Bookmark: Living In A World Of Motion

There were three notable chapters in my book this week, and I placed a bookmark on the page with the paragraph that wove them all together in a lovely way.

Chapter One: Last night I returned from an accreditation team training, and the theme of most of our discussion in the meeting (as well as the discussion on the airport shuttle bus) was “change in higher education.”  We watched this video to provoke our thinking:

Chapter Two: I have been collaborating with a new wonderful set of colleagues — Lisa Blaschke, Stewart Hase, and Chris Kenyon — to design and launch an international Community of Practice focusing on advancing the theory and practice of heutagogy. And if there’s one thing heutagogy is about, it’s about learning and change. (An aside: we’ve not launched yet, but when we do, here’s our Twitter handle: @HeutagogyCoP)

Chapter Three: I am teaching our PLA Seminar: From Experience to Learning this term. I’ve connected with wonderful, amazingly smart and caring adult learners, many of whom are starting to write about their own learning experiences and challenges with change in their PLA essays. (Have I mentioned that I really love teaching this course? I wish I could do so more often!)

book3dBookmark: I just finished devouring Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change.

These three chapters of my week converged when I read this paragraph from the book’s chapter titled, “Embracing Change:”

Change motivates and challenges. It makes clear when things are obsolete or have outlined their usefulness. Bot most of all, change forces us to learn differently. If the twentieth century was about creating a sense of stability to buttress again change and then trying to adapt to it, then the twenty-first century is about embracing change, not fighting it. Embracing change means looking forward to what will come next. It means viewing the future as a new set of possibilities, rather than something that forces us to adjust. It means making the most of living in a world of motion.

The book reflects a lot about learning in online community-based gaming – which I know next-to-nothing about. But now I think I’d better learn. (GULP! I never thought I’d say that!)

(Unless, of course, Pinterest provides the same experience, by any chance? Because I’m getting really good at learning with Pinterest!)

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Convergence Zone: Heutagogy

I was a pop-in-and-out participant in last week’s MOOC MOOC, during which time I wrote this reflection about MOOCs, Prior Learning Assessment, and College-Level Learning. I read several tweets and posts from folks participating along the way that shaped and changed my thinking, and I gleaned a few interesting ideas and a whole lot of thoughtful questions about MOOCs, and even more thoughtful questions about teaching, learning, assessment, higher education, prior learning and assessment, pedagogy, technology, accreditation, adult learning, and the intersections of all of these topics.

Thanks to fabonthemoon on Flickr for making this image available for use!

This busy intersection is where I spend a lot of my time professionally and theoretically – smack dab in the middle of several noisy streets, trying to determine what way I might want to travel next before I get hit by oncoming traffic. It’s really not as terrifying as it might sound; in fact, the metaphor, for me, represents the complexity of higher education in a good way: its systems, its people, its opportunities and challenges. Traffic is moving here, and quickly, but then again, slowly. (It is higher education, after all.) 

One post that caught my attention was written by Dave Cormier titled Rhizomatic Learning and MOOCs – Assessment. Here’s a key point he made that’s been rattling in my nog since I read it:

IF

What we are learning is contextualized by each individual differently, according to their experiences, their understanding and purposes,

AND

The things that are learned are not definite, but flexible and complex

THEN

Assessing what someone ‘knows’ is an act of enforcement of a given point of view, not a(n apolotical) [sic] helpful guideline to learning

I want assessment to be a helpful guideline to learning (as reflected, for example, in my concerns with learning analytics). Period. With or without MOOCs, my personal vision of assessment’s main value is as a key part of an individual’s and group’s learning processes and cycles (assessment as an act of learning — for and as learning — versus of someone’s learning by someone else). I also think there is great value in assessment as and for learning for organizations. Otherwise, how would we know how we’re doing and how to improve?

Yet here’s where it gets messy:

When someone (presumably a person we call a “student”) wants to have their learning “certified” in some way and wants the currency of higher education — credits and degrees and whatnot — attached to that learning to “verify” that they have it, then these ideals of learning/assessment get messy and murky. (The same might be said of organizations: verification for higher educational organizations is just called “accountability” and is often conflated with “assessment” and “accreditation.”) For a student, passing a course somehow represents that he or she has learned something from it; adding up these courses to a degree presumes that he or she is qualified in particular ways. Somehow we have to “validate” all of this, for all sorts of reasons.

Prior Learning Assessment has been a way for students — typically adults with several years of life and professional experience under their belts — to have their learning “validated,” to earn credit for their prior college-level learning that they have obtained through non-college learning opportunities. By critically reflecting on their learning experiences, making meaning from these experiences, and connecting and integrating their own knowledge with that of the “academic experts,” students can demonstrate that they’ve met course learning outcomes through different sources other than the course. (GASP!) But perhaps the most meaningful aspect of PLA, in addition to acknowledging that people can learn all sorts of things in all sorts of ways from all sorts of sources, is that the process helps develop reflective thinking, awareness, problem-solving, and mindfulness about learning. In other words:

PLA helps learners be better learners!

So if PLA were to become a way to assess MOOC-based learning (which it could be) — if it were to be “re-branded,” as one person in my PLA LinkedIn group discussion forum suggested, to focus less on assessing prior, experiential learning for adults and to focus more on assessing college-level learning for all, then by all means, it could legitimately serve an assessment-of-MOOC-learning function (and frankly, it likely will).

But I keep coming back to what might be lost by using PLA in this way, for this purpose, and it comes down to my fear of losing the other 2 aspects of PLA: assessment for and as learning. Furthermore, I fear that there would be additional aspects to PLA that might be sacrificed or forgotten about. Here’s my quick and dirty laundry list:

  • The focus on the adult-as-learner specifically
  • Development of the critically reflective process required for turning experience into learning
  • The transformative (life-changing) outcomes of PLA as a learning process
  • The kind of thinking and problem-solving skills that folks develop when engage in PLA
  • The great sense of accomplishment that students feel and confidence that students gain when their learning is awarded college credit.

(See this PLA Bibliography for literature that reflects all of the above theoretically and in practice.)

I really don’t know much about MOOCs, or about rhizomatic learning, but I do know a few things about learning to learn, and I know a lot about PLA. I really would want to retain the kind of PLA that supports this metacognitive development in addition to validating someone’s experiential learning.

Now, this busy intersection is beginning to reveal a convergence zone for me: a focus on learning to learn, on developing capability as a learner — regardless of the topic or content area, the role or methods of assessment, who is teaching, or how or where one gains learning. This zone is called heutagogy, and I am working on creating a curation of resources and a community of practitioners to think together about its usefulness in this 21st century learning and higher educational landscape. I openly invite participation and perspectives: stayed tuned for more about Heutagogy In Action.

MORE ABOUT HEUTAGOGY

Blaschke, L.M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(1), 56-71. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1076/2113

Bhoyrub, J., Hurley, J., Neilson, G.R., Ramsay, M., & Smith, M. (2010). Heutagogy: An alternative practice based learning approachNurse Education in Practice19(6), 322-326.

Canning, N. &  Callan, S. (2010). Heutagogy: Spirals of reflection to empower learners in higher education. Reflective Practice, 11(1), pp. 71–82.

Canning, N. (2010). Playing with heutagogy: Exploring strategies to empower mature learners in higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 34(1), pp. 59–71.

Chapnick, S. & Meloy, J. (2005).  Renaissance eLearning: creating dramatic and unconventional learning experiences. Essential resources for training and HR professionals. Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA. (See “From Andragogy to Heutagogy,” pp. 36–39.)

Hase, S, and Kenyon, C. (2000). From andragogy to heutagogy. Ultibase, RMIThttp://ultibase.rmit.edu.au/Articles/dec00/hase2.htm

Hase, S, & Kenyon, C. (2007). Heutagogy: a child of complexity theory. Complicity: an International Journal of Complexity and Education, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 111-118. “Heutagogy: A Child of Complexity Theory”

Hase, S, & Kenyon, C. (2001). Moving from Andragogy to Heutagogy in Vocational Education. Retrieved from: http://www.avetra.org.au/abstracts_and_papers_2001/Hase-Kenyon_full.pdf 

Compliance Or Learning: What’s Accreditation For?

It must be accreditation season. This spring I served on two regional accreditation teams (one for WASC, one for NWCCU) as a peer reviewer. Wait – did you say peer reviewer???

— WE BREAK HERE FOR A TEACHABLE MOMENT —

Hear that students of mine? Peer Review! Yep – just like we do in our class, this process asks us reviewers to use criteria (“standards”) to assess how well we think an institution is doing based on their self-assessment report (called a “self-study”), interviews with lots and lots of people (including students), and direct evidence (such as meeting minutes, syllabi, catalogs, etc.) And you all thought I came up with peer review as a way to lighten my paper-reading load. NOPE – it’s about learning with and from others.

BACK TO MY POINT …

First, let me share with you a few fun facts about serving on an accreditation team. For one thing, you get to travel to beautiful and exotic places. For my first visit, this was my office:

For the second, this:

(Ok, ok. I took those pictures while on accreditation visits, but I really didn’t get to hang out and work right there, in the midst of that beauty. Well, except for the top one. I really did write half the report looking at that view. But of course, that’s not always the case. To be fair, I’ve heard colleagues talk about writing accreditation reports from truck stops and Denny’s restaurants.)

Serving on a peer review team is a fabulous learning experience. I learned not only from the institutions I visited, but also from my teammates. I have new ideas and strategies to bring back to my institution, and a new set of colleagues in my network. When serving on a team, you get to know other folks from other institutions who are serving with you, and because you may be tackling tough problems together in a condensed period of time (often working together into the wee hours of the night), you tend to get to know each other pretty well. In both cases this spring, I developed neat collaborative relationships with the team members, and many of us still keep in touch.

The peer review part of accreditation can present learning opportunities for an institution’s students too. A student at one institution covered the accreditation visit by writing two stories for her campus newspaper to help her fellow students know what was happening. The first was a “hey, they’re coming” story, and the second was a “hey, I had lunch with them” story. Read them here:

University makes progress with accreditation renewal

Food for thought: Accreditation luncheon

Finally, if institutions are amenable to constructive feedback (as we all should be) and if they see the process as one of genuine self-reflection and assessment in order to keep doing what works and change what doesn’t, they learn and improve too. To be clear: the reports are not easy to write or put together; looking in the mirror and calling attention to your flaws isn’t exactly a party (though you also get to call attention to your beauty marks, and identifying those can be rewarding). My own institution is a great example of the learning and improvements that can come from the process.  We have made huge improvements in how we educate and serve students since our last accreditation visit as a result of our self-assessment and feedback from peers about our practices. And it’s all good because it’s all learning.

All in all, accreditation sometimes gets a bad rap because it’s tangled into real and legitimate issues of compliance, accountability, and in some cases fear. A recent column in The Chronicle of Higher Education makes a compelling point for why faculty should get involved accordingly:

But it’s time for college and university faculty to start paying attention to this seemingly dry issue. Further, it’s time they joined the effort by administrators and accreditors to resist the government’s increasing intrusion into accreditation. That intrusion endangers both academic freedom and the unique American system of separation of the academy from the state.

Ultimately, if we really want to improve higher education, and if we want opportunities for learning and developing networks with others, participating in a regional accreditation process can be a great way to do so. If anything, through our participation and engagement, we can help accreditation be focused on learning and improvement for everyone, including regional accrediting agencies themselves.

She Had A Pleasant Elevation

She’s moving out in all directions …

Like this Talking Heads song, this is how my summer has been – moving out in all directions. Though to be clear –  I am NOT taking LSD in a field next to a Yoo-hoo beverage factory in Baltimore, Maryland (thanks for this information Wikipedia), nor am I lying in any grass. I have been working with my colleagues on lots and lots of assessment projects, all simultaneously. And it’s fun and exciting and draining and cool. (And busy.)

Let me do a brief inventory:

  • Assessment of Learning in the Academic Library
  • Student Affairs Assessment
  • Academic Department Assessment Reports – 2010-2011
  • Academic Department Assessment Plans – 2011-2012
  • Preparing for rolling out Department Review- Chapter 2: Student Learning
  • Liberal Arts Core Revision (and supporting myriad assessment projects associated with the current LAC outcomes)
  • NWCCU Accreditation – Standard One
  • Hiring and welcoming our new Assessment Research Coordinator
  • Hiring and welcoming our new Service Program Coordinator
  • Teaching LRN 305
  • And, and, and … let me just say it’s been a busy summer.

And oh yeah, I almost forgot! I have been working on  my own learning in the Assessment Leadership Academy — all in context of these various projects and my day-to-day work.

I have to say that in moving in all of these directions, I am, in fact,  having a pleasant elevation. Wanna know why? Because when I am engaged in this work, I am learning. And why? Because assessment is about learning. (Not to be redundant – but have I said that before? Like HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE?)

Megan Oakleaf, in a recent article about assessing value in academic libraries, said it too in regard to why assessment in libraries is important:

Value research means hard work: hard work conducting research, hard work reflecting on results, hard work fine-tuning existing services and resources, and hard work developing new ones. However, it is certain that not engaging in the value conversation puts academic libraries in  an untenable situation. It is also certain that investigating and demonstrating library value is the right thing to do. Why? Because as librarians explore the value of library services and resources they provide, they learn. When librarians learn, they proactively deliver top-notch services and resources where they’re needed—to students completing their academic work; to faculty preparing publications, grant proposals, or tenure packages; to administrators seeking decision-making evidence. And when librarians deliver excellent services and resources, they make a difference for their users—they are valuable.

This summer has been all about learning — student learning, my learning, my colleagues’ learning, my institution’s learning — and making a difference (or at least trying to). And learning and making a difference are valuable. And *that’s* been my pleasant elevation for this summer (which has got to be way better than taking LSD in a field next to a Yoo-hoo beverage factory any old day).

(Not that I would know.)

Credit for Experience or Learning? Learning, Please!

I have written already about Walmart’s PLA program, so I am not going to get my knickers in a twist again about *that* topic.

  • My first 2 cents Here
  • My next 2 cents Here

My 2 cents: Thanks for Kiribati on Picasa for making this image available.

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning announced that Pam Tate, the President of CAEL, was interviewed on NPR´s show Here and Now about the use of prior learning assessment nationwide. According to the announcement, “She also commented on the new relationship between the for-profit online school, American Public University, and Walmart to offer academic credit to employees based on what they learn on the job.” Listen Here:

Here and Now

Here at Marylhurst, we intentionally keep our PLA program pretty darn rigorous. Students have to demonstrate that they have the college-level learning, based on specific course outcomes. It’s not an “easier” way to earn credits; it is often, however, a very rewarding way to earn credit.  As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s about so much more than credit. (It also saves our students time and money — both pretty valuable resources for busy adult learners!)

So again, here are links to Marylhurst’s PLA students talking about their experiences — as you will hear from them, the credit is quite often the icing on the cake:

That’s Messed Up (#2)

Another for my “That’s Messed Up” collection (sadly it’s beginning to be a collection):

Lillian Conway (I have no idea who she is) had the great nerve to email me this SPECIAL OFFER – TODAY ONLY. (Clearly, she doesn’t know me or my ideas about this kind of stuff, either.)

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Do Not Reply to this Email.

Granted, it showed up in my Spam box. Appropriately. But still … That’s Messed Up!

And by the way, who signs their email “Sincerely, Do Not Reply to this Email” ?????????

That’s Messed Up, too!

Looking Forward

Montgomery Improvement Association Booklet, ca. 1960

Looking forward. That’s what I am doing, like the Montgomery Improvement Association. I think, in effect, an “Improvement Association”  is what our Assessment Committee has defined in our creation of the Marylhurst Assessment Program.

A few weeks back, I read a white paper written by Peter Ewell (aka “The Assessment God”) titled Assessment, Accountability, and Improvement: Revisiting the Tension, which was commissioned by the The National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. In this article, Ewell articulates two paradigms that exist around assessment in higher education: 1) assessment to be accountable to others, such as funders or accreditors, and 2) assessment to be focused more internally, on improvement. The distinction he describes in this way:

Accountability requires the entity be held accountable to demonstrate, with evidence, conformity with an established standard of process or outcome. The associated incentive for that entitity is to look as good as possible, regardless of the underlying performance. Improvement, in turn, entails an opposite set of incentives. Deficiencies in performance must be faithfully detected and reported so they can be acted upon.  (p. 7)

In addition to articulating the tensions that exist around, within, and across these two paradigms, Ewell commented upon the aspects and importance of culture in thinking about and navigating these tensions. As I’ve gradually been moving into my new role here (Dean for Learning & Program Assessment), I’ve been giving a lot of thought to our “assessment culture” — what it is, is becoming, and might need to be to make student learning and program assessment as meaningful as possible.

As my position description was being circulated among faculty, questions such as “Does this person have authority over programs?” and “Will programs be accountable to this person?” arose. The answer was always “No,” and after reading this article, I am grateful for that. The dichotomy that Ewell presents is also present in institutional roles — in my role, should I be seeking departments to be accountable to me, or seeking ways to build capacity in order to support improvement?

The latter, thank you.

But that returns me to the question of our assessment culture, which implies a shared set of understandings, meanings, and maybe even goals. I would like to believe that my colleagues and I share a passion for teaching and learning (and not just for our subject areas or our students as individuals), and that we value assessment as the key mechanism that helps us understand what we do as teachers, its effects, and how we might continue to improve them — individually and programmatically.  I would like to believe that we share an understanding of what I keep calling the “balanced stool” of teaching, learning, and assessment (it has three legs and if you cut one short, the stool wobbles).  I would also like to believe that pleasing accreditors or funders isn’t our purpose (or at least our primary purpose) in pursuing assessment of student learning and, ultimately, programs. I’m not so sure this is true. I am not sure we all share much of any particular approach when it comes to assessment. Diverse perspectives are healthy in an organization, but so are shared values and purposes.

What I do know is that one idea has kept echoing in my head since reading this article:  Ewell’s notion of the importance of the collective.  Ewell writes this (my own inserts in brackets):

…we must emphasize a commitment to a collective responsibility for teaching and learning and their results. Instead of seeing assessment as an aspect of higher education’s responsibility to its funders [or accreditors], both faculty and academic leaders need to see it as part of our accountability to ourselves [and our students] (p. 15).

Indeed, it is becoming more clear to me that I want to — very intentionally — take the improvement paradigm to heart and to practice in my role.  I want to support continuing to create a culture that takes collective responsibility to make sure that 3-legged stool stands up and doesn’t wobble; that it provides good support to us and to our students; that it’s focused on improvement.

Necessary to a true collective, though, is also an open system — a way for feedback (critical and positive) to inform and change practice as needed. So I seek that from my colleagues; I seek open communication about assessment challenges, departments’ needs, and how the Assessment Program (and me at its helm) is doing.

Yep – like the Montgomery Improvement Association, I am looking forward.

(Thanks to the US National Archives for making the Montgomery Improvement Association picture publically available on Flickr.)