Tag Archives: university

Academic Research: Benefits of Collaboration

I have been researching technology collaboration between research universities and corporations. There are brilliant students and professors in university research programs but limited funding. Companies are hungry for innovations to fill their pipeline and generally have substantial resources. This week we’ll take a look at the practice of technology transfer and point out some of the successes of the last few years.

Innovation

In my AIM innovations course we debate potential sources of ideas. Sometimes it seems as if companies are pulling from a dry well or merely creating extensions of existing technologies because that is what they are most familiar with. Psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” This is true when trying to diagnose psychological issues or developing breakthrough technology solutions. Student scientists, researchers and inventors often have no knowledge of what has or has not worked in the past. They ask “what if” as if there were no barriers and proceed to develop new products and applications.

Applications

Here at the University of Oregon there have been several technology transfers in recent years, both to existing companies and new companies spun off for the purpose of commercializing research. One of the most recent start-ups is Suprasensor which focuses on precision agriculture or what they call “the introduction of science and technology to farm management.” They have developed green farming practices by using sensors which enable growers to use less water and fertilizer while enjoying a greater yield.

On the UO campus, the new Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact seeks to turn laboratory discoveries into tangible innovations that improve lives. This program is just getting off the ground thanks to a generous donation and promises to work with other universities and corporations in breakthrough solutions. Also here at home, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) was formed to coordinate research and commercialization work done by companies and academics in the state and help create new products.

From Research To Application

The nicotine patch came out of research from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). The technology was developed and patented by UCLA and licensed by Ciba-Geigy as a commercial product. This is a great example of university research that led to a beneficial and potentially lifesaving product for millions.

The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) grew out of the early University of Oregon Medical School in order to expand education and research and to include new focus areas such as biotechnology and biomedicine. A search of the OHSU license portfolio reveals new drugs, devices, and therapies that benefit people worldwide but also helps the university through revenue that can be put back into research for breakthrough treatments. It is a cycle for the university and an example of a profitable collaboration that can save or improve lives for patients.

Thoughts

Research and development is not as efficient or effective when done by one cloistered group. It pays to collaborate with others and reach outside of the traditional walls of development to discover new ideas. That graduate researcher may have just the answer you have been looking for.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Opening the Walls of Academia

Open book in a field.I am just finishing the second in a series of three open courses in computational statistics and machine learning. I wrote earlier about various forms of education delivery but I want to concentrate this week on what is becoming known as open education or open learning. This type of learning goes beyond the traditional university structure to bring knowledge to many more students through nontraditional means.

The Walls of Academia

Aristotle founded the Peripatetic school in the Greek Lyceum in 335 BCE to teach principles of math, philosophy, and rhetoric. A peripatetic school is a strolling school. It is thought that Aristotle walked the grounds discussing philosophy and other subjects with his students. There was a gymnasium for exercise, but learning for the most part took place in the open among the trees.

I get the sense that we are slowly returning to the early days of the lyceum, if only figuratively. We are opening the walls of academia to allow for learning beyond the traditional campus and sharing our expertise and wisdom with a larger audience. The physical campus will continue to be relevant, but successful universities will embrace education beyond the classroom. We have had traditional Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for several years, but consider these other developments.

Beyond the Walls

The Open University was founded in 1969 in the UK to provide postsecondary education to more UK citizens. This nonprofit school was built on the principles that there would be no formal entry requirements and education would be provided on campuses and through nontraditional delivery. They started out teaching some courses through television programs and now reach a worldwide audience. There are campuses outside of London, in Northern Ireland, The Republic of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland and serve students outside of the UK through their OpenLearn arm, MOOCs, and YouTube lectures.

Open Curriculum

MIT Open Courseware is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. This is free and open to the world through a Creative Commons license. Anyone can watch recorded lectures, read lecture notes, and access the full syllabus complete with readings and required texts. I am working through an introductory quantum physics course right now, which is fantastic. Students can get an introduction to a topic or fill gaps in their knowledge and university instructors can gain insights to help freshen their course. The introductory freshman level courses could also be valuable to high school teachers of advanced classes. High school students can use them to get a feel for university courses and also to advance their high school knowledge. This site has a number of corporate sponsors whose employees could benefit from new skills learned in the courses as well.

Thoughts

These are just a couple of examples of how education and knowledge are moving beyond the walls of traditional colleges and universities. More people than ever have access to higher education thanks to technology and enlightened thinking from the institutions. This can only benefit us as individuals and as a society if we are willing to take advantage of these opportunities. My challenge to you this week is this: if you are not already engaged in full time or part time studies, find a topic that interests you and explore the many resources that are open. Let me know what you find and what you learned.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Trends in Higher Education

Stock photo of a hand about to click Go when searching with the term University.The Boston Consulting Group published an article recently that highlighted trends in higher education. This piece did a good job covering those that are emerging. I want to examine the convergence of several of them and how I think technology will play a part in shaping that future.

Funding

State colleges and universities have long relied on government subsidies to keep tuition at a manageable rate and fund all of the research and activities associated with the school. In recent years the amount of funding coming from the states has dropped as they struggle to balance their own budgets. The shortfall is made up through increased tuition and grants as well as targeted campaigns aimed at private and corporate donors. Increased tuition is problematic due to the large debt graduates are accumulating. A recent article in U.S. News & World Report detailed how some graduates are carrying student loan debt into their forties, which means they cannot help their children start academic careers. The result is that the children are assuming their own debt, which continues the cycle. Generating alternative funding sources or containing operational costs could help break that cycle.

Competition

There are more education options available to students. Schools across the country, and even some international schools, are offering attractive incentives to reel in young scholars who might otherwise attend their state university. There’s also been a spike in online curriculum and for-profit schools. In this competitive environment universities must target the right prospective students and then lure them in. With the drop in state funding mentioned above, many universities are pursuing more international students, who pay a higher tuition. All of this requires a targeted, intelligent marketing campaign.

Increased Research

Partnerships with private industry are helping universities increase their research efforts. These partners provide funds for sophisticated research, the results of which can be licensed back to the partner or sold outright. Top-notch students and faculty are drawn to such projects, industry gains new business ideas and opportunities, and students and potential employers are brought together.

Thoughts

Colleges and universities are facing pressure from increased competition, uncertain funding, and the push to accelerate and capitalize on research. Here are ways that I think technology can help alleviate that pressure:

  • Social Media. Universities are increasing their use of social media to reach a tech savvy generation from around the globe. Advances in web and media technologies as well as analytics help schools target the right audiences and markets.
  • Big Data and Business Analytics. The ability to quickly analyze large amounts of prospective student data helps colleges narrow their search for potential students. By identifying and targeting particular demographics, schools can reduce marketing costs and increase the efficiency of their search campaigns.
  • Collaboration Software. Research partnerships are no longer just with the company down the street. Partners can be thousands of miles away so it is important that schools and private enterprises can communicate, catalog and analyze research results in a systematic and predictable way. Collaboration applications can help keep researchers informed and successful.

While colleges and universities are facing funding and competition pressures, there are technologies that can help lessen those concerns and lead to new knowledge and discoveries. I am hoping this post spurs your thoughts on other ways that technology can or is helping higher education.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Competency-Based Education

Man adding a cog gear in a row of old cog gearsI have been reading about competency-based education (CBE) and want to share my findings and thoughts with you. By definition, competency-based education differs from traditional education in that it is not measured by the traditional credit hour. You complete a course of study when you have mastered the skill at hand. That may take a day or it may take a year, or anywhere in between. You pay a flat rate for a subscription time period and how many courses you complete in that time is up to you. Most existing CBE coursework, such as that from the University of Wisconsin, is offered online. If you have already mastered a skill, you can prove it through skills testing and move on to another course.

Credit for Prior Learning

There are two main draws for competency-based education: credit for prior learning and self-paced learning. Learning culminates in a test to demonstrate mastery of the subject, whether you studied for one day or 100 days; the focus is on mastery, not time. A recent Harvard Business Review article stated: “It is vital to underscore, however, that competency-based education is about mastery foremost—not speed. These pathways importantly assess and certify what a student knows and can do.” This is good news for the returning student who has already mastered a particular skill through technical school or on-the-job training. It is also good news for potential employers who want to know what you know and not necessarily how many hours you spent in a classroom. A potential employee could hit the ground running and not have to go through an extensive onboarding program to fill in the gaps from academia to the workforce.

Self-Paced Learning

The other benefit to competency-based education is that each student learns at his or her own pace. If students need more time to complete a topic before being evaluated, they just need to sign up for another block or period. If students need less time to complete a skill because of prior knowledge or training, they can be evaluated and move on to the next course. This lets them move at their own pace and potentially lessens the cost of their education if they are aggressive in taking and passing competencies.

Current Offerings

University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, and Purdue University are among a handful of top colleges experimenting with this new format. Western Governors University has been using a CBE model for almost two decades. There are several for-profit schools as well. Wisconsin now offers seven programs that range from certificates to bachelor’s degrees in IT, sales, nursing, and international business. The University of Michigan offers a master’s degree in medical health professions education. This is targeted at doctors, nurses, and administrators who find themselves in a teaching role. They are targeting professionals who already have a terminal degree but need to fill in skills to ensure they are competent educators. It is completely online and self-paced to fit the schedules of those already working in the health care field.

Thoughts

I think this is a great innovation for educational institutions, students, and potential employers. I believe that the key to making this type of education successful is to form an ongoing partnership between the academic institution and employers to ensure that the competencies that educators are teaching are relevant to the business and industry that will be receiving the newly minted graduate. The employer wins because they know they are getting a competent employee who can contribute right away. The academic institution wins because they have a much larger pool of returning students to draw from and can train them in real world skills.

Is this the new wave of higher education or just a passing fad? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Is College Essential for Young Entrepreneurs?

Young business people in a meeting.In a recent article about Thiel Fellows the question was raised once again: “Is college for everyone?” With rising tuition rates and more young people competing to get into the best schools, it is a valid question. Does a college education give you a return on investment commensurate with the investment of time and money and the opportunity cost of foregoing other ventures? I have touched on this question in previous blog posts but want to visit it again, hopefully, with a fresh perspective.

Thiel Fellows

Peter Thiel is a billionaire who made his fortune in finance and venture capital investing. He was one of the original founders of PayPal and provided the first outside funding for Facebook. In 2010 he founded the Thiel Fellowship. Thiel Fellows are given $100,000 to forego college and instead focus on their own ideas and passions. His premise is that the brightest and most motivated young people should be given an opportunity to explore their ideas outside of the walls of academia (though Thiel himself has degrees in philosophy and law from Stanford). Fellows are supported for two years through networking, summits on entrepreneurship, and connections to venture capital. Thiel has provided for a contingent of approximately 20 people under age 20 each year since 2010 and there are openings for the next class.

Where are They Now?

The author of the article mentioned above interviewed a small number of Thiel Fellow graduates. Some have successfully formed start-up companies. Some moved on from their original idea when it proved unworkable. Others have actually gone back to complete their education. They all credit at least part of their success to the Thiel Foundation. It helped them focus on their ideas and gave them a framework and network to build on those ideas and produce a product or service.

University Entrepreneurship Programs

The Thiel Fellowship comes at a time when universities are growing their own in-house entrepreneurship programs. The University of Oregon, for example, is a partner in the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network (RAIN) Eugene. This gives students the opportunity to work on projects and connect with people in the community and learn how to start a business from the ground up. Critics of Mr. Thiel are hoping that programs like RAIN will give students a chance to pursue personal projects and a college degree at the same time. In other words, it is not one or the other but both.

Thoughts

I believe that college is very important but realize that life takes us down many paths. College is just one of those paths. A rigid four-year college experience right after high school may not be best for everyone, and we need to make sure that we have a way for learners to step in and out of the college experience as they choose. College may be interspersed with work, research, travel, volunteer opportunities, or starting a company. I pursued a college career while working full time and found it a very rewarding experience. My son has completed two tech schools and is at the top of his vocation. Now in his mid-twenties, he is contemplating going back to school to complete his bachelor’s degree. Is Peter Thiel correct in his assumptions? For some young people, absolutely. For others, an opportunity such as that would be lost without the background of a college experience. What do you think? Is college for everyone? Would the money best be spent elsewhere? Is there an absolute prescribed time for going to college? Let me know your thoughts and experiences.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Can Community College Really Be Free?

Black graduation cap on white background with price tag attached to tassel.I am writing this just before the annual State of the Union address so I am admittedly lacking in details, but I want to start a conversation on the proposal to provide free community college education for everyone. This proposal was announced two weeks ago and has drawn a mixed reaction. The proposal is this: community college tuition shall be free to all who “make steady progress toward completing their program”(whitehouse.gov). Students would be required to attend at least half time and maintain a 2.5 GPA. The federal government would fund this program with $60 billion over the next ten years and states that opt in would bear 25 percent of the cost.

Benefits

This proposal would benefit low-income students who are already taking advantage of Pell grants, as well as all who want to complete the first two years of a college education. In essence, this would be an extension of government funded K-12 education and would remove the cost barrier that prevents many students from continuing their education. The benefit would apply to vocational and certificate programs as well as those programs that prepare students to transfer to a four-year college or university. The national government proposal is modeled after a program launching this fall in Tennessee.

Costs

This proposal would cost an estimated $60 billion with the federal government supplying 75 percent of the money and states covering the remainder. While details are light at this point, the money is expected to come from higher taxes and eliminating some tax breaks, including the tax-free status of 529 college savings plans. Without the tax-free growth benefit such college savings plans would likely disappear as parents would seek other investment vehicles.

Questions

This proposal has set off bells and sirens in my head. Let me be clear, I am a huge proponent of higher education at any level and would love to have it be accessible to all, but there are a lot of unanswered questions. Here are my top questions, and I invite you to add your own (or answer mine):

  1. If tuition is covered, how is a student going to pay for room and board, or will that be covered as well?
  2. If every high school graduate enrolls in community college, who funds the expansion of the community college infrastructure, such as buildings? It will put a burden on the state to keep up with the new incoming students.
  3. Following on the question above, if everyone enrolls in community college because it is free, who is left to complete their first two years at public and private universities? Will these now also become two-year universities for juniors and seniors? If not, will they restructure their curriculum to favor those students that completed their first two years as a resident as opposed to being a transfer student?
  4. What will be the opportunities for those newly minted community college graduates who want to complete a higher degree? Will they be limited because of cost or other factors?
  5. Will cash-strapped states want to participate in this program? If so, will that take money from the already shrinking pool available to four-year state institutions?
  6. Will we create pockets of states that offer free community college tuition versus those that don’t? Residency requirements suddenly become a moot point.

Thoughts

I have a lot more questions, but I am hoping that at least some of them will be answered in the days to come. From the initial proposal, it does not seem well thought out in terms of economics. But the overarching question that I don’t think we are asking is: what do we value about a community college education? Do we value it as a vocational education program or as a gateway to a full university education? Do we value it as a means to teach functional, applied skills, or for teaching higher thinking and reasoning skills in preparation for a university education? How do we value our community colleges?

These are some of my questions and I would love to hear from you. What questions or answers do you have? Perhaps together we can figure this out.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.