March 10th, 2012
is much talk and some truth about the decline in the employment value of the
college degree. Presumably, the talk about college degree devaluation
refers to colleges and universities outside the "elite” circle of institutions
whose names alone open doors. And presumably, the talk is not as much
about the 2-year technical and vocational degree as about the degree from a
four-year college or university.
even so, the "degree devaluation” views can reasonably be applied to a couple
of thousand American institutions (50 percent) and perhaps as large a
percentage of international institutions.
who do hire college graduates complain about those graduates’ abilities:
they can’t write, are not self-starters, don’t know how to work in teams, and
expect all tasks to be scaffolded for them. In other words, they have
learned to be passive learners and not active agents.
yet, at the same time that the value of the college degree is dropping, the
cost of that degree has reached an unsustainable level. We have two
coincident problems that seem paradoxical: the cost goes up when the
we have a double-barreled problem – costs of college increasing past the
breaking point and the degree dropping in value – an ideal approach to this
double-barreled problem would also be double-barreled.
a trend within higher education is already underway that addresses both
problems. That trend is toward "high-impact educational practices (HIPs).”
The name is from 1998 and I would prefer that they were called "high-impact
learning activities,” but I’m not going to split hairs. Shifting toward these
practices on a large scale could both improve the value of the degree and lower
the cost of getting the degree.
practices have been widely talked about. Before publication by AAC&U,
they were also validated in all learning settings.
the HIPs have been thought of, and were designed as, supplementary to the core
curriculum. Why should they not, instead, be a model for the core
curriculum? Randy Bass at Georgetown has been speaking about this
question for several years.
recently, many people in the eportfolio community have begun talking about the
dynamite pairing of HIPs with eportfolios. If you are doing an
internship, how great if you also use an eportfolio to evidence the value of
your internship? The same for undergraduate research or service learning
and other HIPS. How great if while involved in a learning community you
can also take advantage of the social pedagogy inherent in eportfolio?
Bret Eynon, Director of the Connect to Learning FIPSE Project is emphasizing
this in our work with 23 campuses in the U.S.
the core curriculum using student activity and ownership of learning as the
base criteria for design addresses the degree-value problem because active
students at stake for their own learning are – we believe – better prepared for
work today than passive learners who do not own their learning and who do not
have a stake in the success of their learning except upon graduation when it’s
cost issue can be addressed with a re-design toward authentic, experiential and
evidence-based learning. If students own their learning, if they are
working in teams, if they are not just listening to lectures, if they are in
fact at stake for their learning while in college, then we can start to see a
way to address higher-education’s cost issue. Students active in their
own learning necessarily implies a different role for teachers. There is
a multiplier effect in students taking charge of their own learning -- with
guidance from a teacher, a larger number of students can learn effectively than
with lecture. Lecture is not a scalable or especially effective default
learning practice. Active learning practices are.
conceivably, some students could graduate earlier than four years. If we
base a degree on achieving learning outcomes and not seat time, it is only
logical that some students will achieve those learning outcomes sooner than
others. Even in the lock-step curriculum model so prevalent today, some
students graduate early. Shortening the time to degree would save money
for some students.
far the highest percentage of the cost of running institutions of higher
learning is personnel. This cost drives everything. As state
governments withdraw funding from state-supported institutions, colleges and
universities have no alternative, with such a high fixed-cost base, but to
increase fees and tuition.
only people but their benefits are amazingly expensive. From a business
perspective, people cost is the major factor to consider in bringing down the
cost of education. Granted, those in higher education have been creating
online learning, automated learning, large lecture classes and other ways of
extending teacher-centered learning for decades. These efforts would seem
more hopeful if we all still believed in teacher-centered teaching as opposed
to teacher-guided learning.
more hopeful approach to reducing the cost and increasing the quality of
learning is to let the students – the learners – do the work of learning.
I don’t mean a free-for-all approach, but a curriculum design like problem-based
learning. When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to have an
amazingly enlightened teacher in social studies. Many of you reading this
may have had equally enlightened teachers along the way. In my case, when
we were scheduled to study the First World War, we did not listen to lectures
but instead were challenged with this question: "What caused World War
One?” We were split into teams and we had to come up with our own
hypotheses through research and then present these hypotheses to the class a
few weeks later.
can you answer the question about causality of the war without looking into the
history of WWI? How can you answer that question without puzzling about
what causes anything to happen? We knew the immediate "cause” was the
shooting of the Arch Duke, but we also knew that was not what our teacher was
hoping we’d find – if that was all that was expected of us, then why create the
looked at the situation in Europe, the issue of monarchies, and even the
question about What ever causes wars? We might have even looked at the
invention of gunpowder, but I just don’t remember. In other words, we
were learning the art and science of being an historian.
could I have known then that my social studies teacher was mentoring me for the
work I do today?
colleges and universities will not convert to a full curriculum transformation
to more active learning as quickly as is necessary until a crisis hits – or has
it already? – and enrollments start to drop. But, they can immediately do
one thing: allow students to do more of the work of learning. In my
high school class, we students did most of the work for three weeks of learning
about the First World War. In theory, our teacher could have gone down
the hall and got another class going on the same question. He could have
two classes running at the same time.
suggests a model of attracting more students to an institution while leveraging
teaching faculty more efficiently. If we had had electronic portfolios in
my high school, we could have captured evidence of our process of searching for
causes of WWI. Those electronic portfolios could have been evaluated by
anyone with expertise in history learning outcomes for our age. My
teacher could have been running two classes working on historical problems such
as ours and still not faced a doubling of grading responsibilities. Just
as, today, some eportfolios are being assessed and evaluated by professionals
and peers other than the teacher, my teacher could have been relieved of that
designs for active learning, a college or university could create an optional
and alternative curriculum toward the degree that is more student work
intensive and less faculty work intensive. Students could choose the
"active learning” curriculum or the standard curriculum. It is not so
unusual now for students to have more say in how they construct their degree,
and the idea of an optional alternate curriculum degree is either already in
operation in some places or as good as in operation.
organizing and management capabilities of information technologies make it much
easier to customize operations rather than requiring one lock-step program for
degree that is based on eportfolio evidence of active learning may not now
automatically get a college graduate in the hunt for a job to the next round of
resume-screening – although this may change in a few months as
electronic transcripts catch on and the attractiveness of an online resume with
links also catches on – but we should be clear that the move to digital records
is the HR direction underway now. (Already, HR people search applicant’s
activities on the Web as one data point for hiring decisions).
it is a good time for institutions of higher learning to be working on core
curriculum redesign or at least an alternate, optional curriculum design, that
we believe better prepares students for the world today. By the time
these alternate designs are adopted, the world will certainly be ready for
for the AAEEBL Northeast Regional ePortfolio Conference, March 23 (Friday) on
the beautiful Harborside Campus of Johnson & Wales University in Providence
RI. This is a one-day conference. The program
is interactive and features regional, national and international leaders in