Friday, April 27, 2018

The Frog in the Water

The boiling frog is a fable describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death (Wikipedia)

However, the point of the fable has merit.  Often when individuals are engaged in the world of work over a long period of time they often miss the subtle changes that occur.  One day, they suddenly notice that things are different and they are left wondering, "when did THAT happen?"  

I believe many of us who have been employed in the higher education field have continued to work and may have missed the subtle shifts that have occurred. While many of us now believe various challenges and trends are part of a new landscape or accountability movement in higher education, they really represent eight (8) significant paradigm shifts that we should consider.  Over the next few blogs we will explore those shifts.  Lets consider the first two.  

Shift # 1:  A shift from a focus on teaching to student learning.  As I began my career in higher education I was involved in program evaluation.  That process included looking at the sequence of the curriculum to ensure that content was scaffolded in a way that introduced students from basic knowledge to every deepening knowledge.  Today, we focus on student learning and the examination of evidence to seek whether or not students have mastered the learning outcomes that are sequenced throughout the curriculum.  

Shift # 2:  A shift from grades to demonstrated mastery of skills.  Twenty-nine years ago when I began teaching in higher education, our end of the year department meetings focused on discussions about how grades were assigned in our courses.  We were very aware of the Bell Curve and how the majority of our students should fall in the middle while only 5% should receive high or low marks.  Every teacher assigns grades a bit differently.  Consequently, an A in one course may not represent identical learning or achievement in another course.  

Employers are more concerned about what skills, knowledge and dispositions a student can demonstrate.  Consequently, employers are less focused on someone's grade point average (GPA) and much more focused on what experiences and skills a person can demonstrate during an interview.  Correspondingly, community colleges are beginning to focus more upon "micro-credentials" as a means of demonstrating student learning.  These industry recognized achievements are fast becoming much more desired by employers.  Consequently, this shift should push higher education toward a greater focus on outcomes than course completions and grades.  

The first two shifts in higher education are closely related.  Further, they are important when one considers the larger discussion in the public square and media about the value of higher education and whether or not paying high tuition is worth the time and investment.  After my graduation from college, my degree represented the knowledge and skills that I was expected to have and the name of the college from which I graduated meant quality to employers.  Today, with the exception of a few institutions of higher education, industry recognized credentials and certifications linked to tests and skill demonstration is becoming more important to employers 

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