I don’t like to admit how much I love watching the Academy Awards; I am a sucker for public acknowledgement of great work. We couldn’t be more proud of the many accolades falling on New Tech schools, teachers and students. It’s like the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys combined, with New Tech collecting trophies in every category!
I also know that we’re aware of only some of the honors bestowed to members of the New Tech family — please let us know if we don’t acknowledge awards you’ve received.
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Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend a webinar hosted by CompetencyWorks about what states are doing to advance the practice of competency education. Presenters included Susan Patrick, President and CEO of iNACOL; Jason Glass, Director of the Iowa Department of Education; and Don Siviski, Superintendent of Instruction at the Maine Department of Education.
The webinar, which was based on CompetencyWorks’ latest briefing paper, Necessary for Success: Building Mastery of World-Class Skills – A State Policymakers Guide to Competency Education, provided a great conversation about what Iowa and Maine are doing to implement competency education in their districts. As I wrote in my last post, Understanding Competency Education, Maine has been working to advance mastery education in their state for quite some time. Like most states interested in competency-based learning, the conversation in Maine began with questions about student-centered learning and eventually shifted to learning being the constant and everything else being a variable.
Unlike Maine, the competency conversation is rather new in Iowa. Last year, the Iowa Senate established a task force to examine competency education and what it might look like in the state. The task force released a preliminary report in January of this year and will release further recommendations to the Iowa Legislature in November 2013. The task force’s preliminary recommendations include:
- Developing common language and vision for competency education;
- Conducting a review of current policies, administrative rules, and education and para-educational practices that may block optimal implementation of competency education;
- Establishing a research partnership with an institution of higher education to monitor and evaluate the work and to share findings.
While my table was working on the future of K-12 education during the University of Houston’s Certificate in Strategic Foresight program, another table was working on the future of higher education. They forecast that higher education will move toward an à la carte system where students partake of what they need to gain employment and pursue other aims.
In commenting on that scenario in the context of formulating a strategic plan, one of the instructors, Peter Bishop, commented that education has a monopoly not on learning but on credentialing. That observation rang true and put a fine point on the crisis that higher education might be facing – and which K-12 education could face too.
Already, as I’ve been highlighting in other posts, competency based models are providing new ways for learners to pursue higher education on their own terms and at their own pace. Corporate universities are signaling a trend toward corporations’ addressing the apparent skills gap by offering education specific to their contexts. Apprenticeships such as those offered by Thought Bot to address a shortage in product designers and software developers are helping learners develop practical skills that they’re not gaining in other educational settings.
Corporate grooming is also making its way to the high school level. New York’s Pathways in Technology (P-Tech) Early College High School is positioning students to take jobs with IBM if they choose to do so upon graduating with associates’ degrees.
All of these approaches offer new ways of earning skills and credit, some of which translates into credit within traditional higher education institutions. And, as our Forecast 3.0 previews, do-it-yourself credentialing is on the rise via platforms such as Degreed and Pathbrite.
Education still has the credentialing monopoly. But how long will that be the case? Will alternative or do it yourself credentials become more important than college degrees, at least in some settings?
I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in the University of Houston’s Certificate in Strategic Foresight program this week. As part of learning more about forecasting, we worked as teams to develop baseline and alternate scenarios of the future based on compelling trends and key questions about what some of them could mean. Luckily for me, my table chose to forecast the future of K-12 education in the US.
Our quickly-developed baseline scenario, “This Ain’t Yo Daddy’s School District,” was pretty consistent with the fully articulated forecast of the future of learning in KnowledgeWorks’ Recombinant Education. As shown below, we forecast that school would take many forms and that learning would flow across multi-layered, interconnected, and distributed networks.
Our alternate scenario, “No Child Left,” forecast that the proliferation of learning options, combined with today’s trend toward opting out of public education for options such as homeschooling or digital learning, could result in a mass exodus from the system. (Keep breathing. Scenarios often push plausible developments to their extremes to help people stretch their thinking about what could happen and consider how they would respond if it did.)
Then we explored possible implications of that scenario for a progressive state education agency. One of those implications could be a vast reduction in state and federal funding for education. Looking also at the trend toward new sources of investment in education innovation, we projected that an agency could respond by cultivating new sources of funding. In effect, its role could shift from managing compliance to serving as a broker between learning providers and funders. We created an elevator speech describing a possible response to the challenge of drastically reduced government funding, as shown below.
I share the highlights of this exercise as a way of illustrating how delving into different nuances of the future learning landscape can help us find ways in to grappling with key issues and illuminating strategies that we might want to explore, regardless of whether a particular scenario comes to pass.
So, in this example, should state education agencies or other key education stakeholders get more proactive about seeking alternative sources of funding? What would be the consequences of taking that course – or not? Are there other ways in which we might consider preparing for a large-scale exodus from public education, or things we might do to prevent that from happening?
It has almost been exactly one year to the day since I walked across a stage to receive my diploma at Rochester Zebra New Tech High School. Now a year later, I’ve successfully completed my freshman year at Indiana Wesleyan University. At IWU in Marion, Indiana, I am a double major in Church Music and Christian Worship. My studies focus both in Music and in Theology.
The Brookings Institution’s new paper, “Should Everyone Go to College?” analyzes the return on investment of higher education, concluding that “while on average the return to college is highly positive, there is a considerable spread in the value of going to college. A bachelor’s degree is not a smart investment for every student in every circumstance.”
Having passionately pursued a major in English with minors in art history and medieval studies with scant regard to what that meant for my future employment, I apparently set myself up to land in the bottom third of the paper’s “Work-Life Earnings of Bachelor’s Degree Holders by College Major” chart. I still believe that many transferrable skills, such as critical thinking, analysis of information, and persuasive writing, can come out of following one’s interests, apart from direct ties to employment.
Indeed, passion-based learning is one of the avenues through which we might achieve the radical personalization of learning that KnowledgeWorks’ Forecast 3.0 implies. And since we don’t know what jobs will look like down the road, I prefer to emphasize such transferable skills over direct job preparation.
Nonetheless, college costs significantly more than it did when I enrolled twenty-five years ago, and the digital revolution has since come into maturity. As traditional higher education cracks under the weight of escalating costs and alternative pathways, these kinds of analyses serve as important signals. With more and more learners and their families asking questions such as, “Is a four-year college worth the investment of time and money?” more individuals will start looking for highly customized solutions that meet their needs in becoming career ready.
At the same time, more and more employers are noting a skills gap among potential employees. They too will be asking questions about the value of traditional degrees, where they come from, and whether other kinds of career preparation programs might better meet their needs.
We have a lot of big questions and complicated issues to sort out in rethinking how higher education will work and how it relate to what we currently call K-12 education. In the meantime, analyses such as that conducted by the Brookings Institution (whose infographic summarizing the analysis may be found here) provide useful insight into how things are working (or not) today.
We have the honor of working with sites all over the country looking embrace the concept of collective impact and establish cradle to career civic infrastructure to achieve better outcomes for children. Unfortunately, the energy around this work has led to a new political challenge in many communities: jockeying among partners to become the “backbone”. In one community that reached out to us they noted they had NINE backbone organizations in the education space! As we all know, a body that has nine backbones is really going to struggle to move forward effectively. The same is the case for a community working to improve outcomes in a specific issue area like education. We fully embrace that a community may likely need multiple backbones for multiple issues – health, public safety, housing, education, etc. – but we strongly advise against having multiple backbones in just one issue area.
So how might we think about the different roles organizations looking to take up a leadership can play in order to capitalize on all of this interest? We have developed one way to think about this that has helped numerous communities find a way through this challenge. The visual below captures the concept at a high level, but the key is to differentiate between the role of backbone organizations and conveners. The primary difference is that a single backbone entity is needed to help support the overall development of civic infrastructure to have collective impact. Conveners, on the other hand, are focused on working with the relevant partners – practitioners and other interested stakeholders – to build comprehensive and data driven outcomes around a single outcome along the continuum. See a summary of the roles in the visual below:
The Role of the Backbone
The key roles of a backbone organization are outlined in detail below. Before going into the roles, it is important to note that while the backbone is often perceived as a position with the most power in a collective impact effort, it is most effectively played by an entity that embraces the principles of servant leadership. In essence, the backbone needs to play a very quiet and behind the scenes role, lifting up others who are doing the work so they get the well deserved credit for the data-driven work they are doing on the ground to support children. In the end, an entity willing to take this servant oriented stance – instead of being more visible – will be able to play the following roles much more effectively as partners across all sectors and at all levels will feel respected for the contributions to the partnership vision:
- Connect and Support Leaders: The core function of the backbone is to ensure leaders at all levels playing a variety of roles within the community keep the vision, mission, and outcomes of the partnership front and center when making major decisions. This takes regular meetings with any and all key stakeholders that contribute to the vision so they feel supported by the work of the partnership instead of threatened. This also means addressing political fires that that regularly emerge when partners are struggling to communicate or unexpected drama emerges in the press.
- Establish the Data Management Infrastructure: At an early meeting in a community we have partnered with to take on this work, one of the funders in the core group of leaders was almost in a state of shock at the end of the civic infrastructure overview. It turned out she was worried that she and her peers were going to be asked to pay for data experts and systems to work in each and every individual non-profit and related partner in town. But she quickly realized the backbone enables you to avoid such an expense by centralizing the development of the data management system and supporting partners to help collect, manage, and report data effectively.
- Advocate for Technical Support: As practitioners work together to build action plans, invariable challenges emerge related to items such as engaging key partners, getting access to data and other key resources, and challenges communicating the work. The backbone can help advocate with leaders to help address the issues or offer technical supports like facilitation or experts from the business community to help overcome what can seem like small, yet show stopping hurdles.
- Marshal Investments: When The Strive Partnership was started in Cincinnati, we heard from directors of non-profits that many spent over 90 percent of their time fundraising. Over time, as action plans emerge from practitioners to improve specific outcomes, the backbone can help reduce this burden on individual providers by advocating with public and private investors to support comprehensive and cohesive action plans where each partner plays a clearly defined role.
The Role of the Convener
The convener, on the other hand,plays a much more specific and frequently more visible role in building action plans. Because practitioners are looking to bring attention to their work, the convener can be out front with the work they do to help develop comprehensive action plans because it will invariably raise awareness both for the importance of the work and the contributions of the partners. So entities looking to be more visible and play a leadership role may very well be better positioned to become a convener to do the following:
- EngagePractitioners – Practitioners have more than enough work to do on a daily basis that adding the work of a network initially can be burdensome. The convener can focus more on the specific needs of practitioners to actively engage in this work, while ensuring they are willing and able to use data to shape their individual and collective action plans. In the end, the convener is focused on making it as easy as possible for partners to actively engage, helping them to overcome specific obstacles, and ensuring the necessary incentives are in place to make this worth their while.
- Facilitate Multi-Sector Networks – Once Networks are formed with practitioners and other relevant stakeholders to focus on a specific outcome, expert facilitation is needed to ensure the partners use data to build an action plan that is focused on scaling what works. Conveners help to ensure this support is in place, often in the form of expert facilitation, so the Network stays focused and develops an action plan the full partnership can advocate for among a host of critical local and national stakeholders.
- Update Action Plans – Once the action plan is completed, it can’t just sit on a shelf. It is critical to update the plan every time new data becomes available to inform decisions around what is working to improve the outcomes the partnership has embraced. It is this continuous improvement of action plans that leads to the long-term, disciplined use of data that is at the heart of making civic infrastructure valuable.
It is important to note that in each of these roles, the backbone and the convener, the entities in question must be a) un-biased toward specific partners or strategies, b) willing to use data to drive decisions and navigate the many challenges that come with such a role, and c) have resources to fund the basic staffing roles needed to do the work. This can often narrow the pool of potential players to fill these roles. But if partners can meet these criteria, they can find a way to lead. Not everyone has to be the backbone. In the end, given the state of the outcomes most communities hope to move, there are plenty of leadership roles to play to realize the improvements we all so desire.
 See definition in “Collective Impact” by Kania and Kramer at http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact/
As I talk to more and more people about competency education, the concept makes sense to them intellectually. Students advance when they’ve mastered the material. Students have control over their learning, making the actual experience of learning more meaningful. Exams are no longer things to lose sleep over; rather, they are seen as valuable feedback tools enabling students to get the supports they need. And, finally, learning isn’t about facts and figures but deeply understanding material in order to apply and transfer it. Yes, this all makes sense.
But when you think about how this might look in a school, classroom, or in the life of a student that vision becomes less clear. How do students really move at their own pace? How are teachers able to truly provide differentiated support to each and every student each and every day? What do report cards look like? How do colleges feel about accepting students from competency-based systems?
If you have these questions about competency education, I would encourage you to check out the Center for Best Practices at the Maine Department of Education. Supported by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the Center for Best Practices was created to focus on research and reporting as Maine transitions to proficiency-based diplomas. Serving as a “clearinghouse of materials, support and case studies related to learner-centered instructional practices,” Don Siviski and Gary Chapin have pulled together a ton of great material around the implementation of competency education in Maine including case studies, videos, and other resources. I wrote about the RSU 2 case study in CBEpalooza and wanted to share a video from RSU 16 about learner-centered literacy that I thought was particularly impactful.
If you want to learn more about what competency education looks like as it’s being implemented, the Center for Best Practices at the Maine Department of Education is a great place to start.
More testing! Give them IPads! More teacher accountability! Vouchers! Did I mention IPads and testing? If you’ve paid any attention to the rhetoric of education, you have surely heard these plans. But what you haven’t heard is how we are going to address the needs of children. Sure, technology must enter the equation, but rushing to be the first school with IPads isn’t the answer, especially when there isn’t a plan to integrate them in a meaningful way. More testing simply takes time away from actual instruction, and in no way helps prepare kids for future endeavors.
Four EDWorks Fast Track early college high schools have been recognized by US News and World Report as Bronze Medal award winners in the 2013 “Best High Schools” issue:
- Akron Early College High School
- Dayton Early College Academy (DECA)
- Toledo Early College High School
- Youngstown Early College (YEC)
These four schools are among four we started working with more than nine years ago as part of the Ohio Early College initiative with KnowledgeWorks.
Andrea Mulkey, EDWorks’ national director of Fast Track, said the US News and World Report acknowledgement is a testament to the perseverance and hard work of teachers, administrators, parents and students.
For more information about EDWorks Fast Track approach, read our white paper, “A National College Completion Agenda.”
President Obama visited Manor New Technology High School
a guest post by Joseph Scheerer, Executive Director, Superintendents’ National Dialogue
Recently a group of school executives from the Superintendents’ National Dialogue (SND) scheduled a meeting in Cincinnati to learn more about the latest forecast on the future of learning developed by KnowledgeWorks. Katherine Prince, Senior Director of Strategic Foresight introduced the work with a quote from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
Unlike Twain’s Hank Morgan, none of us experienced a knock on the head that produced fun fanciful musings with cloudy imagery open to multiple interpretation but lacking in practicality. Instead Katherine challenged us to focus on five well-grounded disruptions to American culture that will change how we learn. Throughout the dialogue, I kept thinking about Twain’s quote and realized that this experience was different in that we were not, as we often do, trying to shoot holes in someone’s ill-crafted view of the future. Rather Katherine expected us to calibrate our thinking as it wrapped around solid but unfamiliar trends.
This distinctive experience gave me a new appreciation for Twain’s observation, and I left with the following discernments:
- We too often hold fast to those things that we believe are true, and we think our choices are limited to only what we can see. The SND network is made up of individuals willing to call long-held beliefs into question and expand choices.
- Massive amounts of information fill our environment, but we only have the conscious capacity to be aware of a small amount because we filter out what is important to us at the moment. The struggle is how to transcend the moment without disengaging from reality.
- I kept asking myself, “Can I really know what lies before me if I am so accustomed to seeing only what I already believe?” One session with Katherine made me realize that I am too myopic and that widening my belief structure is an ongoing process. For me, this means more sessions so that my belief structure captures and holds the understanding that combining resources will shape shareable cities and leverage customizable value webs. This means more than a one-time feel good session; it means a continual commitment to grow – it means work.
- Data is providing a greater understanding of cognition and motivation along with more robust feedback systems, and all of this leads toward a more personalized learning ecosystem. This is consistent with the transformation called for in the vision statements of a number of leading states.
- The learning ecosystem will experience greater diversification of structure and funding. Once again, the work of leading state associations accepts the change in both structure and funding as a given because the successes of the past are no longer enough.
- How well you respond to challenges is affected directly by your focus, and focus is what you are aware of and what you choose to do or not do. Those in the SND network that have a written vision statement are better able to stay on task and work systematically toward achieving their goals. In addition, they can imagine how the disruptions outlined by KnowledgeWorks are more than possible; they are already here.
The SND attendees were not asked to dream only to awaken to questionable images, but rather were asked to focus on thoughtful realities resulting from changing societal parameters. Education cannot be thought of as immune to change, and educators can no longer simply object to change. Instead, they must lead with a vision for the future.
It is clear from the disruptions identified by KnowledgeWorks that community resources will combine in new ways. Educators will no longer have to shoulder the entire burden for learning, but they will have to formulate the vision that will draw communities together. KnowledgeWorks’ Forecast 3.0 provides an essential view of critical trends giving all readers/participants knowledge of the challenges, a common framework and language, and a concise understanding of expected outcomes.
I believe that all of us who engaged in the dialogue with Katherine and other KnowledgeWorks staff left emboldened to lead in the creation of a vision for the future of public education. That vision will focus our efforts on an achievable image. Selecting the right partners is a critical step in the entire process. KnowledgeWorks has a commitment to excellence and an open and receptive approach to what is possible, and is mission driven to continually push the edge, making it an ideal partner for those educators working on building a vision for the future because they will gain greater focus and be able to trust more strongly what they see.
President Obama’s visit to Manor New Technology (STEM) High School this week near Austin, Texas afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend and Austin sage, who shared this observation:
It is remarkable what a little money and encouragement can do. Before Samsung, that school district was broker than a third-tier country singer with laryngitis. Its achievement measures were in the dumper. This project has paid off big time.
After grinning hard at my friend’s clever turn of a phrase, the thing that immediately struck me the most was the impact of his “little money and encouragement” reference.
Manor New Tech is a member of the 120-school New Tech Network, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, a social enterprise which is working to create sustainable improvement in student readiness for college and careers. Because someone (in this case, Samsung, Educate Texas, and other key partners) believed that kids from an economically depressed area could learn with the right support, and because of New Tech’s innovative approach to learning, six years later a sitting president came to town touting great results.
It’s not that simple, of course, because change is never easy – especially in education. And learning in New Tech Network schools is about as untraditional as it comes. Visitors can peer through glass walls into classrooms. It’s noisy. Teachers and students are milling about, with teachers acting more as coaches and mentors, and students working in teams on laptops or tablets. Students remain engaged and remember why they learn what they learn because lessons are based on real-world knowledge and outcomes.
This kind of change takes human will, great leadership, and the collaborative efforts of many. It takes the merger of pedagogy, public policy and free enterprise to finally see success. New Tech Network schools have been able to bridge constituencies and implement innovation in education on the ground. As New Tech President Lydia Dobyns wrote in a Huffington Post column about the visit and the impact New Tech is making in education: “At New Tech schools, we have found a way to close the achievement gap regardless of whether students reside in urban, suburban, rural or underserved areas. Our 2013 Student Outcomes Report offers compelling evidence that the vision we have to transform schools within public school districts is being realized.”
President Obama has called for a $300 million high school redesign initiative in his FY14 budget to ensure that America’s high schools prepare students for success in college and our work force. On the ground, that looks like Manor New Tech and any of a number of other schools, including successful Fast Track early college high schools developed by EDWorks – one of which, Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology early college high school – was mentioned in the president’s State of the Union Address.
Our job is to continue to show lawmakers and others evidence that innovative education initiatives can succeed in all environments, and also to show them a pathway to make it happen.
No one loves a happy ending more than me. Today was a personal once-in-a-lifetime movie moment: I welcomed President Obama to Manor New Technology High School. Before the president spent 45 minutes with students showing off Project Based Learning, I got to engage in a conversation with him about the kind of innovation taking place in 100+ public school districts across New Tech Network.
President Obama will visit Manor New Tech, a school in the New Tech network, as part of his “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity” tour (read our press release about the visit here). As the parent organization of New Tech Network, KnowledgeWorks is a proud participant in supporting schools creating sustainable improvement in student readiness for college and careers. Manor New Tech is one of those “demonstration” schools that New Tech and KnowledgeWorks have often showcased to politicians, school administrators and journalists interested in reframing the education discussion. Although I haven’t visited Manor I did meet some of their students when they joined us during our core conversation at SxSW in 2011 about the confluence of technology and education.
For Lydia Dobyns, President of New Tech, this visit represents “A Lifelong Yearning Answered” and I imagine it is a momentous day for these students as well.
I hope to post some pictures later today so check back on the World of Learning blog or our Facebook page.
I shrieked and was glad that I was not driving. My husband’s eardrums have nearly recovered. You know how the visualization suggestion goes: Dream big dreams and watch what happens. The phone call that caused me to scream confirmed that the president---THE President—was going to visit one of our schools. That was a shriek-worthy moment in itself. But then the real miracle happened the voice on the phone said “and we want you to be there. “
Kick Start Your Staff Morale with K-TECH (Part 4): Three Tips for Making Connections to Improve Staff Morale and Performance
Know | Trust | Empower | Connect | Honor
Recently a school leader posted a question on LinkedIn asking how to boost morale with staff during challenging times. My immediate response was to share the K-TECH framework because it helps build the foundation for a safe and purposeful classroom for everyone– students and staff. K-TECH is the acronym EDWorks’ uses for integrating characteristics of a safe and purposeful school environment into overall school improvement. K-TECH is aligned with major youth development initiatives including Josepshon Institute’s Six Pillars of Character and Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets. K-TECH was originally created by Ohio’s Center for Essential School Reform as part of its Framework for Building Safe and Serious Schools. While we often talk about K-TECH in reference to improving school climate for students, these same strategies can be applied to building relationships with and effectively motivating staff.
In this five part blog, EDWork’s Manager of Partnership Development and Technical Assistance Coach Michele Timmons shares ideas for implementing K-TECH as a strategy for building morale and creating a community of adult learners who can truly meet the needs of the children they serve.
Last month we highlighted E- Empowering Staff to Lead, Change and Grow Together.
Today’s focus is C- Making Connections to Improve Morale and Performance
Empowering Staff to Lead, Change and Grow Together.
William Daggett’s research clearly shows rigor, relevance and relationships are critical for academic success. Dan Pink identifies autonomy, mastery and purpose as key drivers for motivating staff. Making connections is at the heart of the work of both men.
But what does this look like for school staff? How will making connections increase both job performance and staff morale?
Tip #1: Connect Professional Learning to Individual Staff Needs
- Avoid generalized professional learning where every staff member has to ‘sit through’ training which is irrelevant or distantly connected to their actual work. Instead, develop a combination of online, blended and face to face training personalized to meet individual staff needs.
- When presenting topics such as Common Core State Standards implementation, be sure to clearly demonstrate how the strategies can be used across content areas.
- Provide professional learning opportunities for every staff member so all staff continue to grow as individuals and members of your school’s team. Training for paraprofessionals, office staff and custodial / maintenance staff are often overlooked but are just as important to how a school functions as teachers and leaders.
Tip #2: Connect Personally with Staff Members
- Make time to talk one-on-one with all staff members. Do you know them as a person? Do you know what is important to them beyond the school day? If not – make the time. The more people believe you care about them as a person; the more likely they will go the extra mile to make your school an amazing place to learn and grow.
- Thank them for a job well done. It is just as important for adults to be praised and thanked as it is for kids. When staff believe they are important and someone notices the good things they do it makes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Tip #3: Connect Staff with Community
- Community members don’t really understand what goes on in schools and oftentimes school staffs don’t truly understand the real world applications of their content. Consider creating a school version of job shadowing where business and community members spend time in classrooms shadowing teachers and learning more about their role. Seek business partners to offer teachers externship opportunities so teachers can learn new ways of helping students see the connection between content and ‘the real world’.
- Collaborate with business partners to co-create inquiry based units with staff. This helps both the industry professional and the educator develop long lasting relationships which will foster future innovation and partnerships.
What strategies are your strategies for making connections? How does making connections increase both job performance and staff morale?
Check back next month for Part Five of EDWorks’ five-part series on implementing K-TECH as a staff morale strategy. You can also still check out earlier articles in this series:
- K- Knowing Your Staff Better
- T- Building a Sense of Trust
- E- Empowering Staff to Lead, Change and Grow Together
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When I shared KnowledgeWorks’ forecast on the future of learning with ASCD’s board in February, a strand of the conversation began to suggest that there wouldn’t be as much of a place for people to support learning because we will have so many digital tools for mediating, supporting, and delivering learning. Since that time, I’ve continued to reflect on how critical skilled people will be in an expanded learning ecosystem.
Yes, we will – and do already – have tools for helping learners and their families identify the learning experiences that meet their needs, reflect their interests, and support their goals. Aristotle Circle does this kind of digital brokering for learners as young as kindergarten age. The Noodle search engine focuses solely on education because there are already so many learning options that it’s hard for people to find them using a general search engine.
And of course many of those learning options already involve digital delivery, all or in part, opening the way for educators not just to develop new ways of relating to students and supporting learning, but also to define new kinds of jobs that make sense in those environments. The continuing expansion of high-quality open education resources available through platforms such as Khan Academy, TED-Ed, and WikiEducator is opening possibilities for independent learning while challenging traditional uses of classroom time.
Teacher and faculty roles will face continuing challenge and redefinition as freely available resources increase in quality and production value, taking us beyond the rise of rock star teachers that we’ve been seeing via MOOCs such as Coursera and Udacity toward Hollywood-quality learning environments that integrate multiple digital media formats. Such environments are already challenging institutional roles and boundaries and suggesting that content delivery will become an ever-lesser aspect of many educators’ roles.
Lastly, as learning providers get smarter about corralling data about learners’ academic performance, social conditions, and well being into easily understood learning analytics and dashboards, we’ll have more and more tools available to support learners and educators in selecting and fine tuning learning experiences and supports. Adaptive learning platforms such as Knewton and analytical tools such as Desire2Learn Insights are beginning to compile and contextualize digital information to help people direct and understand learning.
As the learning ecosystem becomes ever more complex and varied, individuals are going to need support in designing and making decisions around learning. Some of that support will come from digital tools. And some of it will come from specialized educators, or learning agents, who help guide learners, coach them along their chosen learning pathways, interpret relevant data, and support learning in ways that we can’t imagine today.
Yes, the future learning ecosystem will be digitally mediated, with many of its nodes and supports integrating digital tools in fundamental ways. But they’re our tools, for us to put to use for our purposes. Jobs will change. New roles will emerge. Learners will have more options. But people will remain at the heart of learning. Learners should be at the center. With a host of specialized learning agents nearby.
As highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article earlier this year, the University of Wisconsin will, come fall of 2013, be the first public university in the U.S. to offer competency-based degrees and certificates. Targeted toward working adults and degree completion students, the program will enable students to progress by demonstrating mastery, whether they have attained it through traditional college courses, online instruction, work experience, or some other avenue. They will start whenever they want, take assessments when they feel ready, and progress at their own pace.
The first cohort of its Flexible Option program will include a bachelor’s degree for registered nurses, degree completion in diagnostic imaging, a Bachelor’s in Information Science and Technology, and a Certificate in Professional and Technical Communication. University of Wisconsin Colleges will also be offering competency-based general education courses in fields ranging from biology to psychology to exercise science and athletics to women’s studies to English to art to music.
As the Wall Street Journal article put it, the university is “decoupling the learning part of education from student assessment and degree-granting.” As such, it is one of a handful of institutions blazing the trail toward reconsidering the role of institutions in credentialing learning. KnowledgeWorks’ Forecast 3.0 highlights de-institutionalization as a key disruption that will reshape learning over the next decade.
With learning experiences diversifying, the need for continuous career readiness growing, and the trend toward organizing without organizations to pursue work and other productive activity, the role of today’s institutions in brokering and credentialing learning promises increasingly to be called into question. Existing institutions will need to define distinct, and often multiple, value propositions to attract students who will expect to be able to learn what they want when they want and who will increasingly turn away from limiting structures.
So what does it take to implement competency education within an existing university? As described on the Flexible Option website, three advisory groups are steering the transition:
• A Faculty/Instructional Academic Staff advisory group is developing principles for quality, competencies, assessments, and levels of mastery, as well as identifying an ongoing oversight role for faculty as UW Flexible Option programs are developed.
• An Administrative Advisory group is working through infrastructure issues and assisting in the development of a business model.
• An Academic and Student Support group is assisting in the development of the operational mechanisms and support needed to allow students to enroll and progress in UW Flexible Option programs.
On the student support side, a team of success coach advisors will help students plan and manage their learning journeys. These success coach advisors seem similar to the learning journey mentors that KnowledgeWorks’ 2020 Forecast imagined helping students create and navigate their learning itineraries.
UW’s Flexible Option program, and the transition to it, highlight just some of the possibilities for redesigning learning experiences and their credentialing to create a vibrant learning ecosystem comprised of many viable options, each of which will suit some students some of the time.