Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Actually Measuring Learning

I am in the middle of reading DIY U: Edupunks,Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education (Kamenetz).  In discussing how certain universities are leveraging technology to re-envision the higher ed experience, Ms. Kamenetz refers to Western Governor's University (WGU).  WGU was formed a in the late 1990s when the governors of 19 Western states attempted to use the Internet to expand educational access to rural students.  Ms. Kamenetz shares that WGU has grown to include over 12,000 online students in all 50 state.

Quoted in the book is Bob Mendenhall, the president of WGU.  Mr. Mendenhall shared the following in talking about programs offered by WGU:

We do not have credit hours, we do not have grades.  We simply have a series of assessments that measure competencies, and then on that basis award the degree.

WGU started from scratch, convening external councils of employers like Google, Oracle, and Tenet Healthcare, along with academic experts.  We asked employers, what is it the graduates your are hiring can't do you wish they could?  We've never had a silence after that question.

Seems like a good idea- right?  Why not consult professionals when building programs of study?  Schools intend to prepare students to be successful for decades to come not just the next phase of their educational career.  Our courses should be influenced by the professional world.   Think about the question shared by Mr. Mendenhall.  Even the most well-intended schools/educators could be liable for failing to prepare students to successfully compete in intensifying global marketplace. 

WGU's convening of external councils supports the first statement regarding grades.  Schools should be building experiences around core proficiencies. Grades are a recognition that core proficiencies/competencies have been demonstrated.  Content is important and strong knowledge foundations needs to be erected.  However, what students need to be able to do and demonstrate should serve to anchor assessments and support the rewarding of credit.  The process to filter, curate and exhibit information encompasses core proficiencies students will require to compete for jobs at Google or oracle or even build companies to challenge current corporate giants.

A question worth considering is how do elements of WGU's philosophy trickle down into thinking about K-12 experiences and force educators, parents and students to critically evaluate the manner in which students are assessed.  Are we, in a meaningful way, determining growth?

If you have not read Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education,  I would encourage you to pick up a copy.  Anyan Kamenetz presents an intriguing look into higher education.  Additionally, other elements of the system develop by WGU are explored.