Education and Social Mobility: Thoughts on How Curriculum Design can Provide Students With a Return on Their Investment

Given the current employment levels and the mounting student debt crisis, I think it’s a safe thing to say that our industry is under fire.  So today I figured I’d share this article by Dan Berrett from the Chronicle.  I’ll let you read it for yourself before you continue on.

The focus of the article was about a study two economists made trying to assess factors in the post college success of their students.  The funny thing occurred when they compared two students.  They couldn’t find any conclusive evidence that the college degree both students earned was a deciding factor in their employment outcomes.  They couldn’t even correlate the college experience with the skills that got them their job.

That’s startling news seeing as higher ed in this country is touted as the last bastion of social mobility.  But if you really think about it, we are working with an outdated model of higher education.  Think about it, how much has education really changed since the 1900s?  Sure, we have coeducation, online education and a more egalitarian method of providing people with access to these vehicles of social mobility, but have we actually kicked the tires of the curriculum we’re using?  Is there a particular reason we’re doing things like the Carnegie-Mellon grading system or Credit Hours?  How does an “4.0” translate to success in the modern job market?

My question for the week is, if we are going to market ourselves as a vehicle of social mobility, how can we, as educators, make sure that our instructional methods, as well as our instructional content is provided in a way that is conducive to a student achieving that end? 

I hate to beat a dead horse but when I think of innovation in higher ed, I think of the Minerva Project and (if you don’t mind my soapbox) these are the main reasons that I believe we should be considering as we develop curriculum:

  1. A focus in coursework on rigor and creative problem solving skills as opposed to rote learning (high level blooms vs low level)
  2. Experiential learning through projects, externships and internships and service opportunities
  3. Assignments that require students to grow beyond the classroom and apply their learning to real world applications.

As educators we tend to balk at the idea of real world applications, of getting our hands dirty.  I can’t tell you how many instructors I work with still demand 50-100 question exams when the truth is that no employer is going to ask them to take a test.   That said, the best part about the majority of online programs is that your students are usually taking them to grow in a field they have already gotten started in.  Think about it, instead of asking an RN to BSN student to write a paper about key needs in professional development at his institution, why not actually have him develop and lead a professional development experience for his peers and coworkers and evaluate his effectiveness?  Instead of asking a teacher to identify leadership needs and talk about how to fill them in her institution, why not actually assign her to design a solution to a problem and own a project at her place of work that makes that solution real? 

Wouldn’t that be rigorous (remember our definition of rigor from before) and wouldn’t an employer prefer to see it on a student’s resume?

I just want to leave you with one final thought before you delete this email.  In the article, Beth points out that, after college, she just needed a chance to prove that she could be a valuable employee.  She just needed somebody to take a chance on her.  If we make an effort to include relevant, real-world experience as a part of our curriculum, she would have been be one step closer to having the proof before she graduated. 

Mobile Learning

As for my weekly resource share, check out this article.  I know I harp on Mobile Learning a lot these days, but it’s a passion of mine so please bear with me J.  This article is pointing out some of the key interactions that can take place on mobile.  I’m not saying it will ever replace the LMS, but at the same time it will probably become a way for students to access content.  One of the key takeaways I found is that mobile integration allows students to be constantly “immersed” in a learning environment.

 

I was the product of an immersive liberal arts college and one of the key building blocks of who I am now came from being able to eat, drink and breathe my education for four years.  One of my major concerns with online is that it’s something you just turn on a few times a week, with clear stopping and starting points.  While that’s fine for instruction, I find it hard to develop a sense of academic culture.  By the time I had graduated, I spoke Political Science like it was my mother tongue.  When I got my Masters, I was spending 10 hours a day in an inner city school and a lot more time working on my assignments from grad school.  That immersion is something that can’t always be replicated and I understand that, but I’m sure you agree that it’s a key factor in the college experience – one that’s hard to replicate online.

 

Imagine your faculty being able to push articles to your students through Twitter or Facebook, or keeping up a social network using LinkedIn that allows students to interact outside of their courses.  Imagine your students, instead of pulling up “Buzzfeed” when they need a break from work, pulling up mobile resources on their phone aligned with their program of study and interacting with each other beyond the prescribed discussion boards.  Good online education may no longer be the content delivery system, it may have to become the distraction as well.  What do you think?  Have you given any thought to how to provide an academic culture to online students?  What are the challenges and how can they be addressed moving forward?

 

Thanks for your time today, sorry I got long-winded, this stuff’s been on my mind a lot as of late and I appreciate your attention.

Social Media Integration – Networking

As for my weekly resource share: One of my higher ups just shared an interesting article regarding the future demand of online education.  I think the most interesting part is the indicator regarding the use of social media in a course.  I also recently read an article about a library science program in California that used that used social media to re-open opportunities for networking with faculty and each other that online students usually lose.  One way or another, social media’s going to be integrated into online programs in the future.  How do you see it fitting in at your institution?

The Minerva Project – Online and Experiential Learning

While I have you, there was a really interesting debate in Mid-April on NPR about what shape online learning will take in the near future and one of the debaters was creating a school called “The Minerva Project” which he’s trying to leverage into the online version of Harvard or Yale.  It’s affiliated with the Claremont Consortium in California and I think the program’s pretty cool.  Not sure if you’d heard it or not  and this is more for fun, but I thought you might be interested in what they had to say and what other people in the industry are thinking about in regards to what we do.

 

http://www.npr.org/2014/04/09/299178029/debate-in-an-online-world-are-brick-and-mortar-colleges-obsolete – For the debate

 

https://minerva.kgi.edu/ – for that school’s pilot program

Gamification

As part of my weekly side article segment, I figured I’d point out at this time I play a lot of video games (while managing to maintain some semblance of a social life) and one of the things they do a lot of is “badging.” For example, if you complete a particularly difficult challenge, the game will spit out a badge saying you completed it, which you can show to your friends.

 

That concept is in play in education these days as well, but for more relevant purposes.  Imagine being able to show a granular assessment of  your skills to an employer or a faculty member writing your letter of recommendation?  Or finding people who have competencies you want and asking them to mentor you?  Eventually, some schools are looking to replace their turn of the 20th century era grading systems with this.  It’s still in the works, but I thought these articles were really cool reads.

 

http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2013/06/20/How-Badges-Really-Work-in-Higher-Education.aspx

 

https://chronicle.com/article/A-Future-Full-of-Badges/131455/

 

http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7085.pdf

 

I think that’s everything I have to share on my end today.  Let me know if you need anything else or have any questions!

 

 

Thanks!

More on Badging

As part of my weekly side article segment, I figured I’d point out at this time I play a lot of video games (while managing to maintain some semblance of a social life) and one of the things they do a lot of is “badging.” For example, if you complete a particularly difficult challenge, the game will spit out a badge saying you completed it, which you can show to your friends.

 

That concept is in play in education these days as well, but for more relevant purposes.  Imagine being able to show a granular assessment of  your skills to an employer or a faculty member writing your letter of recommendation?  Or finding people who have competencies you want and asking them to mentor you?  Eventually, some schools are looking to replace their turn of the 20th century era grading systems with this.  It’s still in the works, but I thought these articles were really cool reads.

 

http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2013/06/20/How-Badges-Really-Work-in-Higher-Education.aspx

 

https://chronicle.com/article/A-Future-Full-of-Badges/131455/

 

http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7085.pdf

 

I think that’s everything I have to share on my end today.  Let me know if you need anything else or have any questions!

First Post – Badging and the Minerva Project

Also, here’s what I’ve got on badging so far, it’s not much as it’s a relatively new concept in terms of higher ed, but you might want to look at it further through the framework of competency based learning.

 

http://openbadges.org/

 

http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2013/06/20/How-Badges-Really-Work-in-Higher-Education.aspx

 

http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/10/11/how-use-digital-badges-help-your-classroom-teaching-essay#sthash.2E9PNpsQ.dpbs

 

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/03/uc-daviss-groundbreaking-digital-badge-system-new-sustainable-agriculture-program#sthash.tg8EmZ1M.dpbs

 

In the meantime, here’s that debate I was talking to you about:  It’s fun food for thought but they’re also trying to create the online version of Yale or Harvard right now and the founder of that school was on the debate:

 

http://www.npr.org/2014/04/09/299178029/debate-in-an-online-world-are-brick-and-mortar-colleges-obsolete – For the debate

 

https://minerva.kgi.edu/ – for that school’s pilot program

 

It’s fun to work in a growth industry.  J