vancouverfilmschool-rigor-in-assessment-fiExamples Of Innovation In Higher Ed–With A Caution

by Terry Heick

Recently, someone asked me what I thought about innovation in higher ed in an email, so I responded with a couple of hundred words, which I’ve added to in creating this short blog post. I thought I’d share it because I haven’t talked much about higher ed, but for better or for worse, it is a big part of what we do in K12. I don’t follow higher education very closely, so this is all from 10 feet away.

4 General Examples Of Innovation In Higher Ed

1. Competency-Based Education is something I’m hearing more and more about, which is neither bad nor good, but worth understanding more carefully. In Preparing Students For A Modern Economy, I wrote:

“Schools don’t graduate employees, they graduate human beings. And just as universities haven’t been “job training facilities,” more immediately, neither has K-12. The rub comes when universities seek to revise themselves. The more connected K-12 is to university goals and aspirations, the more K-12 is on the hook here as well to “tighten the curriculum” to make it “more efficient.” To straighten and shorten the path from student to “job.” In thinking like this, we’re lowering our sights from person and place to job and market. When we seek to train students, we have to ask ourselves what we’re training them for, and make sure we can live with the consequences.”

Competency-Based Education isn’t necessarily an innovation, but a move to Competency-Based Education can lead to other innovations–using technology to personalize a student’s navigation of to-be-mastered content, for example. Asynchronous access to this content, especially when this access is not through a dated university learning management system, but something more authentic to the student, maybe even accessed on their own mobile devices.

Competency-Based Education, at least in terms of the learning process (as opposed to content), should be more student-centered and efficient. That’s good. Not sure how that will translate to increased knowledge when that knowledge (and subsequent certification) is what the university has historically commodified (and thus has restricted). Also not sure how this will help one of the higher ed’s most urgent matters–out of control cost. Something that makes something else more efficient should have a slew of other positive effects elsewhere. We shall see.

2. The flipped classroom movement seems to, in pockets, be threatening the college lecture. As does–or should–YouTube. And iTunesU. There is so much great content already published and accessible, that curation matters as much as creation. None of this is particularly exciting, really. As in K-12, there is a lack of leadership in higher-ed, with every university or league for itself. This is further exacerbated by equity issues, where, in spite of programs claiming otherwise, the quality of one’s education is almost entirely dependent on how much money their parent’s make. Which is dumb.

3. Open curriculum, like MIT’s OpenCourseWare, has been out for years but hasn’t disrupted much. MOOCs are great ideas, but assessment and feedback loops and certification are among the many issues holding them back. And anymore, they end being the punchline of edtech jokes, somehow. I don’t agree with many of the grievances people seem to have with them. It may be a matter of what kind of expectations you’re bringing to your evaluation. Comparing an unsupported MOOC from 2008 to an in-person college experience isn’t apples to apples. Compare that same MOOC to a self-determined learner Googling topics or searching reddit for information, and suddenly it’s not so bad. eLearning will eventually be at the core of the university experience rather than the fringe, I’d guess, but that’s vague: eLearning how? What content? What kind of delivery models? There’s a lot to consider.

The most exciting thing I’ve seen come out of higher ed in years was Stanford’s announcement in April 2015 that its tuition will now be free any student from a family that earns less than $125,000 a year.

4. 3D printing has more potential in higher ed than K-12. Or seems to, anyway. That’s fairly insignificant in and of itself as an innovation, but as with Competency-Based Education, could lead to other more disruptive innovation if it’s nurtured right in a university context. Honestly, I “feel” like college as we know it is already dead and gone, it just doesn’t know it yet.

Defining Innovation in Higher Ed

So how should we define “innovation” in this context? Is it a matter of outward appearance, or something more substantial? The simplest criteria should be that any “innovation” should be substantive change. In this case, any “innovation” that doesn’t do some/all of the following should be evaluated with caution:

A. Radically improve learning/understanding

B. Widen access for all students regardless of income level or, in many cases, general literacy levels

C. Significantly reduce cost passed to teenagers and barely-23 year-old students

D. Reduce the college dropout rate to closer to 10% (than the current 40%+)

E. Translate to an increase in the “good work” (as opposed to its evil twin, “job placement”) for its graduates

F. Collectively improve the communities those universities are embedded in

That is, if we’re only innovating products and profits, what’s the point? The university, as it is, isn’t changing in form or function, but rather in its aesthetic. Which isn’t innovation at all.

Examples Of Innovation In Higher Ed; Defining Innovation in Higher Ed; image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool