Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Finding balance for change in HE

There is so much more to college than the classes students attend. Many universities have freshman experience courses with mentors for groups of college freshmen to help them manage the transition to college life. Sports teams often have compliance officers but also individuals, often coaches, to help students manage the balance of sports and academics.

Higher education is changing, again. Universities are constantly having to adapt. Those that do not adapt will eventually fail. Those that no longer have relevance to potential students will eventually close.

I like tradition and I like history. I appreciate the value of some things that have been in place for years, even generations, and that still function as they need. I don't mind change but I do mind change for the sake of change. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Leslie Silvey wrote about technology and its value to and for higher education in her Echo360 blog post titled How Technology Can Tip the Scales for Higher Ed. At the risk of stealing her thunder should you read the entire blog post, Ms. Silvey closes with
It’s an exciting time for institutions to leverage technology to enhance teaching and learning and create a more satisfactory experience for students that doesn’t involve shuttering doors, losing the valuable knowledge of tenured professors, or rendering the value of a college degree obsolete.
Balance. I think so much of any hand-wringing and verbal jousting is about balance. I see articles and posts all the time about the latest and greatest "best" practice in education, one of the primary reasons I'm dismissive of the phrase "best practice." It can't be the "best" practice if something else trumps it. Anyway, I see article and posts touting the newest and most spectacular technology tool, resource, or strategy. The One True Thing that will make All of the Difference in the World! Which, of course, it won't or can't, and not just because the next one true thing that will make all of the difference in the world is just now being released by someone else. It's exhausting.

And so, balance.

In some classes, in some disciplines, for some professors the lecture may be effective, perhaps even the majority of class time. Even I doubt that, but it is possible. Because what we don't know without surveying and/or observing every single college educator, including adjuncts, is what they ask their students to do outside of class.

In some classes, in some disciplines, for some professors it may make sense to use a preponderance of technological whiz bang gizmos and gadgets. Because of what they're teaching and what they expect their students to learn.

For some universities, administrators working collaboratively with their faculty will help find that balance. And when administrators and faculty work collaboratively with the communities and businesses most served by their graduates, the balance will be even better because the faculty and the administrators will have a clearer communication feedback loop of what graduates will need to know and be able to do when they graduate.

If I were a faculty member today, I would want community and business leaders to keep me informed of the true trends they are experiencing and how those trends are informing the changes they need to make in their businesses to keep those businesses viable and valuable. To that end, I'd want opportunities to meet occasionally, formally and informally, with the folks and types of folks who are likely to hire my students.

So part of finding the balance is not just what the universities are doing--not just the changes that faculty are making in how they teach or their learning objectives or what and how they expect their students to learn; not just the changes that administrators are making to recruit, support, and retain students; not just the changes administrators and faculty are making to programs and curricula--but changes implemented by local and national businesses, and influences of global businesses and policies.

Successful, viable, relevant universities are not stand-alone entities. Their faculty are involved in their disciplines and the expectations of the direction of their disciplines; those changes and influences are not a surprise to them and, in fact, some faculty are informing those changes and are those very influences. Administrators are well aware of the faculty who are movers and influencers, even on smaller or more discrete levels, and also recognize that the university is part of the community in which it operates as well as part of the businesses and organizations that hire its graduates.

Universities are, or should be, part of an intricate web of individuals, communities, and other outside organizations. They are, or should be, constantly in flux and they will struggle to maintain balance when those outside organizations try to exert more than their fair share of influence.

Technology is a significant part of the university story, but only part of it.

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