Most read posts for 2010

This has been another wonderful year on this blog. Thanks for all your visits here and reading what I've been writing. Besides a jump in the number of subscribers to the RSS and email feeds, the number of visitors and pages viewed grew. Among all I wrote this year, here are the top twenty:

  1. How colleges are bad for our brains Our brains have not evolved to sit still in classrooms, to listen to lectures or to cram for tests. Most of academia works against how our brains function. This mismatch produces a wide spectrum of symptoms that are presumed to be isolated deficiencies of the learners. 
  2. A process for growing a new venture The process for growing a new venture is not something I could have written off the top of my head prior to now. It has emerged from writing about pitfalls in planning a new venture over the past two weeks.
  3. Tribal activity theory In his book Network - Theorizing Knowledge Work, Clay Spunizzi introduced me to Activity Theory. I was previously familiar with Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development and some facets of dialectical materialism, but not their combination in Activity Theory.
  4. Doing the wrong thing correctly When we're creating something new, we have a lot on our minds. It can be as small as a new web page or as comprehensive as launching a new start-up. Our minds naturally fixate on solving the immediate problems. 
  5. Wendell Berry's solving for pattern When I read the book Ecological Literacy several years back, I did not anticipate that Wendell Berry's essay on Solving for Pattern would stick with me endlessly. It remains one of the most profound essays I have ever read.
  6. Learning to formalize informal learning When we don't already know how to formalize informal learning, there's a lot to learn. We can welcome the challenge if the process of learning is informal enough to engage us. We can dread learning how to formalize informal learning if the process is too formal.
  7. Pitfalls in planning a new venture There are many ways for a business plan to be inadequate, ineffective or simply flawed. I intend to write up these pitfalls over the next two weeks, to clarify my own thinking about them and make sure I hold my evolving business plan to these standards.
  8. Open minded irrationality and Cynefin This morning I've been pondering how to overlay the Cynefin model with my new model of open and closed minds. It only took a slight rearrangement to access the explanatory power of the combined models. Here's some of what the mash-up revealed to me:
  9. Mind of a control freak - redux The last time I explored the mind of a control freak, I looked through the lens of inner turmoil and problematic self control. That write-up remains one of my most read posts in the past four years here. My current exploration of closed and open minds gives me a more detailed way to take a look at the mind of a control freak. 
  10. Setbacks in social business creation Last week on PBS I watched The New Recruits. Jeff Trexler, consultant to the production, has given us a valuable perspective on the "warts and all" documentary about Acumen Fund fellows launching social businesses. Last week, I also finished reading Muhammad Yunus's new book: Building Social Business. 
  11. Evaluating ourselves informally Informal learning makes it nearly impossible to give fair grades to process or outcomes, to score accurately or to objectively compare informal learners. When we adopt informal learning as I explored in Learning to formalize informal learning, we will also need to adopt informal evaluation schema.
  12. Emotions vs. feelings One of the many reasons we keep our minds closed is to keep a lid on our emotional turmoil. We've had bad experiences of our uncontrollable outbursts which teach us to suppress those urges diligently. These experiences give our irrational side a bad name. 
  13. Collaborative learning communities in health care In Chapter Six of The Firm as a Collaborative Community, contributing author: Michael Maccoby, explores a key premise of the book applied to health care. The book polarizes several distinctions, which remain unresolved by conventional models of organization , but could become integrated by collaborative communities:
  14. Funeral for higher ed Yesterday, the students at CU Boulder held a mock funeral as if all of higher ed is dying. They constructed a coffin and many protest signs with ingenious commentary like "higher ed is too young to die". They will take their demonstration to the state legislature in Denver later this week in hopes of turning the tide against the students who are drowning in soaring cost increases.
  15. Learning in 3D hits a home run Welcome to the thirteenth Blog Tour stop for Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration....  I'll be focusing on the superb structure of this book from an Acquisitions Editor's viewpoint. What Karl Kapp and Tony O'Driscoll have included in this volume is going have wonderful effects on its readers. I can already speak from my own experience: 
  16. Measuring immeasurable learning In a comment worth reading in its entirety on my previous post: Solving test scores problems, Virginia asked me: "So what do you think would be an effective measure of student learning that could be used as they move from state to state?"
  17. Issues in the reform of higher ed ... Here's a laundry list of issues that I think need to be addressed to successfully provide our societies with higher quality, post-secondary educations at a much lower cost. I'll cover each of these in more detail in the coming weeks.
  18. Evolving into P2P strategies Over the weekend, I finished reading a wonderful new book: What's Mine is Yours - The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers show us how we're actively migrating away from our excessively ownership-oriented economy. Michel Bauwens and Massimo Menichinelli raised my curiosity about this book which is deeply aligned with the P2P Foundation's trajectory. 
  19. Cognitive mobility Another way to picture open mindedness occurred to me today. What if our minds experience degrees of freedom, much like the variations in the movement of objects in space? As I reflected on this possibility, I realized how much mental phenomena gets explained by this metaphor. Here's how some of this possibility played out for me:
  20. Network - Theorizing Knowledge Work Yesterday I finished reading Clay Spinuzzi's latest book: Network - Theorizing Knowledge Work in Telecommunications. Last night I brainstormed insights I gleaned from the book that I want to explore further here. I usually get between six and ten ideas from a good book. My list from reading Clay's book has 21 items on it. What a treasure trove of inspirations I've found!

The archive to this blog also continues to provide lots of value to readers in 135 countries and territories. Here are the top twenty pages viewed by 13,964 visitors who've looked at 1329 of the posts written since 2006:

  1. What is emotional baggage 1875 times
  2. Resolving emotional baggage 1517 times
  3. Two kinds of change 727 times
  4. Outgrowing reflexive thinking 588 times
  5. Learning from feedback 410 times
  6. The mind of a control freak 374 times
  7. Vertical and horizontal networks 365 times
  8. Four kinds of comprehension 310 times
  9. Taking things too personally 308 times
  10. How colleges are bad for our brains 299 times
  11. Different kinds of ignorance 281 times
  12. Benefits of collaborating 277 times
  13. Effects of blogging on communities 275 times
  14. Two kinds of freedom 209 times
  15. Third and fourth order change 181 times
  16. A process for growing a new venture 170 times
  17. Empowered entrepreneurs 159 times
  18. If this is your first PLE 150 times
  19. Non-judgmental awareness 134 times
  20. Do we still need teachers 123 times

Thanks everyone!!


Leaving legacy premises behind us

When we work against our brains, we will keep learning to a minimum. We will be too stressed, distracted or exhausted to absorb new ideas, insights or protocols. Most classroom instructors favor the methods that work against our brains. I suspect they are embracing one or more of the following legacy premises:

  1. genuine learning is hard work and calls for strenuous effort
  2. brains will adapt to any consistent condition and it's better to adapt to adversity than easy street
  3. if students struggle with the material, they will never feel confident enough to challenge the under-prepared or disqualified instructor
  4. when students find learning to be difficult, they will depend on the instructor for more expertise, evaluations and remediation
  5. when learning is made too easy, the students will act defiant and become a behavior problem in the classroom
  6. when learning is made difficult, students learn to respect authority and to prepare for employment in hierarchies
  7. when learning is easy to come by, it's equally easy to forget -- unlike learning that was hard-won and memorably challenging

When we work with our brains, we learn more right now and continue learning throughout life. We will be invigorated, focused and motivated to absorb new ideas, insights and protocols. When classroom instructors favor methods that work with our brains, they may be relying on some of this second set of premises:

  1. learning occurs naturally when we're calm enough to be curious, creative and confident
  2. brains that adapt to inquiry, theorizing  and experimentation are better prepared than those fitted to compliance and conformity
  3. when students feel confident enough to challenge authorities, they will feel they can challenge their own partial understandings and false assumptions too  
  4. when students succeed at teaching themselves what they need to grasp, they will value how instructors teach themselves more each day
  5. when learning is set up to fall into place, students learn to trust uncertain processes of losing their confusion, misunderstandings and over-confidence 
  6. when learning is made difficult, students will become more resourceful if given access to peers and mentors who can assist personal progress
  7. when learning is put to immediate use, it becomes easily retained and recalled in subsequent situations that call for that practiced use

Embracing this second set of premises might occur when instructors learned from how they have been working against our brains. They might start challenging their assumptions, legacy practices and current level of effectiveness. On the other hand, they might persist with keeping their own learning to a minimum, do the same for their students and stick with the first set of premises indefinitely.


Illiterates as the new normal?

More than half of entering freshmen need remedial reading and math coursework to cope with the academic rigors of higher ed. The standards for academic performance are not changing. The students are changing. Institutions always know they are right and who is wrong. The standards cannot be questioned or changed. The only option is to fix the entering freshman who are obviously falling below standards and changing for the worse. According to the keepers of academic standards, there's no way these substandard students are the wave of innovation which will become the next normal.

  1. When the first steam railways began operating, it was apparent they were making very poor use of the canals that carried tons of barge traffic.
  2. When the first telephones got connected, they were practically useless compared to the elaborate network of telegraph transmission offices and delivery boys.
  3. When the first television stations began broadcasting, the selection of programs was paltry compared to the vast panorama of radio broadcasts
  4. When online games were offered on AOL and Compuserv in the 1980's, there was no way they could compete with card games, board games, party games or ball games.

  1. As entering freshman are far more media savvy than print literate, they are making very poor use of reading requirements and textbooks which has always delivered tons of information.
  2. As the first college students got connected to each other, the problems they solved were insignificant compared to professional experts hired to fix things.
  3. As the initial lectures and support materials were made accessible online, the selection was paltry compared to the panorama of online films, videos and games.
  4. As the online learning was first organized by LMS's like Blackboard and Moodle, there was no way they could compete with online shopping, socializing, gaming and content generation.

Do you see a pattern here like I must be? Am I drawing valid parallels between shifts in technology and remedial coursework for entering college students?


Colleges for illiterates

Went I went through my undergraduate degree program, information was scarce and authorities commanded respect. Nowadays, information is abundant and respect gets earned by lots of other qualities besides authority. (transparency, authenticity, consistency, reciprocity, etc.)

When I learned to read, I was absorbing much longer paragraphs than fit in a tweet or text message. Lately, the length to be absorbed is like this paragraph.

When going to college made more sense than it does now, it was widely presumed that we needed expertise to solve problems. Nowadays, it more obvious that experts are making a mess of problems which are extremely complex, interconnected and non-linear.

When I worked on group projects in college, I was applying what I had learned in books. Lately it makes more sense to read people and shared situations to get practice at solving complex problems together.

When colleges enforced reading requirements, there was no way to graduate if one's reading comprehension was under-developed. Nowadays, reading is getting replaced by socializing, authoring and collaborating in ways that make a bigger difference than reading every could.

When colleges get reinvented for the 21st century, they will be designed for illiterates to graduate with honors. They will be honored by their peers who know first hand of the differences they made, the problems they solve and the respect they earned in the process.


Tracking institutionalized interests

For dashboards to function effectively at upgrading higher ed, they must track others' interests. Unlike PLE's that organize one's personal explorations, dashboards are designed to be there for other learners, educators and employers. They will get where people are coming from to assist them getting to a better place. They will orchestrate getting the exact learning needed from the right person at the right time and place. By tracking others' interests complexly, the right diagnosis will be made when something goes wrong.

Lots of students, educators and employers express deep interests in remaining institutionalized. They show no interest in being liberated, empowered or engaged in collaborative dynamics. Institutions solve problems for them. They function better under imposed structure and conformity pressures. Dashboards that exclude these interests will only serve a small minority of agendas, intentions and expectations. The exceptional educational value of well designed dashboards will have little impact. So today I'll explore the design challenge of monitoring many others' interests in remaining institutionalized.

Most of us that have happily found well-marked exits from institutions don't appreciate what they do for insiders. We only see the adverse effects and adverse selection of people for positions. As I explored last year in Amazing institutions and Are institutions really problematic?, institutions bring order to tribal dynamics. They provide protection from irrationality, subjectivity and disorder for those who otherwise feel very vulnerable and likely to be harmed again. They provide convincing justifications, requirements and enforcements to questionable endeavors. They make it easy to look busy, productive and proficient when self-structured efforts would appear idle, aimless or incompetent.

Institutions are also breeding grounds for second-class citizens who are never satisfied. These whiners complain about everything that happens or does not occur. They are easily addicted to distractions and habitually entangled by others' chronic childishness. They have no way to show respect, solve problems, take responsibility, function reliably or think through their own options. They come across as "very high maintenance". They rely on institutions to provide legitimizing cover and much-needed structure even though they cannot take advantage of all that to become first class citizens. They are in no shape to shape up or to change their tune.

These second class citizens get consistently misdiagnosed inside institutions.  The first class citizens do not learn the lessons taught by these underdogs. Their first-class scoreboards remain disconnected from these second-class interests. All this creates a phenomenal opportunity to reinvent higher ed to better serve those who are not self structuring, DIY punks, hackers and gamers. Those with well-designed dashboards will be tracking these institutionalized interests and cognizant of how to respond effectively to implicit requests, questions and confusion.


Where do institutions come from?

Like those in favor of an Invisible University or a 21st century revival of an Invisible College, I'm looking forward to higher ed becoming free of institutions. I see the moniker "Invisible University" as a transition term like "iron horse" and "horseless carriage". Once the replacement technologies become widely used, I expect we'll drop the word "university" from our label for the higher quality and lower cost post-secondary educations getting realized. The term "university" has already been tainted by diploma mills and corporate training functions which use the label to glamorize their offerings. I suspect it will be dropped easily when the time comes.

In order to realistically anticipate how institutions could get substituted, I believe it's essential to answer the question: Where do institutions come from? If we don't understand why they exist and how they persist, we are susceptible to wishful thinking and grandiose claims of superiority. Institutions are famously durable amidst societal upheavals. They have contradicted predictions of their demise throughout history. It's only when their reasons for persisting gets undermined that they collapse.

  1. Institutions exist for the sake of private paperwork. Their structures support the documenting, distributing, reviewing, credentialing and filing of voluminous amounts of written and printed paper for select eyes only.
  2. Institutions depend on the exercise of authority. They arrange the command and control of large numbers of personnel who lack authority themselves and depend on authorities to decide direction, prioritize actions and evaluate outcomes.
  3. Institutions serve their own survival, perpetuation and fortification. They defend themselves against aggression on the outside and traitors within in order to maintain their existence or to impede changes.
  4. Institutions serve an abstract public according to a legislated mandate. They cannot serve exceptional cases, individuals or special interests without violating that mandate.

There are countless college majors in academic subjects and degree programs for becoming licensed professionals that fit these institutional parameters "hand in glove". These pursuits get studied by going through printed material in sequence. I anticipate that institutions of higher ed will persist to serve this portion of the educational spectrum as it has in the past.

There are many other studies that are taking on the opposite characteristics. These pursuits can easily defect from institutions while getting better served through collaborative dynamics in distributed networks. The characteristics of these kinds of studies include:

  1. Open source expertise that has been digitized so it can be easily replicated, annotated, tagged, stored, searched and mashed up into new documents.
  2. Communities of creative authors using tools on the web while gaining credibility through their personal transparency, value creation and reciprocation
  3. Collaborations intended to disintegrate after intense exchanges and discoveries of new possibilities, collaborators and projects
  4. Community activism and outreach programs that: give individuals personal attention, accommodate their unique situations and respond to their particular requests. 

The pursuit of these studies will appear to undermine the reasons for institutional existence. Credentials on paper will be replaced by credibility in social contexts. Learning from books will be obsolesced by learning from peers, multi-mediated conversations, and collaborative productions. Authorities will get regarded as potentially toxic while interactions with fellow authors will yield more educational value. Serving the interests of other learners will yield far more competency and comprehension than complying with course requirements. Getting feedback from those served will prove more significant that getting grades, extra credit and bonus points from instructors. More educational value will be realized at a far lower cost. Institutions of higher ed will become elitist and nostalgic fashion statements.


Alarms on the side

Scoreboards get us into trouble by their errors of omission. They don't provide warning lights to help us steer clear of situations that are best avoided. A well-equipped dashboard has alarms on the side to forewarn us of trouble ahead or onboard.

Lots of our technologies give us warnings in addition to the metrics. Automobiles show us when we're low on oil or when the engine is overheating. Radar detectors signal when we're approaching a speed trap on a highway. Digital indoor/outdoor thermometers sound the alarm when the temperature is going below freezing. Geiger counters alert us to toxic levels of radiation. Computer game alerts indicate when our supplies are too low, our spending has gone over the limit or we're about to get penalized.

Each of these alarms is hard wired to an objective data stream. Sensors monitor fluctuations in physical conditions. Logic circuits filter out exceptional data. However, when we're on the lookout for the quality of the education we're getting, there's no hard data. The situation requires being on the alert, rather than receiving automated alerts. I expect we will make more effective judgment calls by setting ourselves up to watch for particular kinds of trouble. The dashboard alarms will involve taking time out to assess our situations with particular issues in mind.

As I've continued to develop my design concept for dashboards in higher ed, I'm seeing several alarms on the side of anyone's dashboard. There are particular kinds of troubles to lookout for when getting educated by experts within institutions. These same troubles can easily reoccur outside of institutions where learning happens within chains of value and reciprocation. Here are four alarms that support enduring learning, self motivation and the cultivation of useful insights:

  1. Expertise monitor: We need to be on the lookout for expertise that works against our best interests, as I explored here. When this alarm sounds, we can stop expecting to benefit from the problematic expertise and start locating expertise aligned with our interests.
  2. Freeze warning: When we try to relate to someone with no interest in our own interests, they seem cold to us. They're coming from a Bad or Better place below the line. They come across as controlling, manipulative, deceitful or tormented. When we detect a frosty approach to understanding us, we can create a healthy boundary that "just says no" to this abuse. 
  3. Booby prize detector: When we're baited by extrinsic rewards like points, badges, grades, rankings or stats, our pursuits become senseless. We get caught up in a stupid game to play. We chase after the booby prizes instead of seeking what we find meaningful, valuable and fulfilling to our unique frames of reference. We need to be on the lookout for our judgment becoming impaired, our priorities getting warped and our satisfaction declining. 
  4. Crap detector: When we get caught up in bogus offers, scams and ripoffs, we typically delude ourselves about the value. We talk ourselves into staying with it and avoiding the label of a a quitter. This alarm will call attention to the hypocrisy, false claims and other misrepresentations of value. We can move to solid ground where we have the sense to respect ourselves and to act with integrity. 

Practicing these kinds of vigilance will avoid most of the ways that college can be bad for our brains. When we alert to problems with expertise, cold outlooks, booby prizes and crap, our anxiety will be lowered. We benefit from a better self concept, more self respect and increased confidence. We'll become more self motivated and satisfied with our own accomplishments for our own reasons. Our learning will endure much longer than it does when we comply with requirements, cram for the exam and judge our efforts by the grade we get.


Finding places for dashboards

Dashboards in higher ed will make it possible for most learning to occur among peers. The labor cost will plummet as the work gets done by those currently considered to be unqualified. There will be almost no "covering the material" or "studying a textbook". The learning will be driven by individual interests arising from each person's recent experiences, explorations and contributions to others' learning. For a system like this to work, each learner needs a dashboard to keep track of their own and others' interests. Dashboards cannot become a universal solution. They don't function for the immediate interests in what I've been calling bad and better places. The design and use of dashboards needs to find where they function effectively. Here's how I've gone looking and found two places.

In any bad place, there are chains of pain. The executive yells at the manager who chews out the direct report who goes home to criticize his/her spouse who screams at their child who whips the dog that attacks the cat that devours a bird. There's no need for a dashboard in chains of pain. All participants are too upset to show an interest in other interests or to see their situation comprehensively. Everyone simply acts out how they were made to feel through their linkage in the chain of pain so the next in line feels the same way. Misery loves company.

In a better place, there are chains of command. The exercise of authority occurs through hierarchical levels. There are roles to fill and penalties for stepping out of line. Higher-ups dictate what those below are allowed to do and how they get evaluated for complying with those dictates. In higher ed, the college president tells the provosts who tell the deans who advise the department chairs who inform the faculty who pass it on to the students.  There's a need for scoreboards in chains of command to measure and compare outcomes. Chains of command keep outbursts to a minimum while fueling every kind of  lip service, sabotage, retaliation and defiance that wont' get caught. Everyone is paying their dues and getting even when they can.

In a good place, there are chains of value. The experience of benefiting from a purchase, interaction or other experience gets passed on down the line. The goodness found by one gets shared so others can take advantage of the opportunity, join in the satisfaction or experience the difference for themselves. Each adds their own subjective value before sharing those advantages with his/her social network.  The beneficiary of a valuable educational experience will tell her/his friends about the experience, the explanations for it and the likely follow-through to get more out of it. There's a big need for dashboards in chains of value. Each needs to monitor how others could value something they might share and what interests of theirs might be served. The tie-ins to one's own interests require continual attention to maintain the intrinsic motivation to serve others' interests and respond effectively to their requests. Everyone is making a difference in others' lives.

In a great place, there are chains of reciprocation. The experience of giving comes back around. It makes tons of sense to share surpluses, care for unmet needs, serve others' interests and contribute to common good. The generosity of spirit gets repaid in countless ways. There's the sheer enjoyment of the process. There are the results that become evident. There's the feedback others communicate. There are opportunities created to make a bigger difference or to collaborate at enhancing the difference made. Dashboards can track all these ways of getting repaid as well as what's going on with others. Everyone is immersed in co-creating satisfying experiences.


Dashboards for upgrading higher ed

I expect college dropouts will be the first to adopt connected dashboards to get a higher quality education at a lower price. They will be followed enrolled college students who will aggregate their interests in better college education like consumer advocacy movements have improved lots of what we buy. For the reasons I explored yesterday, I doubt that a majority college administrators or faculty members will adopt connected dashboards. There will be exceptions, just as there are with academics making use of handheld and social networking tools currently.

The two posts I've written about dashboards remain the most read for several weeks now. (Disconnected dashboards create mayhem, From scoreboards to dashboards). I've just begun to follow a growing buzz about gamification which aligns superbly with the use of dashboards I have in mind. I'm also getting renewed interest in what I wrote 3 years ago about Personal Learning Environments - PLE's and PLE 2.0. All that tells me to share much more of my design thinking about dashboards that can serve those seeking better/cheaper college educations.  I've just created a new tag: dashboards to help readers revisit this series of blog posts in the future.

I foresee dashboards getting used by seekers of college educations to:
  1. become more self aware of where they're at in their development and states of mind
  2. be more understanding of where others are at and thus more capable of getting on others' wavelengths
  3. be more transparent and easily trusted by those in need of one's assistance
  4. become more supported, validated and respected by peers while supporting, validating and respecting them
  5. be more challenged and playful, without becoming overstressed, while pursuing personal objectives
  6. become more successful at getting the right person for the job of whatever is going to be learned next
  7. be responded to more quickly at any hour, day or location which will get the timing right for optimal learning
When dashboards come into widespread usage, the current model of lectures delivered by experts in classrooms will get questioned, invalidated and compared unfavorably to these peer dynamics. Prior to widespread deployment, the early adopters will make it evident how they are learning more in better ways at lower costs. 


Too freaked out to fix higher ed

I recently read Paranoia the 21st-century fear by Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman. I was looking for insights into the mental states of partisan politicians and media propagandists. While I got what I was looking for, I also gained lots of understanding into why administrators and faculty members in higher ed cannot make the necessary changes to thrive in this century. Here's some of how our minds function that I've realized by combining this latest book with many others I've read:

  1. Extrinsic rewards: Our minds can become addicted to making the grade, getting the promotion or being awarded a promotion. When we chase after those kinds of prizes, the prospect of losing out is devastating. We become paranoid about any rivals and those higher-ups who pass judgment on our qualifications. We worry about what all can go wrong. When our minds are in this state of fear, we cannot think about positive changes or others' interests that call for those changes.
  2. What comes to mind: We receive constructive and creative thoughts when we're clear of fear. Our minds are open and receptive to possibilities that might otherwise frighten us. When we're afraid of what might happen, our minds become closed and unreceptive. What comes to mind is highly repetitive, annoying and apprehensive. What cannot consider constructive and creative possibilities. They appear too dangerous and exposed to rejection by others. 
  3. Negative self concepts - When we think of themselves as defective, deviant or deficient , we can justify why we did not make the grade, get the promotion or earn a pay increase. Yet these negative self concepts make us prone to paranoia. Thoughts come into our minds that feel invasive, haunting and troublesome. We entertain scenarios of situations going from bad to worse. We get put us on the defensive and concerned by others finding out what going on with us. 
  4. Delusional constructs - When our minds get this troubled, we cannot face reality. We assume the worst if we were to find out what's really going on, who's responsible and how things are really changing. We expect to be false accused, blamed and ostracized. We live fully absorbed by elaborate fantasies, justifications and denials to avoid regrettable hysterics, panic attacks and outbursts.
  5. Catastrophizing - When our minds are in this state, we cannot see the good in something or put situations in a more positive light. We find fault with everything and dwell on how awful it's becoming. We fixate on the negatives to match our somewhat rational thinking with the disturbing, irrational emotions we're experiencing. 
  6. Dichotomizing - Perhaps to keep our thinking simplified while our minds handle this full load of troubles, we reduce everything to either/or, black or white extremes. We cannot process gray areas, combinations or two sided possibilities. Everyone is with us or against us, a winner or a loser or a success or a failure -- as we entertain this reductionistic fallacy.
  7. Colluding with the clueless - When our minds our functioning in all these dysfunctional ways, we don't trust ourselves. We place lots of reliance on social proof, even when everyone is wrong or deluded. We want to agree with the crowd because we have no reliable basis to disagree. We're very poor judges of others quality of judgement. We jump on bandwagons, follow the herd and do our best to think alike regardless of how clueless that might prove to be.

Combine all these seven ways our minds can function and significant changes in higher ed become infeasible. There too much against the needed changes in ways the minds of administrators and faculty members are processing their situations, opportunities and outcomes. What has changed in our culture and what needs to change in higher ed is not registering on their brains in spite of being plainly evident to students, applicants and most alumni.


Paying the right price for college

When we're seeking a diploma from a prestigious institution of higher ed, there's no way to pay what I consider the right price for college. The cost is part of the prestige.  The more we pay, the better the impression it makes on employers, social contacts and family members. The "goods" are being purchased for their glamour and ability to impress others. The package seems far more important than the contents. Where the diploma came gets regarded as very significant. How much was learned or how well it was learned counts for very little.

When we're trying to save money as we seek a college education, we carefully avoid getting overcharged for a prestigious and glamourous diploma. We're looking for a bargain. We assume we're in danger of getting overcharged, ripped off and sold a scam if we pay more than a minimum price. The providers of higher ed at a low price probably cut corners and shortchange the students to make their ends meet. The contents of the unimpressive package can easily be as bad as what others get in the glamourous package at a premium price.

These two extremes occur when higher ed gets delivered by accredited institutions. There's no way to raise the quality while lowering the price. The physical facilities are very expensive to operate and are often in need of repairs. The payroll costs are increasing for the vast number of academic and support personnel. The financial support from endowments, alumni and/or legislatures are declining. Then there are the added expenses of athletics, campus activities, fund raising events, faculty research and library resources.

It will become possible to pay the right price for college when it's bought on spot markets. Rather than continue to buy college as big ticket item, it will get purchased in small increments. The value of each piece will have to measure up to the price charged. The price will come down amidst competing offerings. Each piece will serve a smaller niche with much less administrative overhead. Unlike exorbitantly priced spare parts for a particular model of automobile or computer, the price can be right for the student with a generic need to know, practice or discover for oneself.

The quality will improve as the price comes down. Providers will move out learn curves that improve efficiency, responsiveness and support services. Students will get more for their money as they purchase educational experiences from the right person doing the right thing at the right time and place. They will benefit from the right diagnosis getting made of the difficulties they're experiencing, as well as of any setbacks experienced by the providers. We will see shifts in price performance ratios like we have witnessed with continually improving electronics.


Getting the diagnosis right

Institutions of higher education have become famous for getting diagnoses of their problems wrong. The ways they react to escalating problems with their costs, completion rates or reputations prove to be wrong-minded. The same misdiagnoses occur in college classrooms when students have problems with comprehension, motivation, paying attention, attendance or meeting deadlines. Something seems to be missing that would enable college administrators and faculty members to get an accurate read of the symptoms to their complex, underlying problems.

Whenever we misdiagnose a problem, we typically make the problem worse. We do more harm than good by trying to solve the problem we've misjudged. We work against the emergent solution by feeding the dynamics which maintain the problem. We think we can fix what's broken as if it does not have a life of its own that pushes back when pushed. We point fingers at the problem without any fingers pointing back at us. We avoid implicating ourselves or seeing our own outlook as part of the system which maintains the problem. We overreact to what is obvious and downplay what is hidden from view, intangible and only inferred by the evidence.

There are several ways to "mind a problem" that have gone missing when we consistently misdiagnose problems with deep, complex dynamics:

  1. we lack enough curiosity to wonder about the evidence, to question our own assumptions and to open up to changing our minds
  2. we dismiss the intangible dynamics, loops that include us and cyclical patterns of interaction that play off our own extremes
  3. we rule out the possibility of being taught a lesson, being shown something we don't already know or encountering the limits of our current understanding
  4. we insist on a linear, determinate, categorical explanation rather than a recursive, indeterminate and nuanced representation
  5. we assume others are the cause of the problems which can be isolated, objectified and simplified without error
  6. we lack empathy for those who get blamed for the problem or who get misdiagnosed as being entirely responsible for the problem 
  7. we fail to recognize how the misdiagnoses are bad for our brains and have been impairing our abilities to diagnose problems correctly

Institutions inadvertently reward the widespread misdiagnoses of problems by valuing those who loyally tell their leaders what they want to hear. By also shooting messengers who bring news of a different diagnosis, the leadership sends a loud message to embrace the consensual misdiagnosis like "party faithfuls". The top level frames those with a different read on a problem as a traitor, saboteur or infidel who can easily be scapegoated for creating the problem. The accurate diagnosis becomes a hot-button issue that would induce overwhelming cognitive dissonance for the leaders if they faced the reality of the underlying dynamics. By dwelling on their disconnected dashboards, they conveniently distract themselves from what's really occurring, why it's getting worse and how it's getting fed by their way of minding the problems.

The reinvention of higher ed can counteract all this with several different strategies:

  • Distribute diagnostic skills development to every student, faculty member and administrator
  • Expose those insidious dynamics I described above to undermine their perpetuity without question
  • Empower the students to red flag the misdiagnoses, to identify what's missing and to call for reformulation of problem definitions
  • Map the dynamics of the correct diagnoses in a publicly accessible wiki so every member of the educational system can see how to stop feeding the problems personally


Right translator for the context

We don't need any help watching movies, taking phone calls, reading text messages or surfing the web. So how could we need instructors (teachers, tutors, mentors, etc.) when we're learning from open source content? At first glance, we don't. It's no different from all those things we can do on our own.

However, if we take a deeper look at this issue, all those situations where we need no help are free of our context. It doesn't matter where we're at, what we're doing, who we're with or what we aiming to accomplish next. However, when we're engaged in authentic learning, our individual context matters a lot. Our situation may generate the need to know something new. It may provide a place to try out what we just learned. It may give us feedback on what we thought we understood which furthers our inquiry, practice efforts or formulation of our ongoing questions.

When context matters, we could use some help. Not from just anyone, but from the right translator for the content and our situation. We need someone to get in-between us in our context and the new content, conduct or connections. That someone needs to get where we're at. Ideally, he or she will get high scores from us on the dashboard I proposed for each college student to use.

The translator needs to get our situation in addition to having a good read on us in particular. That will improve our chances of getting useful information, practice applying it and realizing favorable results from our learning. We will leave behind all that useless information, those meaningless grades and those easily forgotten exercises that high ed dishes out at premium prices.

The right translator needs to know more than we already do, but not too much. That person ought to be able to:

  1. place what we're learning into other contexts where it gets used to define problems, solve them or make other kinds of changes
  2. use metaphors to reframe what we're struggling to understand so it becomes easier to grasp, relate to or keep in mind
  3. give us scaffolding to rely on while we're gradually committing any new procedures to memory
  4. show us a way out of our confusion once we've got a partial grasp of the concepts, skills or models

Higher ed will get reinvented significantly when each student can line up translators for what s/he wants to learn next. It will become a buyer's market where the customer calls the shots. Those who can effectively help students learn will realize they are in a service business where the value is seen through the eyes of the customer. Experts in content will not compare to those translators who effectively address where each learner is at in his/her mind and circumstances.


Right time and place

Institutions of higher ed presume to tell their students when the right time to learn something is occurring. The administration's  timing gets defined by the dates the course is offered online or on campus. That timing may also get constrained by when the classroom or faculty member becomes available. As this frame of reference extends into the premises of students, timing gets further scheduled by meeting with project teams, study groups or tutors. College and universities cannot chase after the teachable moments of individual students. They hope the assemblage of students enrolled in a course offering will create a sense of opportunity and timeliness for everyone at same time. As a result, most college teaching occurs at unteachable moments. The course comes at a bad time. The timing is off in the experience of most students. Bad timing can easily be bad for our brains.

Opportunities to learn come at a good time when the learner is in the driver's seat. Being in control of the speed of learning, direction being pursued and the stops along the way help synch up with personally good timing. The timing feels right to anyone when it occurs in a context of his/her own immediate need, fascination, curiosity or use. A similar issue arises with the location of learning.

Accredited institutions of higher education once required seat time to ensure compliance with quality standards. As online learning took hold, more of the students' activities were allowed to occur asynchronously. However colleges and universities continue to maintain a stranglehold on where the educating happens. If not in their classroom, lab or faculty office, then it is necessary to log into their LMS (learning management system) to get educated in their "right" place.

Opportunities to learn seem well-placed when they occur in the midst of our own applicable situations. We're in a place where we know what we're trying to do, why we're they, how we intend to succeed and what we could get out of it. This is how learning occurs through handheld devices, on the job or within immersive games. We feel efficacious in that situation. Whatever we're trying to accomplish defines unknowns, further questions and needs for greater understanding. In that place, we are:

  1. open in new information, ideas  and approaches
  2. willing to make mistakes, look foolish, try things without assurance of success
  3. eager to discover what works, what's really going on here and what difference can be made
  4. motivated to inquire further, to refine our questions and to deepen our exploration
  5. inclined to connect the dots, to make more sense and to get a bigger picture of our situation
  6. in a right mind to recognize patterns, to discern what's missing and to challenge our preconceptions
  7. getting taught by feedback from our experiments, by surprising outcomes and by uneven successes

Learning in the right time and place can be very good for our brains. The timing and location lowers our anxiety wasting our time or barking up the wrong tree. They lower our stress level as we experience being in control of our activities and free to change what is not working for us. They maintain a sense of meaning and purpose when things do not go as we planned. We're each framed as someone who is competent, effective and successful at moving forward. We're getting rewarded intrinsically through our own self-structured efforts. We are free of dependency on authority figures, bad examples or excessive structure, which then enhances our self respect, self reliance and self motivation. We're being good for ourselves which rubs off on others who can follow our example, lean on us for guidance and use us as resources in their own explorations.


Right person for the job

Institutions cannot usually provide the right person for the job that needs to be done right now. Offering full time employment limits most institutions to using people on payroll or under contract. Their timing is off since the logistics of delivering any value requires massive scheduling, interdepartmental coordination and sign-offs at many levels. The job to be done gets defined by the constraints of the huge, hierarchical structures, rather than whatever would serve the immediate needs, people and situation. Most of what gets done needs to be routinized and controlled rather than improvised and delegated.

Providing higher education via institutions was necessitated by the dynamics of ink on paper. The credentials of those qualified to teach were trusted if they were put on paper diplomas, certificates and curriculum vitae. The credentials awarded to students were also put on paper. The teaching materials were restricted to printed books, handouts and write-ups. All this evolved into institutions of higher ed which defined academic requirements, enforced prerequisites, covered material and tested retention of subject matter. Credentialed ink on paper cannot be improvised or customized to meet individual needs, timing or situational opportunities. The job of "covering the material" cannot be reframed as discovering what's needed, next and missing for each individual learner.

The right person for a job that facilitates others' learning will change constantly. A learner's dashboard widget that monitored how right someone was for that job ought to watch for the following in that person:

  1. How close to one's own understanding the person is - rather than being so distant as seem inaccessible or so close as to merely collude and commiserate
  2. How capable of avoiding the curse of knowledge which forgets what it's like to not know this, to not grasp it thoroughly yet or to have no context to place it in yet
  3. How good at explaining new content clearly, relating it to other ideas/skills, using metaphors to make it more accessible
  4. How cautious about the potentially harmful effects of excessive expertise
  5. How curious about the learner's own understanding, outlook, confusion, curiosity, motivation
  6. How collegial, accessible, vulnerable, transparent, credible, humble, easy to relate to and trustworthy
  7. How rewarded by their own work, satisfied with their job, attuned to value in their own efforts

If learners routinely tracked these variables, they could find the right person for everything they wanted to learn. Those that proved to be the right person would feel respected, validated and intrinsically rewarded by getting seen this way. The quality of learning would increase exponentially as the job to be done changed and the right persons got involved. The cost of obtaining a post secondary education could plummet dramatically.


Drivers of changes in higher ed

I watched PBS Frontline's College Inc. yesterday. I was delighted with the quality of their inside look at the for-profit colleges. All the issues raised by the documentary got me thinking again about what will drive the significant changes in post secondary education. Here's a summary of the change drivers I'm anticipating:

  • Students' inability to pay attention: An increasing number of college students will realize that it no longer pays to pay attention to lectures, textbooks and required reading. Some will have become incapable of paying focused attention and others will find it more rewarding to pay attention elsewhere. Unchanging institutions will blame the students for this problem, as if they are easily distracted, lacking in self discipline or deluding themselves with a presumed ability to multitask. There will be little consideration of how students are getting paid attention, reciprocating the favor and setting up ongoing sources of satisfying attention for themselves.
  • Migration from print to spatial literacy: Marshal McLuhan foresaw a cultural shift to acoustic sensibilities as electronic media took effect on our senses. He saw how immersive, non-linear and global television had become in the sixties. He compared that to the tribal cultures that thrived on oral and ritual communication. McLuhan did not foresee online, console, computer and handheld games, though his characterization of electric media fits them as well. As I've used his lenses for looking at recent cultural shifts, I foresee us becoming spatially literate instead of acoustically sensible. Our situations and experiences are getting read in terms of locations, proximities and travels. So much is getting articulated about storytelling and narrative structures because we're migrating into spatial sensibilities. The more we relate to "going there" and "coming from there", the less we'll be able to handle reading linear sentences in long paragraphs as you're doing right now.
  • There's an app for that: When tools are big and expensive, we maintain hierarchies for control and centralization for efficiency. When tools become small and inexpensive, they become democratized and distributed. The proliferation of handheld devices and accessible social platforms changes how we imagine learning to happen. Acquiring information synchronously en masse seems pretty clueless. Learning is being redefined as: "Getting what we need when we want it so we can play around with it and getting it to work for us". We're changing metaphors from getting informed to getting new apps. We're expecting the convenience and functionality of apps, not the inconvenience and uselessness of academic knowledge.
  • Cheating works: When we facing a challenge with using new software, facing new challenges in games or expressing ourselves with new media, we get help easily nowadays. Within the frame of reference of academic rigor, testing and grading, we're cheating. We're copying our neighbor's paper, plagiarizing authors' intellectual property and failing to work independently. But the frame of reference has changed to apply standards of pragmatism instead of academia. We're doing what works for us, helps others out and gets those potentially useful things serving us ASAP.
  • Breakthroughs in baggage handling: It appears we are all hard wired to internalize uncontrollable, negative experiences as impairments. When higher ed dishes out dreadful experience to students, it functions as part of the problem, continuing to burden students with emotional baggage. The more cognitive neuroscience advances, the easier it's becoming to reverse this process. We can undo what the negative experiences did to our brains and rewire our circuitry for efficacy. 

All these change drivers alter the value proposition of undergraduate college educations. They give an increasing number of applicants, enrolled students and college dropouts a different outlook. The "bang for the buck" will appear to decline or disappear. It will seem to them that increasing tuition amounts to "paying more for less quantity and quality of service". The difference that college makes will no longer make a difference to those experiencing these change drivers first hand. The result will be declining enrollments, increasing dropout rates and a proliferation of alternative sources for post-secondary learning.


From scoreboards to dashboards

Offering higher quality higher ed experiences at a much lower cost can only happen in a Good Place above the line I explored yesterday. Those superior offerings require connected dashboards in use by everyone involved. That involves some deeply disturbing changes in where people are coming from and how they see their worlds. Here's an overview of the challenges in getting from the costly use of scoreboards to the beneficial use of dashboards.

In a Bad Place, there's no way to really keep score. There's tons of self-confirming evidence which avoids rattling people's cages. Everyone in the bad place gets lots of opportunities to say "I knew it" and "here we go again". But there's no indication of unexpected results or accomplishments that could be used to improve the processes. Awareness is limited to the silo, vault or echo chamber. Every attempt to keep score (grades, performance reviews, time budgets, etc) seems like useless paperwork, going through the motions or spinning one's wheels in a rut. There's little interest in getting ways to monitor the metrics and keep score. Most are afraid that the outcome measures will lead to getting unfairly accused, blamed or singled out. The sense of powerlessness that pervades a Bad Place frames outcome indicators as "out of one's personal control". Attitudes of resignation get expressed as "there's nothing you can do about that except learn to live with it". Attempts to upgrade accountability measures receive lots of push back as most in the Bad Place already feel over-pressured, imposed upon and abused.

In a Better Place, there are scoreboards galore. Everyone is keeping track of measures and comparing outcomes. Widespread desires to improve get seemingly well-served by tangible results which get recorded objectively. Everyone is held to the same standards and assessed accurately. It's assumed that any subjectivity would only skew the data, bias the assessments and taint the comparisons. In a Better Place, it becomes desirable to accumulate larger quantities regardless of quality, use or personal significance. Amassing large inventories makes for favorable comparisons, reputations and first impressions.

From a Good Place, it becomes apparent that scoreboards in any Better Place are in big trouble. Scoreboards are disconnected dashboards. Keeping score objectively misses out on essential subjectivity. Normative evaluations suppress the recognition, amplification and celebration of unique traits, outlooks and contributions. Avoiding skewed data results in avoiding diverse frames of reference which could support creativity, innovation and design thinking. Scoreboards get everyone trying harder to play by the same set of rules instead of playing with the rules, questioning the premises and moving the goal posts.

In a Good Place, dashboards monitor much more than measurable metrics. People appear as assemblages of interests to be understood, supported and translated into common interests. Individuals use their own perception filters and frames of reference to give meaning to incidents. Each has a back story which defines much of their outlook and attributions. Conflicts between personal interests and between individuals create opportunities for new understandings, closer relationships and deeper commitments to shared purposes. Activities are monitored for how things are coming along (work processes) how things are shaping up (milestones) how aims are evolving (changing objectives) and how better methods are getting discovered (process improvement). All this yields a more supportive context which nurtures continual exploration, useful mistakes and reflective practices.

In a Great Place, it becomes apparent why it is so difficult to transition from a scoreboards in a Better Place to dashboards in a Good Place. Below the line, everything gets perceived in either/or binary terms. Subjectivity can only be bad when embracing objective measures, evaluations and comparisons. Frames or reference and varied outlooks could only be taken as mere speculation, spin doctoring or distortion of the facts. Individual interests also get disregarded from negative experiences in Bad Places with others' chronic complaining, commiseration and victim stories. Interim processes get overlooked following the inefficiencies, wasted time spent and hand holding of high maintenance individuals in a Bad Place.

From a Great Place, those in other Places can be told to "keep up the good work" and "persist until the disadvantages of your current Place weigh heavily on your efforts". There's no need to push others to change. There's a process to be trusted by giving it time to work through the sticking points and discover the freedoms for oneself. Migrations out of Bad and Better Places follows naturally from the awareness shared from a Great Place.


Getting above the line

Most of everyone inside higher ed oscillates between a Bad and Better Place. For example, after a boring class, a student may experience an exhilarating walk across campus or an enlivening conversation with a friend before entering the next boring class. A faculty member may get some time to further a favorite research interest before returning to grading submittals. There are only temporary escapes from the Bad Place, no lasting changes. This helps us understand why there are such chronic problems with motivation, acting out, dropping out, soaring tuition and more. Getting these chronic problems to vanish requires getting above the horizontal line. There's no solution below the line that could endure longer than a Spring Break.

When we're in a Good or Great Place, we're inner directed. What we're doing is self motivated and intrinsically rewarding. We are living a mystery with loads of questions which gives our lives the flavor of captivating adventure stories. We self-structure our further investigations, experiments and testing of hypotheses. We naturally collaborate with others on similar quests and find guides to help us along the way. We experience our progress and outcomes as personally meaningful and aligned with some deeper purpose. We pursue passions we find within according to our own priorities and purposes. We realize a wonderful combination of our rational and irrational sides. What we do is good for our brains, our collegiality, our work and the value we extract from our experiences.

Below that line in a Bad or Better Place, all that is different. We're outer directed and entangled in others' expectations. We're dependent on others to provide us with structure for our activities and evaluations for our outputs. We don't trust our judgment or rely on ourselves successfully. We get too busy to be concerned with the meaning our efforts could have for us personally. We do things for show to impress others and to compensate for our insecurities. We're tormented by opposing inclinations from our rational and irrational sides. All this is bad for our brains, our collegiality, our work and the value we extract from our experiences.

As you may suspect, it takes big bucks to provide educations below the line. The students need tons of imposed structure which the extrinsically-rewarded faculty provide against their own heartfelt wishes. Little academic learning happens without stiff requirements and formal evaluations. Everyone learns to cope with the Bad and somewhat Better Places that persist relentlessly. There's nothing in the ways that learning and teaching happen that could significantly lower costs or improve quality below the line.

There are huge differences between a Bad Place and Better Place below the line. I'm lumping them together here because they have a lot in common compared getting above the line. Getting to a Better Place falls far short of getting to a Good Place. The kind of change involved in getting above the line transcends the oscillation between Bad and Better Places. In a Good or Great Place, it does not take much money to make learning or teaching happen. There's much less need for structure, schedules, or evaluations. The quality of learning and instructing can soar, instead of the tuition and fees.


Getting to a better place

I've now finished my 15 issues in the reform of higher ed. I hit two home runs in that series of essays: How colleges are bad for our brains and Disconnected dashboards create mayhem. Both posts attracted an exceptional number of readers from around the world. That gives me a direction to go from here with the aim to provide more value to you. These 15 issues will serve us as design criteria for a newly conceived version of higher ed. (If you're new to design thinking, you may want to explore what I've written about design evaluation). These 15 criteria pose much higher standards for higher ed than are currently being met by most public or private colleges and universities.

I'll begin with a readout for everyone's dashboard regardless of their role in higher ed as student, educator, administrator or publisher. Tracking your qualitative experience of location can give you a sense of whether to move beyond that or stick around. This overall sense of place will correlate with the kind of job you've been given, the value you can get from the experience, the collegiality serving you and the impacts on your brain.

When we're in a Bad Place, it's very likely everyone else in our experience will be there too. Locations are shared, even if they're abstract like where we're coming from or where we're at. Being in the same place makes for a lot of compatibility of expectations and shared abilities to cope with adversity. On the downside, this can dysfunction as collusion, commiseration or costly compromises.

When we get to a Better Place, we'll find others are split between the Bad Place we we're at and this Better Place we've created for ourselves. When we get to a Good Place, we'll be aware of others in all three places and ways to help them move beyond their current locations. Coming from a Great Place will transform their entire array of locations and movements between them.

Each place proves to be very hypnotic and persuasive about staying put. Any Bad Place is the worst that way. It creates experiences of being stuck with no options and trapped by overwhelming limitations. Getting to a better place takes a lot of determination and effort at first. Books like David Allen's Getting Things Done or Timothy Ferriss's The 4-Hour Workweek are great for structuring the challenge of getting unstuck.

I'm envisioning my design for reinvented higher ed as a Good Place. It's above what I'll define as a Better Place. It takes more than being self-structuring and successful at getting results. All that is necessary but not sufficient to realize higher quality higher ed at a lower cost.


Changing economic fundamentals

Higher Ed has always been in sync with the economy of its era. The ways its students get prepared for careers needs to be a match to diverse roles in the current economy. Higher Ed can continue to produce more of the same kinds of graduates so long as the economy does not change significantly. Economies ride roller coasters which create lots of movement without changing the fundamentals. All the news about those fluctuations can function like the boy who cried wolf when there was no wolf was around. Higher Ed may have been lulled into ignoring any signs of deeper change in the economic fundamentals. Since it is extremely difficult to change itself to be sync with a profoundly changed economy, colleges and universities are making it easy on themselves to assume the economy is "keeping on keeping on".

The current global recession has spawned much speculation and many informed forecasts about changes in economic fundamentals. Those who view the market as the ultimate arbiter of value and fair prices are the least likely to recognize a significant revision. They continue to assume there will always be lots of consumers paying for goods and services at prices determined by the equilibrium of supply and demand. This crowd reassures institutions of higher ed that they don't need to change until the market tells them to through declines in enrollment, grants, donations and legislative subsidies.

When we anticipate "where the hockey puck is going to be", we create opportunities to be proactive. We get ahead of the curve. We watch for early indications of emerging trends. We consider where things are headed. We challenge assumptions about the status quo being built to last. We look for patterns of economic transformation in current events that resemble other times of upheaval and revision. When I think ahead like this, here's what I'm foreseeing:

  1. An unstoppable decline in over-consumption and materialistic values in favor of the experiences that money cannot buy.
  2. A growing desire to spend less time each week making money in order to spend more time pursuing personal and shared passions
  3. A widespread enjoyment of the freedoms in self-employment, results-only work, swarming and freelancing
  4. An expectation that better work will get done by intrinsically motivated volunteers with some "skin in the game" than by extrinsically driven mercenaries
  5. An increasing variety of personal experiences with crowdsourced, peer2peer and democratized endeavors
  6. A growing challenge to economic models which enclose a commons and protect contrived scarcities of free resources
  7. An deepening belief in the benefits of transparency, diversity, sharing, self-selected participation and creative personal contributions

These seven trends are not the noisy ups and downs of the rickety roller coaster. These migrations relocate the underlying structure of the global economy. It suggests that higher ed needs to make big changes to be in sync with an emerging set of economic fundamentals. It will appear increasing obsolete, unresponsive and clueless to prepare college graduates for that worn out economy of the bygone era.

Note: This post addresses issue: 15. Prepared for the next economy
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


Giving college students reputations

Too many teens develop negative reputations that haunt them for decades. College experiences could free them from this burden if they were designed to deliver that benefit. A minority of college students already encounter a helpful mentor among the faculty, TA's or RA's. However, the majority get their negative reputations reinforced even if they were initially created by unjustified cheap shots. The students take these toxic stereotypes to heart and act them out repeatedly. They fail to develop self respect or a sense that they could do further harm to their reputation. They presume they have nothing to lose by being true to the ways they have been labeled. To defy their reputation would result in some serious cognitive dissonance unless they had an insightful guide at their side.

The world of online sellers, buyers, renters and content providers has provided a partial solution to this problem. We now get rated for how well we did, how valuable we were for others and how popular we've become. We're accumulating scores, stars, rankings and lots of other stats. We acquire reputations in the process which indicate to strangers how much we can be trusted. This functions as a setup to be on our best behavior.

Those that give us ratings are mostly getting rated also. There are open archives of the comments, ratings and votes we've received. Giving reputations goes both ways. It's very different from where the raters neither get rated by other raters or reveal the grades they received from the professor. It's also very different from an entire class getting bad grades on a test without that data reflecting on the instructor, textbook or test that was administered. The online world for giving each other reputations and cultivating trust mostly shares responsibility for outcomes. Nearly everyone develops a positive reputation, self respect and a sense of how much harm they could do to either with reckless behavior.

Early in my dozen years of college teaching, every student in one class gave me perfect scores on the faculty evaluation forms at the end of the quarter. I had previously disclosed to them how I was critical of the ways I had taught the course. I admitted I had fallen short of my own expectations. I felt I had let them down. Their numeric and anecdotal feedback told me I was being over-critical of my efforts and unaware of how my teaching compared favorably to other instructors. This experience taught my how contextual our reputations really are. We do not get rated in isolation or strictly on the merits of our conduct. The context of our self evaluation and relatively standing among peers counts for a lot. People give us what they think we need to hear to strike a good balance between over-confidence and excessive self-censure. They show us how we compare to others as well.

College students need to be given reputations with all this in mind. They need to reveal how they are already critical of themselves, their conduct and their results. They need to compare themselves to others and also get permission to be unique. They may need some guidance for improving their reputations and support for outgrowing their negative reputations. Their reputations need to be more nuanced than being known as a "good student" or "trusted friend". They need to nurture the cultivation of their personal reputations in the contexts of academic pursuits like they already do in ecommerce, gaming and social networking platforms.

Note: This post addresses issue: 14. Giving adolescents reputations
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


Disconnected dashboards create mayhem

Imagine you were playing a computer/console game with a great dashboard filled with readouts of your location, points, penalties and assorted inventories. The dashboard gets updated continually and presented in graphic formats that make it easy for you to get a quick read on where you stand. The only trouble is: the dashboard inside your game tracks the game play of somebody else playing some other game. It's totally disconnected from everything you've done and are trying to accomplish.

That's how I see the metrics used by higher ed to stay on track so their institutions survive and thrive. The dashboard for higher ed is connected to some other game and there are no readouts for what's really happening in the lives of the faculty, students, support staff, administrators or surrounding community. Those who watch the data have no clue whether a college is headed for success, turnarounds, trouble or extinction.

The dashboard in use tracks many metrics that misguide the players and creates numerous problems. Here's some of what those disconnected dashboards tell the faculty to do:

  • Make a priority of teaching poorly in order to score points in committee work, academic research and accumulated citations in others' publications
  • Make sure the students meet the requirements and get grades so they gain a false sense of progress and accomplishment
  • Hold out the promise to the students of earning a diploma without suggesting they will get a real education or better employment prospects from that
  • Disregard the students' other courses, workloads and deadlines so to pile on too much work at the end of each quarter/semester
  • Do nothing when students lose their motivation or need a sounding board since there's no measure for that  kind of faculty initiative
  • Accept no excuses when students miss deadlines to maintain the deception that academic performance problems result entirely from personal shortcomings
  • Regard the majority of entering freshmen who drop out before graduation as simply ill-prepared and under-financed for the demands of higher ed

How could this happen? Why are there not whistle blowers at every institution of higher ed who act on their conscience and expose their disconnected dashboards. Why are the administrators so enamored with watching their enrollment stats, financial data, alumni contributions, athletic standings and college rankings?

Perhaps I know the answer to these questions. Could it be that dashboards cast spells? Do the Keepers of Data use magic on muggles? Does what gets measured and routinely updated put those in charge in a hypnotic trance to disregard their situation and believe in delusions? Yes indeed!

Whatever gets measured gets all kinds of quirky conduct to occur:

  1. People adjust their priorities to focus on what's important while recognizing what to shortchange, downplay and disregard
  2. Achievers figure out how to maximize their rewards and minimize their penalties regardless of how insensitive or unresponsive that appears to others
  3. Paranoids find ways to close off access to the data, keep secrets and eliminate pattern recognition by outsiders
  4. Visionaries adopt short-sighted outlooks that lose sight of trends, contexts and long-term consequences

The solution to this starts with revising the dashboards and changing what gets measured. When we stop thinking that learning happens from exposure to information, we will be in a better position to formulate new process and outcome measures.

Note: This post addresses issue: 13. Remodeling the dashboard
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


So many dropouts - so little time

Hopefully most of the college freshmen who complete their degree programs and walk away with diplomas also got real educations. Some percentage will say their diplomas are not worth the paper they're printed on. They will claim the courses they took were useless or value they took away from the academic side of their college experience was nil. Yet having personally cleared all the hurdles gets most college grads thinking like academics who view dropouts as lacking in commitment, study skills or the financial resources to go the distance. Thus there is neither much compassion in the world for college dropouts or numerous safety nets to catch them when they fall.

In the view of disruptive innovators such as myself, the  college dropouts show up on our radars as untapped demand, unrivaled market space and non-consumers in need of innovative value propositions. However, they cannot be sold on any new solution if they get stereotyped as extremely similar. So I've been pondering how to differentiate between niches of college dropouts. That exploration led me to define four niches of dropouts of degree programs. Here's their brief profiles:

  1. Opt-outs choose to leave college because it's not working for them to stick around. They may experience wasting their time or money. They are likely becoming depressed when they consider staying in college and getting in a far better mood when they contemplate their exit from academia. 
  2. Burn-outs  drop out of college to cut their losses and make ends meet. They get entangled in concurrent obligations which overtax their energy, mental prowess and organizing abilities. They may have become ensnared in campus activities, athletics, employment or family obligations which shortchanged their academic performance. 
  3. Flame-outs fall into too much partying and binge drinking. They compromise their interpersonal connections for getting respected, trusted and understood. They become trapped in clinging, co-dependent relationships which wallow in self-pity and drown their sorrows with alcohol abuse. 
  4. Flunk-outs fail to get challenged by playing the grade game. They may be feeling cheated by low quality instructors or betrayed by the lack of course offerings that match their interests. There appears no way to win and many ways to lose which makes bad grades look like a way out of their nightmare. 

An innovative business model that served any of these four niches, could potentially serve some other populations as well. Among college graduates there are many who drop out of employment or a career that's congruent with their college major. These twixters, late bloomers or "failures to launch" present diverse profiles to also be addressed responsively. Because compassion for dropouts would be a major turnaround for academia and its outputs, start-ups in this space may scale significantly without provoking enticing rivals to invade, imitate or price-cut the new deal.

Note: This post addresses issue: 12. Serving the dropouts first
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


Asking for snarky students

Full time, tenure track faculty are way too busy to teach college courses. They barely have time to formulate what to teach and no time to consider how to teach it. When students then complain about the teaching methods, that appears to the faculty as the very  least of their problems. Here's what preoccupies tenure track faculty members:

  1. writing proposals and applying for several different research grants in hopes of being awarded one
  2. meeting with the college administrator and legal counsel who oversee intellectual property issues impacted by faculty research
  3. designing the research methods, schedule, benchmarks and reporting protocols to comply with the requirements in the grant
  4. recruiting, and then working with, graduate assistants and/or junior faculty who assist in conducting the research and then documenting it
  5. resolving issues that arise with the research subjects, locations, scheduling, compensation, etc.
  6. collaborating with peers on questions that arise from the unexpected findings, in the dirty data or resulting from the research design itself
  7. accumulating citations of other research papers which informed this study
  8. writing a report of this research to submit to a well chosen peer reviewed journal
  9. making revisions in the report to meet the expectations of the peer reviewers
  10. handling invitations and travel arrangements to speak at conferences about this research once it's published
  11. reviewing other peers' submittals to journals and/or conferences
  12. serving on hiring committees for new departmental faculty, reading candidates' dissertations and publications, as well as interviewing them individually
  13. serving on departmental committees to assess peers' publications, research and personal worthiness for promotions and/or tenure
  14. reading extensively in their field to formulate further research directions
  15. responding to requests from peers in other institutions who are seeking advice on their research
  16. providing onsite consulting within corporations and/or governmental agencies wanting to apply the research to their endeavors
  17. serving on one or more campus committees to address any number of critical issues outside their department

With this staggering workload, it's no wonder faculty members routinely exclaim: "students are not customers". The faculty are constantly entangled in a web of customer relationships with the agencies providing grants, individuals assisting the research, worldwide peers reviewing their write-ups and departmental peers reviewing their career advancements. Students do not influence any of those relationships, assist any of the desired outcomes and further any of the research itself. Students' complaints appear inconsequential and oblivious to the high stakes game being played outside the classroom by the faculty. Students are not peers in the faculty member's world of intense peer to peer dynamics.

Meanwhile the students feel misunderstood, disrespected and used. They experience many of the faculty as insensitive, unresponsive and aloof. They question why the teaching cannot be more relevant, useful and engaging? They are suspicious of getting deceived, exploited and betrayed while going into staggering debt to get a diploma. The students are as justified in seeming snarky as the faculty are in disregarding the snark. There's no solution at the level of this presenting problem. The stalemate can only be broken outside this robust, self-maintaining system for academic research.

Note: This post addresses issue: 11. Preempting snark attacks
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


Replacing weak foundations

Colleges have always provided a solid foundation for bureaucratic employment. Students prepare for showing up on time and sitting though boring meetings at work by attending classes in college. They prepare for sending memos, writing reports and answering correspondence by completing homework assignments. They learn to deal with inept attempts at delegation by supervisors though coping with vague class assignments and evaluation schema. Students get practiced at serving on committees dominated by a few egomaniacs by working in groups on class projects. They get acclimated to managing up effectively in hierarchical authority structures by submitting to the command and control of each course's instructor. They adapt to the seemingly arbitrary changes in performance reviews, pay raises and promotions by receiving subjective grades on submittals and some tests. The learn to deal with voluminous policy manuals and penalties for non-compliance within bureaucracies by navigating their way through the tangle of syllabi, prerequisites, and degree requirements. Most importantly, students prove to themselves that they can commit to a goal, overcome adversity from countless departments and complete what they set out to accomplish.

For the past century, colleges have also provided a solid foundation for particular college majors. Students can learn how to practice a profession, fulfill the sophisticated responsibilities of a highly technical position or join the ranks of research scientists. While these majors neglect a broad exposure to the liberal arts, they set up students for subsequent apprenticeships in their chosen fields. Whether they will work in film, oceanography, law, archeology, counseling or many other fields, college prepares them more than adequately to get jobs and outgrow those entry level positions. The content of these majors get updated constantly as practitioners make new discoveries, adopt new approaches and utilize new technologies.

It's becoming increasingly evident that colleges have stopped providing a solid foundation for the students who had difficulty choosing a major and then get jobs completely unrelated to what they studied in college. Those graduates labeled as "failure to launch" also expose how they've been given a weak foundation. The high percentage of college dropouts also suggests that the foundation being offered is either already obsolete, weakly constructed or too costly for the amount of benefit.

As I've pondered how the foundation for future careers may be structurally unsound, here's the flaws I'm currently seeing:

  1. Learning to "talk the talk" and sound impressive does not result in "walking the talk" or doing as they say 
  2. Troublesome authority issues in college persist as problems with self-confidence, thinking for oneself and initiative in later years
  3. Adaptation to playing "stupid games" in college courses spawns strong desires to play genuinely rewarding games online with others
  4. Getting gamed by the grading/matriculation system teaches students how to cheat, exploit and deceive others, rather than how to create authentic value with others
  5. Learning to maneuver around the academic space prepares for careers in college teaching, but not for spaces that play by different rules
  6. Getting regarded as a problem, threat or enemy of the college system results in seeing oneself as deviant, defective or deficient
  7. Being told one's unusual ambitions are unrealistic makes for feeling cynical, defeated, ambivalent or lost
  8. Getting exposed to useless academic experiences rubs off on students in ways where nothing seems worthwhile or intrinsically valuable to them
  9. Being graded according to normative standards spawns perfectionism in students who can never be satisfied with their own efforts 
  10. Getting held accountable to regurgitate one right answer stifles the growth of complex reasoning, alternative frames of reference and acceptable paradoxes. 

All this suggests that weak foundations need to be replaced under all, but the most up-to-date, college majors. Students need to prepare for non-bureaucratic employment. They need to become self-starters, to function as knowledge workers, to learn from teacher-less experiences and to get practiced at co-creating results within diverse communities.

Note: This post addresses issue: 10. Building a different foundation
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.