Friday, December 5, 2014

Sister of Mercy 2 - Janice Ryan

As a result of my developing relationship with Sister Elizabeth, I came to know Sister Janice Ryan, her close friend, confidant, and successor as President of Trinity College, as well as crusader against land mines and other global issues. The three of us stayed in touch throughout my career, until Elizabeth's death, and in Sister Janice's case, up to this day.

Sister Janice helped me see my way down one of the toughest paths I have ever had to follow: Deciding what to do when I left the Congress in 1991.

I first had determined that making yet another political comeback was not in the cards. If you bat .550 in baseball, you go to the Hall of Fame. But if you bat .550 in politics, you need to find another line of work!

I had also decided that, as much as I respected those occupations, I was simply not cut out to be in the insurance or real estate fields. There were opportunities in each that would keep me in Vermont, but I had concluded that education, helping people learn things that mattered, was where my heart and my passion lay.

Yet, the opportunities for me in Vermont higher education were, at best, limited. Because I was a recovering politician, some people were suspect of my long-term plans and, hence, reliability in a leading educational job. Furthermore, my ten year battle to found and institutionalize the Community College of Vermont had, as Sister Janice would confirm, earned me some long-term enemies.

An educational job opportunity had just eluded me and I found myself in Sister Janice's presidential office at Trinity, looking for advice.

She listened carefully as I laid out my situation, walking through the points I had analyzed, but still looking for direction. Then, very gently, she asked me whether I wanted to be president of one or two colleges that were new and in need of leadership. I answered, “No. I have done that already here. I need something more.” Sister Janice sighed and said, “Then you are going to have to leave Vermont. Maybe you will come back, maybe you will not. But the future you are seeking is not here right now.”

I sat in her office, tears in my eyes, as the truth of what she had said, sunk in. And at that moment, the second half of my professional and personal life began. A life away from the Vermont I loved. But also a life full of richness and challenge that has taken me across the country and around the world in my ongoing love affair with learning. And Sister Janice, my friend and mentor, was the one who showed the way.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sister of Mercy 1 - Elizabeth Candon

Sister Elizabeth helped me learn, at a tender age, the value of kindness coupled with stern resolve and human values. President of Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont, she would go on to become
Secretary of The Agency of Human Services where she was an outspoken advocate for women's rights — not always a popular issue with the Bishop in the 70's and 80's. With these personal qualities, and as a member of a large and politically influential extended Vermont family, she was a force to be reckoned with.

When I first met Sister Elizabeth as an adult, she was the Chair of the Vermont Higher Education Council, the statewide group of all colleges and universities, public and private. She had volunteered to head up a study group to take a look at what we were doing at the community college project as part of the process of determining whether we should become a public institution in Vermont. We had enemies on the Council and only a few friends, but given the situation, there was no way I could say “no” to the offer.

I met with Sister Elizabeth to plan for the visit and I voiced my concern. Eyes twinkling, she replied,” sometimes you just have to trust the process and the people.” The commission was named, the visit came and went, and the report was written and submitted. Although it contained cautions, it was, on balance, very positive and our cause moved one step closer to acceptance.

When I called on Sister Elizabeth to thank her, she held up her forefinger and said, “No thanks necessary. This was important to do. Now you have to go forward and get very good at what the college is doing. That will be all the thanks I need.” When I asked her why she took the risk to her reputation and standing, she replied, very firmly, “The Lord's work is not always done by people in cloth or with religious intent. The people of Vermont need this college.”

Friday, November 21, 2014

Learn to Read the Room

When I was founding what is now the Community College of Vermont, the Chair of our Board was a man named Alan Weiss. Alan was the superintendent of schools in Montpelier, Vermont, a great educator, and one of the shrewdest people I have ever met. He went on the serve many years in the Vermont Legislature before retiring about 10 years ago.

Our strategy for establishing the college was twofold: 1.) begin teaching students immediately and 2.) join the Vermont State College system (VSC). The VSC had been established by statute with a permissive clause that allowed for new members to be approved by vote of the Board and subsequent appropriations approval by the legislature. All we had to do was persuade the Board of Trustees.

This process took a variety of forms, including two study groups comprised of trustees and other higher Ed leaders who reviewed our activities and review and approval of our curriculum by the VSC President’s Council. It lasted almost three years.

When the day of the vote came, Alan and I attended the meeting, waiting patiently for our agenda item to come up. When it did, first he and then I made the case for the college, stressing the lack of access in rural Vermont, our low cost, and our community-based approach. Then the board members began to ask questions and I rose to address each and every one, sometimes before the Chancellor of the system had a chance to respond.

After about 30 minutes, with each board member having had a chance to ask at least one question, I prepared, once again, to rise and respond, when all of a sudden I felt Alan’s hand on my knee. I hesitated and, as the Chancellor responded, Alan whispered, “You don’t need to respond to every question. You have won the vote 5-2. Let the discussion wind down and avoid the possibility of saying something that weakens your position.” Alan was reading the room, listening to the tone of questions, and looking at body language. I was not. About 15 minutes later, the college was taken into the VSC system, pending an appropriation, on a 5-2 vote.

Since that day, I have not always succeeded in following Alan’s advice. But when I have, things have invariably gone better. Learning to listen and look for nuances in dynamic situations was a big lesson for me at 26.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Putting the Students in Control

At OC@KU, we fully understand that learners want choices — among programs, pedagogical modalities, degrees, and price. People want to make up their own minds about these things, which is why we allow them to take control of their education.

The OC@KU approach to learning and degrees emphasizes that learners can move themselves towards reaching their personal, academic, and career goals. By documenting what they have learned from work and life experiences and by taking course assessments, learners can turn their lives into college credit

Starting with our flagship program, the Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies (BSPR), learners who choose to pursue a degree from OC@KU will enjoy the benefits of a very affordable, very personal, and very flexible degree program, allowing the learner to set the pace:

  • Affordable: With a low monthly subscription fee, learners can avoid financial aid debt by enrolling in this program.
  • Personal: Learners begin their journeys by completing an Individualized Learning Plan (ILP), which allows them to set an academic path towards reaching their goals.
  • Flexible: OC@KU boasts a self-paced, fully online format that allows learners to maximize credits from all sources of experiential learning, while providing access to MOOCs for free, high-quality content.

 In my mind, while this is not the only way for a college or a degree program to operate, it does exemplify several characteristics which are fundamentally important in the era we are entering. First, it retains academic rigor and quality through personalized advising and excellent assessment. Second, it puts the learners first, in terms of what they do, when they do it, why they do it, and for how long. Finally, it helps the learners define their current status and future aspirations, giving them the tools and the information needed to determine their own paths. From there we help them travel the path selected.

Our message is simple: It’s your future; we’re here to help you get from where you are to where you want to go.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The OC@KU Difference

We know from Dr. Allen Tough’s research — first published in his seminal book, The Adult’s Learning Projects (Toronto, Canada, OISE, 1971) — that adults learn continuously throughout their lives. In fact, the average adult learner conducts between 8 and 10 such projects each year, committing over 700 hours to these cumulative efforts.  But in the 1960’s, when Tough began his research, we were pre-Xerox machine, let alone the cloud and tablets. So these adult learners were left with precious few resources – libraries, books, friends, experts, clubs, etc. – to achieve their learning goals.

Today, as we dream about how to support, value, enhance, and bring this informal “personal” learning to the surface, we have the extraordinary resources of the internet and cloud-based data.

With this in mind, as we brainstormed the setup of the “free and open” space in our college (OC@KU), we asked the following questions.

1.       What would a learning model look like if college were placed not as a required passage to your future, designed to interpret aspirations and require solutions for the learner, but instead as a collaborator that clarified and supported the learner’s needs and desires?
2.       What would the learning model look like if certificates and degrees were not the raison d’etre, unless required by professional standards or the law?
3.       What would college look like if learners could use existing resources to understand learning requirements and design their own pathways?

Based on the answers to these questions, we decided that our space for informal but organized learning will feature several resources, including
·         Access to free open courses
·         An electronic portfolio where evidence of all kinds of prior learning can be submitted for review for college credit (LRC100: Documenting Your Experiences for College Credit)
·         Services which allow learners to refine their thinking about careers and academic goals, while better understanding their behavioral characteristics and cross-cutting intellectual abilities (Career Journey)

We want to help learners make sense out of their lives, frame their questions about career and education, and get good answers to those questions as they design a path forward.

For some learners, these services will fulfill all of their educational needs. However, others will want to use OC@KU to gain access to degree programs. And one such option will be the topic of my next blog entry.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

LinkedIn and Kaplan: Redefining the Professional Development Space

What a blockbuster! After years of planning and development, LinkedIn and Kaplan University have recently unveiled their collaborative resource to help professionals of all ages advance in their careers.

Utilizing one of the largest API integrations with the LinkedIn platform, the Career Journey microsite provides a highly personalized experience based on each individual’s LinkedIn profile and network. As one of several new services offered by Kaplan, Career Journey is the first free online course and customized application dedicated to teaching people how to advance in their careers using the LinkedIn network. The partnership is a step for both organizations towards a fundamental redefinition of how we think about value, career, credentials, and education. It also suggests that evidence of learning and the link between learning and career advancement can be located in a dynamic setting far from a college or employment office.

There are several critically revolutionary components in the LinkedIn/Kaplan service. Although each of the components taken individually would be a significant service to LinkedIn users, taken as a cohort of services, there is no equivalent to what they can do. In its initial stage, Career Journey allows users to access current and specific information about jobs, careers, and the fit between their experience and knowledge and job requirements. In a friendly, almost game-like way, Career Journey walks with users through a series of questions and answers, gradually helping them form their vision and understanding of what a given career path might mean for them.

Embedded in Career Journey is the Learning Recognition Course LRC100: Documenting Your Experiences for College Credit, offered by Open College at Kaplan University (OC@KU). So, not only will the users be able to identify the skills and abilities they need to advance professionally, they will also be able to get a clear reading of the value of their experiential learning in terms of the future they seek. This all adds up to a major advancement in the way we use big data to inform career preparation, academic fulfillment, and work readiness.

The ability to network information about learning and careers using rich and current data, to calculate impact, economically and educationally, and to network with others in a professional community is unparalleled. Moreover, the establishment of a repository for learning, career, and economic data that is accessible and public is, in and of itself, a significant development. With these tools, we will be able to determine when a person is ready to work, not simply ready to graduate.