Validation of Learning in School and Work

Another quick post because I saw 2 great articles on LinkedIn that touch on the same thing as my post from yesterday. Article on titled The Great Unbundling of the University describes the erosion of the University value proposition. Author Alan Jacob, Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English at Wheaton College, writes this about higher education losing their monopoly on knowledge and accreditation:

Who needs a credential when they can use a simple URL to show potential employers not just what they’re capable of but what they have already achieved?

Jacob is referring to the demonstration and validation of skills and abilities employers want. No longer is a list of classes and a high GPA good enough for today’s competitive job market. Companies have been burned too many times by hiring employees who look good on paper but have no ability to do their jobs. (see Academically Adrift) As a result, some companies scrapped the idea of résumés entirely. According to the Wall Street Journal.

Instead of asking for résumés, the New York venture-capital firm [Union Square Ventures] which has invested in Twitter, Foursquare, Zynga and other technology companies—asked applicants to send links representing their “Web presence,” such as a Twitter account or Tumblr blog. Applicants also had to submit short videos demonstrating their interest in the position.

It will be interesting to see how far this trend will go. Any new ways of validating your skill set you’ve used with employers?

Edit: Additional Article About Alternative Accreditation

One Possible Future of Modern Colleges

Professor Lloyd Armstrong, Provost Emeritus at the University of Southern California, posted an interesting article about what the college of 2020 will look like. He makes a point to say the college of 2011 wasn’t clearly defined and neither will the college of 2020. He goes on to say:

I think there will be significantly fewer accredited colleges in 2020, and the mix of sizes, approaches, missions, and resources will be quite different from today.

On the subject of student learning, I found this part particularly interesting:

Numerous institutions probably will emulate the Western Governors University [and Westminster College – Chris] and move to competency –based evaluations that enable students to move through the system at their own pace. Such approaches allow students to acquire knowledge from many sources, including work or online programs of their choosing, and get credit from the “home” institution by demonstrating competency.

I think the interesting feature of an entirely competency-based system would be one where you could choose the institution you studied the discipline. i.e. your financial classes at Cornell, your management classes from Harvard, your marketing classes from Westminster and at the end, graduate with a degree with the best of all worlds. This is a really cool look at the future of colleges, now if I can only convince the schools to move on from overhead projectors.

Read What will The College of 2020 look like?

KCPW Online Education

So I decided to get on the airwaves the other day and … well go here and skip to 33:21 if you’d like to hear me being a lot less articulate than I thought I was being.

KCPW City Views – Online Education

I guess it’s good radio/TV when the show brings on two parties with polar opposite opinions and have them duke it out. Unfortunately, the format didn’t help this conversation get to the reasons so many students are coming out of school with poor skills (other than standardized test taking skills.) The show cast online education as needing to defend itself against traditional schools. My feeling was that this conversation danced around a lot of issues facing public and higher education.

  • Teacher pay/Unions
  • Eroding funds
  • Are students actually learning anything?

We have to start asking a lot of uncomfortable questions when it comes to education. I’d like to see the HatfieldMcCoy-esque debate between traditional and online be put to rest because their and strengths and weaknesses to both. Ultimately, it’s distracting people from making progress on more important debates.

How is getting a big-name MBA like the housing crisis?

I recently attended an admissions presentation for a top ten school’s MBA program (got to keep an eye on the competition.) This school was pushing the info session hard on the radio, on the internet and I even heard the ad several times on Pandora. I wanted to see exactly what a really high end school offers to their prospective students in order to get them over the tuition sticker shock. What I found surprised and saddened me at the same time.

The presentation was held at a nice hotel with tasty snacks. I arrived a little late and had to take a seat towards the back, trying to stay out of sight for fear of being asked why I was interested in an MBA from this school. “No reason, just found some extra money in my couch cushions and thought I’d get a degree from one of the most expensive schools in the country.”

The presenter started with beautiful pictures of the campus and a bit about their history then had a few testimonials from graduates. Since I’m involved in a little bit of instructional design, I was really interested in what they were going to say about their curriculum and if the school did anything to verify the learning of their students.

Unfortunately, the presenter only had one slide where they mentioned their faculty Nobel Laureates and a handful of slides mentioned some of the general subjects covered by the classes. They told us “We have some students who are perfectionists and want to get A’s in every class and we have others who are there to learn and don’t care about grades as long as they are not on academic probation.” Which, according to their website is a 2.5 to 3.0 GPA. The rest of the presentation focused nothing but the school’s network.

The presenter said “Let’s face it, when you go back to business school what you’re really buying is the network.” The school boasted 80,000ish living alumni all over the globe, any of which could be contacted at a moments notice with a click of a button. The guest speaker, a graduate of the program, also spoke at length about the network. They mentioned that several of their cohort dropped their current employer and moved to jobs on Wall Street before even finishing the program.

Then the Bob Barker “show us what this showcase is worth” slide came up and some of the more price sensitive in the audience got up, grabbed some snacks for the road and took off. Either you can get an MBA with this school or buy a Honda NSX (Acura NSX) for $160,000 Dollars (US.)

Once the Q&A session started, all of the prospective students asked questions about the return on their investment. The questions pretty much revolved around how long it would take to get their money back and more. This is where I was surprised. I must be incredibly naive, but no one asked about the curriculum. It is just taken as a given that students will get a great education just because Nobel Laureates walk around campus every once in a while.

What made me sad was later when I had a refrigerator moment and realized that this school is giving students, some of which may have skated by with minimal grades and effort, a brand name label then sent them to important Wall Street jobs by simple virtue of paying for it. I’m sure there are many hard-working capable students that graduate from this program but what the recruiter was selling is a buy-your-way-to-a-better-job in a can.

This is why the game reminds me of the housing crisis (finally getting to the point.) When credit default swaps of questionable worth were shuffled back and forth, mostly the person holding it when the house of cards came crashing down was punished for the actions of the whole system. Once some of these graduates of unverified education are running huge companies, handed to them because of “the network,” how long will it be until we’re holding the bag and bailing them out for their questionable decisions?

Short Film “Learn”

Here is a great short film by director/producer Rick Mereki. The description states the film took “3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage.”

In the film, he learns glassblowing, dancing, mountain climbing, cooking, cartwheels etc etc. You can see the learning happening and you can FEEL it emotionally. He is experiencing the learning as it happens. What’s really interesting to me is that never once is he in a classroom or taking a test.

I hear from teachers that say “There are some things that can only be learned through lecture.” I disagree. I think anything can be taught in an experiential way when the instructor knows the subject well enough and cares enough about the learner to present it that way.

Born to Learn

This video does a good job of explaining the fundamental difference between “Sage on the Stage” lecture-based education and “Guide on the Side” experiential learning.

Born to Learn: Class Reunion from Born to Learn on Vimeo.

“All the research shows, we just don’t learn something unless we’re emotionally engaged with it.”

It’s only taken us over 2,000 years to re-understand what Confucius was saying when he said “Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Let me do and I understand.”

Gàosu wǒ wǒ huì wàngjì, gěi wǒ kàn wǒ kěnéng huì bù jìde, ràng wǒ shì shì wǒ jiāng huì lǐjiě

Better late than never.

Is It Time to “End the University as We Know It?”

Willamette College of Law Grad

In 2009 the New York Times published an opinion piece by professor of religion Dr. Mark C. Taylor titled End the University as We Know It.

In the article, he voices some of his concerns about the modern higher education system. He observes that the modern American University cranks out a lot of students with few marketable skills and an incredible amount of debt. Finally sudents are wondering if they are getting the most “bang for their buck.”

Much like the housing collapse was brought on by people looking at a run-down home and realizing it could not be worth a million bucks, so is the impending “higher education bubble” going to be brought on by parents and students looking at their $24,000 (average) in student loan debt for a degree in public health and realizing that they will not be able to pay off the loans for years (assuming they can even get a job.)

Dr. Taylor also makes a point about the over-specialization of today’s college student:

Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.

The emphasis on narrow scholarship also encourages an educational system that has become a process of cloning. Faculty members cultivate those students whose futures they envision as identical to their own pasts, even though their tenures will stand in the way of these students having futures as full professors.

This process of cloning, as Dr. Taylor puts it, is another example of teaching winning out over learning. The above example about Scotus and his citations makes me wonder if that student was encouraged into that narrow line of study by the proud professor or if it truly was a passion he’d discovered during his studies as a subject that really deserved a thesis.

I’d be interested in others take on this. I found this article because it is referenced in the book Macrowikinomics, which I will also be writing about soon.

Grade Inflation Infographic

Grade inflation is a hot topic of discussion across many campuses. In my talk at InstructureCon11 I mentioned the convergence of students wanting to take the path of least resistance and professors who don’t want to be dragged into the Dean’s office over the difference between a B+ and an A-.

Some of the information this graphic cites is from the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. The worst experience a student could have in college is to sign up, never engage any extra-curricular activities, never join a club, never have a favorite professor and graduate with a string of C grades. Now that string of Cs is a string of As. Unfortunately, it seems like many more students than we think are having that exact experience.

This infographic shows some of the consequences.