Monday, April 25, 2011

The Great Mash-Up: Social Networking, OERs, and Learning Outcomes Assessment

While the formal post-secondary education world is focused on how online and blended learning will impact the traditional forms of higher education, a great, disruptive mash-up is happening behind their backs.

·        Abundant Content. Content is available in organized formats for free. Whether you look at MoodleRooms, Apple iTunes University or any other of  an increasing number of sites, quality content is available at low or no price. And for the self-directed learners off on an “adult learning project” ,  as we know from Wikipedia and the explosion in the power of search engines, there is an enormous amount of information available to the personal learner who is pursuing a learning project, not only in his/her local community but also via the web.

·        Abundant Support. Social networking spaces are opening up at an astonishing rate, providing learning support as well as counseling and assessment services to thousands of learners around the world. So, now learners can engage the material and then confer about it with others, seeking guidance on problems they experience as well as the quality of the thinking they are doing. 

·        Abundant Assessment. And learning assessment and degree and career counseling services are evolving that engage adult, self-directed learners in reflective and diagnostic assessment of what they have learned, regardless of where or when or how they learned it. This recognizes all the learning done by a person, validates it, and makes it portable.



When learners and the people who aim to support learning understand the power of this mash-up, how the interaction of these three powerful developmental forces changes the education space, the truly “disruptive” transformation of the teaching/learning paradigm will accelerate. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ready to Graduate? Or Ready to Work?

Ready to Graduate? Or Ready to Work?
What is the responsibility of a college to its students? This is one of the key questions lying behind the current discussion about whether college graduates should be getting a job in the area they study. I believe that colleges and universities should be accountable for achieving standards of learning for their graduates that are verifiable through third party standards and review. But to take the next step and say that the school has failed if the graduates do not work in the field for which they were prepared ignores the dynamics of today’s workplace and workforce as well as common sense.  It also bypasses the core issue of quality.
I know three people between the ages of 30 and 40. One has a BA in Writing. He’s an emergency room doctor. Another has an American Studies Degree. He is a trained lawyer doing education policy work. The third has a philosophy degree. He is in communications as a governor’s press secretary.  I have Master’s in teaching and never taught a day. Did our colleges fail us? Or did they actually prepare us for the dynamics of life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries?
What the current employment discussion misses is the quality dimension. Rather than worrying solely about degree completion, we should worry about the learner’s attainment of the skills and knowledge that we say the curriculum is teaching. No one can control what the economy or what another person actually does. We can, however, control whether the attainment level that we have assigned to the completed course of studies, has been met by the learners who complete. And we can control for whether that attainment level connects accurately with the actual requirements of the careers that fall within their scope.  
This can be achieved using course-level learning outcomes that connect to the program outcomes on the academic side inside a college. And we can connect outcomes as capacities needed to meet the requirements defined by employers as necessary for success upon entering the workplace in specific professions at specific levels. For one example, see the Work Keys program at ACT. And we can do the same for the intellectual and content areas generally related to general education as well. Then, the academic and the employment hierarchies can be connected to create a matrix that connects college learning with workplace readiness and benchmarks both.
For those who say the employment discussion won’t touch their institutions, I disagree. People – parents and policy-makers as well as publicly elected officials - are going to want to know how good the learning achievements are for how many learners when compared to externally benchmarked standards. In other words, they will want to know what they are getting for their time and money. In this emerging world, the institution that can give clear and transparent answers to those questions; those colleges that can show that they have the right standards and they meet them with a majority of their learners, will have the respect of the society. Those that will not or cannot will not, over time, sustain that respect.
Attainment, with completion, defined by outcomes tied to external standards and verified by valid, reliable and consistent assessment, are the keys to this future.  Then our graduates won’t just be ready to graduate, they will be ready to join the workforce and the civil society.

Monday, April 11, 2011

'Harnessing America's Wasted Talent': An Education Convergence

'Harnessing America's Wasted Talent': An Education Convergence

An Education Convergence

As I travel around discussing my book, Harnessing America’s Wasted Talent: A New Ecology of Learning , I see a widely diverse group of people. This past week, I participated in panel discussions at three meetings. And, after the third, I realized that, despite the diversity of audiences, there had been a surprising convergence of thinking on the need to re-think post-secondary education significantly.  Using Clayton Christiansen’s analysis as represented in” Disrupting College”, a report prepared for the Center for American Progress , some of the re-thinking will take the form of sustainable change (like Carol Twigg’s Center for Academic Transformation, go to and click on Annual Meeting to see her presentation) and some will be truly disruptive in nature (see . 
Regardless of how it is tempered, however, talk about change is in the air. People are saying things out loud that used to be unsaid, then whispered. I have created a list of organizational and reform ideas for post-secondary education that arose in each meeting and that were discussed seriously.  Although it is not an encyclopedic list, it represents several elements in the “change thinking” that is gaining momentum.  I will list them here and then blog on each over the next few weeks.
·         Focus on attainment, not just completion
·         Learning outcomes lie at the heart of quality assurance in the 21st century
·         Increased productivity (one example -  )
·         Increased effectivess (  -
·         Increased efficiency  - (3 year BA in Business- honors)
·         A false dichotomy - Focus on both skills and intellectual development
·         Third party benchmarks for learning assessment
·         The transformational role that the IT “tool”, social networking, and OER bring to the table.
·         A new economics of assessment.
Over the next several weeks I will try to present each of these, and some of them in combination, to deepen our conversation about the changing world in which higher education operates and some of the changes, potentials and possibilities it presents.   I look forward to any feedback or conversation that comes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Conversations are changing the way we think about education.

For the last several months, I have been thinking about how to become more engaged in the flourishing discussion about change in higher education that is occurring both in the United states and around the world. This conversation is changing the way we think about higher education and how it might be presented. I am struck by how quickly the conversation is changing on several fronts from the recent introduction of the “The Degree Qualifications Profile” by the Lumina Foundation ( to the seminal article, “Disrupting Higher Education” recently published by the Center for American Progress ( Both documents present ways, means, and rationale for the major changes that are enveloping how we think about higher education and its quality in the 21st century.

As my next step in this process, beginning today, I am going to attempt to connect with and listen to more friends and colleagues using tweets, blogs, and Facebook. I would be delighted if you choose to “friend” me on Facebook, “follow” my blog , and look for my tweets (@peterpsmith.

And, if you are engaged in similar activities and connect with me, I would be interested in following you as well.

Peter Smith