A New Prescription for Innovator Growing Pains?

Aaron Sklar’s exposition on the potentially analgesic effects of integrated evaluation really got me thinking. He points out that innovation is by nature uncomfortable, and suggests carefully-defined and continually re-defined meaningful metrics can play a role in easing that discomfort by clarifying the”end” to keep in mind.

Perhaps there’s even more to it than that:

So often in life, discomfort is the result of poorly managed expectations: It’s the classic “this won’t hurt a bit” you hear from the well-meaning nurse as she jabs a 4″ needle into your hip, the regularly-spaced reassurances of how important your call is while you wait interminably on hold, the gut-wrenching panic when you try on “your size” at a new boutique only to discover you can’t even button the trousers.

In addition to, or perhaps as a result of providing structure in a new (ad)venture, integrated, authentic, continual evaluation creates a different set of expectations in an organization. We expect to discover things that don’t work, we expect middle-of-the-ride course corrections (and the accompanying jolts), we expect transparency and honest critique, and we expect iteration.

It’s amazing the levels of “discomfort” we can adapt to if we expect it, and the performance we have the capacity to achieve through it is even more exciting.

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Open Ed’s Not-Quite 95 Theses

We’re not planning to nail it to President Samuelson’s door just yet, but our class discussion on the evolving value proposition of open education yielded some intriguing results.

The premise here is that in order to remain viable, let alone accomplish its admittedly lofty goals, this next generation of open educational resources and practices must offer something to the institutions that support it beyond warm fuzzies…or positive PR…or 5-year infusions of funding. In short, it’s got to make a difference in the education of current, fee-paying, sitting-in-the-classroom students or the axe won’t stay hovering for long.

So what can openness offer the on-campus student? Here’s a start:

  • Better material used in courses
  • Faster/cheaper course development
  • Improved access to content (device-driven and adaptable)
  • Explicit connections/access to background material (instead of just saying “you remember linear algebra…right?” the instructor can actually link back to the foundational material from a previous course. Students with such access may even perform better in advanced courses.)
  • Increased efficiency in academic advisement (students can take on many of these functions themselves–more information up-front about a course will lead to lower drop rates, less time lost to resulting schedule inefficiencies and lower administrative costs.)
  • Faculty modeling critical skills of collaboration and team work.

The New[?] “Haves” and “Have-Nots”

For several years now, scholars and pundits have been talking about the effects of what they term the “digital divide;” the widening rift between those who have access to and skills to use new information technologies and those who don’t. Often, they speak of this gap as if it has changed the face of privilege in the world–it used to be that material wealth separated the haves and have-nots, now it’s information.

The more I think about it, the more I believe this concept isn’t new. Access to information and learning  has always been what separated the haves from the have-nots. One history of an ancient people includes this observation [and caution]: “And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.”

Whether the idea that knowldge and chances for learning divide haves and have-nots represents a paradigm shift or not, it has been sobering to remember this week that no matter how it’s delineated, I come down squarely on the side of the “haves” every time.