Last week, our Business School took a day to meet, along with external people like myself, and business and community spokes people, to discuss the future of the School and its services. It was interesting to participate in the process. While it had its boggy patches and sensitive areas, it was good to see by the end of the day there seemed to be a small group turned onto an idea for a new focus in the school.
One thing that came out of it for me was the opportunity to float ideas relating to open education and the business school.
Certificates, Diplomas and Degrees to the back please
The idea I expressed that has attracted some interest was one where we invert the normal thinking of what it means to get a formal education. To take the “certificates, diplomas and degrees” part of what we do and put it in the back, and put the content and the learning activities up front. This is in response to common feedback from students where they want to know what is IN the course, what will they learn, how applied is it? Is it relevant? In my opinion, the package of certificates, diplomas and degrees give no real answer to inquiries to learning, worse – they limit educational development to a particular set of assumptions relating to that framework for learning.
Planning for Sustainable Small Management course
Hillary Jenkins is the program manager for the Diploma in Applied Travel and Tourism – otherwise known as Travel and Tourism (probably to become just Tourism soon). This course (for some strange reason) sits inside the Business School. That aside, Hillary is keen on the idea of “inverting” the package to one that envelops a wide range of interests in learning – starting with one of the courses inside her programme: Planning for Small Business.
Our first step was to find out what else was going on in Dunedin, Otago in terms of courses and support for people planning for small business. We didn’t want to go ahead and set something up that was in competition with others, and I don’t rightly know why something like a short stand alone course in planning for small business didn’t already exist in the Business School. So we called a meeting with the likely candidates of stakeholders in such a course. The Chamber of Commerce, NZ Trade and Enterprise, local business incubator Kick Start, a number of Polytechnic lecturers to assess the level of interest.
Our meeting was first see if us setting up a short stand alone course in planning for small business would be in competition, or could be complimentary to existing courses and services. We found that it would not be in competition and could be highly complimentary to existing services around town. The next part was discuss the aspect of this new course that would be unique, planning for small business with triple bottom line sustainability in mind. We aim to develop a course that will assist people in planning for a sustainable small business.
To do this we are currently in negotiation with NZ Trade and Enterprise to obtain copyrights to make a derivative of their already excellent guide Planning for Success. Planning for Success is a template for a business plan with supporting information attached to it. We want to make a derivative from this that will incorporate triple bottom line accounting as well as sustainability information for use in the business plan marketing and objective statements. We would also record seminars and presentations to compliment the resource. The derivative will of course be developed with the Wikibook that is already in development. We’ll make a printed and bound version for sale – all carrying the Creative Commons Attribution License (meaning NZTE would be free to take a version further if they wanted).
I’m getting to the new model now…
Once we have a text to structure a course around, we then want to set up a calendar of informative events that relate to that text and the courses we have. The events would be things like seminars from the Inland Revenue Department on business registration through to tax and levies; presentations from different insurance brokers; presentations from local business’; workshops from local services; etc etc. A range of short 30 minute to 1 hour events that are open to the public and enrolled students, and that have direct relevance to planning for a sustainable small business according to the text.
These short events link to slightly longer events such as a 3 hour workshop in spreadsheets; a day long tour of existing business; a consultation period with a service; a business plan writing workshop over 5 nights. These slightly more involved events are credited towards the course in Planning for Small Business – at which point the certificates and diplomas start to become relevant to participants, as they align to assessment for such credentials.
Examples: Take the perspective of someone in the community who already has full time job, but is interested in developing a small business idea. This person would have access to the short informative events and content of the formal course This type of access scales without diminishing the experience of formally enrolled participants or costing the Polytechnic anything that marketing or social development funding couldn’t account for – the old open lecture format. From the perspective of an enrolled student (which in Hillary’s course tends to be a young school leaver), they are attending informative events that make up the content of what they need to know to complete the learning activities, such as the Writing a Business Plan workshop, but with the extra perspective of it being of interest to a wider public attending the open lecture. From the perspective of the course coordinator, it is an opportunity to see a wider range of people participating in this level of content and to promote participation in the slightly more involved learning activities in the course. There is no commitment or enrolment to a certificate, diploma or degree at these events and activities. Just short, one off, regularly available, open access workshops to assist people.
Making our way to optional certificates, diplomas and degrees
Now, if those people became interested in the slightly longer sessions, they would find themselves with a group going through the tasks informed by the short and regular events. At the end of the longer learning activity, we record their attendance and completion. If they attend other activities, we record that too. Cumulatively these amount to a certificate, diploma and perhaps a degree (or they can be used in an recognition process should they decide to be interested in that sort of accreditation); or they are simply available for people to learn from – no expectation of commitment to certificates, diplomas, degrees, full time or part time study, or inflexible timetables.
The point is the certificates, diplomas and degrees are still there, and all the events and activities are coordinated around them, but the general public have access to the content and activities without necessarily committing to the certificate, diploma or degree. Some people will want to commit to that straight off the bat (such as our young school leavers) and nothing is stopping that either. This approach envelops many different levels of interest in the learning and optionally progresses people toward a credential if that has value to them. Hillary’s job is to currate the learning programme (similar to that of a film festival coordinator perhaps), and to facilitate people’s association and progress through that programme, in a fashion of free ranging like being the rain. (Those links help that last sentence make sense).
How does it pay? Well, the formally enrolled pay as normal. They enrol in the course up front and commit to all that is required. They receive their study allowance and start accumulating their study debt (or pay up front), we receive our subsidy for their enrolment, and they have access to all the content and learning support and assessment services that are afforded to them normally. As for the people taking advantage of the open access, they have access to the short events with an admission fee to cover costs if any. All sessions (where practical) are recorded and published for free online use. The longer sessions that these events feed into also have admission fees to cover costs and the content to support the activities are similarly available online for free. Obviously the online versions simply support the face to face events and activities.
What we need to be careful to ensure is that the formally and up front enrolled students have assured access to the sessions, and that their fee is less than if someone was to instead pay admission fees to all the available sessions.
So we are developing an open access course to cater for the requests of people who want more applied, practical, and more immediately relevant learning activities. We are separating the content slightly from the learning process and making it more accessible but still connected to ‘chunked’ learning activities. We are developing a 3 part sequence in learning that works both ways. People can attend events that lead to short learning activities that accumulate for assessment and certification. Or people can commit to the assessment and certification process up front and use the events and activities to achieve that objective. All resources will be freely available online, but also available as packaged resources for sale.
This idea is similar to the Sustainability Curriculum I proposed to Polytechnic leaders some time back, but as yet has not really grown any legs. It also relates to the free learning, fee education that is being considered by lecturers in Midwifery.