The Case Against Class Schedules

Shawn Cornally wrote a great article for GOOD titled: “Why it’s Time to Lose Class Schedules

His argument against class schedules stems from the same problem that flipped classrooms and my project-based program are trying to fix: students cramming for tests and promptly dumping all the information they temporarily memorized.

Shawn puts it really well: “All of that planning teachers do to create beautifully succinct lessons is exactly where the deep thinking is happening. Students need to be a part of that.”

Involving students in the learning process is exactly where we need to get to in public and higher education.

He also writes: “Most likely you were graded on how well you reproduced a set of instructions the first time you tried it. That’s not how anyone really learns. Students need to know that things go wrong, and they need to be comfortable—dare I say happy—with failing and retrying.”

A trusted environment to fail! What a novel concept. This is one of the main themes I try to hit on when I’m talking to potential students in the project-based programs.

It’s nice to see educators on the front line thinking this way.

Read the whole article here:  Why it’s Time to Lose Class Schedules

Watch Cornally’s TEDx Talk here: The Future of Education Without Coercion

Coaching at WGU

Although I work for a competitor, I have to really hand it to Western Governors University as to how they handle coaching in their programs.

Similar to the Westminster College Project-based approach, WGU evaluates student projects against a set of competencies rather than have them listen to lectures and take tests.

One of the strengths to their model is the frequency of their learner contact. they were contacted once a week to see how things are going. The students were a lot more reliable about turning in projects with frequent contacts.

Westminster still seems to be the only school that offers professional coaching with their programs.

Read the full New York Times article here!

Interesting College Infographic

“Is college getting easier?” is the title of this infographic This information is troubling but not surprising. Regardless, I say the discussion shouldn’t be around how hard college is, but what students come away with. If the only problem was that college just needs to be harder, they could just stop accepting papers that are less than 100 pages long. That doesn’t get to

The education system in America is centered around testing which encourages gaming the system. Cheating, plagiarism, extra credit, minimum grades for work reimbursement all lead to worrying about grades over outcomes and mastery of useful skills.

Is College Getting Easier?
Presented By:

The End of Average

Pulitzer prize winning journalist Thomas Friedman wrote an op-ed in the New York Times titled Average Is Over, Part II where he explains the state of America’s education system and it’s slow slide to the middle.

Friedman’s point that being average will not cut it in today’s new economy. Advances in technology, communication, robotics, etc have opened up the whole world’s talent base for the hiring. Gone are the days when people could have an average job and live an average life. The ability to tap the above-average employees, talent and programming from EVERYWHERE means companies no longer have to settle for average.

Seth Godin, marketing guru and award-winning author, brings this idea into focus on a personal level in this article for Business Insider titled “If You’re An Average Worker, You’re Going Straight To The Bottom.” Godin points out that in the post industrial economy if you haven’t made yourself special in some way then “never mind the race to the top, you’ll be racing to the bottom.”

These articles are both parts of an idea I’ve been struggling to get a handle on for a while now. I see it everywhere in business, education and even entertainment. Pitching to the middle is not going to be an effective strategy in almost any endeavor anymore. The most successful models for business, education, entertainment and health care will be the organizations that can deliver the most personalized service and/or products for their users.

One Size Fits None

Lane Filler, reporter and board member of, wrote an opinion titled One-size fits all fits students poorly.

The piece cites a report from the Center for American Progress that large percentages of students say school work is too easy.

Filler’s point of view focuses on what’s not addressed by the survey: Are the students getting the correct amount of rigor for their abilities?

Conventional education follows an industrial factory model where a foreman (teacher) shovels out information in a classroom (assembly line) to the students (widgets) with no regard for their individual strengths and weaknesses. Basically, trying to pitch to the middle of the class so hopefully you hit the most students.

It’s Filler’s opinion that, the students in the survey who indicated their course work was sometimes too hard (around 50%) are in the correct difficulty level. Where students on the ends of the distribution curve who indicated that the work was way too hard or easy are in the wrong classes.

Filler has a good point and I am reminded of an example from my graduate school experience.

As part of my MBA, my cohort and I were assigned a statistics project. The assignment required 12 hours of video instruction for those of us who had never had any statistics experience. Once we actually got to the class where we worked on the project, the students who had a stats background flew through the work and had to sit quietly while the rest of us struggled through all the foreign concepts. On the distribution curve of my class there was no middle to pitch to.

The solution is to get more individual attention to students. Many schools and companies are trying different models. A promising method is the The School of One that Freakonomics Radio reported on in the story How Is a Bad Radio Station Like Our Public-School System? The system uses algorithms and human teachers to present information to a student based on their past performance with that learning method.

What are your thoughts?

Read the original Newsday story here.

Archive Article – Westminster graduates first wave of new MBAs, SL Trib

As we get closer to the one-year anniversary of this article, I thought I’d republish it here:

Westminster graduates first wave of new MBAs

PUBLISHED JULY 8, 2011 5:30 PM
For years, Michael Bassis heard from executives who were not that happy with graduates from traditional master’s of business administration programs.

Fresh MBAs knew business concepts, but not how to use them, nor did they possess many of the “soft” skills that go into leading a business, such as communication. At the same time, however, the costs of earning the degree have gone through the roof, leaving many families wondering whether they were getting much value.

So the Westminster College president set out to “build a better mousetrap” for professional business education at his private Salt Lake City school. The result is a “project-based” program that teaches business skills and concepts by doing, rather than lecturing, in what Bassis calls “a radical departure from traditional instructional practices.”

The experiment yielded its first harvest this summer. In partnership with Donghua University in Shanghai, Westminster graduates its first cohort of 10 Chinese MBA students Saturday, two months after it awarded MBA degrees to 37 graduates through the project-based program on its Utah campus.

“Evidence suggests the program is working better than we ever hoped. Students are taking a greater sense of ownership in their learning. Faculty are clear that learning has increased dramatically,” Bassis said from China in an interactive webcast on Friday.

And the model costs less because it frees faculty from the lecture podium and testing to instead coach students.

“Their role is no longer the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side,” he said. “We deliver a highly personalized experience with strong outcomes at low cost.”

Project-based learning has drawn plaudits in the forthcoming book The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out, co-written by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard business scholar famous for his theories about “disruptive” technologies. The co-author is Henry J. Eyring, vice president for academics at Brigham Young University Idaho.

The “experiential” concepts behind the new Westminster initiative can also be seen in other programs, such as The Foundry at the University of Utah and the Huntsman Scholars program at Utah State University. But Westminster has gone furthest, liberating an entire master’s program from the classroom.

Student Chris Hoffman bailed on his work toward a master’s degree of professional communications to sign up for the project-based MBA program last year.

In his traditional program, he had to take Web design courses even though he had been building sites for 12 years. There was no option to demonstrate proficiency and move on, as is the case in the new program.

“The first thing I like is the flexibility. I get to spend time with my family because I don’t have to carve out times every week to be in class. The second thing is it’s so practical. Everything I learn I can bring into my work to apply the next day,” said Hoffman, who works as information manager for Westminster’s Division of New Learning.

Westminster separately continues to run Utah’s largest traditional MBA program, which awarded 133 degrees this year.

The project-based program is geared toward working students who already have business experience. Executives at one Utah business who sent several junior employees through the program are pleased with their progress, according to Aric Krause, a Westminster business professor who serves as dean over the college’s Division of New Learning.

Several other students started businesses while in the program.

The program spans five semesters, each framed around a “residency,” a two-day seminar with professors. Graduates complete 25 projects that require tasks such as market analysis, financial analysis and formulating strategies.

“It’s no longer a ‘Cs-get-degrees’ mentality where you cram all this information. It applies practically to what you do in the work place,” said student Joe Romney, a quality-assurance specialist at Morgan Stanley.

Students proceed at their own pace and have online access to project materials. Romney, who has two small children at home, said he sometimes had Google chats with his professors at 11 p.m. —

Westminster College’s project-based MBA program

The private Salt Lake City school is developing a ‘project-based’ approach to teaching graduate-level business administration in a move to cut costs and improve learning outcomes. Its new program graduated its first MBAs this year.

Original Article Link

Teaching to Learning in Singapore

Rebecca Lim’s article on the BBC website titled “Singapore wants creativity not cramming” offers more evidence of the global shift from teaching to learning.

For years, Singapore has maintained high scores on standardized tests. Although this is a point of pride, it is no longer good enough for Singapore’s Minister for Education, Heng Swee Keat.

He has challenged schools to move away from memorizing facts to “…discern truths from untruths, connect seemingly disparate dots, and create knowledge even as the context changes.” Keat feels this will be much more helpful for students who will be taking on the challenges of the next 20 years.

It’s no surprise that some schools are turning to project-based methods to help students synthesize, rather than just memorize, information.

The article highlights an example where students were given mobile devices and asked to document a wildlife area to see if man-made actions were at fault for several animal deaths.

Science teacher Lin Lixun said ”In one activity, I can cover three topics.”

“They can really learn through hands-on experience and putting things into action.” added civics and moral education teacher, Joslyn Huang.

Going even further down the road, sociologist and former Nominated Member of Parliament, Paulin Straughan, suggested doing away with the PSLE – a national examination that all students take at the end of primary school.

She said “If we do that, we free the school from this obsession of testing, and the teachers and educators can focus on teaching and learning.”

Read the full article here: Singapore wants creativity not cramming

Flipping the Classroom

Aaron Sams and John Bergman are science teachers at Woodland Park High School in Colorado.

These videos, sponsored by Techsmith the company that makes the screen recording software Camtasia and Jing, spotlight how these educators leverage asynchronous lectures in order to free up classroom time for application and demonstration of skill mastery. Similar to the program I work with, Students are not allowed to move on to new concepts until they demonstrate mastery of the previous subject.

As Bergman explains in his video, this allows him to individualize the learning for each student’s level of understanding. Students with a firm grasp on the content can be challenged further and students who are struggling can get the specialized help that they need.

Flipped Classrooms and Video as Homework

Flipped Classrooms and the Mastery Approach to Learning

Have you made changes in the classroom that allow you to spend more time interacting with your students and less class time lecturing?

Literacy vs. Fluency

20120220-234348.jpgThe article The difference between digital literacy and digital fluency on the site got me thinking about the project-based programs I work with and the similarities the author brings up.

The article describes people with a level of digital “literacy” as someone who knows of digital tools and how to use them. It goes on to describe people with a level of digital “fluency” as someone who can take those tools and use them at the appropreate time and place for a desired effect.

In the project-based programs, we evaluate the learners on a scale of Does Not Meet, Meets and Exceeds versus a set of competencies (or skills) that need to be mastered in order to move to the net project.

It could be argued that the difference between a learner in one of our programs getting a meets versus an exceeds is the difference between literacy and fluency of a competency. I wonder if this distiction would make explaining how the programs work easier? What do you think?