Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where’s the Innovation? Part 1

Where’s the Innovation? Part 1

In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education published October 21st, Jeff Selingo raises the urgent and important question, “Where Will Innovation Begin?” And, in his conclusion, he asks for feedback and examples. In my next three blogs, I will discuss, with examples, the obstacles faced by existing institutions when they try to innovate, where innovation has already begun and where innovation will come from in the future.
Credit to Selingo for raising the question and offering a good example in the very interesting new institution Harrisburg State Technical University in Harrisburg, Pa. And further credit for suggesting four areas, including price and tenure,where innovation is needed. Although it is too soon to know for sure, I agree with his argument that the top 100 institutions don’t have much to worry about (although it may be a few more than that), the lowest 100 will go out of business or get bought (actually I think it will be more than that), and that all those in between that must change or die.
Beyond that, however, I think his analysis lacks context, failing to include the reasons why higher education needs to produce dramatically better attainment; while his field of vision is too narrow, focusing as it does on existing institutions and the innovations that they can make.  All the analysis that I have seen, most recently a presentation by Jim Appleberry of the Lumina Foundation at the President’s Forum meeting on October 13th, suggests that even with vastly improved performance, the traditional higher education system cannot, alone, meet the goals of the Obama administration. The long term consequences of this failure include both a weakened economy and an increasing earnings gap. So, there is a social and economic imperative here that must be put at the heart of any discussion regarding innovation in higher education. This means that we need our existing institutions  to innovate and improve, but we also need entirely new models, both proprietary and non-profit to meet the goals for employment and prosperity that we have set.
In his theory of “disruptive innovation”, Clayton Christiansen describes the economic nature of resistance to change. In higher education terms, it might sound like this. “Why should I admit students who are not my historic  alumni body, charge them less and move them through faster, while offering them pathways that are not like the pathways I currently have established?” Put another way, why would someone jeopardize their existing largely successful model for an expensive unknown that might lose them money while alienating their faculty and alumni. Good question.  Then add unions, tenure, research, and a commitment to the semester/quarter system and you have a morass that is virtually impenetrable.
Change in this type of environment will not come through exhortation. Indeed, it will only come through firm and continuing leveraging by traditional bystanders to the higher education process, like employers, parents, and students of all ages.  Otherwise, the “iron triangle” of higher education finance will continue to operate, driving tuition's up as other sources of revenue stagnate or decline.
What makes this moment in time so compelling is that, just as we see the need for a vastly better educated citizenry, the tools to do just that have been revolutionized by the web. For the first time, the tools to drive change and improve learning lie beyond the scope and the control of the academy, in the community which surrounds it. So, for the first time in our history, colleges and universities do not control either the conversation or the drive to innovate. As a consequence, also for the first time, if they stand still, they will be left behind, bobbing in the wake of rapid change.
So, Selengo is correct, both in his question and his initial answers. But there is much more both in the problem and the solutions than his article implies.   Next week I will write about several institutions, many of which have been around for 30 years or more which illustrate, by their very example, that change is possible within the non-profit as well as the for-profit sector. I will also describe some of the obstacles they continue to face as they try to serve 21st century learners. And in my third blog, I will describe totally new, wildly innovative institutions and efforts that presage an entirely different future for our understanding of where higher education comes from, how it will operate, and what it might look like. Please stay tuned.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Employers Want from Higher Education 2

What Employers Want from Higher Education 2: public policy that supports better teaching and learning.
There is a rising tide of concern that the post secondary enterprise is becoming too expensive while under-performing its core function: effective teaching and learning at the undergraduate level. All of this in a time when financial resources are declining with no apparent end in sight. While there is great hope in certain academic policy efforts currently in development (the Lumina Degree Qualification Framework being one such example), public policy, especially state policy, needs to change as well. There are several things that state policy makers can do to facilitate a more effective, efficient, and qualitative higher education system in their jurisdictions.
1. Aspiration and attainment. Identify what it is that learners are coming to school to achieve and measure their attainment and satisfaction in achieving that goal. Too often, we don't know what learners want and, within that cycle, too often they don't know what they want or the implications of course and program choices that they make. These two questions, "why are you here?" and "did you get what you came for?", would allow policy makers and stewards of quality far deeper insight into the quality and effectiveness of the different parts of the higher education community in terms of what really matters, student attainment.
2. Make all college courses credit bearing and certificate or degree oriented. Many learners, young and old, come to post secondary education unprepared to do the work at the level required for success. But when we remediate them by taking them out of degree tracks and putting them in non-credit bearing remedial courses we are making two mistakes. First by taking them out of the degree track, we are costing them time and money, making it more likely they will drop out. Second, by remediating a whole course, such as Algebra 1, we are potentially asking them to cover topics they already know and understand instead of focusing in on the specific things that they don't know. By integrating adaptive elements into the regular curriculum, we can assure that learners proceed at their own pace, and that they get the support they need to practice the things they do not understand or cannot perform as those moments arise, a far better pedagogical technique.
3. Determining specifically what we want to buy with our post secondary investments. If institutions have multiple mission components, it is far more difficult for policy makers to hold them accountable. If, for example, we want to buy teaching and learning that leads to certificates and degrees, then we can evaluate effectiveness and attainment within that context. If climbing walls or fancy student centers fall outside of that priority, he institutions will have to either identify other sources of money or pay for those services with user fees. And, correspondingly, if research is critical, other sources of money will be identified to pay for that function as well.
4. Transfer and Articulation. The loss of time, money, and recognized learning in the transfer and articulation process is a blight on student progress and a  driver of the higher costs of higher education as well as longer time to attainment, whether it is a degree or a certificate. Employers want to know what their employees know and are able to do and they want to get a good return on the money they spend to develop their work force professionally and personally. Public policy that requires accurate articulation and transfer within and among institutions of higher education is an important step forward. And asking businesses to require that institutions who do their professional development must count the credit given towards attainment standards - certificates and degrees.

The walls between business and learning are coming down. And the tools are at hand to provide better, more effective and efficient learning at lower costs in a wide variety of settings. There are challenges to realize the potential of these tools, but changing policies in the ways suggested above would incentivize better higher education in a time of lean resources. Importantly, serious business groups, such as The Committee for Economic Development (CED), are looking hard at these issues and preparing recommendations to bring the business community to the table in the months ahead.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Employers Want from Higher Education 1: Effectiveness with Quality

For years, we have tracked the academic curriculum, created by faculty, to the needs of the workplace using advisory committees and other mechanisms to "be responsive" to the needs of employers. There has, however, been little or no progress in tracking the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed at work back to the institution and actually building the curriculum around them.
Thee are several reasons for this. First, it has been argued that there is a dichotomy between skills needed for work and the intellectual benefits derived from a general or liberal arts education. I believe that is a false dichotomy, articulated by people who believe that the liberal arts or general education is content defined, not defined by the possession of demonstrable higher order thinking, reasoning, writing and quantification capabilities. Indeed today we know that we can integrate learning outcomes that measure critical thinking with more professional outcomes that measure the hard skills needed in a particular occupation. And the hard and soft skill requirements for most occupations and professions have been defined.
Second, tied closely to the first assumption is another: that doing so lowers standards and, therefore, academic quality. But we know now that both can be integrated in the same course curriculum. And, using learning outcomes and rubrics that assure consistency across multiple sections, we can develop metrics which guide us to course improvement, teaching improvement, and student performance improvement simultaneously.
These enhanced capacities have big implications for employers and workplace-referenced post-secondary education. They also, therefore, have similar implications for traditionally organized post secondary education institutions. They create, for the first time, a way to build curriculum around the hard and soft skills required to do a job well and then place that curriculum in an outcomes degree framework, like the Lumina Degree Qualifications Framework, organized by hierarchy of competence in both skill and cognitive areas. And they invite drawing a direct connection between ability to perform in the workplace and the assignment of academic value for that performance.
Technology adds a third "energizing" component to this mix. It gives us the capacity to do gap analyses between learners' skill and knowledge profiles, job skill and knowledge profiles, and course content skill and knowledge profiles. This three way gap analysis defines at a far more granular level what a learner (or employee) already knows and what they have to learn in order to perform well on day one. And it also lays the groundwork for understanding what the curriculum is actually organized to teach and what it is not.
The implications for tying work to post secondary education in a far more efficient manner while defining and enhancing the standards for quality in learning achievement are enormous. When the working place becomes a learning place as well, the odds of certificates and degrees reflecting the intellectual and skill levels needed for the jobs in question will go way up.

Next Week: What Employers Want from Higher Education 2: public policy that supports better teaching and learning.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

You Don’t Need a Weatherman…

You Don’t Need a Weatherman….
Early in the last decade, Roger Benjamin and his associates at the Council for the Aid of Education (CAE) developed the Collegiate LearningAssessment (CLA) which, along with the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and other instruments subsequently developed, has dramatically re-drawn the assessment landscape from a predominant focus on multiple choice and high-stakes approaches. Among other characteristics, the CLA’s attractiveness stems from reliability, affordability, and comparability; all from an independent and validated third party source. Perhaps most interesting, to me at least, is the assessment’s scope. It gets directly at the value-added in cross-cutting intellectual areas that heretofore have gone unmeasured, like critical thinking.
To be candid, we live in an educational world where our understanding of quality is dominated by the status model and the reputation of America’s top historic universities. But the rest of us, the other 95% where most of the work is done and the societal challenge for equity through education is joined, need this type of measure to validate our qualitative contributions. As we move towards learning outcomes in higher education, having good, independent measures will encourage us – traditional and innovative institutions alike – to focus on quality that can be demonstrated so that our learners and our policy-makers can be confident in the investment they are making.
Now, along comes another tool of disruptive innovation, the Individual, Student-based CLA. Benjamin and his team are at it again. Imagine a learner being able to assemble their personal learning plan (with or without expert assistance), engage with open education resources (or any other resource for that matter), and then assess their learning growth once or twice each year with the individual, student-based CLA. Now, as a learner I have in my portfolio not only the courses and experiences that I have engaged in and the products that I have produced as evidence of ability to apply what I know, but also an independent, valid, and reliable assessment stream that charts my growth, or value-added in the cross-cutting intellectual areas measured.
In my estimation, this development, the Individual, Student-based CLA, is the tip of an iceberg that brings valid and rigorous assessment away from the major corporations and universities and puts it in the learner’s tool box. The implications for scale with consistency and quality where it matters most – learning outcomes – are enormous. And the consequences for those of us who want to be part of the value-add that is higher education throughout life, include a required re-thinking of what we add to the proposition.
The last three blogs, under the title “You Don’t Need aWeatherman…” have attempted to suggest that the web and web-enabled technologies as well as related developments, have and will continue to disrupt the traditional model of higher education in every manner possible. They signify the “game-changing” capacity that is now available to virtually everyone. And while I cannot predict the rate of change or the pace of acceptance, I am certain that the future, while inclusive of college degrees and certificates, also includes multiple learning modalities and an understanding that any recognition of learning is but one marker on the long term pathway and management of a lifelong learning plan.