Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dying to Learn Together

In the run up to the dotcom boom and bust, Cindy Miles and I published an article called Are you Dying to Use Technology. In the piece we made the case that you could track many faculty members’ adoption of technology along Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of death and dying. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance were everywhere, as the uses of E-mail, PowerPoint, and the Web were driving toward the mainstream.

Casey Green’s annual survey of higher education’s adoption of technology—the Campus Computing Survey—is pretty clear that these basic technologies have arrived. Indeed, over the last fifteen years, we have moved technology and technology leaders from the basement to the boardroom (literally in some cases). Most campuses now employ a chief technology officer and target an increasing amount of their infrastructure budgets toward technology.

This technology mainstreaming notwithstanding, conversations about technology are changing. Folks today are not wondering whether their colleges will leverage technology, but whether or not they are getting a true return on investment—is student learning really being improved with all these bits and bytes. And it’s not just about technology use. There are national, state, and local dialogues about all of our administrative and academic strategies and their effectiveness.

Enter a whole new phase of “dying to use” adoption. This time, it’s about research and analytics, the use of data to inform decisions about reaching and teaching students, or evidence-based education. The beginnings of this movement can be traced back to the days of total quality management and then the learning revolution. Terry O’Banion’s A Learning College for the 21st Century is the seminal work in the latter movement. In this book and in speeches nationally and internationally, he argued that colleges in the future would need to consistently and doggedly answer two key questions: (1) do our policies, procedures, and practices improve and expand learning?; and, more important, (2) how do we know?

As I’ve noted here before, groups like the Community College Survey of Student Engagement have begun to collect data directly from students, and use national benchmarks, to try to answer these questions. Projects like the Lumina Foundation’s Achieving the Dream are pulling colleges together to develop common data definitions (e.g., what is a full-time student, part-time student, course success) so they can start using common data across multiple institutions to really get a handle on what works in driving access and success in community colleges. The Education Testing Service (ETS) recently held a summit in Charlotte called Building a culture of Evidence from the Ground Up that explored these programs and others in community colleges. The reports from the presenters noted that it is hard, but incredibly substantial and rewarding work. It really is making a difference.

CCSSE, Achieving the Dream, and ETS Summits are happening in the context of accrediting agencies demanding plans from institutions to define and measure learning outcomes as part of their accreditation reviews. Moreover, the federal government is beginning to poke—and poke hard—at our use of data with reports like the one recently published by the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Not surprisingly, we are beginning to see the movement of institutional research tools and personnel from in-the-shadows staffers to center stage.

Because of the push from programs and the powers that be, folks are once again feeling like they are “dying to adopt” something new—this time it is analytics and data use. All stages can be seen, sometimes in different people, sometimes in the same person over time: (1) Denial: “These data cannot be right!” (2) Anger: “Don’t these **#$@ administrators have anything better to do!” (3) Bargaining: “We can measure passing, but we’ll never really measure learning” (4) Depression: “I think it may be time to retire”, to (5) Acceptance: “I wonder what these data really mean?”

However, as was the case with technology, we’re always better if we don’t drive this as a fad or as a top-down directive. We really don’t have to slam people through stages of death and dying. The folks at CCSSE, ATD, and ETS note that we’re much better off inviting faculty and staff to the table and inviting them to help shape the process.

For example, Steve Mittlestet at Richland College in Dallas Texas—a college that recently became the first institution of higher education in the country to receive the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award—states that his college focused first on building a culture that valued learning together. He cautions colleagues that when beginning to do work on analytics, outcomes, and data you have to stop the natural tendency to adopt a culture of blame (e.g., who is failing with these students!), and promote a culture of wonder (e.g., I wonder what we can do together to turn developmental math around?). Talented faculty members are trained to wonder. Give them good data, invite them to the table, and be willing to start the conversation. When we can substantially improve student learning in the process, this can be a compelling conversation indeed!

Learning together is never easy. But, it’s at the heart of quality work in the academy. To do our part in the process, NISOD will be hosting an analytics summit at our annual conference in May 2007. We set this kind of stage because we know that talented teachers strongly believe in the CASE method—Copy And Steal Everything. Folks who care deeply about reaching and teaching students have always enjoyed learning together, always enjoyed the task of tackling tough problems with talented people. Now, with better information at our fingertips, we’ll have more tools in the toolkit than ever before.

This time let’s make it clear, we’re not “dying to adopt” a new trend; but we are dying to learn together, so we can help our students learn for a lifetime.


Anonymous said...

As Gary Orfield of Harvard University's Civil Rights Project discussed on Thursday night and as your entry highlights, data reveals the serious needs of colleges and their students. As community college scholars and leaders, we must be open to dialogue and change. We must remain committed to open access and affordability, while promoting quality and successful outcomes for all students.

Mark David Milliron said...

Esmeralda, you're exactly right. Great teachers and leaders have always known the trick in education at all levels is to have both high standards and strong support for students. Moreover, it's mighty important to "know" that students are reaching these standards and that our supports are really meeting their needs!
Take care, Mark

Anonymous said...

The topic of instructional technology in the classroom has never been more important than it is now. The question is, how do resistant faculty move from the denial stage to the acceptance stage? Maybe the answer lies in their perspective on the use and value of instructional technology. In a time when colleges are refining curriculum to incorporate transferable work skills, some resistant faculty are not making the link between instructional technology in the classroom and the technology demands on the job site.

Due to the nature of academic/transfer courses, technology is not the focus of learning. Academic rigor tends to value course objectives related directly to measurable outcomes as listed in the syllabus. These outcomes are believed to be the determining factors, which predict students’ knowledge of the issues faced in a particular field of study. These outcomes revolve around terminology, theory and application of processes. But, what about the needs of our students to use technology in the workforce.

Nearly all of this conversation has been directed at whether the technology assists in the learning of the classroom material, either online or on-campus, and not on whether the use of the technology is an outcome within itself. We focus our attention on the instructor using the technology and not of the student’s mastery of it. More and more faculty members incorporate the technology into the classroom. However, how many of them do not grade the students on their proficiency in maneuvering the Introduction to Business’ website, or how well their group in General Psychology used the functions of a Smartboard to deliver their Powerpoint presentation? Their concern is solely based on the students’ understanding the business principles and the psychological theories.

In classrooms, students learn how to maneuver internet websites, conduct a presentation on Smartboards, and use iPods or PDAs to download an assignment. All of these technologies are used in the classroom by faculty members. They are also the very same technologies used in the business world by our graduates. For example, an accounting student learns terminology related to account management, audits and so forth. Yet, many corporate accounting firms will have boardrooms where the accountants are expected to be able to use the aforementioned technologies to convey, manage and transmit their reports to their supervisors and clients.

In the same manner that community college faculty are using technology to assist in the delivery of their product, so will our students in the workforce. I contend the use of technology is less about being a “flashy” teacher and more about teaching tangible workplace skills across the curriculum. The ironic issue is that these technologies are seen as disposable gadgets to aid instructors in the delivery process. The use of instructional technology is not valued as a workforce skill within itself, unless you happen to be earning a masters degree in instructional technology.

Faculty who consistently venture outside the institution’s walls, are seeing a changing world where every career field is using similar technology to that found in community college classrooms. Faculty, who see the world as it incorporates the technology – indispensably - with the traditional academic objectives, are the ones who are most likely to change their perspective and reach the acceptance stage.
Like it or not, we no longer have a world where one can have the theoretical without the technological. If we truly want to prepare our students to be successful in the job market, we must view the use of classroom technology not only as an “instructional means” but also as an “educational outcome.”

Mark David Milliron said...

Phil, the technology is in many ways a "cost of operating" these days, particularly because of what you mention. It is almost a given that students will be using technology to work and play. However, what is interesting is watching the tough-minded (and I mean that in a good way) faculty leverage technology. They want to use it for the utility (whether to enhance experience or learning) not the novelty. Thankfully, these are the kinds of teachers that will easily avoid the "death by PowerPoint" problem that is concerning more and more students. Just as collaborative learning can be misapplied--just think of all of the useless small group exercises in your experience--so too can technology. Again, as you note, it's all about whether it improves learning!

Anonymous said...

I have worked in some capacity in the field of instructional technology for 24 years. I have observed that people adopt technology only when it makes sense to do so.

For faculty, it makes sense when they understand that it will make their job simpler or better, or both. From a teaching and learning perspective, this usually means that they believe it will either help their teaching or their students' learning, or both. From an operational perspective, it usually represents a personal investment of time to adopt technology, but again, the faculty do so when the investment appears to make them more productive in the long term.

Students embrace technology as customers, seeking tools that help them communicate, connect, or gather information. Often they are not concerned with memorizing content, but with the ability to locate information and share it, or synthesize new ideas.

The profound changes coming with technology are not about the use of Powerpoint, web sites, and cell phones. The changes involve a shift of our own perception and priorities of what learning is and how we evaluate it. As technology is increasingly capable of delivering content and connectivity, the emphasis will move toward measuring learning on the basis of the USE of knowledge and information rather than on the basis of RECALLING information. This will be a profound shift that affects our historical concepts of teaching and learning, and our historical paradigms for the organization and structure we call "school."

Critical thinking and creativity will be where the action is. It is where we will define learning and where we will focus our teaching. The transition in our time and effort toward this aspect of teaching and learning will likely be a strategic factor that helps our nation remain globally competitive.

Our nation's history of innovation has been the foundation for our continual evolution at the forefront of the business and research arenas. Our innovation has sustained us as we moved toward into each new frontier of knowledge and industry, while allowing prior technologies and industries to be moved to foreign nations.

The coming innovation in America's education systems will be enabled by technology, but the innovation itself will be defined in human and organizational terms. It will be rooted in our creative and problem-solving spirit, and our innate desire to operate at that cognitive level. It will be a national act of faith and courage for us to embrace a new way of thinking about structuring educational organizations and cultures, as we cautiously let go of long-standing ideas about "school."

It is only just beginning.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent conversation because it highlights the debate over community college mission and purpose in the 21st century.

Phil, you make an excellent point when you say this: "Faculty who consistently venture outside the institution’s walls, are seeing a changing world where every career field is using similar technology to that found in community college classrooms. Faculty, who see the world as it incorporates the technology – indispensably - with the traditional academic objectives, are the ones who are most likely to change their perspective and reach the acceptance stage."

That's what happened to me. Now look where I am! :) I have seen other very caring faculty want to work to meet the needs of students, but they feel conflicted over their purpose and the demands of the institution.

Faculty traditionally want to preserve the walls of academia because those walls have provided a safe haven for exploration and learning that is untainted by politics and economics. The 48% "academic" faculty (both ft & pt) are in community colleges often by default, not differentiating between community college mission and university mission, so the purpose of teaching to the job market is contradictory to the spirit of teaching for universal good.

I see the former as a concrete objective, the latter as an abstract objective.

As we know, per Esmi's comment, our students are already involved in the economic and political realities of the world, so trying preserve the academic walls may actually be a form of keeping students in the cave.

Instead, if we faculty incorporate the realities of 21st century corporate models, we can continue to provide the best service to our students, offering the bubble wrap Dr. Milliron talks about while recognizing the realities of student needs.

I am reading John Levin's new book, Community College Faculty: At Work in the New Economy. In this book, the "New Economy" is charged as a neo-liberal agenda that operates "at the expense of meaningful human activity." Assessment is considered one of the requirements of the New Economy, a corporatizing of the classroom, which is considered anathema to traditional learning. This is Levin, here, not me. It's fascinating because it shows the deep skepticism faculty have for the changes occuring.

The stages of grief are the stages of grieving over the lost academy. I wonder, however, if our "lost academy" is about as real as our "lost America"?

Mark David Milliron said...

Melissa, Interesting observations! You're getting at what Richard Florida and others have noted; that we are fundamentally overhauling our entire educational system (K-20), not just community colleges. I wonder if some academics at the dawn of the industrial age felt the same type of loss. Reports are that a good number of educational practitioners were none too happy about Land-Grant universities and the beginnings of universal high schools. New goals, new expectations, lots of change. It's probably a good idea for us to critically think our way through the process, however!

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts about embracing technology. First, I think that the critical point here is if administrators will have the ability to build a vision where technology is a key component of teaching and learning. The millennium students were born with technology and they learn better when they are exposed to it (we can see this with our own children). The second point is that globalization is real in all aspects of the economy, including education, and the big competition will be online training, if it is not already. Three years ago I saw a video showed by a group of researches from Baylor University. I believe the video was produced in Japan. I do not recall the title of the video but it was a fiction video about the future. What most impressed me was the Japanese vision of the future classroom. The students taking the class were not together, they were at home, at the park, on the street, and had a very small electronic device that produced a virtual screen, where they could see all their classmates and the professor, who only served as a moderator and observer. I am sure Japan is working in developing these electronic devices while I am writing. I believe the real technological challenges of community colleges are incredible and yet to come. We need to get ready to compete.