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.


Colleges need baggage handling systems

When something goes wrong, sometimes it's the result of what we did or did not do. Then we can say "it's my bad" and know what to do differently next time. In these instances, we learned our lesson - end of story. We can let it go easily and move on with our lives. There's no need to look back and run over the incident in our minds.

On other occasions, something goes wrong regardless of our conduct or in spite of what we did or did not do. The setback happened to us and gives us the feeling of being victimized. We had no choice in it, no control over it or no way to avoid it. We cannot take responsibility for it. But it left an indelible impression on us. It may happen again when we're least expecting it. There's no end to the story. We cling to the past as if there's no lesson to be learned and no way to move forward. What happened before make us worry incessantly as we replay the incident in our minds. We've become convinced that we're no longer as safe as we assumed we were. We learned the hard way from a troubling experience that proves it's not a bunch of paranoid crap in our minds. We've acquired a piece of emotional baggage.

An emotional baggage handling system recognizes when someone is carrying this heavy burden. Performance problems get diagnosed as symptoms of the deeper problems with past incidents. Someone's inability to get motivated, focused or committed shows up as a clear sign of unresolved issues. Emotional baggage explains why anyone appears to be:

  • a poor judge of character, situations or scams
  • prone to over-react to criticisms, betrayals or abusive remarks
  • obsessed with only the downside or upside of an opportunity
  • inclined to live with problems rather than make changes and solve them
  • incapable of understanding others or seeing how to help them get what they want
  • eager to be seen as either totally amazing or worthless
  • plagued by the effects of others being bad for his/her brain

Colleges seem like emotionally burdened ecosystems to those of us who can make this diagnosis. Many faculty members cannot relate to students' concerns, issues and performance problems. Countless students cannot function effectively in the academic or campus environments. Support staff come across as controlling rather than putting others' minds at ease. Almost everyone's baggage is doing more harm than good to each others' emotional state of being.

A baggage handling system could clean up this mess. It would spawn a consensus for how many familiar problems result from emotional baggage. It could define the challenge of resolving hidden issues and learning a story-ending lesson from what happened. It could work with the ways brains work rather than fueling anxiety, acting out or depression. It would then empower individuals to change their minds at the level of:

  1. their predictions about what always/never happens, 
  2. their expectations for how others react and construe them
  3. their beliefs what gets rewarded and punished in their world
  4. their sense of fate, of their personal identity and of the meaning of life 

In the meantime, tuitions rates will soar, dropout rates will climb, administrators will make ineffective decisions, students will lose motivation, instructors will deliver uninspired lectures and dorms will be havens for hysterics. None of this will get diagnosed as symptoms of underlying emotional baggage. Little of the remedial efforts will prove to be effective. Participants in the ecosystem will acquire more justifications for their fears and more negative experiences to internalize as emotional baggage.

Note: This post addresses issue: 9. Resolving emotional baggage
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


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. Colleges fail to admit how the design of their currricula, teaching methods, assignments and schedules are responsible for so many of the problems experienced by students. Instead, academia seems to take the attitude: "if you cannot take the heat, quit your bitchin and get out of the kitchen". Academic rigor and traditions are valued over newly minted insights about cognitive functionality. As result, more than half of entering freshman "get out of the kitchen" by dropping out before graduation.

Here's a quick rundown of how academic experiences work against our brain functionality:

  1. When we're exposed to excessive expertise, we learn to act helpless and then become morbidly dependent on authority figures. This works for submitting to the alpha dog in our pack, but not for knowledge work, creativity, and many other roles that call for our personal resourcefulness.
  2. When we're put under prolonged pressure, we suffer crippling anxiety. We lose physical coordination, mental agility, immune responses and restful sleep. We remain in a state of agitation which we cannot shake off, sleep off or mood alter away. This is our fight/flight response gone awry because the dangerous predators seem to be constantly present.
  3. When we get framed as deviant, defective or deficient, we unconsciously buy into the diagnosis and play the part. The way we get seen, labeled, talked to and evaluated becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. While this worked to maintain safety in numbers and avoid getting kicked out of our tribe, it's not helpful when cultivating our best performance and unique abilities.
  4. When we're subjected to excessive control and guilt trips, we over-compensate in order to restore our emotional balance. We may lash out at others or take out our frustrations on ourselves. Displacing these anxieties gives us urges to overindulge in drinking, shopping, gambling and many other escapes.  While this keeps us from totally losing our minds, it sabotages our relationships, reputations and self respect in the process.
  5. When we're exposed to bad examples, we imitate them regardless of their effectiveness. We may easily become hypocrites, incompetent technicians or bullies if those examples get paraded in front us. This learning by osmosis enables us, as infants, to add twenty new words to our vocabulary every day and to mimic our parents behaviors which meets with their approval. It does not safeguard us against internalizing gibberish or dysfunctional exemplars. 
  6. When losses, setbacks and other misfortunes do not make sense to us, we get devastated and drown in despair.. We are prone to long bouts of depression when we're faced with a barrage of meaningless incidents. This works to prevent us from digging a deeper hole for ourselves or from foolishly chasing after rainbows.  However, it does not generate the meaning that's missing or define new directions for us to pursue.
  7. When we're rewarded handsomely for our efforts, we lose our self motivation, creativity and long term perspective. We become addicted to the extrinsic rewards, greedy for more and desperate to maximize our earnings. This works to motivate our stockpiling food for a long winter, but not for taking others' interests to heart. 

This amounts to seven count indictment against most forms of academic rigor, requirements and restrictions. However, it also defines a complete turnaround that will work superbly with how our brains function. Once I complete these fifteen criteria for a reinvented higher ed, I explore that brain-compatible approach in detail.

Note: This post addresses issue: 8. Conforming to brain specs
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


Providing good jobs in academia

College faculty members and administrators each need a good job in order to do a good job. There's a growing body of evidence that their jobs are deteriorating and in need of considerable revisions. Here's three books that reveal what's become of jobs in academia:
  1. As I read Saving Alma Mater- a rescue plan for America's public universities, James Garland taught me that the job of a public College President is impossible. The demands placed on the position exceed human capabilities. There's a need to orchestrate lobbyists to correct the short sighted thinking of legislators about improving access, lowering costs and funding growth. There are donors and alumni to lure into making bigger donations. The Provosts and Deans need leadership, mediation and and confrontations. There are conferences to attend, speeches to give and receptions to host. Then there's the actual issues, trends, decisions and strategies to think through, discuss in meetings and summarize in written form. There's too much to do and not enough time. The same holds true for everyone in administrative positions. 
  2. As I read WannaBe U - Inside the Corporate University, Gaye Tuchman taught me how easily academic departments fall into turf battles, political infighting and stalemates. Faculty members who bridge the chasms between silos or reach out to the administration get caught in the crossfire. The academic side of universities are experiencing as state of siege as financial and accountability pressures invade their realms. Faculty members are routinely stressed out, vigilant, apprehensive and uncontrollably defensive. On occasion they lash out against others, vent their frustrations and make the working conditions worse for everyone within earshot.
  3. As I'm reading The Lost Soul of Higher Education, Ellen Schrecker has taught me how meaningless it's becoming to teach at the college level. Academic freedoms are getting eroded by the culture war that erupted after 9/11. Academia is getting held in contempt by conservatives, framed as a threat to national security and suspected of traitorous intentions. The change has come over higher ed that now imagines colleges have brand names, revenue drivers and competitive advantages over rivals. This makes investments in quality teaching, hiring and research become questionable expenses. The faculty are plagued by abrupt cutbacks, cancellations and terminations which are making no sense, destroying their sense of purpose and weakening their commitments. 
All these developments stand in stark contrast to jobs that enable doing a good job. Briefly here are the components of effective job designs which I've synthesized from my extensive reading and consulting:
  1. Personal discretion: The job can specify what needs to get done but then leave it up the employee's better judgement for how to get it done. This frames the employee's self critique as something to nurture into more comprehensive and nuanced self-evaluations. Micromanaging and wasted efforts get ruled out by this effective  form of delegation.
  2. Quilted mission statements: Each employee gets valued for differences in their outlooks and frames of reference. The meaning of obligations, expectations and incidents is expected to be highly personalized. There's no way to get everyone in the same page with a blanket mission statement. But there are lots of ways to validate and cultivate the personal meaning of what's occurring.
  3. Respected for practicing: It takes repetition to refine methods, procedures and models. Once something becomes a successful routine, it become reliable and worthy of respect. There's satisfaction in the competency itself, as well as the reputation for being able to handle situations that call upon those routines.
  4. Collaborations with colleagues: While working around others, common interests emerge as well as diverse talents to cover each others' shortcomings. This sets up lots of potential collegiality where each makes a difference in others' work and receives the same benefits from participation and contributions to collective efforts. 
  5. Mentoring and getting mentored: It seems like we have a deep seated instinct to nurture the next generation as it follows in our footsteps. We also feel a deep appreciation when the older generation takes an interest in our own development. The combination of giving and receiving this special kind of attention adds a big dimension to workplace commitments.
  6. Watching the scoreboard: When we can see the metrics for ourselves and others, we feel grounded and confident. We recognize areas where we can improve. Outcome measures can reveal ways to coordinate with others, cut back on excesses, eliminate duplication and create more efficient protocols. Everyone then takes more pride in the work, responsibility for problems and initiative beyond their job descriptions.
  7. Predominance of intrinsic motivation: All these prior dimensions of a good job bring out the best in us. We use our unique talents where they apply most effectively. We get creative and insightful about situations in need of a change. We enjoy feeling self motivated and protect that energy when asked to compromise or undermine it.

The reinvention of higher ed calls for major remodeling of jobs along these lines. Without changes along these dimensions, everyone in academic employment will do less than their best, allow problems to get worse and work against the interests of colleagues and their institution's survival

Note: This post addresses issue: 7. Revising job designs
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


School work without schooling

What do you think really constitutes "school work" and what falls short of that? I'm thinking that "school work" gets defined by the parameters of the system in which it is performed. When the system incorporates classrooms and/or online scheduled meeting times, school work must be highly compliant within constrained activities. When the system provides authorities in print and in person, school work gets defined in terms of covering the material or studying subject matter. When the system gives grades for timely attendance, submittals  and "participation", school work becomes an experience of getting gamed by the system. When school work gets dictated by schooling, the results will be extremely problematic as we're seeing in K-12 and higher ed programs.

When a system excludes meeting times, authorities and grading, several other versions of "school work" become possible:

  1. working at formulating better questions from what is already personally and uniquely understood and unknown
  2. striving to get more useful, insightful and inspiring answers to those personal questions
  3. finding others who appear close enough to one's own understanding in order to be helpful, exemplary and supportive 
  4. using one's personal context to define which directions to explore and which possibilities to prioritize
  5. diagnosing what's gone wrong and/or what's missing when learning has stopped occurring or has lost its effectiveness
  6. changing one's pursuits when experiencing a loss of motivation, curiosity or resolve
  7. testing the validity of one's recent findings when they're applied to situations in need of solutions, results or changes
  8. upgrading one's own comprehension with added valuable distinctions, concepts, frameworks and perspectives
  9. experimenting with different approaches to become more proficient at making choices, decisions and diagnoses
  10. inquiring into others' work in these ways to learn from them, help them along and collaborate with their common interests

Like any kind of worthwhile work, these possible approaches to "school work" require deliberate practice. It takes getting good at them in order to get good from doing them. But with proficiency comes many benefits. The seemingly inescapable problems with expertise disappear effortlessly. The familiar problems with losing interest, motivation and focus get preempted by so much satisfying and self-motivated learning. The breakdowns in particular pursuits get addressed without embarrassment, stigmatization or labeling.

None of this will make sense to flat landers who remain convinced that anyone who tries to sail to the horizon will fall off the edge of the world. School work without schooling seems nonsensical to their self-confirming frames of reference. No learning can really happen without school work dictated by classrooms, schedules, authorities and grading. Boy, will they be surprised when the learning is a much higher quality at a much lower cost!

Note: This post addresses issue: 6. Updating the labor model
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


Culturally electrified to reciprocate

Every generation since the invention of the telegraph has become increasing electrified. We've adapted to the transition from breakdowns of the moving parts of mechanisms to the "no moving parts" of electronics. We've migrated from taking time to get informed like everybody else to receiving instantaneous and customized information resources. We've left behind the expectations that we function like a cog in a machine to now act like servers in a data center and generators in a smart power grid. We're now emulating hardware that gives electricity to others so they may be electrified like ourselves. We live inside circuits of ongoing reciprocities.

The production from printing presses can inform us, but not electrify us with links to follow, embedded videos to watch and ways to add tags or comments. People that sound like printed words when they speak seem boring and obsolete to us nowadays. Getting pictured by those propagandizers as their consumers or audience does not work for us like it did before. Getting nothing to share, serve to others or mash up into something new -- seems too authoritative to be really valuable. Coming across as a handout or a hands-free convenience is not nearly as convenient to us as giving us a hands-on experience of lending-a-hand or hand-crafting some personal handiwork.

We've come face to face with staggering abundance. Think of the answers you get when you ask:

  1. how many titles can I consider buying to then swap, share and lend out (of books, videos, games, songs, etc.)?
  2. how many versions, variations or customization alternatives can I choose between?
  3. how much space is there to explore (on these servers, in this sim, within this application)?
  4. how much help can I get (prior to the sale, during my decision process, while installing it, amidst my use of it)?

Each of these blows the lid off of culturally endorsed limitation, scarcity and insufficiency. The answers to questions like these say a lot about how we can share our surplus, give up the idea of sacrifice and enjoy the benefits of trusting others. There's a program we can get with that serves others like a blade in a rack of a server farm. We can come from a similar place as solar panels putting some electricity back into the power grid for others' use and load balancing. We can give back in lots of ways and get plenty in the process.

Higher ed has flirted with this cultural electrification. There's now an abundance of course offerings, college majors, library resources and campus activities at most schools. Facebook functions as social networking which reveals the abundance of common interests, dating prospects and worthwhile connections within the college enrollment. Lectures have been posted as slides on a website, distributed as podcasts to download, and captured as videos to watch online. Class time has been re-conceived as opportunities for problem solving and tutoring of misunderstandings. Some instructors have made use of email, wiki, blogs and RSS subscriptions within their instructional design. Courses have been offered online as universities invest in LMS software installations. There's even been some liberation of intellectual property via the open source movement.

Higher ed is not onboard with getting electrified to reciprocate. There's no way to profitably provide the service, customized options and support for self-exploration. There's no way to benefit from the students functioning like servers or power generators giving the course content away for free. There's no need for students to provide their peers with educational experiences, responses to queries and support for their personal explorations. All that will come in time as portions of the higher ed become contemporary with these changing times and more culturally electrified.

Note: This post addresses issue: 5. The revolution already happened
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


Getting higher ed turned around

Anytime it's time for a change, there are two directions we can pursue. Imagine you're standing inside a huge elastic band. You can stretch the elastic by pushing against it or you can move in the opposite direction which meets no resistance. You can predict which change will snap back into it's former position and which will naturally endure. These two kinds of change have been called oscillation and transformation. They represent the difference between getting nowhere quickly and getting somewhere slowly.

Higher ed has been stretching the elastic band since the end of the second World War. It's been heading in the wrong direction while thinking it's making major progress toward lasting reforms. Whenever we individually or collectively push for foolish changes, there are many patterns which become increasingly evident to outside observers while we're enamored with our struggles. To others watching us stretch the elastic band, we appear to be:

  1. throwing the baby out with the bath water instead of nurturing what is precious in our immediate presence
  2. fighting uphill battles against adversity instead of letting beneficial victories fall into place
  3. trying to become someone we're not instead of mastering the fulfillment our deeply satisfying destiny
  4. functioning as our own worst enemy instead of correcting our misguided sense of opportunities and necessities
  5. over promising, over thinking and over spending instead of finding balanced proportions for each pursuit of excellence
  6. inadvertently creating more problems, enemies and outsiders instead of building solutions, alliances and communities
  7. convinced by the resistance to change that we're headed in the right direction instead of realizing our situation calls for our turnaround 

For higher ed to achieve its much-needed turnaround, it needs to call off misguided educational reforms. It needs to perceive how many of its change efforts are doomed to chronic oscillation. It must stop trying to be something other than its true calling.

When higher ed gets turned around, it will deliver more value for the money spent. The completion rate will improve as fewer students get driven to drop out, lose ambition and adopt negative self concepts. The current trend of soaring tuition and fees will be reversed for institutions who have escaped their elastic bands. Those institutions which find these ways to transform with ease will be:
  • providing students with higher quality higher educations
  • nurturing their faculty in diverse scholarly pursuits
  • empowering the campus personnel to find better solutions
  • validating the student services' ways of helping students mature
  • coordinating efforts between academic silos to prevent the abuse of students
  • revising the use of class time, assignments and group projects
  • managing the administration with more listening and continual learning
None of these changes will occur by "change efforts" or "consulting interventions". The transformations will come about naturally by each participant in the institution doing what feels right and intrinsically rewarding. The awareness of impacting many others will give each a sense of how much, when and which option to pursue. The permission to realize outcomes with ease will avoid the pitfalls of false directions and flawed strategies. Most of the much-needed improvements will fall into place amidst widespread cooperation, collaboration and creativity.

Note: This post addresses issue: 4. Calling a halt to reform efforts
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


Getting expertise working in our favor

When we're trying to learn some expertise at a scheduled time in a group setting, we've set ourselves up for some costly limitations. We might hear of those contrasints by getting told:

  • "the group cannot wait around for you, or anyone else, to have a teachable moment"
  • "we've got to cover the material in our alloted time and not hold up everyone to answer your questions"
  • "there's no way to address each individual's context where they expect to put this expertise to personal use"
  • "this has to be repetitious for some and too big a stretch for others because you're not starting out on the same page"
  • "we have to go through this together at the same pace, not slow down for some and speed up for others"
  • "if we went as deep as you want to go the others, who want a superficial look, would complain about your desires"
  • "it's your job to study harder -- it's not the system's responsibility to be more responsive, receptive and engaging"

These limitations vanish when we're learning in our own time in our own ways. We may call upon others, ask for help and even lend a hand to others' pursuits without summoning those costly constraints from scheduled groups. Online learning will someday realize these freedoms with the abundance of attention it makes available. Thus far, we've set up scheduled groups online, as if classroom learning is the only way to go and physical limitation remain in effect. That's expected because the online environment is a significant game-changer. We're in that phase of calling automobiles "horseless carriages" because our frame of reference resides in the previous system of horse drawn-vehicles.

When we take full advantage of online learning freedoms, a wide variety of problems with expertise will vanish. Here are seven of those problems I expect will disappear in the near future:

  1. Excessive expertise: When we're too smart for our own good or too smart for others, we overwhelm the teachable moment. We miss out on time for reflection, encouragement of dissent, questions arising from confusion and confrontations of lurking cognitive dissonance. Amidst freedoms, the right amount of expertise can be portioned out routinely for each individual.
  2. Toxic expertise: When expertise is shared with learners who's symptoms have been misdiagnosed, the expertise does more harm than good. Problems with motivation, comprehension and competency get worse. Online learning freedoms will support the correction of misdiagnoses and speedy remedies of personal symptoms. 
  3. Distant expertise: When expertise falls far outside a learners "zone of proximal development", the value of becoming smarter appears unattainable. The expertise too far out or far from a present grasp of the knowledge. Online interactions will respond to individual ZPD's  where learning can occur by imitation of conduct and osmosis of others' ways of thinking. 
  4. Pedantic expertise: When expertise has been codified into research papers and textbooks, it's too abstract to be practical for non-academic interests. Understanding gets stuck in the idea stage where there is no praxis, internalizing by personal experiments or actively walking the talk. Online collaborative processes will translate abstractions into conduct for getting results, realizing changes and solving problems.
  5. Specialized expertise: When expertise becomes too sophisticated, it becomes insulated from preliminary and partial understandings. The disconnects create a chasm which beginners cannot cross successfully. Online accessibility will support the gradual development of thorough understandings from shaky beginnings. 
  6. Bundled expertise: When expertise gets included in a voluminous book, long course or prolonged set of recordings, it becomes inaccessible. The barriers to entry insure that very few find the expertise to be useful. Online offerings will unbundle the expertise to improve access, value extraction and eventual applications. 
  7. Inadequate expertise: When expertise is undeveloped or naive, it can be very misleading for unsuspecting newbies. It needs to be vetted by customer advocacy or crowd filtering mechanisms. Online processes will tag expertise for it's perceived worthiness and reliability. 
When these problems vanish, everyone learning online will get the timing right and be able to experience frequent teachable moments. Their process of exploration can move forward by their own questions, curiosities and fascination. They will find uses for new understandings amidst their personal problems, projects and pursuits. They will be in control of the pace, depth, sequence and duration of their learning activities. They will learn more with greater ease, satisfaction and benefit to others in the process.

Note: This post addresses issue: 3. Next generation migrations to online delivery
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


Getting paid personal attention

We're probably all familiar with the idea of an attention economy spawned by the scarcity of consumers' attention. We don't have what it takes to watch the TV commercials, read every article in print publications, or open each piece of junk mail. We're maxed out on getting bombarded with too much information. At the recent Educause conference, danah boyd revisited this world of limited attention and changing dynamics.

This scarcity creates a problems for broadcasters, megaphone-mouths and every kind of pipeline direct to consumers. Content delivery no longer has free access to consumers' eyes and ears. We've been able to change the station since radios were invented, fast forward and pause when tape players came along and mute the sound once remote controls got sophisticated. We've unbundled recordings and print publications to access the little bit that interests us online. We've been in control of what we take in through our senses for many decades now.

Meanwhile, colleges continue to expect students to give the instructors, TA's and homework assignments their undivided attention. The educational offering from higher ed  gets positioned as scarce and easily missed. Students get threatened with bad grades, falling behind or flunking out if they fail to pay full attention. Anything that competes for the students' attention gets regarded as an unwelcome distraction, interference or interruption. Colleges continue educating as if students have no experience with remote controls, pause and mute buttons.

An increasing number of students are continually immersed in social networking through their handhelds and laptops. They are following lots of interpersonal connections, paying close attention to some and most importantly, getting paid personal attention by many. They are experiencing the opposite of this pervasive scarcity of attention: they are wealthy in a world that pays them an abundance of personal attention.

In their world of abundance, their college's demand for undivided attention is a major interruption, putdown and disregard of their experience. It's a shocking contrast to their online experience.  It seems like an extortion attempt to expect that full attention be paid by the students when no viable personal attention is paid to the students. It's not a fair deal or an enticing offer. It sucks to stop focusing on receiving tons of personal attention. This kind of imposition occurs inside systems of abuse, domination or incarceration. The underlings get silenced and then told what to think, say and do. Payments only get made to appease tyrants or buy favors from their guards. There's no fair deals, listening or empathy for the exploited when power gets extremely imbalanced.

Of course, college educators cannot tell their students to stop paying attention, to divide their attention or to make receiving personal attention their top priority. Dictators cannot consciously facilitate the overthrow of their regime or the invasion of their palace. They can only invite the revolution by persisting with their clueless demands and insensitive controls.

We can relocate college experiences into the world of abundant personal attention. This will realize my ambition to make college extremely affordable and accessible to the disadvantaged.

Note: This post addresses issue: 2. Changing the economics of paying attention
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


Declines in reading comprehension

The vast membership in the Higher Ed edifice believes that reading comprehension is here to stay. Their unwavering faith in the continuity of "reading for meaning" is shared by publishers, authors, editors and vendors of books, magazines, journals and newspapers.  All these institutions depend on a populace capable of robust reading comprehension for their continued existence. A decline in reading for meaning would pull the rug out from all these purveyors of printed words.

There's a growing body of evidence that reading comprehension is trending downward which includes:

  • the number of K-12 students who score on reading evaluations at one or more levels below their grade
  • the number of students and adults diagnosed with reading disabilities and related cognitive impairments
  • the number of entering undergraduate students who require remedial courses to read at a college level 
  • the number of college students incapable of discerning meaning from assigned readings longer than text messages

Those committed to educating students perceive these trends as obvious problems to solve. They argue that professional instructors can do a better job of teaching reading skills. They may call for additional class hours, staff or funds to correct for these deficiencies. They imagine any deficiency in reading comprehension can be fixed with more and better teaching, reading practice and exposure to challenging texts. All that's need is to try harder to do the job that been in place for centuries.

I suspect these educators have a bad case of "didn't see it coming". They are blinded by their legacy technologies, investments and successes to see what's beneath the evidence of downward trends. They won't recognize the change until it's history. In the meantime, it would give them a very bad case of cognitive dissonance to recognize the patterns I'm seeing.

Cognitive neuroscientists have studied what brains are doing when someone experiences reading disabilities. With the assistance of functional MRI's, they have discovered how much of our brains get utilized to simply read printed words. Reading for meaning calls upon even more cognitive resources. Neuroscientists have also discovered the amazing resilience of our brains to adapt to losses of limbs, sensory organs or brain regions. This neural plasticity accommodates dramatic changes in what we're dealing with by rewiring connections and putting abandoned regions to new uses. Our brains also tidy up several times in the first decades of our lives. Any connections not in use get cleared away while those engaged get fortified. This gives us the experience of being incapable of doing something we only tried briefly while amazing ourselves with the ease of doing something we've practiced many different ways.

Advocates of ongoing reading comprehension take these findings from cognitive neuroscience to justify their faith. They assume that brains can get rewired to resourcefully read for meaning. They insist on providing the practice to ensure that the connections get built up so that words in print make sense easily. They predict that brains will favor this ability to read ink on paper over other adaptations, accommodations and abilities.

I would join this camp and agree wholeheartedly with their assumptions under the following conditions:

  1. brains could only get news of current events from printed newspapers by eliminating all radios, televisions and internet connections
  2. brains could experience a predominance of printed words by eliminating the need to process images on screens in theaters, on TV's, in computers and on handheld devices
  3. brains could limit motor control functions to gross movements in physical space by eliminating keyboards, mice, remotes, game controllers and online buttons, menus, dashboards
  4. brains could process conversations with other people only F2F in person by eliminating phone calls, texts messages, emails, comment boxes, web cams, uploaded videos and avatars in multiplayer game spaces
  5. brains could only process sounds occurring in real time by eliminating prerecorded music, soundtracks, sound effects, podcasts and videos 
  6. brains only adapted to holding conventional tools and utensils by eliminating handhelds devices, portable electronics and remote controls with their array of small buttons, sliders and settings 
  7. brains could adjust to a slower pace of changes in technology, appliances and tools by eliminating the twentieth century and this first decade of the twenty-first 

In other words, I'm seeing our brains as under siege, especially for those under 20 years old. Our brains are being forced to choose between reading comprehension and many more immediate, pressing and alluring challenges. The demands of either choice are overwhelming and preclude doing both. Some will favor reading comprehension over multimedia immersion. I suspect the vast majority will abandon reading comprehension to keep up with these changing times. Higher Ed will need to be reinvented to provide value without required reading.

Note: This post addresses issue: 1. Anticipating a steep decline in reading comprehension
in the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


Issues in the reform of higher ed

Last year I wrote extensively here about educational reform, the reinvention of higher ed and college level school work. Since that time, I've continued to read widely, deepen my understanding and accumulate more ideas. It's time I return to sharing my reflections in written form. 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.

  1. Anticipating a steep decline in reading comprehension - Until recently, our brains could handle both the cognitive load of intense reading and physical activities. The advent of immersion in multimedia and mobile communications preempts reading for meaning or for extended periods of time. (see Declines in reading comprehension)
  2. Changing the economics of paying attention - When we focus on written material, we shut out distractions to pay close enough attention. Getting paid so much attention by friends, followers and subscribers via social networking platforms has changed what seems to be an equitable amount of paying attention to educators, assignments and class participation. (see Getting paid personal attention)
  3. Next generation migrations to online delivery - First generation online degree programs continue to cover the required material just like owners of those new horseless carriages thought they needed a buggy whip to get down the road.  (see Getting expertise working in our favor)
  4. Calling a halt to reform efforts - Academics can research attempts at reform, write insightful books about the value of college educations and talk about reform extensively, but they cannot change the ground they're standing on with conviction. (see Getting higher ed turned around)
  5. The revolution already happened - Any change in technology revises how we see ourselves, share our experiences and relate to our milieu. Those that have gone digital, mobile and shorthand are coming from a very different place that sets up a failure to communicate and steep challenge to cultivate rapport with them. (see Culturally electrified to reciprocate)
  6. Updating the labor model - Tuition an fees are soaring out of sight, in part, due to the ways teaching and learning happen. The way all the school work gets done could follow the way we're getting other things done by crowdsourcing and other new production models once the outputs, credentials and comparisons get brought up to date. (see School work without schooling)
  7. Revising job designs - Most teaching and administrative jobs in academia are so poorly designed they inadvertently reward retaliation, stagnation, indifference and internal politics. Changes is job design will transform professional conduct and the resulting experiences for those on the receiving end. (see Providing good jobs in academia)
  8. Conforming to brain specs - Stress, sleep deprivation and physical inactivity dismantle brain functions, immune responses and sociability. Educational experiences designed for personal functionality will support the human need for anxiety relief, sleep and physical activity. (see How colleges are bad for our brains)
  9. Resolving emotional baggage - Most ineptitude, ineffectiveness and neglect impacting the panorama of students' problems result from internalized negative experiences on both sides of each conflict. Systems that resolve past history will produce greater efficacy, effectiveness and attentiveness among everyone involved. (see Colleges need baggage handling systems)
  10. Building a different foundation - Higher ed has a long tradition of building an academic foundation as if its expertise is scarce, authorities are essential filters and connections between books are missing. A new foundation will tell a very different story about abundance, surplus, access and freedom. (see Replacing weak foundations)
  11. Preempting snark attacks - Most college live or captured  lectures are asking for trouble from students' raised expectations about engagement, interaction and social production of results. Presentations designed to get on their wavelength will turn the tables on conventional attempts to be informative, authoritative and superior. (see Asking for snarky students)
  12. Serving the dropouts first - The majority of entering freshman walk out before graduating on a costly experience that fails to deliver value at a fair price. Their unmet needs define a disruptive value proposition and an uncontested space across the chasm from the hype about social media. (see So many dropouts - so little time)
  13. Remodeling the dashboard - Institutions of higher ed monitor their college rankings, enrollment levels, alumni donations, building programs and bottom line as if they are in competition with other universities, televised sports and subsidized social programs.  The upgraded dashboard will monitor breakdowns in learning, cooperation and other dimensions of collaborative efforts. (see Disconnected dashboards create mayhem)
  14. Giving adolescents reputations - Residential colleges cope with the acting out of teens as if it takes time to outgrow immaturity slowly. Reputation economies create people being on their best behavior at any age by giving them significant power that impacts others and generates immediate, personal feedback. (see Giving college students reputations)
  15. Prepared for the next economy - Academic research studies what already exists and suffers from a lag effect when adapting to turbulent changes. Visionary enterprises foresee what's emerging and prepares its participants for those eventualities before they become tangible artifacts for empirical research. (see Changing economic fundamentals)
Institutions of higher ed are phenomenally complex systems. There are no easy answers and simple solutions to questions of educational reform. Each of these issues runs deep on its own and interconnects with many of the others. I intend to bring some of my usual clarity and creativity to the ongoing conversations about reforming higher ed.


Leveraging the myriad of conversations

For those of us who present in classrooms, training sessions, workshops and conference sessions, times have changed dramatically. Gone are the days of passive consumers of printed content in need a little jump start by an orator with visual aids. Gone is the audience that was equally isolated and offline as books in print or closed door sessions. Welcome to the myriad of continual conversations that regard informative presentations as interruptions to their lively interchanges.

Engagement in this myriad of continual conversations makes any participant seem distracted, low on attention span and incapable of paying attention. Yet they are far more attentive to those conversations which they find absorbing, challenging and rewarding. Rather than getting mere information, they are getting alternative perspectives, valued commitments, useful feedback and thoughtful responses to their queries. 

On the surface there appears no way to compete with this myriad of continual conversations. Most presenters believe they cannot join in those conversations without abandoning what content they've prepared to deliver. They insist that their audiences pay attention up front. They face a threat to their enterprise from this distraction rather than seeing an opportunity for giving, caring, listening, or relating.  They imagine they will lose everything if they give into the backchannel, twitter stream or other running commentary on their presentation.

Thinking this way invites a snark (SNide remARK) attack. The presenter will come under siege from the transformed audience who experiences relentless content delivery as blatant:
  • disregard of their myriad of continual conversations
  • disrespect for their insightful play-by-play commentary getting shared online with followers
  • devotion to a flawed strategy of domination and abuse of power
  • designs to manipulate, deceive and run a scam on the audience

This problem for presenters is similar to lots of other problems that call for a change in strategy:
  1. sellers wanting to upgrade their features and benefits to charge premium prices while buyers are looking for cheaper bargains
  2. manufacturers who want customers to choose from what's on the shelf while the customers want customizing options
  3. broadcasters who want audiences to watch their shows with commercials as scheduled while viewers want to download the content, time shift their viewing and skip over the commercial spots
  4. journalists who want readers of news to get their coverage from vetted sources while seekers of news reports trust citizens who happen to be close to the incidents to tell it as they see it

One way to leverage these strategic opportunities is to give the customers what they want. In negotiating terms, this is adopting a lose/win strategy which makes unilateral concessions to the opposing side. It falls short from a win/win strategy because it takes the customers demands literally. It attempts to resolve positional conflicts at the level where differences are irreconcilable. 

A more effective approach shows an interest in the others' interests. The innovative strategy responds to their underlying need for regard, respect, power sharing and transparency. They want to feel understood more than put in charge of everything. They are creating an opportunity to work with them, not for them or against them. A effective presentation strategy speaks of their interests, contexts, and myriad of conversations as if it's essential to the value proposition. The content gets transformed into a portrait of how the audience is perceived, related to and understood as respectable. Those who appeared "otherwise engaged" then  happily share that respectful message with their followers and continue that conversation long after the presentation.