Higher Ed Content: Have It Your Way.

Eleven years ago, I began my professional career as a high school English teacher.  All was right with the world until we introduced gradebook software in our district, and things were never the same again.  I would get make-up work on my desk in the morning and have students stop by over lunch wondering when their grades were not updated yet.

“The gradebook does not operate in real time.  I have to check those later when I don’t have classes,” I’d tell them. “This isn’t Burger King. You don’t get it your way.”  I’d use that line for everything: haggling over late work, grades, the amount of homework, whatever they wanted to negotiate.  They seemed to think everything was up for grabs.  I didn’t. But maybe they were onto something…

We’ve grown up for decades knowing we can have hamburgers any way we want them.  We can get are electronics in any color we want.  Why then do we rely on old models for our content?

Why can’t I get a DRM-free movie with no regional encoding when I have been able to get a flipping burger (bad pun intended) my way since I was born? Why can’t ABC let me watch the entire season of Lost over the summer via Hulu when the ABC commercials have been telling me as a consumer I can have anything I want when I want it?

Why can’t students take the programs of study that they want to take? Why can’t the courses be offered at times that working students are able to take them?  Why can’t the content be offered in multiple formats to address different learning styles?

Is content king or is the consumer king?  And who do we work for anyway? If we don’t sort it out now, we may find ourselves out of work, or—at the very least—flipping burgers.

Photo of burger & fries by jwalsh.

9 Responses to “Higher Ed Content: Have It Your Way.”

  1. Says:

    Hey Nikki,

    Good post. A great way of framing one of the most important questions higher ed. has to answer. We’re not only seeing the push to have it my way from students, we’re also seeing it from the world we’re sending them into. Businesses are also pushing for students to have the ability to create a custom degree program. The advantages for them are obvious.


  2. Says:

    Great questions and I love the way that you position it, but what are the answers? Is this where prospective students want - blogs, videos, interactive maps or course descriptions? Maybe all of the above? Is there any good research or data pointing out what people want? I do remember something posted way back when on Collegewebeditor about what they want but that is probably outdated by now.

  3. Says:

    re: the “Why can’t” questions

    Because the person driving the minivan has to place the order.

    Let me explain…

    One kid wants a Whopper Jr w/ just ketchup, the little lady kicking the back of your seat wants only pickles, wait now she wants pickles and lettuce, make that just lettuce… the little boy w/ the big appetite wants a Big Mac, you explain this is Burger King, so he decides on a double Whopper with special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun. And we haven’t even gotten to their friends’ orders (read: 8-passenger Odyssey).

    The driver is the funnel for the order, you have control, you decide what the kids eat. To make it easy you simply order 7 kids meals and a Whopper with cheese, ketchup and onions (just the way you like it).

    Eventually the kids convince you to roll down all the windows and let everyone place their own orders. Since that solution makes your job easier it is quickly adopted.

    Once the “why can’t” questions prove to be valuable (and easier) options for the people that they are directed to, then you will see the “have it your way” slogan widely adopted by higher ed.

  4. Says:

    Wouldn’t it be better to fore go the drive thru, slow down, make the meal at home, teach the kids how to cook by example? Then they have it their way with a deeper appreciation of the effort it takes to make a burger.

    I once heard “the faster it comes the faster we want it.” What satisfies us?

  5. Says:

    Where or where to begin…

    @Jeff: Thanks! I should point out that wonderful coincidence that you an I blogged on similar topics today: https://www.personal.psu.edu/wjs186/blogs/five-4-six/2009/07/rise-of-the-meta-university.html

    @Kyle: Good questions. I think we need to open as much of it up as possible; people have gotten used to the long tail. Only a handful students might view your videos on iTunesU, but if you also have a handful more catching the same content on YouTube, and still more watching those same videos embedded via the blog, or plasma screens on campus, or elsewhere…

    @tsand & Jerry: I was about to respond with a comeback to @tsand and it looks like @garciaje did it for me. It looks like @tsand and @garciaje hit on two higher ed issues with content: 1. When we act as gatekeepers to the content access or creation process, we become the bottlenecks. (And it eventually drives us crazy anyway.) 2. When we treat the students in the van like “prosumers”, we eliminate the bottle neck and provide a teachable moment:

    Give a kid a cheeseburger and you feed him for a day. Teach a kid to flip burgers and you feed him for a lifetime.


  6. Says:

    Nikki, for me, content is remaining the important part of a website/blog. Without a solid and mind-provoking contents, your website is nothing much, but a piece of junk!

  7. Says:

    The issue with content, and it’s a good issue to have, is that each day more quality content is readily available. Yes, you need to have quality content as the anchor, but we no longer have a monopoly on the content or access to it. What we do with the content is where the value is added now more than ever.

    Great content buried in poor teaching or a bad website is lost. This was something we could get away with in the academy when we had a monopoly on content. No more thank goodness.

  8. Says:

    This is a good topic for debate, because on one side, the student will be successful in a topic that is interesting to him/her, but it still needs to remain relevant.


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