Hard and Necessary

I have not seen the report yet (it is a bit pricey for us adjuncts), but there was an interesting post in the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning on a new report on the future of learning and the potential impact this will have on college classrooms.  Beckie Supiano interviewed Beth McMurtrie on this recently published report by Beth.

This report details Beth’s view of how technology, pedagogical innovations, and the student-success movement could change teaching and learning in higher education.  Beth noted at the start of her interview that:

“…One of the things I was trying to convey is that reform is both hard and necessary. If you want more students to succeed, particularly at a time when more disadvantaged students are coming into higher education, then you need to be more deliberate in figuring out what works and trying to bring it to scale. One person described it to me by saying that the artisanal approach to teaching isn’t going to work anymore. I don’t think that means we’re going to have a bunch of robots teaching students, though.”

Both hard and necessary.  Interesting choice of words…and Beth could just as easily be talking about the leadership of Centers for Teaching (CFT’s).  Tom Peters, in his book The Excellence Dividend, quotes George Bernard Shaw who said “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man.”  My only change in these white water changing times would be to say all progress depends upon the unreasonable woman or man, as women increasingly are stepping up in leadership roles from which men shy away.

The final three chapters of Peters book focused on leadership…and one could say he likes the concept of unreasonable people.  Peters noted that the best leaders are extraordinary listeners.  Peters said that listening is a mark of respect, and fierce listening involves fascinating and probing questions and then follow-up questions and more questions.  A good example of this can be found in a post Jeff Nugent did a few years back on training Enoch Hale facilitated for his center around “cultivating thought partnerships.” Jeff noted:

“…What is thought partnership? … At the heart of it though, is a desire to engage in meaningful work with faculty members as we think with them about the intersection of teaching, learning and technology. This represents a different approach, and is distinct from the break / fix, and focus on support for technical questions that I think often shapes much of the work of educational technologists. In an effort to better understand what faculty hope to do with digital technologies – and not rush to simple answers and technical solutions – we are recognizing the importance of using questioning frameworks as a part of our consultancy practice. Using clarifying questions we can gain better understanding of what faculty hope to do, as well as help them to explore and explicate some of the assumptions, concepts, purposes and goals they have for using technology. We want to establish thought partnerships…among ourselves…and the faculty members with whom we work.”

Peters noted that listening is an action word…not passive.  This aligns with the questioning framework Enoch suggested in his training.

Peters last two chapters can be summed up as trust your people and bring enthusiasm to the workplace.  In Beth’s interview, she noted that there is a big disconnect between what academic leaders say they want to do to support student success, and what is actually offered to encourage better teaching.  It would seem to me that CFT’s are in a sweet spot to help academic leaders translate their desires and to support faculty in making these changes.

One project highlighted in Beth’s interview is the Jefferson Education Exchange, which hopes to crowdsource K12 and higher ed teachers and faculty on what works in the classroom.  As Robert Pianta noted, “…Our current system for discovering, selecting, and implementing education technology is not just broken. It’s not even a system. It’s more than three hundred thousand highly fragmented educators and institutional leaders nationwide doing their best to make decisions with insufficient data.”  True that! Yet CFT’s are already beginning to network in ways that could bridge these fragmented efforts.

The work that Centers for Teaching do is hard but necessary.  The leadership required to successfully transform a CFT into a center of innovation and excellence is hard but necessary.  There are some excellent examples out there…and they need to connect and communicate their progress to keep the fragmentation from not only becoming worse…but stifling learning advances that are possible.

We need to keep pushing!

{Graphics: The Incredible Kulk}


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