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Green Paper: How Should We Then Learn? Biola’s Response to the Digital Revolution

Biola University Imagination Summit: Friday, April 26, 2013

"Perhaps the greatest challenge business leaders face today is how to stay competitive amid constant turbulence and disruption."

—Jeffrey Kotter, Harvard Business Review, November 2012

"In higher education something massively disruptive is underway, and we need to be in a position to ride this well through the failures and as we create industry-making moves."

—Pat Gelsinger, VMWare CEO, former Intel CTO, conversation with Barry Corey, April 5, 2013

Last August during our Faculty Conference I shared with you nine observations after five years on the job. As a reminder, here’s an excerpt from observation #4:

Though we are a university with a classical, residential tradition of educating students, the ascent of technology in education calls us to new models of learning. For both affordability and accessibility, we need to make significant strides in our use of technology. Our University Plan consists of our seven aspirations delivered through four platforms: Biola Classic, BiolaUnlimited, BiolaInquiry and BiolaGlobalAccess. This will be a year when we look even more intently at identifying the information technology solutions needed to maximize both the classroom and non-classroom educational experience of our student body in support of these four dimensions. We are exploring and launching new ways through which we will be delivering education in both traditional and non-traditional ways in the future.[1]

My intent today at this Imagination Summit is to expound on these comments for you to consider where we may go in this digital revolution. I present this paper as what one of my college president friends calls a “green paper,” not a “white paper.” As a “green paper,” I want this to be a collaborative document that invites discussion rather than states with certainty the way forward. After this session you will have access to this paper in “green” form — electronically — including its extensive endnotes.

I. Introduction

If you asked me what course had a significant impact on my undergraduate education, I would tell you about the one taught by Professor Twila Edwards, a biblical scholar who also taught “Age of Milton.” It was a seminar course, with a dozen of us sitting around a conference table, the closest I’ve come to a Torrey Honors experience. The teaching was wonderfully integrative, characterized by spirited conversation, volleyed opinions, provocative learning and serendipitous moments of worship, all under the orchestration of a true master teacher passionate about her subject. That real-time seminar happened face-to-face complete with eye contact, body language, interruptions, laughter, elbow nudges and those collective “aha” moments. We could practically smell each other’s breath. When each class ended, the conversations didn’t. We carried them in small pods to residence halls or the cafeteria. To me, that was how a class was supposed to be.

If you told me this same quality of learning can occur in front of a laptop while sitting alone at a kitchen counter in Butte, Montana, I’d say you don’t know what you’re talking about. The ideals of a classical model of education are best realized in the time-honored tutorial style — small groups of students mentored by well-educated professors who know their discipline and their students, who teach masterfully and who model servanthood as they mentor.

So here’s the question in light of more and more college students taking courses online: Can we at Biola use technology to educate students better while at the same time respecting the role and the time of our faculty?

I’ve personally had some ambiguity answering that question, swayed sometimes by the data and momentum underway in higher education and swayed other times by preserving the integrity of community-based learning the old-fashioned way. I neither want Biola to be left behind because we’ve ignored the reality of higher education’s many disruptive changes nor do I want us to be quick to mimic others and in so doing cheapen who we are.

Higher education changes are underway unlike previous decades. No matter how I feel about the historical virtues of college, the classical, residential, tutorial college model is making room for other options. This time-honored educational environment is by itself unsustainable in part because of economic realities but also because the ways students learn are changing, and quickly. Despite all of the data and trends, however, I still can’t envision the day when a student will complete an entire Biola undergraduate degree online. Time may prove me wrong.

Earlier this academic year I read a piece in The New York Times announcing the new president of Dartmouth, a veritable and time-honored New England college. Philip Hanlon’s presidential approach to leadership, he commented, will be to adapt this Ivy League college to the changing landscape of higher education. In previous generations, adaptability of well-endowed colleges and universities was not a presidential priority. But Hanlon is betting that access to content and the advent of the digital revolution have significantly changed the way students learn. Passive engagement, like listening to “live” lectures, may become a way of the past. Dartmouth’s Hanlon also expects his leadership will focus closely on the college’s cost structure. “The historic funding model for higher education is close to unsustainable,” he stated in one of his first interviews.[2] On the other coast, Stanford, likewise one of the nation’s more revered and conventional learning communities, recently created its first new vice provost position in two decades. Its title: vice provost for online learning. Point is, even the most prestigious and financially solvent of universities are preparing for change. These adaptations are indicators that a redistribution of delivery is both necessary and underway, regardless of the college or university’s Carnegie classification.

As we anticipate where we should innovate at Biola, I come back to my opening question: can we use technology to educate students better while at the same time respecting the role and the time of our faculty? Must change come at the expense of a classical model, and must it forgo the virtues inherent in Biola’s culture? These virtues define us: Christlike formation, faculty mentoring, character development, thoughtful and biblical integration and the nurturing of a servant leader. Without these, Biola goes limp.

Though I’m fairly confident that the traditional residential campus will continue strong for decades to come, re-envisioning the learning models and the role of technology for non-traditional and traditional students must become for us a way of life. Biola will be a leader and not a follower, not copying others but reimagining the delivery of our best educational offerings. We need to move forward with the highest quality and the most engaging material. And we need to turn up the clock speed on getting there. The possibilities are limitless. The time frame is not. Thankfully, some good soil tilling has begun within our community by Ron Hannaford, Freddy Cardoza, David Shynn, Andre Stephens, Matt Williams, Joanne Jung, Aaron Kleist and several school deans, among many others.

II. What Is Changing?

So what is the reality that necessitates changes in learning media today and tomorrow, different than even a decade ago when some of you our younger faculty were undergraduates? What will higher education look like in ten years? We need to begin anticipating that answer and then reverse engineer to plan for what’s coming. To continue in a business-as-usual frame of mind is imprudent. Consider this:

  • The student debt crisis may become a dangerous “new normal” according to an editorial last month in the New York Times, with student debt being the only kind of household debt that continued to rise through the Great Recession and is now the second largest balance after mortgage debt. It’s approaching $1 trillion from $400 billion in 2004. Both the number of borrowers and the average balance per borrower increased 70 percent since 2004. Could this cause the college bubble to pop?[3] Even though financially the investment in higher education more than pays for itself, students and families are now searching for educational options that blend the traditional with non-traditional taking on student and parent loans.
  • You should know that Biola students are very much a part of loan crisis. Committed to the value of a Biola education, they are assuming significant debt that many will carry for 10 years after graduation. In the school year that ended in 2011, 65 percent of our graduating seniors left with a Stafford Loan balance of $21,000. Many of them came from families that also assumed an equal amount of PLUS loan debt. In carrying a total of $42,000 in college loan indebtedness, some students will face monthly payments of $480 for ten years. The loan crisis is just one reason why we have made Affordability one of our seven Aspirations that we will focus on over the next decade. The only good news in all this is that even with this significant loan debt, Biola students have an astoundingly low default rate of 2.8%, which is 9% lower than the California average default, nearly 5% lower than the national private school average, and over 10% lower than the national average of all institutions.
  • Even students from more affluent families, upper-middle-class and above, are now choosing for their children community colleges at a rate twice that of three years ago. At Sallie Mae[4] researchers have found that 23 percent of students from households earning more than $100,000 per year attend community colleges (and then transfer to and graduate from more reputable universities), up from 12 percent just three years ago.[5] We are watching our application and deposit trends very carefully, and we are level this year compared with last year.
  • In recent books like Academically Adrift or through new survey sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation, you would read that four of five U.S. adults believe colleges are not worth the costs. And, according to a recent TIME magazine article, “41 percent of the 540 college presidents and senior administrators surveyed agree with them.” Fundamental to these concerns is this question: “How do we produce a higher standard of education to more students while at the same time lowering costs?” As a recent article in The Economist stated, “…rising fees and increasing student debt, combined with shrinking financial and educational returns, are undermining at least the perception that university is a good investment.”[6]
  • Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) — some in excess of 100,000 students — have arrived with a flourish, declaring that higher education is now unbundled. These free courses offered by notable professors at prestigious universities will begin to build revenue and will also lead to certification if not transferable credit. MOOCs have the potential to shake many institutions “whose business model is based on a set fee for a four-year campus-based degree course.”[7] Educational content is becoming ubiquitous.[8]
  • At the same time, online education offers intriguing possibilities. It may, for example, provide avenues towards solving such intractable problems as the cost of college. From 2000 to 2009, American spending on post-secondary education rose 42 percent after accounting for inflation.[9] As Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun puts it, “[The on-campus experience] has a lot of things which cannot be replaced by anything online. But it’s also insanely uneconomical.”[10] Even those more traditionally minded in their desire to maintain the classical model acknowledge that “cost increases in higher education are going to reach the point where they can’t be sustained.”[11]
  • Some of today’s leaders in education are saying that “we have to get beyond the current system of information and delivery — the professorial ‘sage on the stage’ and students taking notes followed by superficial assessment [and move to a system]… in which students are asked and empowered to master more basic material online at their own pace, and the classroom becomes a place where the application of that knowledge can be honed through lab experiments and discussions with the professor.”[12] Our own 14-year-old son Sam, in grade eight this year, often listens to the teacher’s online science lectures at home and works on his homework in small groups at school, guided by the teacher. His classroom is flipped.
  • It’s long been a critique of higher education that professors know their content, but — at the highest level of teaching — for the most part they have never taken a course on pedagogy, how to teach, assess or test. Some are speculating now that the world of MOOCs is raising the bar so high on content delivery that it will force all professors to improve their teaching or be displaced by an online competitor. Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor and an expert on disruptive innovation, compares today’s traditional university with General Motors of the 1960s just before Toyota used technology to come from out of nowhere and topple GM. He noted that Harvard’s Business School doesn’t teach entry-level accounting anymore because a professor at BYU is so good students watch him instead.[13]

Bottom line, as was stated in a New York Times piece last month, “There is still huge value in the residential college experience and the teacher-student and student-student interactions it facilitates. But to thrive, universities will have to nurture even more of those unique experiences while blending in technology to improve education outcomes in measureable ways at lower costs. We still need more research on what works, but standing still is not an option.”[14]

III. What Isn’t Changing?

If standing still is increasingly less of an option in delivery, can Biola move forward and protect and nurture our core values? In this “green paper,” let me acknowledge some unchanging commitments as far out as I can see, lest I set off too many alarm bells that either the sky is falling or Biola is going buildingless in addition to paperless.

Quite simply, our approach will not be to build what is becoming a popular, growing and often for-profit university by offering many vocational degrees solely online to a wide range of students. Neither do I believe our approach will be to continue investing virtually all of our human and financial resources on the traditional residential model, believing this is sustainable and is the only way our quality will be preserved into the future. I also believe that by modeling successful online and hybrid delivery within the scope of what we can do with quality and without sacrificing BiolaClassic, a coalition of willing faculty will begin to grow and will be compensated for their progress. Here are some commitments I would like you as faculty to hear from me and I trust also affirm.

  • We are a university that accepts students who embrace a Christian faith, and this is core to our curricular and co-curricular mission.
  • We will continue to develop this physical campus as a primary learning center for residential students, and we will continue to grow although at a more measured pace. Our plan is to reach 4,800 traditional undergraduate students by 2022 at a growth rate of approximately 1.2 percent per year. Our graduate programs have room for significant growth, but growth will be realized more through our non-traditional (i.e., hybrid and off-campus) graduate degree programs than our traditional degree programs.
  • We are not aspiring to grow exponentially and disproportionately with online learning as is true of many institutions of higher learning. This is not bad. It’s just not us. I don’t like the words “cash cow,” though what we do will need to be done well, within our value structure and with financial solvency. I don’t like the idea of racing for market niche against so many other schools in a way that detracts from our core competencies. I don’t like the idea of outsourcing the majority of our online courses to faculty elsewhere who know their fields but don’t know Biola’s culture. We need to give careful consideration to the use of adjuncts as we grow, neither impoverishing our students through too much part-time faculty nor overlooking the expertise and the economic prudence adjuncts bring.
  • Biola has an educational product unlike any other comprehensive university in the world. I believe the global need for a Biola education and the demand for a Biola education will grow. We need neither to be conformists in our academic programs nor in our educational delivery by mimicking peer institutions.
  • Biola can be a leader in digitally augmented learning by capturing our best and most unique programs within the sector of Christian higher education. We are a specialty university in our best educational offerings and not well suited to offer a wide range of online vocational degrees offered at many other Christian colleges and universities. As an analogy, I believe the need will continue for REI in a world of Sports Authorities, for Trader Joe’s in a world of Albertson’s, for Godiva Chocolate in a world of Sweet Factories. We stand strong in the quality of our educational content.
  • The following is not a complete list of our nationally notable programs, but Biola is known for our courses in theological and biblical studies, in the interdisciplinary integration we do through courses like the newcomer IRIS, in apologetics as well as science and religion, in cinema and media arts, Rosemead, philosophy, writing and journalism, spiritual formation, the arts and our honors institute. Programs like these and others where we uniquely shine will be among our building blocks for digital and hybrid learning. We will focus on where we are distinct, where we stand unique.
  • At Biola, we have long understood that education is far more than capturing content. It’s applying learning toward real world problems in a way that brings about positive results. That’s what we mean in our mission statement by “impact the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.” Students learn by discussion and doing more than merely listening. Our education has long been this way, providing service opportunities — even at one time requiring them — to put legs on what our students learn. This is why we are of late investing more resources into service learning and cross-cultural experiences out of the provost’s office and not disconnected from the academic enterprise.

My desire is that our most promising students are not disqualified from experiencing these unchanging attributes of Biola because they don’t have enough money. One way to look at new delivery modes is to say we are reclaiming the 1913 words of Lyman Stewart who understood Biola to be a school for qualified students regardless of means or background. We must recognize that not every qualified student can come to Biola to experience a traditional Biola education. In the spirit of Stewart’s 1913 statement, new ways of realizing a Biola degree will help make sure “our doors will be open to all people regardless of race, color, class, creed, or previous condition” (emphasis mine). Our current traditional delivery, unfortunately, makes fulfilling this promise nearly impossible. Halting progress toward more “open doors,” we will become increasingly a university for upper middle class suburban evangelicals and increasingly out of step with the diversity intent of Biola’s founders.

A few years ago at our Faculty Conference I presented a paper entitled, “Vinyl Obituaries,” a metaphor implying that though the music will not change, the medium has changed and will. I listed then some of our core convictions that will not change, no matter how much our delivery does. I am still committed to those statements.[15] So when I say something like “vinyl obituaries” — an anagram of Biola University — I am implying that we think about what is the purity of our education that we never jettison. But we also must consider what is the method of how we deliver education and what are the risks we need to take to improve what we do. As someone shared with me recently, reminiscing on the erstwhile Borders bookstores, the choice is “deep change or slow death.” But I would say with a less morbid tone that we have willing leaders and faculty ready to go forward thoughtfully and enthusiastically. And no matter what we do, we are passionate about the great Christian intellectual tradition of thinking deeply and biblically within and throughout the disciplines.

IV. How Do We Move Forward?

It’s one thing to ponder the changing world. It’s quite another to consider where we may change. After all, universities are not known for their nimbleness. It should come as no surprise when academic institutions meet calls for change with more than a modicum of wariness. Or as someone said, “I’m all for change, so long as it doesn’t involve me.” Members of the community sometimes get bleary-eyed at all the talk about the administration’s direction and strategic plans to get us there. Faculty are understandably loathe to add to their all-too-replete plates. Besides the pillars of academe have firmly stood through eight long centuries and as an American enterprise more and 375 years. Are not the largest of trends made small in the scale of that enormity? Perhaps so. Arguably, however, changes to our cultural landscape unprecedented in pace and scale are bringing this reality to our doorstep whether we like it or not. The world that shapes our students is no longer the same — making their needs and expectations indelibly different as well.

What is the way forward? How should we then learn (and teach)? For Biola, I don’t believe the way forward is choosing between digital and traditional, that is, education online and education in person. The challenge is to discern how much of our future will be digitally based both on campus and through BiolaUnlimited, the platform on which delivery is not restricted to a traditional campus, a calendar or a classroom.

It must be underscored that the brick-and-mortar university — and Biola education in particular — is about more than vocational preparation. In-person mentoring, interaction with professors outside the classroom, and life together as a Christian community work to provide whole-person education, equipping men and women in mind and character, thinking critically and creatively. We’re not alone, of course, in championing the virtues of the physical campus. As Professor Siva Vaidhyanathan at the University of Virginia states, “To champion something as trivial as MOOCs in place of established higher education is to ignore the day-care centers, the hospitals, the public health clinics, the teacher-training institutes, the athletic facilities, and all of the other ways that universities enhance communities. … [Education] is certainly not just about the direct delivery of information into people's lives. If that’s all universities did, then publishing and libraries would have crushed universities a long time ago.”[16] As individuals increasingly question the value of universities in the face of fiscal pressures, it behooves us to engage a long-term cultural conversation that communicates clearly the wider value of community-based higher education and if that is even possible online.

This said, it also behooves us not to ignore the potential technology has for furthering our core mission. Quality education may well be fostered by integrating some pedagogical opportunities online, even for traditional students. Imagine these scenarios:

  • By pushing lectures to the Cloud, we can free class time to help students work through concepts and see to what extent they actually learn.[17]
  • By applying brain research to content delivery — interrupting presentations every few minutes with questions to give immediate feedback and hold students’ attention, for example — we can make even large classes personally engaging.[18]
  • By making small groups and teams foundational to our online structure, we can promote community and help individuals feel heard.
  • By requiring students to assess classmates’ performances, we can hold them accountable and help them pull their weight.
  • By paying attention to patterns in student responses — quiz problems that most respondents get wrong or points of confusion that commonly recur — we can identify concrete ways to communicate more effectively.
  • By giving students ownership and responsibility of parts of their learning environment, we can equip them to help make our courses better.[19]
  • By creating feedback loops where quality contributors are recognized (like Amazon’s “Top Customer Reviewers”) and given more weight, we can take some of the burden from professors by empowering informal teaching teams.
  • By challenging students to send in videos showing them using class content in real-life, problem-solving situations, we can inspire them through the creativity of others and demonstrate the class’s relevance.
  • By encouraging meet-ups of participants in cities around the world, we can help them build relationships that are a key part of the college experience.
  • By actively building students’ networks, moreover — whether formerly, as through Udacity’s employer-connection program,[20] or organically through the process of shared interaction — we can open up for them a much larger world.

Done right, that’s a robust education — not one that supplants traditional offerings, though there’s that danger if we ignore it, but one that extends both our reach and the quality of our teaching in enormously important ways. The question before us, then, is where we go from here. What could the use of new technology look like in a transformational way at Biola? Given our character and mission, the way we take on this challenge is likely to be profoundly different from other institutions.

The paradigm isn’t entirely clear. We know that our impact needs to be global not regional, specialized not generalized, culture influencing not merely self-enriching. To find our place in this wider arena, however, we’re going to need some lab experiments to start: programs that build on existing strengths, target areas not addressed by competitors and meet pressing cultural and Kingdom needs.

The future is uncertain. Faced with a choice of costly traditional institutions and far cheaper online offerings — some of which are already being accepted by accredited colleges[21] — students may well come to view education as they have come to think of media: what they want, when they want it and available for next to free. Nor are MOOCs the only model challenging higher education. Again, Harvard’s Clayton Christensen:

Right now, Harvard Business School is investing millions of dollars in online learning, but it is being developed to be used in our existing business model.… But there is a different business model.… It’s on-the-job education. This model of learning is you come in for a week and we’ll teach you about strategy and you go off and develop a strategy. Come back later for two weeks on product development. You learn it and you use it … that’s what’s killing us.”[22]

Such just-in-time training is all the more important, some feel, because — as Jeff Selingo observes, “[t]he economy is changing at warp speed. The ten jobs most in demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004. A career that pays top dollar now might not in 10 years.”[23]

This means what we have at Biola can be an important contribution to those wanting to develop patterns of thinking above technical skills. Even Apple’s leaders saw their work as being at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. The proficiencies and qualities we instill in our students — critical thinking, deftness in oral and written communication, disciplined study habits, problem solving, dependability, teamwork, leadership, and above all wholehearted commitment to excellence for God’s glory — are ones that will serve them well regardless of what the future brings. Because we care deeply about reaching our students effectively, because we know all too well the importance of what we’re offering them, and because we ourselves long to present ourselves approved to God as workers who need not be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15), we strive to be exceptional in our craft, using new means to develop our students consistent with our mission.

I read recently in an essay by Max Nikias, USC’s president, that “The scholar of the future will be the one who knows how to work with his other peers in other disciplines; who can build connections between the ivory tower and the town square; and who can translate ideas into innovation that can benefit society.”[24] We aim to give our traditional students as well as our students-at-a-distance a front-row seat in this experience. The understanding of truth, beauty and goodness cannot be given the short-shrift in our delivery of education, and neither can the competencies our students need to be effective as Christians in the workplace, the family, the church and in society.

V. What Are our Next Steps?

My mentor for many years defined leadership as identifying the challenges and calling for solutions. This is a leadership moment for Biola. As we consider removing “place” from parts of our education, we need to do so without removing “quality.” As we move into the uncharted waters of understanding the balance and the interplay between traditional and online learning at Biola, we must continue to understand and champion the strength and the prestige of our brand as a profoundly Christian university in the most orthodox sense of the words “Christian” and “university.”

I like what James F. Barker, president of Clemson University, says about online education and traditional learning (what Perry Chapman calls “clicks and mortar”),

… online delivery is still no substitute for the experience of going away to college. We must bring that experience into the 21st century and make it meaningful for today’s students. The best education is not transactional but transformational. It’s not: “You give me X amount of money and I give you a credential and a degree.” Rather, it is: “You give us four years, and you’ll get a life-changing experience.”[25]

We should take heart in the fact that right now Biola is on a solid footing financially and with our enrollment, so it’s a good time to consider next steps. We can take steps out of prudence and forethought, not out of exigency and panic. We are a healthy institution with a strong team in place at many levels, and I trust we’re willing to walk down this road together. We have a faculty that is among the most competent and integrative of any Christian college or university today. This is an enviable position.

And the good news is that we have made some big strides recently.

  • We have a well-formed University Plan that gives us decision-making direction over the next 10 years, complete with seven clear aspirations.
  • We have launched Open Biola as a site for free educational content created and curated by Biola, and this resource is the largest repository and search engine of any Christian university anywhere.
  • We are hosting again today — for the third time — Biola’s Imagination Summit, where some of the most creative minds within and outside of Biola imagine how technology can make possible a Biola education beyond what we’ve even begun to imagine.
  • The provost’s office commissioned a pilot faculty R&D team last year to consider new ideas to advance Biola’s programs in a way that emphasizes affordability and creative delivery, and the work of this team is being integrated into our planning.
  • We are designing new and/or upgraded master’s level programs that will be offered as hybrid degrees, building on the best of Biola’s existing educational content and faculty.
  • We have set as a goal to go online with several biblical studies courses, streamlining the time students are on campus and engaging a wide range of non-traditional learners with our biblical content.
  • We’ve developed one of the more creative integrative courses in higher education today, called IRIS, that may perhaps have a viral influence for Biola.
  • We now have several complete online programs for certificate status in our School of Education, and have built a Bible Bridge program as a hybrid for undergraduate students transferring to Biola who need to take courses before arriving.

This year we have been turning up the clock speed on our understanding of how established learning methods must change. We’ve been given some helpful input this fall and spring by Dr. Paul Kim of Stanford University, an academic innovator who is providing his perspective on options for creative global distribution of a Biola education. Also, I cannot understate the significant contribution made by co-task force chairs David Shynn and Andre Stephens and the heavy lifting they’ve been doing this semester. Together with a task force[26] of staff, administrators and faculty working with them, they have sacrificed, put in long hours and still worked hard on their "day jobs." We are now positioning ourselves to build from this work and take our efforts to the next level. Our approach is to pilot clusters of creative online course offerings over the next two years that will be adaptable for non-traditional and traditional students. To do this right will require an investment of human and financial capital. Such an investment, I believe, will not take away from our strength, but will move us from strength to strength.

At the same time, I believe the window is two years to have our infrastructure in place and to be well on our way. That’s the summer of 2015. Unless we have a remarkable (and I mean at least a half a billion dollars) infusion into our endowment, investing in the traditional model alone to open Biola to a wide range of students seems unrealizable. And even with such a windfall as a significant endowment bonanza, changes are still warranted. Remember the illustration I mentioned earlier in this paper of the new Stanford vice provost for online learning and Dartmouth’s president who called for changing the economic model.

Anything Biola does online is neither to be trendy nor simply to look for new revenue sources. My concern is that we continue to build a university that is sustainable and is true to our mission. We need leadership capacity in the administration and among the faculty to sustain our future as it relates to digital learning. We have begun in new ways to nurture the spirit of innovation on this campus, working the kinks out of our system and imagining ways to continue to build our excellence with efficiency. To maintain the Biola quality that is uniquely ours, the ideal non-traditional learning environment into the foreseeable future will demand face time between faculty and students rather than online alone.

What this may very well look like in new and reengineered graduate programs and options for some undergraduate students is a “blended” or “hybrid” model of learning, similar to what we’re now doing in our “Bible Bridge” program and our MA Apologetics degree. This model combines content delivered digitally with experiential-based, in-class teacher learning. The value of blended learning must be integrated into anything we do online. Early research shows that hybrid courses are just as engaging for students as traditional courses while also reducing their time and costs. This will be especially relevant in the way we are envisioning online degrees. Let me say again what I said in the beginning of this paper: I cannot envision the day when a student will be able to complete an entire undergraduate degree from Biola University through online learning.

The following are what I believe are the initiatives we must take, initiatives we need to discuss as a faculty as they involve the delivery and distribution of educational content.

  1. Build an Imagination Team. We need to budget and assign an incredibly gifted R&D Team — or Imagination Team — to generate new ideas. This team will not be comprised of PAC leadership but instead will involve innovative faculty and staff from within as well as representatives from outside Biola. The good news is, I believe we have that talent at Biola, some identified and others to be teased out. It is expected that this team churn blue-sky thinking into fresh and innovative ideas that fit the university missionally, that are collaborative whenever possible with other organizations, that can be supported by a sound business plan and that are unique within higher education. Those ideas will go through a full but streamlined vetting process toward implementing the most promising proposals from the R&D team.[27]
  2. Secure a Chief Academic Innovation Officer (CAIO). We need a high-level administrator overseeing academic innovation who will be a champion and who will lead a team solely committed to advancing our digital learning. This Biola administrator, working with good market analysis and business planning, is responsible for formulating and implementing the strategic vision and direction of the University’s digitally augmented educational innovations in traditional and non-traditional programs across the campus’s six schools. To underscore our determination to engage the shifting educational landscape boldly, to take full advantage of opportunities offered by current developments, to put Biola at the forefront of pedagogical innovation, and to send a message to our community that this truly is a new day, we have begun the process to hire a chief academic innovation officer tasked with inspiring, equipping, facilitating, and coordinating academic initiatives from across our campus.
  3. Lead with Quality Online Programs, not Quantity. We need to identify a few early specific wins to celebrate, and we need to learn from these wins in addition to the online programs already in place. This will take some thorough research and a business plan to decide where to invest our time and finances. We can’t be hit-or-miss in our decisions of which courses or degree programs will be the ones we launch from the outset. We already have some programs online through the School of Education and the Cook School of Intercultural Studies. Our exploration of new or reengineered online/hybrid programs will need to combine some of our programs that have a national and international reputation. We must also consider creative interdisciplinary courses and degree programs. Once we develop these programs, we need to “mine” our new e-learning initiatives widely and creatively for optimal exposure.
  4. Gain Faculty Buy-In Through Success. We need to build institutional buy-in through early wins. Biola’s approach will not be to require all faculty members to create courses toward our online options. In fact, I cannot foresee that all faculty members will be obligated to develop digital courses nor strong-armed into adopting new classroom technology as a requisite for teaching. Many of you will choose to continue with your time-honored teaching methods — insofar as they’re effective — until you retire. Others — through coordination with their respective deans — will be early subscribers to what may become significant growth areas for Biola. And those who do will be fairly compensated for their work. We also have a place for reinventing through an existing school a type of adult degree completion program through online studies and intensive in-person sessions. We will also have to be patient as we learn through failures.
  5. Establish the Academic Infrastructure. We need the academic policies, the infrastructure and the technological investment and teams in place to assure quality and consistency every step of the way. Mike Pierce has been tasking the team in IT to prepare for new models of educational delivery and for classrooms that can accommodate the latest in digitally augmented teaching. Through David Nystrom, the Council of Instructional Deans individually and collectively will be apprised and counseled on these steps, and the appropriate faculty committees as well as venues for formal conversation will be honored. This will not work as a top-down mandate. The seas will be choppy at times, but we’ll never reach new land by standing on the shore looking across.
  6. Utilize New Technology for All Students. Our traditional, residential, undergraduate students are coming to Biola with expectations that we will prepare them by employing the best use of technology to assure their highest level of learning. How we accomplish this means we will not think about educational technology and new media only for those who are enrolling in our courses non-traditionally. That means we must consider investing in resources to help faculty in existing courses: perhaps moving from Blackboard to a Learning Management System like Canvas that provides real-time video-conferencing and integrated social media; perhaps building a studio to capture not just lectures but dynamic interactions between professors and students; and perhaps offering software, training and promotion credit for those interested in better reaching digital natives with instructional technology.
  7. Establish a New Business Exploration Function. Any new ventures will need to be proven to be responses to a measurable market and feasible with a sound business plan. The skills for this function are atypical in traditional higher education structures. This team will be responsible for developing the business plan for international partnerships as well as exploring the possibility of new ventures through mergers, acquisitions or collaborative partnerships that lead to more efficiencies and higher quality toward achieving the seven aspirations of our University Plan.
  8. Give Our Resources Generously. What we have we must give generously. Already this is happening, with our iTunesU visits surpassing one million, only the second CCCU institution to reach this number. We are also continuing to develop our site as a resource for scholarship and biblical thinking for anyone, anywhere with a mobile device. In some ways, we view our content — intellectually rigorous and theologically conservative — as being our tithe to the world. We need not limit our resources for only those who can pay.

These eight initiatives are how I believe we need to move forward, and we’ve been making progress on some of these already. But we need to talk through our approach as a university with thoughtful but not sluggish conversations. I believe these will be the early steps in our manual for forward progress. One of the ways we’ll keep shining the sun on this process is through communication. David Nystrom and I will convene another of our semi-semester Facul-teas in four days, April 30, at 10:00 a.m. to respond to thoughts, recommendations, process protocols and questions you might have. We promise to be an open book on this process and to honor the faculty’s role in our educational work as a university.

Thank you for sharing with me the importance and ongoing need for us to plan today for a stronger future tomorrow. Today is Arbor Day, a day of planting trees. I heard on the radio this morning that the City of Pittsburgh has done an economic study on trees, and for every dollar spent to plant a tree, three dollars come back. I suppose what I am saying this afternoon — and thank you for giving me the time to speak — is that we are tree planters at Biola, investing now in those things that will make future students and our successors thankful. Happy Arbor Day.

Universities that wait on the sidelines or dink around the edges will have a lot in common with Borders bookstores. I need you as a university faculty to think through with me these challenges and changes, to help us envision and resource where we need to go, what trees to plant and where, and to stand with one another as we embark on some yet-to-be-charted terrain. These are good days that we need to not only embrace with candor and openness, but that we need to embrace together. The best days for Biola, as Clyde Cook reminded me the week before I assumed this role six years ago, are indeed still before us. May we move forward with the strength of conviction and the capacity for courage.

[1] I went on to say during my address to the 2013 Faculty Conference, “Educational content is now available everywhere online. Innovation has to be a way of life and not a moment of life. Already, the large number of open-courses available from leading institutions of higher learning are fundamentally changing the game. Thankfully, we are emerging as a leader here as well, with our Biola Open project providing our resources freely and globally.

Our educational uniqueness at Biola, our niche, we are doing exceedingly well. Where we shine in higher education is through biblical integration, theologically grounded disciplines, academic and character formation, culture-influencing degree programs, community-based learning, spiritual development and love for our students. We are among the leaders in the field in these areas. Colleges for centuries have been about young people encountering ideas and ideals from you, the faculty, and discussing them with their peers. This has not and should not go away or become minimized by technology.

We don’t know where events are going to take higher education in the next twenty years. But if we want to be a relevant university in the coming decades, we have to position ourselves so that we can adapt to changing technologies. I will say again what I’ve said before. We’re not going to let technology drive our educational mission. It will only serve to enhance, not to replace, what we do best at Biola.”

[2] New York Times, 30 November 2012.

[3] A recent Pew Research Center report found that a record 20 percent of American households now owe student debt.

[4] Sallie Mae is the federal student-loan company.

[5] Selingo, Jeff. “Flipping the Curriculum: Introductory Courses Should Be Just as Good as the Capstone Experience,” 2 December 2012, (

[6] “Higher Education: Not What it Used to Be.” The Economist, 31 December 2012, 29-30.

[7] Ibid.

[8] A decade ago, MIT provoked a revolution in education by putting course material online for free. In the intervening years, over 100 million students have engaged some 2,100 classes from MIT. James Marshall Crotty, “M.I.T. Game-Changer: Free Online Education For All,” 21 December 2011, ( Online enrollments nationally have come to account for nearly a third of all enrollments in higher education. Steve Kolowich, “Online Grows, Doubts Persist,” 9 November 2011, (

Just over a year ago, MIT did it again, announcing that it would offer certificates to students who completed its online courses at little to no charge. A tidal wave of developments followed thereafter. In January 2012, the success of MOOCs at Stanford prompted one professor to co-found a for-profit corporation called Udacity. In April, two other Stanford professors launched a competitor called Coursera. In May, MIT teamed up with Harvard to found the not-for-profit EdX, which already has seen over 900,000 enroll in courses offered by 12 institutions in eight countries—an impressive record, though one that pales somewhat next to Coursera’s 2.7 million students from 196 countries, who have taken 222 courses from 62 universities around the world. Tamar Lewin, “Universities Abroad Join Partnerships on the Web,” 20 February 2013, ( EdX expects to teach a billion students over the next decade, and they represent only part of a larger trend. Whatever happens next to higher education, technology has assured that change is here to stay.

This is not to say that MOOCs are a pedagogical panacea. For all the heady numbers of students attracted to such courses, current attrition rates commonly range around 90 percent. Those most attracted to such low-cost options, moreover—students from lower socio-economic brackets—“are often the ones who need face-to-face instruction most of all. Goldie Blumenstyk and Scott Carlson, “For Whom is College Being Reinvented?” 17 December 2012, (

As Andrew Rosenthal recently stated for The New York Times, “courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed.” Editorial, 18 February 2013, (

The quality of MOOCs, furthermore, has repeatedly been questioned, being called “self-service learning and crowdsourced teaching” that relies all too often on “video lectures [with] mind-numbing laundry lists of PowerPoint bullet points.” Jeffrey R. Young, “Campuses Look to Digital Tools for Savings, and Reinvention,” Almanac of Higher Education 2012 ( Will Oremus, “Online Class on How To Teach Online Classes Goes Laughably Awry,” 5 February 2013, (

Finally, critics note, not only do such classes fail to address the problem of large lecture classes, but they complicate it on an exponential scale. Clearly, numbers alone do not constitute success.

See for example Jeff Selingo, “Flipping the Curriculum: Introductory Courses Should Be Just as Good as the Capstone Experience,” 2 December 2012 (

College courses from non-accredited online providers are now beginning to be recognized by the American Council on Education (ACE). This is at least innovative and at most controversial, depending on your point of view. Earlier this year, according to Inside Higher Education, five courses from Coursera, the biggest provider of MOOCS, were worthy of credit recommendations. More are undoubtedly on the way. Some have put it more bluntly, asking, “How can a college charge $45,000 a year when your kid can learn it all from massive open online courses?”

Also (Inside Higher Education), in the President’s State of the Union Speech in January, he called for accreditors to place value on higher education based on “performance and results,” which implies what they know and not where or how they learned. This also means giving students, especially older students, credit for work experience. As important as “performance and results” are, these pragmatic measurements undercut the intrinsic quality of a liberal arts education and specifically a Christ-centered education that emphasize the nurturing of the whole person and the building of a good and global citizen as redemptive voices in a broken world.

[9] Richard Vedder and Matthew Denhart, “Why Eoes College Cost So Much?” 2 December 2011, (

[10] Bill Keller, “The University of Wherever,” 2 October 2011, (

[11] Larry Mantle, “AirTalk’s Higher Education Summit,” 12 January 2012, (

[12] New York Times, 3 March 2013.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] We will be a university that holds high God’s Word in all that we do and all that we are.

We will be a university where we invite the Spirit of God to permeate our community in real and renewing ways.

We will be a place where students matter to us because we see in them the future, so investing in loving and serving students will continue to be our hallmark.

We will be a university where we strive for excellence in teaching and scholarship, more and more known far and wide as a leader in biblical integration and intellectual vigor.

We will be a university where mediocrity is unacceptable and we will reach the highest standards and professionalism in every degree program, every department, every school, every building, every performance, every exhibit, every competition, every publication.

We will be a university that lovingly serves the world in which we live, courageously taking on the major challenges of our day where we are most suited to do so.

We will be a university where we love life and celebrate our traditions and our spirit of Biola pride.

We will be a university where students increasingly see in us the kind of higher education experience they need to be prepared for meaningful careers and exemplary service for the cause of Christ.

[16] Blumenstyk and Carlson.

[17] See for example Clive Thompson, “How Khan Academy is Changing the Rules of Education,” 15 July 2011, (

[18] Amanda Ripley, “College is Dead. Long Live College!” 18 October 2012, (

[19] Michael Wesch, “A Vision of Students Today,” 12 October 2007, (

[20] “Udacity’s Team is Here to Help You,” 28 June 2012, (

[21] James G. Mazoue, “The MOOC Model: Challenging Traditional Education,” 28 January 2013, (

[22] Cromwell Schubarth, “Disruption guru Christensen: Why Apple, Tesla, VCs, Academia May Die,” 7 February 2013, (

[23] Jeff Selingo, “Money Matters: Can You Truly Calculate the Return on the College Investment?” 30 November 2012, (

[24] Nikias, Max. “Now More Than Ever, A Need for Bold Ambition,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 30 October 2011.

[25] Barker, James F. “The Endangered Campus? Defining and Defending the Value of Place-Based Higher Education,” Presidential Perspectives 2012-2013 Series.

[26] The Task Force Team includes as its members Brian Bowman, Freddy Cardoza, Jonathan Choy, Gradon Cress, Isaac Fite, Ron Hannaford, Lisa Igram, Aaron Kleist, Ruth Lozano, Brian Miller, Jimmy Prehn, David Shynn, Jeff Silzer, André Stephens, Sandie Weaver, Matt Williams and Paul Kim (consultant).

[27] “The existing structures and processes that together focus on an organization’s operating system need an additional element to address the challenges produced by mounting complexity and rapid change. The solution is a second operating system, devoted to the design and implementation of strategy, that uses an agile, network-like structure and a very different set of processes. The new operating system continually assess the business, the industry, and the organization, and reacts with greater agility speed, and creativity than the existing one. It complements rather than overburdens the traditional hierarchy, thus freeing the latter to do what it’s optimized to do. It actually makes enterprises easier to run and accelerates strategic change. This is not an ‘either or’ idea. It’s ‘both and.’” Jeffrey Kotter in “Accelerate,” Harvard Business Review, November 2012.