6 take aways from my “world tour” in September

Written by: Christine Geith

Primary Source: Christine Geith

Many of you have asked me to share more broadly some of the things I’m doing “behind the scenes” at MSUglobal – so, here’s my first attempt – let me know what you think. (This one is a bit long, but September was a big month!). I originally sent this around via email to a few colleagues and many suggested it also be a blog post – so here is a slightly edited version.

September took me around the world from Cape Town, to Australia, to New Mexico, to Seattle to California. I expected to return with a buoyant bag full of fresh ideas.  Instead, I am fired up with frustration – frustration about where we’re heading as an “industry” and deep concern about the prevailing definition of quality. Here are 6 take aways:

#1 Funders are seeking solutions that are data-driven and faculty “lite”

I’ll start with the annual Gates Foundation convening of its education grantees in Seattle. I was invited to speak about institutional innovation. Stephen Thomas was there for his Foundations of Science MOOC and Vennie Gore was there for the pending funding for the Neighborhood initiative.  Bill Gates spoke to us about his passion to find the hard data showing all the variables that lead to education “success.” Many of those in the crowd of 300 are funded to find and model these variables. His not-so-inspiring mantra was “Malaria is easier to solve than education.”

Many others in the convening crowd are funded to develop personalized adaptive learning tools and competency-based credentials – these are road-tested methods for defining and assessing learning outcomes if you’re building data-driven systems. That crowd now also includes three former Gates Foundation insiders leading startup initiatives with Gates funding (see PortMont College and Civitas Learning). Higher education leaders I’ve worked with during the past twenty years are seeing their visions come to fruition. However, I departed Seattle pondering what’s beyond this current phase of mechanization. It appears to be a phase that we need to go through in order to see what it is we’re missing in the magic formula to degree attainment.

#2 Accreditation is data-driven and faculty “lite”

My Gates experience was followed by an accreditation visit to a private non-profit institution that uses all hybrid and online delivery. This visit, like the two I’ve done for similar institutions, are examples of the Gates (and Lumina and New America, etc.) vision in action: low-cost, high-retention, high-placement, industry-focused credentials with quality systems demonstrating continuous data-driven decision making around aligned course, program, and institutional learning outcomes.  Whew! Assuring student identity? – check. Assuring credit hour consistency? – check. No fraudulent recruitment practices? – check. Student satisfaction? – check. But wait – what about the co-curricular programs? What about the traditional markers of faculty culture? Barely there – and NOT required for accreditation.

#3 It’s here: an accredited, financial-aid approved associate’s degree from a 4-year university in 90 days

At the NUTN conference in New Mexico where I spoke about Translational Scholars, I learned of an important “existence proof” of the power of all of this: the president of Southern New Hampshire University reported that a student earned his associate’s degree in 90 days! Makes you think, doesn’t it? Prior learning assessment and competency-based credentialing are powerful enablers.  But, enablers of what exactly?

#4. It’s time to focus on credentialing our reputation, not credits

This brings me to my time as a visiting scholar at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. Under the leadership of Jim Taylor, USQ has been a pioneer of new scalable approaches in distance delivery, open educational resources and most recently of open access credentials. I’ve visited there twice in the past.  Before I came to MSU, I visited USQ for due diligence on a global education services company they incubated that served the Global University Alliance in China. Around 2005, I visited again with the founding director of the Open CourseWare Consortium exploring the open credentialing concept that is now launching next month as OER University. This time, Ken Udas, USQ’s Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Services & CIO (formerly the CEO at UMass Online and Penn State World Campus) invited me to share what we’re doing at MSUglobal with open knowledge and research.  One of many interesting conversations was recorded on video where we talked about the methods and meaning of credits and credentials. Adrian Stagg, doctoral candidate and elearning designer at USQ, and I wrote this up in a short article for Evolllution which includes a link to the video.

#5 Emerging knowledge creates new models for learning along with it

Lastly, my first stop on the world tour was Cape Town, South Africa. Here I presented in a workshop at the INTERACT human computer interaction conference on the intersection of urban informatics and urban agriculture. I was joined by fellow Global Innoversity members  Francis Wambalaba from Nairobi and Angus Campbell from Johannesburg. This is one of those juicy emerging areas where I expected to find, and did find, new ideas for learning. Our workshop worked with the founders of one of the first community gardens there to brainstorm neighborhood-scale solutions using mobile technologies.

#6 Learning data from universities like MSU is critical to the national definition of quality – but we need to measure our “intangibles”

As for what I’m doing with the “productive frustration” coming out of my travel – well, SpartanCorps is one initiative as well as the assessment toolkit that goes along with it. We talked about this at our annual Igniting Innovation event.  I believe that experiential learning holds some of the answers to what’s missing in the current definition of quality. At MSUglobal, we think we can make a special contribution when it comes to helping make learning more visible so faculty have data to demonstrate both the intended and especially the unintended learning outcomes of these powerful experiences. That’s a start.

Thank you for reading and I welcome your comments.  – Chris

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Christine Geith
What my LinkedIn profile doesn’t tell you: I’ve been fortunate to help found two pioneering university departments for online learning and I’ve helped co-create about a dozen organizations – from airline supply and computer training to 4 non-profit education technology organizations. I was a founding board member of a global for-profit education services company and I’m an advisor for edtech startups. I serve as Provost and Executive Director of Michigan State University MSUglobal Knowledge and Learning Innovations MSUglobal. I’m an artist creating nature-inspired paintings with acrylics and digital light on my iPhone and iPad. I’m also a bio energy healing practitioner and president-elect of the National Association for Esoteric Healing.