Jeff Jarvis riffed yesterday on “Google U,” the idea that there are all sorts of new ways to think about a college education aside from the 4-year, right outta high school model that most kids go through. Jeff and I both have kids and are staring the college decision game (and the subsequent payouts) in the face, so his post caught my attention. Reminded me on some level of my “Dear Kids, You Don’t Have to Go to College” post from a couple of years back. (Funny to think how much things have advanced even since then…)
So, seriously, as Jeff asks, “Why should my son or daughter have to pick a single college and with it only the teachers and courses offered there?” In eight years when my daughter gets to this point (if I haven’t convinced her to travel the world and “find herself” first, or, if she hasn’t started her own business), I’m hoping she’ll be able to cobble together her own coursework from whatever the “best” options are at that point. And, as Jeff asks, why shouldn’t professors be able to pick their own students from among the best of the bunch, not just those from his or her institution?
Which leads us to the nub of all of this disruption:
Once you put all this together, students can self-organize with teachers and fellow students to learn what they want how and where they want. My hope is that this could finally lead to the lifelong education we keep nattering about but do little to actually support. And why donâ€™t we? Because it doesnâ€™t fit into the degree structure. And because self-organizing classes and education could cut academic institutions out of the their exclusive role in education.
I know, I know. There is more to college than classes. I’m a poster child for that. And accreditation is a huge issue. (I’m sure Gary will be along shortly.) But I just see this more and more as a coming reality. As Jeff says, the “internet is unforgiving of needs to preserve old models and methods. It disaggregates ruthlessly.” The whole idea of scholarship and expertise is changing. (Watch Sir Ken Robinson on that concept.)
Not saying I know what the answer is. But I am saying that whether we like it or not, these structures, both higher ed and K-12, are starting to bend as the alternatives are becoming more and more pervasive. We’re modeling that every day in this network, those of us who are learning just as much if not more about the things we are interested in without signing up for a program. That’s not anti-intellectual as much as it is shifted-intellectual, if that makes sense.
(Photo Castle/Undergrad Stronghold by CarbonNYC)
Technorati Tags: university, college, shifts, education, learning
A. T. Wyatt says
I would point you to an excellent report entitled Greater Expectations from the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
I have studied this report and find much to admire about it. It is honest about the problems in American higher education and suggests a model worth striving for.
In particular, I find these words worth pondering:
“Reaching ambitious goals for learning requires integrating elements of the curriculum traditionally treated as separateâ€”general education, the major, and electivesâ€”into a coherent program. This does not mean that students will take a common set of courses. But it will require new forms of advising and alignment, both in high school and college, to help each student create a plan of study leading to the essential outcomes of a twenty-first century education. There will be many alternative paths up the educational mountain. But every student needs a sense of direction, markers as well as knowledgeable guides, and navigational tools to support the journey.
Meeting these expectations for quality will focus new attention on the culminating year of college. Both institutions and departments should set standards for achievement of skills, knowledge, and responsibility, and require advanced work that demonstrates the expected outcomes. These culminating performances, which will vary with different fields of study, ought to provide evidence that students can integrate the many parts of their education. They can show how well students actually possess the intellectual, practical, and evaluative judgment and the sense of responsibility a college degree should represent.”
I have met few undergraduates who have the maturity and breadth of knowledge it would take to weave together a series of courses from across the globe and come out with a coherent program that would inform and guide them in their personal search for meaning and productive service. I believe that institutions of higher education need to work harder to ensure that this “melding” does, indeed, take place. In the end, I think the “cafeteria” plan is less effective than it might seem on the surface.
Will Richardson says
Thanks A.T. for the comment and the link. I would agree that there are few undergrads who can do this, but I wonder how that might change if one of our goals in K-12 was to prepare them for that? Just wondering…
James Folkestad says
I want to echo what A.T. is saying and agree with Will. I see very few University students who are at the level at which they could weave together a series of courses – into a coherent and useful “major.” However, I believe this is because they are accustomed to consuming education. If we can educate them to engage and produce instead of consume – that would change the driver.
Yes! That is the question, isn’t it – how would these things be different if their experiences in K-12 were different. I’m finding this discussion fascinating – so much of what is disruptive is disrupting our ideas of communicating and building relationships online, which puts it right at the core of how learning happens.
Now off to think more about what it means if professors choose their students 🙂
It’s not only an educational structures shift but a network shift. Our PLN are so much more global than ever before. This type of PLN used to be confined to the wealthy aristocrats. Now it is open to anyone with the hardware/software/desire to connect. Really makes me wonder why I ever wanted a PhD – is it even relevant anymore? I do not want to go backwards (and remember I haven’t even begun so i have the luxury of consideration, whereas you are almost there which is a different situation altogether) but forewards. As I told learners today, there is Pentium 3, Pentium 4, Pentium M but I want Pentium x-squared!
Kristin Hokanson says
I agree that the potential for global PLNs are out there, but I think that we are not in the majority in cultivating them. There was an interesting conversation started in twitter by Bud the Teacher “Interesting question from my prof. dev. director in uStream: Do long distance networks help or divide local efforts at collaboration? Hmm.” PLN is PERSONAL learning networks and unless we bring the power of those networks to others they will have no idea that they are even possible
Joan Vinall-Cox says
I agree completely that accreditation is a huge issue. I remember my shock when I first heard someone say that a degree gained ‘X’ years ago, was no longer acceptable. But it makes sense in many, if not all, disciplines. I also know that we can hang out on the web with people who learn by following their interests, who are aggressive autodidacts – a term I honour but that used to be an insult, suggesting spotty and non-authority-based learning, which could result from a cafeteria approach.
However, (dramatic pause) “I have met few undergraduates who have the maturity and breadth of knowledge it would take to weave together a series of courses from across the globe and come out with a coherent program that would inform and guide them in their personal search for meaning and productive service. I believe that institutions of higher education need to work harder to ensure that this â€œmeldingâ€ does, indeed, take place. In the end, I think the â€œcafeteriaâ€ plan is less effective than it might seem on the surface.”
You have to learn how to be a learner, not simply a certified graduate of an institution. Well-planned and structured programs can start a person into learning habits, but how prevalent are they, and how often chosen? My big fear is that our learning institutions are catering to those who want the cafeteria, without ensuring that a learning foundation is also there, so graduates will know how to be, and have the habits of active learners.
Kristin Hokanson says
and my question is….how do you get kids to learn to be learners? I am taking my lessons from the folks like Karl Fisch who are doing it themselves and then providing POWERFUL learning opportunities for the students at his school.
Harold Jarche says
All institutions offer cafeteria-style education, it’s just a question of who gets to create the menu and who gets to order.
If educational institutions were really in the learning business, they would embrace the internet and offer the context that is necessary for learners. Learning strategies are important, as noted by Joan, but not taught well. Perhaps the problem is that many professors profess instead of facilitating learning. Institutions can also maintain and expand their influence by taking seriously their role in accreditation (quality control). Does it really matter how or when the student learned something? Isn’t it more important to show competence? Maybe the future leaders in education will be those institutions who 1) help learners and 2) assure that competence has been achieved.
Established universities currently have the advantage of a reputable brand, so the future is theirs to lose. I’m sure that there are some serious upstarts looking at the lucrative education market.
A. T. Wyatt says
“All institutions offer cafeteria-style education, itâ€™s just a question of who gets to create the menu and who gets to order.”
I would say that this is a fair assessment. I think the BEST possible education would ensure that element of coherency that is all too often lacking in traditional insitutions of higher ed. I would assume the problem is quite similar in on-line institutions as well.
I am concerned about the possible consequences for widening the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”. Have not access, have not study skills, have not adequate preparation, have not mentoring and guidance. It is my observation that a significant portion of the expensive “overhead” at traditional institutions, particularly those that serve the students who are not eligible for admission to the most highly selective institutions, goes to fund academic and student support services. If we are to continue to embrace an egalitarian educational model, some thought needs to go into this area!
Gary S. Stager says
I don’t understand your concern about higher education. As a parent of a recent graduate and two kids still enrolled in college and as a person who earned a Ph.D. overseas at what is rated as one of the world’s best research universities, I can state with confidence that American higher education is an educational gem. I personally learned a great deal across a variety of disciplines during my 7.5 year (full-time) undergraduate career.
It seems that you may be generalizing the elementary school experience your children are having and projecting that dissatisfaction onto higher education. There are two dozen colleges that test-obsessed kids kill each other to attend and thousands of others representing extraordinary pedagogical diversity. I’ve said it before, IMHO some of the best educational practice may be found in higher education.
Sure, there will be hybrid experiences combining online and face-to-face. I’ve been teaching online since the mid 1990s and our Pepperdine Online Master of Arts in Educational Technology program is the gold standard for online constructivism. However, hybrid models have existed long before the affordances of online learning. Collaboration and open enrollment between nearby campuses have been available for decades for students at many colleges.
Incidentally, Roger Schank has been writing about choosing to study with experts regardless of their institutional affiliation for a decade or longer. I’ll see if I can find an old article.
Fire up the Prius! Put your kids in the backseat and let’s go on a 2-3 day roadtrip. I’ll show you some colleges that will blow your mind.
PS: Check out my current blog about mentoring at http://www.stager.org/blog
Gary S. Stager says
My daughter is a sophomore at Bard College – http://www.bard.edu
I assure you that the learner is at the center of the experience there and surrounded by experts who help students develop. The President of Bard says, “I employ faculty who ARE not WERE.”
How many of your K-12 colleagues ARE experts?
Sue King says
I think Will has raised a very valid point and I think we are very quickly going to come to a point where we (or employers) will have to determine what is a valid “education.” I have 2 children already through undergrad – and I would not agree with Gary; their experiences were NOT “educational gems.” They had some courses that they found meaningful and relevant, and most they did not (just like in HS). They had some excellent professors, many lukewarm ones, and some downright awful ones (tenure gets in the way at that level also). Now, in my daughter’s graduate program, she has a prof who is not having her contract renewed, but will finish this semester. The prof has cancelled class numerous times, had a class in which the students prepared food from assigned countries and brought it in to share (sounds like a horrid elementary school activity), and had a class where everyone went outside to see a camel drink Gatorade (I am not making this up). This was in a graduate level intenational journalism course! What can a student do about that? Absoultely nothing. I realize my daughter is an ‘n’ of one, but I do not think this is an unusual experience. My daughter does not just want a piece of paper wth a degree – she wants to learn how to be a journalist – and international journalism is her passion. Could she learn more through her own exploration? Quite possible if she had a network to connect with and guide her! Everyone cannot get into, nor afford, Bard – so I, too, worry about the widening gap of those who can afford and know to pusrsue a high quality education. Things a moving so quickly and we are responding much too slowly!
Kara Whittingham says
Sue, you have raised an issue that I have been mulling over for quite some time. You nailed it when you said, of your daughter’s study,
“Could she learn more through her own exploration? Quite possible if she had a network to connect with and guide her!”
It has become my vision to create just such an online network for K-12. The current school system is so outdated and so often stifling the very creativity, individual freedom of thought, and collaborative cooperation that is needed today. So, I have started to work on building a wiki that K-12 students could connect to to have the kind of experience you suggest your daughter might get more out of.
I would love to hear if you have any ideas about what such a network should look like?
Gary S. Stager says
Fundamental to Will’s argument is the need for student choice. You can’t argue for online choice and simultaneously blame higher-ed for the choices of its customers.
Simply put, lots of children choose the wrong college. That does not disprove my belief that some of the best practice and educational innovation may be found in higher education.
If a student cannot choose a college that meets his/her needs, what makes you think they will be able to select appropriate online experts?
It would also be way too easy to discount the social learning aspects of college; the transition rituals (good and bad), the concerts, the lectures, the sports, the all-night discussions about politics or philosophy, the wide-eyed social activism, etc… It’s also worth noting that there are schools where “science” happens in a 2,000 person lecture hall and at other schools where students DO science as apprentices to master scientists. The same is true for art, music, writing, mathematics, engineering, etc…
At one of my daughter’s college’s you may not enroll in a course without first scheduling an appointment with the professor of that course so you may discuss if the selection is mutually beneficial. My daughter has learned as much through this experience (along with the college application process) as from any academic exercise.
A summary of my major point to Will is that it’s easier for him to find a college he approves of than an elementary school for his kids.
Kristin Hokanson says
Your last comment is dead on, but why should our kids have to wait until college to get that opportunity?
Kara Whittingham says
Indeed. Maria Montessori believed that children could start taking responsibility for their education choices from the age of 3. Children love to be given the opportunity to take responsibility for choosing what they learn and to follow their interests in their learning.
This Montessori approach to education has produced some very independently creative thinkers, such as Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com), and Sergey Brin and Larry Page (co-founders of Google who credit their Montessori education for much of their success).
Amir | Passion-Based Learning says
We’re just too in love with the status-quo I guess.
Sue King says
I find it distressing that so many are willing to generalize and decree all K – 12 education as being inadequate and ineffective, as if it would be so easy to design a better, more effective system! If one were to truly examine public education in this country, the challenges public education in this country faces would be easily recognized – in rural districts, large urban districts, high-performing suburban districts – challenges with funding, with meeting governmental mandates, with catering to the interests and values of the citizens of each district – the list is endless and diverse. So, I would love to hear a specific vision and plan for a K – 12 education system for this country that would be equitable and effectively educate all children in all types of districts, would be funded adequately, and would be staffed by the ‘experts’ like those are apparently teaching at so many of our colleges and universities. We absolutely MUST improve our K – 12 education in this country if we are to truly educate all students to be 21st century thinkers, but I have yet to hear a comprehensive, realistic, and reasonable plan for doing so in the midst of all this criticism.
a. woody delauder says
I hear talk of “expert” teachers. This is one of the problems. Give me someone you think is an expert teacher, and I will show you someone that needs to retire. We have too many teachers that are given that far reaching quality.
I don’t think the structure needs to necessarily change in our education system, but the philosophy does! “How” we teach needs to be drastically reformed. Everyone has their own philosophy on this.
We need to rid the schools of the paper pushing complainers that walk through the doors every morning of schools on each side of the globe. This is where the change needs to happen. It’s like a hit in the gut when a teacher like this wins a teaching award just because they are due.
Systems that appear to be working will not be changed unless they are proved faulty. It seems as though this has been figured out in the business world. Why can’t the education system take note?
Karl Fisch says
Hmm, Google U sounds vaguely familiar, although I couldâ€™ve sworn it was spelled GoogleYou. 🙂
I struggle, too, with how most students will put together a learning experience that rivals the best of what college can offer today. I see the possibilities, but still have trouble with the details. But, on the other hand, how many students are getting the best of what college can offer today?
@Gary â€“ Bard sounds wonderful, but itâ€™s $36k per year and â€œBard expects applicants to have pursued a rigorous course of study including honors and/or advanced-level courses if offered at their secondary school.â€ That eliminates at least 95% of our students. Iâ€™m sure there are many good choices, but the only thing similar I know of in my area is Colorado College – $40k and a similar level of preparation.
So, can folks list some good choices that are possible for the bulk of our students? And can somebody please start working on those details I mentioned above, because my eight year old isnâ€™t getting any younger . . .
Gary S. Stager says
Bard IS expensive, but there are lots of lessons other colleges (especially public ones) may learn from them.
I once asked the President of Bard why they don’t admit X percent of their students entirely at random since I believe that their constructivist approach would benefit all learners. He agreed and told me that I was correct and naive 🙂
My central thesis remains 1) that there are lots of higher education choices available and we don’t avail ourselves or our kids of them; and 2) that higher-ed is not devoid of innovation.
As I’ve told Will in the past, it’s too easy to beat up on unnamed college bogeymen when his real beef is with the sclerotic local elementary school. I remain optimistic that the local public schools hold the capacity for improvement.
Karl Fisch says
I agree that other colleges – especially public ones – can learn a lot from colleges like Bard. But is there any evidence they are doing that?
In a perfect world, my now eight-year-old will attend a small, liberal arts college that will meld the best of what college has to offer today with the best that technology has to offer (primarily global connections and even more personalized learning, although I do wonder if that personalized learning might necessitate more of a “distributed” university).
But it’s not a perfect world. Based on current indications (which I know can change since she’s only 8), she won’t get admitted to any of those small, liberal arts colleges. There are many students like her. And many of the students that could get admitted can’t afford to attend. So, by default, if something resembling our current system of higher education exists 10 years from now, what are the options for her and students like her? Probably those large public institutions that – and this is painting with a broad brush – most likely look very different than Bard.
So while I remain hopeful as well, for K-12 and higher ed, I think that’s mainly because the alternative is so depressing.
Gary S. Stager says
A wise person once told me that you should never make educational decisions based on cost. The way the elaborate financial aid system works, small elite private colleges often cost as much to a poor(er) student as a large public college. But that’s not the point either. The investment in an expensive college may in fact be worthwhile, but only if it’s good. The cost doesn’t guarantee quality either.
I attended a small private music conservatory and two large state colleges. There were terrific educational opportunities at both.
The best thing going for American higher education may be its availability, even if it is outrageously expensive. The alternative is a system, like that found in Europe and Australia where a tiny fraction of kids have any chance of attending university and a single test score determines the lockstep course of study (subject/discipline) available to them. That is an appalling option and violates all of the best of American cultural mythology – pull yourself up, etc…
Just like in large urban public schools, it’s certainly possible for large universities to simulate intimacy for their students.
I can find any kid in America a college or university they can attend. From there, it’s largely up to them what they make of the experience.
Gary S. Stager says
I highly recommend the following book (if the link works). It’s called, “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges”
Colleges that Change Lives: 40 Schools that Will Change the Way You Think About College
If not, this link will work – http://tinyurl.com/26xcdm
Gary S. Stager says
Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges
Karl Fisch says
Thanks Gary, that book was already on my list – of course that list keeps getting longer and longer thanks to you.
I love your use of the term â€œshifted-intellectual.â€ As a college student, I feel there is an overbearing amount of pressure on most high school juniors and seniors to choose a four-year college. The truth is that this option isnâ€™t for everyone, and parents and counselors need to help their student explore the other options that are available, rather than pressuring the traditional path. There are online colleges, study abroad programs, junior colleges and exceptional vocational schools that should be considered, along with many other options and variables. Just because a student does not choose the four-year university does not mean he or she is â€œanti-intellectual,â€ just as you have put it. I can relate, as my younger sister is a high school senior who recently committed to Western Illinois University, her last resort school, and is still very uncertain about her decision. The fact that my older sister has a degree from a four-year institution and I am also enrolled in one, puts great pressure on her to do the same, although I feel she would be better suited to attend a junior college at least for a year and decide then if she wants to transfer to a university. The world has become a place where a degree is almost required for a desirable job, and the bureaucracy, limited choices, and â€œjumping through hoopsâ€ of getting a degree is often a waste of time and money that leads to less being learned than in the past. However, as you said yourself, we donâ€™t really have the â€œanswerâ€ to solving this problem, so what can anyone really do?
I find this topic really interesting because as technology advances, so does the classroom. More parts of the classroom are being offered online, such as classroom activities, notes and exams. If all of these portions can be found online, why not create more classes for non-traditional students online. I do not think that we should get rid of four year universities all together because I believe that college is not only for the classroom experience, but also for someone to learn about themselves. But by allowing some to choose what class they want to take online and from what teacher, this would allow some to get a higher education while working, which would benefit our country immensely.