Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Don’t Pack the Snowball Yet!

Recently, I have read a series of articles that suggest that the “new order” brought on by the Digital Dimension is ready to settle to be understood, organized, and controlled by existing and new institutions and practices. So colleges are going to control the MOOCs and assessments learners will be offered in institutional settings, and so on and so forth. While it is a natural human instinct to create order out of chaos, to do so in this environment at this point in time is premature.

If disruptive innovation is a snowstorm, harnessing its true power for the betterment of the many is a snowball. And I say, don‘t try to pack the snowball yet!

In fact, by their very natures, the Digital Dimension and the post-traditional forms and opportunities that they encourage, may well not settle for a while, if ever. Rather, I believe they will proceed in a herky-jerky fashion through multiple stages and versions. For example:
  • How long will it take employers and career management organizations to consider badges as equivalent to formal courses?
  • How long will it take OpenStudy to get so accurate at compiling evidence of excellent learning through crowd-sourced learning assessment that their word is taken as “good” by employers and other career and educational institutions?
  • How long will it take before Kaplan University Open Learning (or some other entity) separates free, lifelong, and web-enhanced learning from assessment and the earning a Bachelor’s of Professional Studies or a Masters of the same strain?
The world we live in, the blizzard of information, opportunity, and the confusion of being surrounded by multi-faceted and multi-dimensional change, will defy easy understanding or organization for quite a while to come. But before the preferred or dominant forms become clear, before the snowball is packed, there will be a sharp change in the way we understand learning and how we make sense out of it and better understand its effect.

Having said that, I believe there will be emerging characteristics that offer some coherence in this blizzard of change.  For example, what do all three of the questions posed above have in common? The use of evidence — trusted evidence — to support the claim that the learner knows what s/he claims to know. If employers trust the source, they will use it.  If learners believe they can cash in their learning for credit or other academic recognition whenever they want to, they will do exactly that, depending on their dreams and the realities they face.

Therefore, don’t pack the snowball yet. Rather keep your eye out for practices that work across multiple environments. And in this case, pay attention to evidence of learning.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What is "Educational Leadership" in a World Running a MOOC?

The image and the general reality of being a university president are so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that it is extremely difficult to imagine another type of higher education leadership model. It includes a commitment to faculty and governance, research, fund-raising, alumni , and current students, all intertwined in a 60 hour/week DNA that also includes intercollegiate athletics and on-campus cultural and student events. And this person is usually an educator who rose through the ranks to become an administrator at a later stage in life.

Yet even as we look forward to the post-traditional world, we see, if we look critically, that the role of the university president has already changed over the last 30 years, diversifying, leaving some traditional responsibilities behind and adding others that used to be considered irrelevant or inappropriate. After all, it is a long way from the Swarthmore of 1955 to the Ohio State of 2014. Today, most colleges and universities, even those that are publicly funded, are run like businesses, with the management wolf trying to hide in the academic sheep’s clothing.

In an article that appeared in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Dr. Hunter Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities, gives a full-throated endorsement of their contributions:

“…(they)…have never been in so much demand…have never been ranked more highly…have never contributed so much to the production of vital knowledge, to national security, to national economic growth,…and to local economies.”

He goes on to say that universities are criticized for unsurprising reasons, such as lower public financial support, increased pressure to attend college, the sheer size and complexity of universities, and the resulting political and legal complications. According to Rawlings, “We should get used to the fact that we will have to endure a lot of criticism, much of it unwarranted and unfair.” He then admits to several areas of justified criticism of colleges and universities, including loss of academic rigor, failure to limit costs, over-reliance on the “high tuition, high-financial aid” strategy, and “the monster called intercollegiate athletics.”

All of this is true. What Rawlings is missing, however, is an analysis of the post-traditional world. 

The leadership challenges faced by institutions and organizations that do not operate like the current-day economic and academic version of traditional universities are different in focus and substance. And what it will take to lead those organizations in the post-traditional era is a conversation that needs to begin.

I believe that post-traditional leadership will be avowedly more practical and outcomes-oriented, as will be their learners and academic support staff.  Thus

  • curricular content may not be owned by the institution, but assessment results will be;
  • mentoring, active advising, and subject matter experts will supplement, and in some cases supplant, the traditional teaching model;
  • technology will inform and undergird every aspect of the learning and administrative processes;
  • career readiness will be a requirement for graduation;
  • big data will improve student success rates and organizational performance continuously; and
  • reflection will lie at the center of assessment, creating a new pedagogy around making meaning of the experience of learning.

While the post-traditional world may not, in many cases, embrace the traditional liberal arts as a core “theology” of higher education, its educational leaders will need to focus on learners and learning, research and improved practices that promote learning, and the organization of resources so that they promote learner-centered pathways to both economic and academic success throughout life. 

This does not herald the end of the contemporary version of the traditional college model or the value of the liberal arts. It does, however, portend a new, post-traditional view and sector in higher education that is driven by a different vision and different commitments to learning.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Are We Running a MOOC? And if so, why?

I have had the honor and the privilege of serving on the Advisory Board to the MIT OpenCourseWare project since its inception over 10 years ago. From that vantage point, followed by my tenure as UNESCO’s Assistant Director General for Education, and now as SVP for academic strategy at Kaplan Higher Education Group, I have had a front row seat to watching, participating in, and learning from the open courseware revolution.

By my estimation, the education world went through the tipping point of radical change when established institutions, like those in the EdX consortium, jumped into the Open Resource world with both feet by airing MOOCs. Whatever their intentions might have been, the immediate external effect was the legitimization of both open and free courses as well as the dramatically different modes of learning and assessment that they suggest.

So, the questions today are 1.) Is the world running a MOOC? And 2.) If so, why?
The answer to the first question is an unequivocal “yes,” BUT — and this is a big but — MOOCs are not the main point of this revolution. It is one thing to be the lever of change, and even one artifact of change, but it is quite another to be the change itself. And MOOCs, as critical as they have been to this change process, are early exemplars, legitimizers, and levers. But they are not the heart of the change or the change itself.

The larger change, supported by the very technology that allowed the Global Open Courseware Consortium, Coursera, Udemy, Udacity, and even Kaplan University Open Learning to grow and thrive, is our accelerating ability to reorganize and redesign the traditional higher education proposition in innumerable ways that are more learning and learner-centered, with higher quality and lower cost. So when you encounter Degreed, OpenStudy, or any of the rapidly expanding number of new organizational forms, you are experiencing the higher education world running a MOOC.

Now, why is this happening? At the risk of sounding flippant, I say, “Because it can.” That is the truth of the matter. To quote my friend and colleague, Dr. Don Norris, the post-traditional world is supported by digital capacities that drive “free-range” learning. Free range learning captures perfectly the shift of responsibility for and control of learning, curriculum, and assessment from college campuses and faculty to the people in the communities that surround them. Are there “quality issues” as many charge? Of course there are. Any time new ground is broken mistakes are made. But as we go forward it will be important to draw the clear distinction between “different” and “poor quality.” Quality is no longer found in the academic inputs alone. Now it is exemplified in the results.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Living, Learning, and Arriving Where I Started


                                “We shall not cease from exploration
                                And the end of all our exploring
                                Will be to arrive where we started
                                And know the place for the first time…”
                                                -T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

As Eliot tells us, in the exploration of life, the journey will take us to greater understanding, “(arriving) where we started and (knowing) the place for the first time.” For me, that “place” is understanding my lived experience; harvesting the learning, the meaning, and the direction that it has given me, and taking guidance from it for tackling whatever lies ahead.  I have arrived at that place to reflect and draw on my personal learning several times in my life. And each time I have done it, my self-knowledge and professional understanding “knew it for the first time.” I recognized change in my own development and had a deeper understanding of the role of my life experience as my teacher, but only when I would listen, think, and reflect.

It took me several years to recognize and understand that my passion, what pulled me forward in my career and informed my personal life, was personal learning. Not schooling or teaching or studying, but learning, the stuff that happens as a result of all the things we do. I am, and have been for many years, in love with learning.

Developmentalist Dr. Rita Weathersby once observed,” [People grow]…through an active process of making meaning from experience…Development apparently stops when people…have the experience, but choose not to use it to change their basic way of experiencing the world.” Here, Weathersby was elaborating on a key theme expounded by the famous philosopher and educator John Dewey in his landmark book "Experience and Education" when he stated: “…Every experience enacted and undergone modifies the one who acts and undergoes.” In other words, live and learn.

In my life experience, personal learning possesses two key characteristics: a body of skills previously unrecognized and unacknowledged, and an awareness of my changed inner self, including new values and a growing sense of worth and identity. But, as Weathersby says, and Dewey implies, the key is to extract the meaning and learning from your experience. As you read forward, hold this thought in the front of your mind. Reflection is the way that we extract meaning from our lived experience, understanding not simply what we have done, but how it has changed us; our personal learning.

As I wrote in a previous entry, there have been times in my life when I have been compelled to update my personally held image and understanding of who I have come to be. I have “arrived at the same place and known it for the first time.” There is the person that I see in the mirror every morning. But after the update of image and understanding, life continues, giving me new experiences and new personal learning. So, gradually, yet ineluctably, I am changing (and so are you), growing away from the person I was when I last took stock. In this progression of events, there comes a moment when the new you, the becoming you, outweighs the older image, creating confusion and imbalance in your life. Then, you arrive again for the first time, for a time of rediscovery through reflection.