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.

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