CFT’s and Lifelong Learning

Last week, I posted about Centers For Teaching (CFT’s) as Centers for Excellence, inspired by my current reading of Tom Peters’ new book The Excellence Dividend: Meeting the Tech Tide with Work that Wows and Jobs that Last.  As I noted, I have been reading Peters since his original 1982 bestseller that he co-wrote with Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence. In many ways, Peters’ search for “excellence” mirrored the national movement in search of better quality…and it has influenced my leadership philosophy (and my teaching philosophy) for the past quarter-century.

Chapters 5 through 8 focuses on people…and that fits CFT’s – which at their heart are service organizations focused on faculty and students.  The chapter titles include Putting People First, A Mania for Training, Tech Tsunami, and Job Security in an Insecure World.  This focus is obviously on the world of business…and yet I cannot help but see parallels with the work CFT’s do.

For instance, Peters stated that the primary defense against the exploding automation boom requires widespread creativity and novel arrangements to produce products and services that stand out in an automated world.  This call to action mirrors Joseph Aoun’s (2017) Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.  Aoun is the President of Northeastern University where I do adjunct teaching.  As I noted in a previous post, Aoun called for universities to stop educating students for jobs that are about to disappear, and instead focus on education that liberates students and gives them ownership of their own futures…one engaged in continual re-skilling and lifelong learning.  Peters would agree that AI should be seen as an ally rather than an adversary.

If universities need to re-tool to serve alumni for the rest of their lives, then CFT’s need to re-tool as well.  Peters stated that training is any organization’s Success Practice #1…and training is a not a word academics readily use for themselves.  Research culminating first in a doctorate degree and then in tenure is a huge undertaking…and too few faculty readily admit that re-tooling is something they need.  Like too many CEO’s of businesses, they may see training as an expense rather than an investment…a cost rather than an opportunity.

CFT’s are is a great position to challenge this notion…and to advocate as to “why” re-tooling and re-skilling are necessary.  Peters noted how the military, sports teams, first responders, and interestingly, some academic departments do extensive and intensive training.  The fact that CFT’s exist gives credence to this…but the percentage of faculty that use these resources suggest we still have much work to do!

Peters expands on the threats posed by technology, noting that tech in and of itself is not the issue – it is the accelerating pace of change.  In this, he repeats the warning Tom Friedman made in his book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  As I noted in an earlier post, the section on accelerations – technologies, globalizations, and ecologies – scared the crap out of me!  In a methodical manner, Friedman laid out his case that we as a planet have reached a tipping point.  Moore’s law has reached the point where connectivity worldwide is basically fast, free, easy for you and ubiquitous and handling complexity has at the same time become fast, free, easy for you and invisible due to the cloud.  Peters suggested that we now have a moral requirement to prepare all for this madcap world of accelerating change.  Yet, one could easily make the case that has been the mission of CFT’s for the past decade!

Peters also downplayed some of the fear associated with this accelerated changing tech tsunami.  We consider the tech tsunami as new, but like Peters does, I consider my grandparents, who lived through a period from the first airplanes to man landing on the moon, with two world wars, the nuclear age, civil rights, women’s suffrage, and their grandson gaining his doctorate and teaching online…lots of change!

Peters ended this section by noting that every person is distinctively good at something…or else!  He returns to his mantra from earlier books that we are the masters of our own destiny, something he originally called “Brand YOU”.  The twist now is that our future depends on our network as much as ourselves.  CFT’s have been at the forefront of networked learning for the past decade…and Peters suggestion to both find your niche and find your community should resonate with faculty consultants in CFT’s.

The next sections as I continue through Peters’ book are on Innovation and Value – again two terms that should align with the mission of most CFT’s.


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