Educational reform is needed – maybe a bit of an understatement. As a sector of society, higher education has dropped the ball. The majority of our graduates enter higher education desiring nothing more than a qualification and the qualification machine pushes them through with most of the students and the professors doing the minimum required to ensure that there are graduates produced with a qualification in hand.
The world of business goes on and on about the emptiness of the qualifications that are coming out of our institutions, but it has only been very recent that business has said that they are simply not interested in hiring for the certificate. Many of the loudest businesses have begun to band together to fill the void but then hire the exact same people who have made the higher education system what it is today to design and run a program to cater to their needs. In addition, the training that is done in these corporate-run institutions is training for immediate business needs – which buttons to push in the specific order that will get the job (that will be automated in five years) done.
Graduates, after four years of measuring their willingness to conform in the race for grades, end up entering the world disillusioned because they can’t find work because of their empty qualification. They had fun getting it, but then end up paying for it for the rest of their lives. Having to take out a mortgage-sized loan to cover the costs of the four years of university. And, if you go on to get a Masters, you get two additional years to pay for, as an undergraduate doing exactly the same thing – but of course, the tests are longer.
The only winner is the bloated higher education administration. Always more of the same thing. In almost every institution there are more people counting, quality assurancing, calling and chairing meetings, scheduling meetings, directing programs, monitoring parking, supporting students, supporting teachers, supporting administrators, attending administrative conferences, cultivating prestige and alumni, courting businesses, providing inspiring leadership, and lobbying government (I’m certain I’ve missed a number of vital roles) than there are academics doing the teaching.
And, exactly what is the quality that is coming out. Professional exam takers. They have learned, to a high degree of excellence, the art of cramming and taking tests.
Is it any wonder that there is a need for fundamental educational reform?
We come out with millions of graduates who are unable to solve complex problems (except maybe in their area of hyper-narrow specialism). They have poor writing skills. They are unable to think critically. Their oral communication skills are lacking, at best. Complex inductive and hypothetico-deductive reasoning is almost non-existent (except maybe in their area of hyper-narrow specialism).
They come out with excellent exam taking skills and a proven ability to conform at all costs.
And then we blame them. Choose from the following options. More than one correct option will be accepted:
Millennials, or today’s graduates (students) are ___________.
Lazy – Entitled – Fragile – Over sensitive – Unable to work – Unwilling to work – Not prepared – Selfish – Demanding – Tech addicted – Narcissistic – Feedback hungry – Addicted to fun – Overconfident – Communication deficient – Talkers more than listeners – Demeaning of anything more than five years old – Coddled – Disengaged – Delusional – any or all of the above, or any other item(s) not on the list.
I have worked with students for many years. They do exactly what we ask or expect them to do. I expect my students to work hard and produce excellent work – and they do. They work hard if it is expected and if the conditions are in place. But, as a senior academic/administrator said to me one day, “If we don’t expect much of them, they won’t expect much from us.”
How do I get so much from my students? How do I get them to engage in learning higher order thinking skills? How do I get them to produce writing that one of my colleagues moaned to me about: “I read some of the work Jane Doe wrote for you and compared it to what she wrote for me and the difference is amazing. How do you get so much out of them?” How is it that my students leave my classes prepared to stand and deliver and are willing to engage in an academic argument (with evidence) with other professors and teachers?
It is actually easy. I design a learning experience based entirely on The Science of Learning and let them fly.
I have written about The Science of Learning and how we need to reform education for years and years. There are a number of individuals who find what I write exciting and take some of what I say home with them. But, in general, the higher education sector is uninterested. Those who can influence the system from within successful within the system as it is. For them, fundamental educational reform means a teaching tip for the professors that will change everything. Educational reform will not come from within.
I have decided that I’m going to try something. Since the system won’t change, I’ll change the world around the system.
The methods I have devised using the scientific principles that underlie learning are ideally suited for a combination of face-to-face and online teaching. However, I have finally realized that I don’t live in an ideal world – I live in reality. Although not ideal, I’m going to begin fundamentally reforming education by using existing online tools (building an ideal, purpose-built platform is beyond me at the moment) and train students (or workers, or recent graduates, or whoever) to think, solve complex problems, write well, carry out robust evidence gathering exercises, engage in high level reasoning (both complex inductive and hypothetico-deductive), and begin to use higher order creativity.
I will charge a reasonable rate for each ten-week course, and the kicker will be that I will give a money back guarantee if the funder (individual, business, parent) is not satisfied with the outcomes that will be issued in the form of a letter for everyone who finishes as to what they are able to accomplish and to what level they can accomplish it.
As an example, a letter would read: Mrs. Jones is able to find well-evidenced research and write it in the form of a highly readable summary. In addition, she is beginning to demonstrate the ability to solve complex problems using robust evidence through the use of complex inductive reasoning.
The learning experience would be tailored to the outcomes the individual or funding entity specifies. If they are looking for the development of critical thinking as a skill that needs to be developed, a program will be designed to meet that requirement in a way that will be satisfactory. If whoever pays for the training is not satisfied that the individual does not meet the outcomes stated in their individual letter of completion, the price of the training will be fully refunded, no questions asked.
As a pre-warning, the outcome letters will give an honest appraisal. It might read: Mrs. Jones failed to engage in the learning program designed to meet the requested outcomes and so I cannot guarantee that any of the outcomes have been met.
Any thoughts? I’ve never claimed to be anything other than a teacher who understands how people learn. I have no idea if this proposal would fly or not. As well, I have no idea how to market the idea to reach a larger audience. What I do know is that I could deliver the goods. If anyone wants to join me in whatever capacity to make this work, let me know.
Let me know what you think.
This would be a fundamental reform that would produce fundamentally different people who would have the possibility and support framework to begin to explore their full potential.
Jesse is a world leader in the integration of the science of learning into formal teaching settings. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge and Director at The Academy for the Scholarship of Learning. Huge advocate of the science of learning, he provides people with ideas about how they can use it in their classrooms. Jesse holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wales, Bangor.