Tag Archives: higher education

Quality in Education Part 3: Drive Out Fear. Teach Quality Standards.

 

Image Credit: Lucy Glover Photography (http://lucyglover.com/)

Image Credit: Lucy Glover Photography (http://lucyglover.com/)

[This is the third article in a three-part series responding to ASQ’s May question in “View from the Q”. It follows Quality in Education Part 1: The Customer Service Mentality is Flawed and Quality in Education Part 2: There is Power in Variation.]

What can we do to break out of the “manufacturing system mentality” of education? It’s not like this dilemma is unrecognized… just today, Time published an article with the tagline “Today’s education is training yesterday’s students.” Because of the severe downshift in the economy, the authors argue, the real value is in teaching students how to be entrepreneurial — to identify new opportunities (in every field, really) and be empowered to move forward and realize them.

So how do we teach students to be entrepreneurial now… without waiting for the system to change and broadly support it? I’m sure there are many ideas, but in addition to the Burning Mind Project, here are two things that I aim to build into all of my courses – supporting the shift to new modalities of education, while still supporting the institution within which I am embedded.

#3.1: Drive out fear. In addition to being one of Deming’s famed 14 Points, this (to me) is also the key to innovation. Everyone must be given permission to explore, to attempt, to fail, to wildly succeed. It seems almost like a cliche, but we have been cultured into a world dominated by fear, and so the landscape of fear is so endemic it is nearly invisible. We, like our students, tend to behave like free range chickens… and we have to shift that dynamic so that our gifts and talents can emerge and be used to benefit society.

#3.2: Teach students to identify and pursue high standards for quality. What does it mean to be excellent? Who decides what is excellent? What should you be able to do if you want to be recognized as excellent? These are questions students should be able to answer for themselves… and we need to help them figure out how to do it. For example, when you write your Master’s thesis or work on a dissertation, there’s no such thing as “getting a passing grade”. You basically commit to work, and work, and work… until you “get it” and everyone on your committee is happy… but then there are always a few more things that need to be improved before you’re totally done and can graduate.

Here are some brief examples of people and organizations that are working to redefine the meaning of education. Each of them, in my opinion, seeks to drive out fear AND help students critically examine, and then work to meet, quality standards.:

  • Mycelium: This North-Carolina based school recognizes that not everyone has four (or more) years to dedicate to a traditional university experience. Their program is structured in terms of 12-week learning journeys, where a “living laboratory” is created between thought leaders, mentors, and students.
  • The Minerva Project: This school aims to reinvent the university experience from the ground up, by focusing on the habits of mind and leadership competencies that can help students (of ANY age!) be successful in any field. It’s still a four year experience: the first year is in San Francisco, the second in either Berlin or Buenos Aires, the third in Hong Kong or Mumbai, and the final year in London or New York.
  • The BIF Student Experience Lab‘s “Students Design for Education” (SD4E) project: What if 24 students got together and designed what they feel would be the perfect school? BIF is going to find out soon.
  • SF Brightworks: This San Francisco-based primary school provides a theme-based and open-ended educational experience that encourages young students to explore, collaborate, and solve practical problems. Instead of assuming that everyone must learn exactly the same thing, Brightworks focuses more on what groups can create by combining their knowledge and experience… an analog of what happens in the real world, after traditional schooling is “complete”.

And our discussion wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Nikhil Goyal, who has bravely become the outspoken voice of the oppressed masses populating primary and secondary schools all over the U.S. Although he has recently graduated from Syosset High School, there’s no doubt that he’ll continue to catalyze driving out fear — both for students, and for the institutions that fear change.

What are YOUR ideas? What can individuals and small groups do to transform the quality of education?

Quality in Education Part 2: There is Power in Variation

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

[This is the second part in a three-part series that starts with Quality in Education Part 1: The Customer Service Mentality is Flawed]

Reducing variation is a theme in quality management. It’s also traditionally been a theme in education: students are required to adhere to standards for competency and pass exams to demonstrate those competencies: then we let them out. But the factory model of education is outdated, because the problems we are confronted with today are far too complex to be satisfied by uniform proficiency in the same basic skill sets. That’s why honoring and leveraging variation is, in my opinion, where the greatest strength can be derived in educational environments right now.

But you might say… hold on! If I go to school to get a degree in civil engineering so I can build bridges, a measure of the quality of my education is that I actually can build those bridges. I’d say no, you’re not going to be able to build bridges until you work alongside other people who already know how to build bridges, and you let yourself be infused by that tacit knowledge as well. The purpose of acquiring explicit knowledge through schooling is to be able to have the productive, effective conversations with experts that are essential for successful, hands-on problem solving in the real world. Education and credentialing are two different things.

The issue has been discussed already within the quality community, at least a little bit. Vol. 2 Issue 1 of ASQ’s Quality Approaches in Higher Education journal starts out with a guest commentary by John Dew, a senior administrator from Troy University in Alabama:

“It is time for administrators in education to stop making the same mistakes that managers in industry were making before they discovered the meaning of quality… The current educational system is designed to ignore variation, and indeed to amplify the negative effects of variation, so that a significant number of students cannot possibly succeed in the system.”

Dew goes on to express that variation in our inputs is one of the things we seek to minimize and/or control in quality management. However, we can’t (and wouldn’t really WANT to) do this in education! People come into programs with all sorts of different educational levels, backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and histories. In fact, we kind of LIKE variation in our inputs… we have programs and initiatives to make sure we get some!

It’s called DIVERSITY — and it helps us solve problems using a wealth of knowledge (both explicit and tacit) and a tapestry of insight!

At the same time, we want to make sure that students are prepared for their intended career paths. As a result, we seek to control variation in our outputs or learning outcomes. Students should achieve and demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in their coursework, and we often give them grades to serve as an indicator of that proficiency. But are these outputs really meaningful? It is my belief that the effectiveness of an education can only be assessed years later, after the student has had the opportunity to learn and grow into greater maturity, and apply their new skills and knowledge to meaningful pursuits. We need to provide students with the opportunity to leverage the variation that they bring, individually, to the learning environment… and then help them preferentially focus on developing their talents and passions. But that approach is completely anathema to reducing variation in our outputs in a school environment.

A high quality education is like adopting a new lifestyle with healthier habits… only the habits are not physical, but intellectual and critical. Our new habits of mind help us integrate new information while effectively sorting through misinformation and disinformation, and approach puzzles with a greater resourcefulness so our ability to contribute to solutions is strengthened.

John Dew acknowledges that the current educational model is fundamentally flawed, but the clear solutions are out of reach: “we can’t afford to provide individual instruction to every student [or make the batches smaller]… we are, therefore, locked into the batch process for education.” It’s not cost effective or profitable. We can’t do it.

So for now, we’re consigned to small, incremental “improvements” to honor, rather than condemn, variation. I’ll share how I try to do that tomorrow, as I describe Ingredient #3.

Quality in Education Part 1: The Customer Service Mentality is Flawed

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

May’s ASQ “View from the Q” post by Julia McIntosh explores the link between quality and education, a theme that emerged in discussions at this May’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement (WCQI) in Dallas. As a college professor, this is a subject I think about all the time.

Here’s the issue: higher quality in education should yield a stronger, more capable workforce. But there are some disconnects here in practice. As Julia remarks, “students in the U.S. are praised for poor performance or for ‘just showing up’… as a result, they expect to be celebrated for mediocrity, rather than for quality.” This doesn’t bode well for effectively constructing a long-term pipeline of new talent.

From the quality perspective, what can we do to improve education? I’ll address this from the perspective of post-secondary higher education, those critical (usually four) years between graduating from high school and landing that all-important entry-level job. My recipe has three ingredients, explored in this three-part post. First, we need to shift our collective consciousness.

#1 Higher education is NOT a service industry. But it’s become big business, so it’s natural that administrators have picked up on the jargon of corporations. I read articles all the time that talk about how students are customers, attending classes where they are provided good customer service by their professors and the universities. According to this analogy, the degree is the product that the student can hold for perpetuity… a token of supposed capabilities that can be exchanged for jobs and money… an “investment in their future earnings potential.”

In March, the Chronicle of Higher Education provided a great explanation of why this position is fundamentally flawed:

Students who believe that they are mere customers are selling themselves short, as are the faculty members and administrators who apply business-speak to the classroom. Students are not customers to be served. They are far more important than that.

Customer service implies participating in a system of transaction or exchange in which one side provides a service to another. While plenty of money changes hands, universities don’t really sell a product, not in the sense that “customer service” implies, anyway. At most, I think we might argue that students are purchasing a well-structured opportunity to learn or obtain (we hope) meaningful credentials. The “well-structured” point is critical. When I hear students explicitly define themselves as customers, it’s often in the context of perceived bad teaching, a sense that the structure surrounding the learning opportunity is somehow deficient.

It’s not just that students want simply to buy a degree. Students place reasonable desires—faster grading, fewer lectures, more lectures, more preparation, clearer grading standards, etc.—into the framework of commerce. It’s a way of reversing the power dynamics. A customer holds a special place in our society. They have the right to complain, pressure, and go over the head of the worker to the management.

– See more at: http://m.chronicle.com/article/Faculty-Members-Are-Not/145363/#sthash.ZgvMp94X.D6wokNur.dpuf

To me, the notion of “student as customer” in the traditional sense is absurd, because education is about a co-creative experience. Education is about exercising your critical and analytical thinking skills, learning about yourself and what you’re good at (and what you enjoy), and learning how to relate to others. It’s about gradually, and through practice, becoming better at all of the above. It’s about discovering new meaning in yourself and in the world. It is as much a product of the people around you, getting educated at the same time, as it is the subject matter you’re exploring. It’s a transformation that happens within you — and is not a service that can be provided FOR you or TO you. You’re in charge of how well that education will “work” — if at all.

It’s kind of like trying to recast the church in the language of corporate jargon. Is your priest or minister your service provider? What is customer satisfaction if you attend church? Do you really have a right to demand it? If you don’t agree with everything your religious advisor says, or how they say it, do you have a right to complain (because they’re not meeting your needs)? Of course church is different than college… spiritual advisors don’t try to grade you, nor do they hold that all-important “degree” for you to advance to the next level. To be able to move forward in life with a solid spiritual foundation. You can achieve salvation, you know, but only if you get at least a 2.5 GPA and don’t fail any of your primary doctrine courses or commit sins that are too big.

You get in what you put out. If you sign up for a gym and never exercise, or go there and don’t use the equipment, are you going to be dissatisfied as a customer? Probably not, because you know that you have a critical role to play in how well the gym works for you. You are paying a certain number of dollars a month for the privilege of being able to use the facilities, and benefit from the resources (physical and intellectual) provided by the environment.

Ironically, if we regularly used a framework like SERVQUAL to assess the quality of higher education, we’d be focusing on more of the right things: competence, courtesy, credibility, security, access, communication, knowing the customer/beneficiary, physical evidence of service, reliability, responsiveness. This does not reduce the concept of customer satisfaction to just how happy the consumer is upon delivery of the service, but integrates the nature of service delivery and the critical role of the customer in co-creating the experience of satisfaction.

The current educational model makes achieving high quality in terms dimension like SERVQUAL’s difficult, if not impossible: using this as a framework, a student who discovers they really shouldn’t be in college (but should be working in a bakery or a hair salon instead, to achieve their personal goals) would be evidence of a high quality educational environment. Abandoning pursuit of a degree to pursue interests or a lifestyle that’s ultimately more satisfying to an individual… well, I don’t know of many colleges (or students!) who would consider that indicative of a high quality education.

What is the Second Ingredient?

Adding a Little STEAM: On Risk, Failure, and the Quality of Higher Education

doug-fullsteamahead(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

On Thursday, Morgan and I attended the first meeting of the Congressional STEAM Caucus on Capitol Hill… “a briefing on changing the vocabulary of education to include both art and science – and their intersections – to prepare our next generation of innovators to lead the 21st century economy.” STEAM seeks to promote creativity and innovation as key elements of Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) education. The “A” in STEAM reflects the growing awareness that art and design can be effective enablers, catalyzing the kind of creative thinking and openness to risk-taking that is critical for success in STEM. Although initially conceived by John Maeda of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the idea is catching on, and there are now many supporters scattered across the country.

Why is STEAM gaining steam? As expressed by the panelists at the Caucus, many now recognize that students just aren’t being prepared by our educational system to be creative, independent thinkers who are willing to take risks and experiment. On View from the Q this month, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski raised the same issue, citing the recent ASQ STEM careers survey of young adults: students know that you have to experiment (and sometimes fail) to be successful in STEM, and yet they admit that they’re afraid to take those risks.

Paul asks:

I want to know how you— the quality professional — handle failure in the workplace. Do you try again until you find a solution? Are you penalized for failure? Or do you avoid it altogether? How much risk are you willing to take to find solutions to quality challenges?

One of the reasons Morgan and I started the Burning Mind Project is that we wanted our students to feel comfortable taking risks, and accept full personal responsibility for the evolution of their own learning process. We use techniques like “choose your own grade” and “grading by accumulation” to encourage risk taking, eliminate penalties for “traditional failure,” and shift the focus to understanding and embracing quality standards on a personal and visceral level. We like what STEAM represents because the approach embraces divergent thinking, and thus innately supports the development of positivity and emotional alignment in an educational setting, which (a la Fredrickson) broadens the ability of students to see new opportunities and possibilities

That is, to invent (and ultimately – by understanding how to create value for others – innovate).

Your weaknesses may actually be the keys that reveal your secret strengths. As educators, it’s up to us to help facilitate this process of discovery, not to fail our students for engaging in it. As business leaders, this can be more difficult because many of us have convinced ourselves that we should only have to pay for those things that “pay off.” However, the lessons learned from traditional failure are often the most empowering, even though our ability to honor them may be weak.

Stimulating Innovation Culture through Higher Ed Reform (Part II)

(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

<– this is continued from Part I

I have ONE very subjective and utopian proposal for how we could adapt the system of higher education in the US to more effectively achieve these outcomes. The nice thing is, this particular proposal could be implemented by one university at a time. It is totally based on my own dream – a system that I think would have been VERY COOL had it been in place 20 years ago when I started college – and a system that I could still see myself taking advantage of NOW for getting even more education.

It is the EMERGENT UNIVERSITY DEGREE concept.

(Note that I haven’t vetted this idea against business plans, cash flows, faculty load balancing, or other peoples’ opinions. Just a dream that hopefully will stimulate ideas for those who read this. This is 100% stream of consciousness rambling for fun!)

Imagine this kind of world: You decide you want to “go to college”. There is no “admissions” process because you don’t have to commit to a particular path or a particular major or a particular institution. You just get to start taking a class or two (on a first-come-first-serve or space-available basis) and see where it leads. Or maybe you take one or two of those online courses with a zillion students in them, just to see if you can do it and if you LIKE it. A gateway drug, if you will, to getting more education.

You don’t take any classes you don’t want to take, but some classes might require prerequisites, and so you will need to complete those before completing the classes with material you really want to learn. You take a class as many times as it takes you to achieve a particular minimum performance level… or not. You could also take a class a second or third time to qualify at a higher level of performance (same idea as getting a Six Sigma Green Belt, then moving on to get the Black Belt). If you are having a hard time achieving the required performance, then you have a choice: stop taking the class, and start exploring OTHER paths that would get you a degree, or keep taking the class as many times as you need to in order to learn the stuff. (Yes, that could get costly… but that’s reality. In an organization that’s trying to innovate, it might take a multitude of tries to get somewhere… and that organization will need to decide exactly how much time and effort it wants to spend on that innovation process.)

You log in to your “educational management dashboard” that shows you what courses you’ve taken, where you can rank which ones you really enjoyed and have been able to develop a level of proficiency or a level of mastery. Every time you complete a course, the system examines your performance and provides you with a roadmap for 1) what “degrees” you could hop out of the system and claim NOW, and 2) what paths of varying lengths are available to you to complete other degrees. Some degrees might require 30 credits. Some might require 150 credits. You get to pick how much time and effort you want to invest.

Maybe you have no clue what you want to do with your life. Excellent – this system is just for you! You can start taking classes that you think you’ll enjoy, find out whether you do or not, and then your educational management dashboard will help you analyze what you liked and what you’re good at – and get you through the system with an appropriate degree.

You can also forget about worrying about grades, because there’s no penalty for failure other than you get more information about what you’re not good at, or what you might not like. Once you “pass” a class, the instructor is basically saying “yeah, I think they figured out how to do this stuff and I’m confident that they could move forward into something else that requires this as a foundation”. Because the degree program itself is emergent, your “failure” just steers you into another direction that fits you better.

But no, NO!!! you say. I REALLY REALLY REALLY want to be a dentist. My family expects me to be a dentist, and if I don’t pass these classes and become a dentist, I am done with!! OK, if you want it that badly, then do what you need to do to develop a minimum proficiency and move forward. Or, use the additional information as ammo to show everyone else “look – my dashboard advised me that this is not where I need to go – and since I care about stimulating innovation and enhancing our country’s competitiveness, then I’ll pursue my recommended calling according to the dashboard…” or something like that.

This kind of system would also encourage education just for the sake of education. Say you “start college” but then find out it’s not for you. There’s no stigma in “dropping out” because you have your portfolio of past performances that you might still be able to use to convince an employer that you’re capable of certain skills that they need! Want to complete general education courses? Great, you can get a general education degree in addition to your specialization degree – but you get to make the choice whether you want to be “well rounded” or not.

Student loan debt also becomes less of a problem this way – because you get to choose just how much you invest and over what time horizon. You can stop at any time, and still get to carry your work with you. Want the social, cultural and networking benefits of a traditional university? Then go that route, and do what’s being done today.

I think the underlying concept of this emergent university degree is that YOU get to decide how much you want to learn, and you are not penalized for changing your mind at any time – for pursuing what your developing skills and interests direct you towards, rather than what is prescribed at the beginning of a very long multi-year process.

A kind of educational system like this would train us to be perpetually open to opportunities and possibilities – and celebrate failure or lack-of-interest in a subject as gaining a very important piece of new knowledge, that will bring us to the opportunities we are most aligned with more quickly.

Stimulating Innovation Culture through Higher Ed Reform (Part I)

(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could create an innovation culture in your organization by just bringing people in who have already been enculturated into that way of thinking and being? I think it’s possible. (I propose one potential design in the follow-up to this post, Part II.)

Pretty much every week I read articles about how the higher education system in the U.S. is broken. (That is, how it needs to be overhauled and reformed, how the educational system is not enhancing our competitiveness as a nation, or how it’s too expensive compared to the value it provides graduates, especially in a down economy.) This week, I read Wildavsky & Litan’s Huffington Post article that outlines how bureaucratic processes and accreditation are getting in the way of implementing innovative educational business models.

I also see a lot of articles bemoaning the struggle to create a culture of innovation in many organizations, and every one of these seems to tie back to processes and practices that could potentially derive from a student’s experience in the higher education environment. For example, Edward Hess (currently an Executive in Residence at UVA’s Darden School of Business) recently wrote an article in Forbes encouraging organizations to adopt a culture that supports innovation:

Innovation is the result of iterative learning processes as well as environments that encourage experimentation, critical inquiry, critical debate, and accept failures as a necessary part of the process…

…innovation requires a mindset that rejects the fear of failure and replaces that fear of failure with the joy of exploration and experimental learning.

So the solution is EASY: we need to 1) model iterative learning processes in education, and 2) enculturate our students to accept – and appreciate! – failures and false starts as a totally necessary part of the process. Only here’s the problem: the message we’re reinforcing as parents, as educators, and as citizens is that failure is bad. Work hard, study hard, press forward, get A’s! Don’t use your education to learn more about what turns you on and what you want to contribute to the world. Just make us proud of you, and bust your butt so you can get a high paying job. Whether you like it or not.

This is not productive and not enjoyable for many, many students. It promotes fear and drains out a lot of natural love for learning new things.

Click here to see my imaginative and utopian proposal for a new system –>