Now, what I want to do is put what we have been talking about all day into historical perspective. Is that interesting or what? While important and forward looking, nothing we have discussed today is unusual, radical, or unprecedented in the history of higher education.
Innovation in credentialing is a normal, periodic, even predictable event. Higher education follows changes in the nation. The more profound the changes of the nation, the more dramatic the changes in higher education that occur in it’s wake.
Today, all of our social institutions lag behind those changes in society. Whether it’s government or media or healthcare or finance. What happens is not-for-profits tend to change by repair — or reform of the existing organizations — and are slower to move than for profits that change by replacement.
Let me show you what I mean. I’m going to take you back two centuries to illustrate what I am talking about. I’m going to take you back to the Industrial Revolution. It’s a time when America is making a transition from a local agrarian economy to a national industrial economy. As this starts in the first decades of the 19th century. America’s colleges haven’t changed a heck of a lot since the first one opened it’s doors in 1636. They are offering an education designed for sectarian agricultural society. The curriculum is rooted in the Trivium Quadrivium of the middle ages. Students studied Bible … the languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, Rhetoric, Grammar, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, History, and the Nature of Plants. There were no courses. Students studied one subject a day from 8 AM in the morning until 5 PM at night, Monday through Friday, and a half of day Saturday. Friday was not a party night. For that matter, neither was Saturday. The methods of instruction were recitation — and there what you did was repeat orally, verbatim, lessons that had been assigned — and disputation, which formulate debates using Aristotelian syllogisms on themes such as “we sin while we sleep.”
Then came the Industrial Revolution.
In the decades before the Civil War, we saw rise of canals, steam boats, water-powered factories. The first factory opens in 1790. By 1860, there are 140,000. Railroads, mechanized farms, and the telegraph: what these changes in transportation and communication and production cause is this mass production of population. People move from farms to cities. People move from the east to the west. People come from abroad. What do they do? They knit this country of localities into regions, and from regions into a fledgling nation. For the most part, while this is going on, dramatic change. Rip Van Winkle is said to be intended as a metaphor for the era. You go to bed one night, when you wake up, the next day is as if 20 years have passed. That’s how fast change is occurring.
Most colleges in the face of this dramatic change hold tight to their classroom curriculum’s and reject the calls for reform.
In fact, after years, years of criticizing Yale for the irrelevance of it’s curriculum, the state of Connecticut cut off funding. Yale responded as colleges do when they’re in trouble, they formed a committee. In 1828 Yale issued a report which surprisingly has come to be called the “Yale Report of 1828.” It defended the classical curriculum for providing students with discipline and furniture of the mind. That is, how to think and what to think about. It dismissed vocationalism, abbreviated courses of studying, and practical education as lessor forms of education, mere training. Gee, how things have changed.
None the less, there were experiments in reform. Some succeeded, most failed. Union College took the radical step of offering a program written in science, engineering, and modern language. For this, they were rewarded with enrollments twice the size of Harvard and Yale. What happened was, enrollments declined. The president of Brown who looked into the situation lamented, “We can’t even give this stuff away.”
In the years after the Civil War, the pace and scope of the industrial revolution accelerated. And this time, it’s driven by oil and steel and booming railroads and cities … the invention of the electric lines, the telephone, and all the other things that are familiar to us today. America became an industrial giant and higher education changed dramatically — powered to a great extent by new institutions.
Instead of those colonial colleges, radical things were created. One of them was universities. John’s Hopkins brought the first graduate school to America. Cornell promised any person any study. Chicago stole all of these ideas and created it’s own university. What these places offered was advance studies, professional education in industrial fields like engineering and business. They engaged in research on real problems. And they organized universities as we organize businesses — by specialization. We also developed some schools that focused on industrial technologies, like MIT. We created land grant colleges. And their job is to straddle both periods, somewhere between agriculture and technology and industrial issues. We created 2-year colleges so we could offer higher education more locally.
The curriculum changed to reflect both. Changes to reflect the times and it changed to reflect the new institutions. This new era brought courses, specialized majors, advanced studies beyond the baccalaureate, academic departments, and electives. In 1869, there was 1 elective course at Harvard. In 1909, there were 2 required courses at Harvard. Things change fast.
Think about the implications of these innovations for just a second. If you can offer courses, what this requires is a breaking the curriculum into smaller units that the colonial college had. It can offer majors. What that requires is specialized studies, hierarchies among courses, and variation between students, and terms of what they’re studying. If you can offer electives, that makes it even worse. You’re offering students choice and individualizing course selection for everyone of them.
This required some changes. Some major changes that gets to the heart of our discussion today. It necessitated new degrees. They created an associates degree. They created a raft of baccalaureate degrees, including the Bachelor of Science. They created the first earned graduate degrees, which became a slew of masters degrees, a slew of doctorate degrees.
There was also a need to change assessment. You need mechanisms for assessments that are tied to courses which didn’t exist before.
So in 1878, Harvard introduces this radical new grading system for each course … “A” through “E,” (E became F). Instead of a fixed number of courses for graduation, lots of grading systems were tried. Colleges all over the country tried different grading systems. Finally, the accrediting association said, “Look, we need to agree on one system.” There has got to be some system of academic accounting. How do you know what a course is? How do you measure a course? The credit system was introduced in the 1870’s after experimentation of colleges trying a whole bunch of different schemas for courses and credits. Any number of initiatives of standardization followed.
In 1906, The Carnegie Foundation created the new norm, The Carnegie Unit: A time and course-based accounting system which defines a unit as 15 recitations per week in a single subject for a year. Fourteen high school units are to be required for college admissions. Seat time, became a currency of academe. Using the new degrees, the new assessments, the new accounting systems, a new model of education was established and it was based in one of the dominant and most successful technologies of the industrial era. I’m serious … the assembly line.
Education would entail 12 years of schooling, 180 days year, 4 to 5 major courses, for periods of time prescribed by The Carnegie Foundation. College graduation would be tied to the accumulation of the required number of courses for credits. The modern industrial era system of higher education was established. It’s what we have been talking about all day.
So let’s jump to the present.
Once again, the United States is undergoing an economic transformation — the second in our history. This time the shift is from a national analog industrial economy to a global digital information economy. The difference between the two is this. Industrial economies focus on common processes. Time and process are fixed, outcomes are variable. In contrast, information economies focus on outcomes. Process and time are variables. In terms of education, what that means is the industrial system focuses on teaching, seat time. The information economy’s system focused on learning. Times are variable, mastery is the key. That’s a revolutionary change. Of all the reforms going on in education right now, and there are a gazillion, none is larger than that or as greater implications.
What it means is that the current degrees, assessments, and accounting systems don’t work anymore. Despite their extraordinary success for more than a century, they’ve become obsolete.
In a 2015 report, The Carnegie Foundation put it this way:
“The Carnegie unit sought to standardize student exposure to subject matter by insuring they received consistent amounts of instructional time. It was never, intended to function as a measure of what students learned.”
That puts us in exactly the same place as our industrial predecessors. We’re inventing a new model. We’re inventing a new model of credentialing, certifications, degrees, something else … badges, micro-credentials, a new assessment system, and we need a new accounting system. I really believe these things are going to occur. I believe in them so strongly that as Matt said, Woodrow Wilson is in the process, with MIT, of creating a new graduate school of education which will be competency based, time variable, and which will award micro-credentials in addition to degrees.
We can expect the process we’re going to go through to resemble the process we’ve been through in the past. It’s not going to be real different. What we’re going to see first, is continued embrace of the current model by most colleges and universities, and reject the need to reform. Why should they? This has worked in the past. Why shouldn’t it continue to work into the future? Why? Remember the future happens behind your back, not in front of your face. They were busy working and the world changed. They didn’t see it.
What we will see is experimentation, first small, then increasingly wide-spread — both inside and outside of higher education. We’ll see the establishment of new models. We’ve talked about a whole bunch of them today. There are institutions like Western Governors, Southern New Hampshire, Alverno … and those institutions are going to grow stronger and stronger through successful approximations or be replaced by institutions, which have taken what they’ve done to the next step.
Elite institutions will keep coming up in the kind of change we are talking about. Elite institutions serve as validators and legitimizers. They don’t do the invention. There are exceptions like MIT. They don’t do the inventions, they let others do the inventions and they put their stamp on those that work.
We’re going to see the establishment of a multiplicity of different practices for outcomes, assessments, and accounting. We’re going to see debate and discussion in every stage. Finally, we’re going to see something that has come up in most every session I’ve been to, standardization.
Where do we stand today? We have continued to embrace of current practice. Rejection leads to change for many institutions. Experimentation is on going. This room is full of experimenters. New models are being created. Debate and discussion are everywhere. Not only meetings like this, they’re in all the trade makers. They’re in the popular media. This is everywhere.
And we are also witnessing something that is unfortunate. We are witnessing the simultaneous imposition of both models on our schools. What we’re asking them to do is take fixed time and fixed process from the industrial model and combine that with fixed outcomes from the information model. You can’t do all those things at once.
So, as we move to an information economy model of credentialing, here’s what I think we need to do. We need to go beyond words like competencies and outcomes which are learning based units comparable to industrial courses and credits. We really need to do is achieve common definitions of those competencies. What we really have to do is create the equivalent of the DSM in psychiatry ... the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It offers a common language and standard criteria for classifying mental illnesses. We need that for competencies. When we talk about competencies, we have to be talking about the same thing or it’s just another buzz word.
We have to develop assessments that measure student progress and attainment of the standards, or the outcomes, and help us prescribe to students what it is they need to do in order to achieve those competencies. Now this the question. Over time, we really need to build those assessments on analytics and student learning, which are growing so big. We need to embed them in the assessment of curriculum — to function a lot like a GPS — discovering student misunderstandings in real time and getting them back on track.
If you look at today’s testing, our high-stakes testing, it comes too late. The problem with it is, it lets us know who has failed to achieve what it is we’re testing. Imagine if your GPS worked that way? You can’t. You would get readings once an hour. When you started you were 20 miles away from where you were going. An hour later you’re 70 miles away from where you’re going. You’re going in the wrong direction, recalculating. That’s not real useful and neither is testing. It needs to function the same way as our GPS’s do.
We need to create common credentials, micro-credentials, and badges to recognize student mastery and competencies and learning outcomes.
Degrees are insufficient for this purpose. They’re macro-credentials. They’re rooted in the package of diverse, disconnected programs and courses. They’re rooted in the philosophy of just-in-case learning — we’re going to give you these 4 years, just in case you need them.
Today we’re increasingly going to see a demand for just-in-time learning in more specialized areas and those that came through experience, self instruction, formal and informal education, offered by a host of providers — Universities and non universities. The museum down the block from me is offering a Doctorate in Astrophysics.
I went to visit a publisher and I was looking around the guy’s entry room. One of my greatest weaknesses is books. The guy comes out and says, “You know, we’re not in the book business anymore.” He says “we’re in the knowledge business.” I think he saw me roll my eyes. He said, “Let me give you an example, we are now in 45,000 schools.” Maybe it was 25,000 schools? It was a large number of schools. It was more than 12. He now has my full attention. He says, “There is no university in the United States, no ed provider outside of universities that has that kind of penetration.” I looked at him and I thought I still had the upper hand. I said, “Where are you getting your content from,” knowing he had to come to me as president of a teacher’s college. He said, “We hire full time content providers.”
I thought about that for a minute. I don’t have any friends who are full time content providers. My parents didn’t have any friends who were full time content providers. Even my neighbors aren’t full time content providers. I asked him, “What do you mean? What is a full time content provider?” He told me and I realized we just had different names for them. I call them professors and he called them content providers.
I thought I still had him. I said, “What about degrees and credentials?” He said, “We’re still working on that.” They’re not anymore, the got degree granting authority. The fact of the matter is more providers are going to offer more education for different length of time 24/7 and it’s going to be incumbent upon us to find the mechanism to discover what they have learned as a consequence of all that education.
That will occur throughout their lifetimes and that’s going to necessitate a lifetime transcript to record all of those competencies. And we need an organization. We need an institution to house, curate, secure, and distribute — to serve as a life long registrar. Perhaps that begins here in this summit?
I don’t pretend this is an easy assignment. It’s going to take a coalition involving government, federal and state educational institutions, traditional and non traditional, professional associations, and other stake holders to accomplish. A lot of you are in this room today. I don’t see why it shouldn’t begin here.
One closing thought, shifting education from teaching to learning doesn’t mean vocationalizing, diluting, or diminishing it. And that was true too of the industrial universities. They did not diminish the quality of agrarian colleges. What they did was … they revitalized them and enriched them.
Higher education succeeds best when it has one foot in the library, our heritage, and one foot in the street — the realities of the world are in which we live. In times of dramatic change, higher education tends to lose it’s hold on the street. Today we are talking about is re-establishing that foot. In doing so, we shouldn’t abandon the library. Those functions and activities should be cherished and preserved. We shouldn’t un-bundle everything. Keep only the most lucrative items and throw out casually other items that don’t give a return.
I want to salute you. I want to salute you for being here today. I want to salute you for taking time away from very, very busy schedules. I want to salute Parchment for making this day possible. The question we have to ask ourselves as we go forth is actually a question that comes fro the Yale Report. They asked this, “Should colleges change fast or slow. Should they change a lot or a little? They are the wrong questions,” they said. The correct question is, “What’s the purpose of college? What’s the purpose of an education for other organizations that are offering as well?” That remains the right question today.
In truth, the assignment before us is huge. It’s daunting. But there is no generation that’s had a greater opportunity to puts stamp on the future of higher education than we have today. That is one extraordinary opportunity and one extraordinary challenge. It’s imperative that we succeed because the future depends upon it. Thank you all very much.