Can we put aside tradition and fear and embrace the “deeper learning conversations” we need to have to evolve as educational institutions?
Mark Milliron’s opening Keynote at Campus Technology 2012 was absolutely inspiring and rich with ideas that can transform education, many of which incorporate technology. Among his various professional roles, Mr. Milliron is a Chancellor at Western Governors University, an institution that has successfully incorporated a variety of powerful progressive educational concepts. In his talk, Milliron stressed the importance of getting educators across the globe to engage in “deeper learning conversations”, to push our institutions to embrace the difficult changes that are needed if we’re going to overcome the challenges we are faced with.
The conversation started with a slew of disconcerting facts*. Today in America, the inter-generational transmission of poverty is at its highest – if you are born poor, you are more likely than ever before to die poor. Postsecondary education, and the delivery of labor-enabling credentials, is the single biggest factor that can change this. Half of all college students in the US don't complete a credential, and this sad statistic is far worse when viewed from the lower half of the socioeconomic scale: while 60% of students from the higher two income quartiles do complete, only 12% of students from the bottom two quartiles complete a credential after they start college. We are on a path to turn out the first generation in the US that is not more educated than the prior generation.
Credentialing “along the way …”
By 2018, 63% of new jobs are projected to require a post secondary credential. There are many things that we can be doing in education to position our institutions to improve on the delivery of the credentials that can position students to achieve gainful employment. Learners come knowing different things and being able to learn at different rates. If a student knows something, we should be able to assess and document that they know it and move on to teaching them what they don't know. The model at Western Governors University model embraces this concept, they don't equate seat time with learning, and they’re accredited by 4 Regional Commissions!
When students achieve a credential while they are working towards an Associate or Bachelor’s Degree, statistics show that they are far more likely to go on and complete those degrees. Getting some sub-credential along the way is critical. 36 million people in the US have completed some college yet have no credential. Working students are more the norm than ever, and many of these students can have their education interrupted by disruptive life events. We should strive to maximize credential attainment along the educational path. Many forward-looking institutions, including some high schools, are starting to embrace this idea.
Does it improve learning?
We must be willing to look at everything we do in education and ask, “Does it improve or expand learning?” Too often, new initiatives in education are driven by an institution’s financial goals or other factors that do not address this fundamental objective. We have got to be brutal, and get down to a learning Occam's Razor and ask “does this initiative improve learning?”, and be willing to drop it if it doesn’t.
Consider our data-based initiatives – these are generally targeted at administrators, not students, faculty, and advisors, and they are rarely turned around quickly. We should strive for data turnaround closer to the predictive modeling on Amazon.com – the near instant feedback offered during a shopping experience. Contrast this with the often months-long or even years-long efforts typical of many data capture and analysis efforts in education. And again, who is the data often being captured for? Too often, it is the administrators or the regulators, rarely is it for the educators supporting and teaching the students. If it doesn’t improve learning, why are we doing it?
Another concept espoused by Chancellor Milliron is the need to avoid tech-for-tech’s-sake. Too often in the education technology realm there is a sort of “techno Cro-Magnon theory” underlying our initiatives … “technology good!”, and this is dangerous thinking. We need to embrace those initiatives that can enhance learning, and avoid those that don’t.
A Few Resources for Learning More
There were many useful resources shared by Chancellor Milliron, I wish I could have captured them all (the presentation slides should be made available by Campus Technology over the next couple of weeks). Here are a few examples of resources that examine these difficult questions and offer progressive thinking:
- Corporate Voices for Working Families: http://www.cvworkingfamilies.org/
- “The Edupunk’s Guide to Getting a Credential” (Kamenetz): http://www.openculture.com/2011/08/download_the_edupunks_guide_to_a_diy_credential_free.html
- “Penetrating The Fog: Analytics in Learning and Education” (Long & Seimens): http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/penetrating-fog-analytics-learning-and-education
- Jane MCGonigal’s TED talk, “Gaming Can Make A Better World”:
My heartfelt gratitude goes out to Mark Milliron for the time he spent with us and the effort he devotes to his passion for tackling these difficult and often unpopular subjects. I hope that by sharing these ideas here that I can inspire a few others to learn more and be willing to start their own deeper learning conversations.
We need to have the courage to have these conversations, and we must be prepared to push past the ‘loud voices' of the naysayers on the one side and the zealots on the other that often manage to bring these conversations to a grinding halt before they can gain traction. If we don’t, we’re only going to continue to fall short of our potential and our mission as educators and technologists.
* I have not formally validated the facts provided in Chancellor Milliron's talk, but I am aware that some of these figures are supported in the OECD's Education at a Glance report.
Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
4 New Technology Tools for Measuring Learning Outcomes
How will MOOCs impact the future of college education?
Introducing a Game-Based Curriculum in Higher Ed