Saturday, July 26, 2014

Accountability & outcomes: What does Bill Gate's address to higher ed mean at the institutional level?

In a recent address to the higher education community, Bill Gates points to research that is wise to heed. Measurable outcomes of success, from the perspective of businesses and students, need to drive the future of higher education. For businesses, the question is, “Are students graduating with what they need to know?”, and for students the question is, “Will I get a job, one with a future?” Bill Gates reinforces the growing need for accountability in higher education with an emphasis on program completion that directly translates to employability.

Gates stresses the importance of accessible, web-based programs that streamline the process of learning. This requires a degree of accountability that, essentially, serves students and the business community by providing a product, a deliverable. Programs and courses that are able to provide this type of education are the ones predicted by Bill Gates to remain as the “…small number of top-quality online courses in key disciplines [that will] replace home-grown lectures on many campuses”.

What does this mean to the traditional collegiate context? 

First, what not to do:  Resist the popularized temptation to quickly design a new webpage stating how this matter is address or how this matter will be addressed. Also, abstain from touting the ways this is already done through current programs and courses. Clearly it’s not.

What to do:  Do gather data quickly on program outcomes pertaining to successful employment. Do pull data from job market searches, beyond a cursory level, that demonstrates a contribution to the workforce, locally, nationally, or internationally; this is dependent upon institutional factors. Do eliminate or give an extreme makeover to programs that are not contributing to this level of student success (only for programs with some real potential); decisions like these require “teeth” and occur at the administration level. As much as administrators in many instances bend to involve faculty in decisions to garner support and maintain productive communication channels, let’s face it, faculty committees are unable to infringe upon community members by identifying programs as failing, or unnecessary, or as in need of restructuring. The level of buy-in will only occur at the institutional level, presented to the entire academic community, with the notion that it’s time to change or be left behind.

Do provide an effective, quality learning experience. On the ground level, institutions that align learning programs, courses, and student learning outcomes, and do so with attention to research-based learning strategies, instructional design, effective use of technology in learning, and accountability, will accomplish this task. Courses that are developed from effective, well-developed instructional design models will be the type recommended by businesses and used by students. The research is clear enough; the tools need to be implemented and undergo an ongoing process of evaluation to maintain service level and to grow and change as needed. The financial safety net of the past…that of aligning the institution with requirements of accreditation organizations to maintain student loan funds may no longer be enough. Academic institutions placed on warning in recent years have discovered that running from student learning outcomes will eventually lead to loss.

It makes no sense from an administration perspective, or from a faculty perspective (regardless of some of the feet-dragging on accountability issues), to resist student learning outcomes and accountability.

The emphasis on education that leads to employment has every indication of continuing as a long term trend.

I say...serve the students and the money will come!

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