars to photograph streetscapes. This is poorly researched journalistic hyperbole.

Maybe the rest of his article should be treated with a suitably large pinch of salt.