Moving Past Wishes

Many many many moons ago, when I was teaching English in my first “real” job in a community college in Washington state, I decided to try a technique called “negotiated assessment” that I’d heard about at a conference. The conference was about learning outcomes assessment — a fairly new paradigm at the time — and when I heard this idea I immediately wanted to try it. Why should I be the only one who assessed my students’ learning; why couldn’t they do it? Wouldn’t that help them pay more attention to their learning process and outcomes; wouldn’t it also, perhaps, potentially, lighten the power I wielded with my pen and my gradebook?

Grade A

Many thanks to Steve Snodgrass on Flickr for making this image available to use.

At the time it was a risky experiment for me: I didn’t yet have tenure, and here I was, giving the power of grading over to my students (except that I wasn’t — more about that below). My department chair (who was also the chair of my tenure committee) was supportive of the experiment, and so I tried it out. This was long before I knew much about learning or assessment; long before I knew how to support students in taking more ownership over their learning; long before I formally knew much about reflection, about deep learning, about metacognition, about self-directed and self-determined learning; long before I had devoured Freire and hooks and Dewey and Kegan and Daloz and Palmer and Doll and so many others; and it was long before I had enough experience  to really design the approach so it worked well.

Nonetheless, here’s how it went in my English 101 – College Composition course that spring semester:

  • I created the course description, the learning outcomes (some of which were departmentally prescribed), and the learning activities and assignments for the course.
  • I led and facilitated the course activities and provided direct instruction when needed.
  • Students engaged (or not, in some cases) in the writing processes I set up (and required), including peer review, responding to feedback on multiple drafts from me and other students, learning about revision as “re-seeing” and editing as cleaning up fly specks on the window so readers could see the message clearly, etc.
  • I never graded a single paper; I provided LOTS of feedback on LOTS of drafts, but I never assigned an actual letter grade.
  • At the end of the term, students wrote a final essay self-assessing their learning through the lens of the learning outcomes of the course and feedback they received from me and others along the way. They put the paper in the front of a binder that contained all of their other drafts and final papers (a very fundamental form of portfolio at the time). Based on their “analysis” and the “evidence of learning” in the binder, they recommended a final grade for themselves.
  • The last week of the term, I met with each student individually to review the paper, the portfolio, and to discuss the grade they thought they should get, and to talk about how they should transfer their learning from this class to other classes and contexts (because surely, if I told them to, they would, right?)

It was a fascinating experiment in all sorts of things — students whom I considered to be “strong” graded themselves much harder than I would have; students I considered to be “weak” (or “flakey”) recommended A grades for themselves. (I am now ashamed that I had those thoughts about my students at that time, but I did.) During the meeting, we “negotiated” the student’s grade and came to agreement, using the portfolio as an anchor, on what that grade should be. (In actual fact I still actually did hold most of the power. For one thing, I totally over-ruled 2 of my 20 students. They most certainly did not earn an A let alone demonstrate much learning. What kind of pushover did they think I was!?!)

I was reminded of this experiment from many moons ago this past week when I read a new perspectives post about heutagogy contributed by Fred Garnett in the Heutagogy Community of Practice.  Read it here:

The PAH Continuum: Pedagogy, Andragogy & Heutagogy

In this post, Fred describes his practice of  “brokering:”

Writing the syllabus and developing the schedule of delivery along with the work to be completed meant that I was, in effect, building the framework of what I was teaching. Consequently I really understood what the boundaries were and so could better broker between the formal requirements of the education system and the personal desires of my learners; I had found that all these ‘failing’ students wanted to learn.  On the social impact course each student picked any technology that interested them to research and write about. I showed them how to “play” with the learning requirements, which can be used as creative constraints, and how best to meet them in their completed work. I also encouraged them to present that work in original ways rather than as just a written report. Although most presented reports a precious few tried original approaches, such as wall charts, cartoons, a class presentation with Q&A, and so on. Most importantly simply having the opportunity to present finished written work in ways that they determined meant that they thought about various ways in which to explain their ideas.

Here’s what I like about this concept and what I wish I had done in that class: I wish I had actually tapped into and understood the personal desires of my learners and showed them how to “play” with the learning requirements and how to best meet them in their work. I wish that I had encouraged them to produce artifacts that were original — that were personalized to their desires — that would meet the learning outcomes. And I wish that I had understood that my “failing” students — those that I unfairly deemed flakey, or lazy, or poor writers — probably did want to learn, but maybe not the way I thought they should. I wish … I wish … I wish…

This is why I am excited about heutagogy and wanted to start a Community of Practice focusing on it — it so nicely grounds and frames the approaches I try to use when I teach in a way that does not leave me wishing. It provides a way for me to organize and re-vision and re-enact my knowledge about self-directed learning; about authentic assessment; about learning outcomes, course design, and curricular structure; and about my preferred “teaching” approach.

I am so grateful to continue to learn about my practice — and to self-determine my path. Thanks to all who’ve joined the Heutagogy Community of Practice for already furthering my learning in ways I hadn’t ever anticipated.

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Way-Finding, Delicacy, and Balance: The Oregon Edition

Thanks to lakewentworth on Flickr for making this Portland image available for use.

Thanks to lakewentworth on Flickr for making this Portland, Oregon image available for use.

Since October, I have been serving on the Credit for Prior Learning Advisory Committee of the State of Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission (wow – that’s a long title!). Dr. Larry Large of OAICU and I represent the independent colleges and universities, and we serve with colleagues representing community colleges, private for-profits, and the Oregon State University system.

So what’s this all about?

In short, in February 2012, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 4059 which “Directs  Higher  Education  Coordinating  Commission  to  carry  out  goals  relating  to  awarding  academic  credit  for  prior  learning  by  students.” The Bill has several goals, the two most significant being:

(a) Increase the number of students who receive academic credit for prior learning and the number of students who receive academic credit for prior learning that counts toward their major or toward earning their degree, certificate or credential, while ensuring that credit is awarded only for high quality course-level competencies;

(b) Increase the number and type of academic credits accepted for prior learning in institutions of higher education, while ensuring that credit is awarded only for high quality course-level competencies;

Read our 2012 report HERE.

As you can imagine, I am pretty excited about this Bill and the opportunities it will create to recognize and reward learning that students bring with them to college. I am also learning a lot — about the state legislative process, about people’s perceptions of CPL and PLA, and about what I need to advocate for (which I’ve written about ad nauseum).

Also, I recently reviewed the 2013 Horizon Report and several trends (starting on page 13) stood out to me as relevant to our CPL conversation, especially these:

  • The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators.
  • Assessment and accreditation are changing to validate life-long learning.
  • Both formal and informal learning experiences are becoming increasingly important as college graduates continue to face a highly competitive workforce.
  • Open is a key trend in future education and publication, specifically in terms of open content, open educational resources, massively open online courses, and open access.

CPL and PLA are going to be ever-important practices in the 21st century world of open learning, as Conrad proposes in this article, Assessment challenges in open learning: Way-finding, fork in the road, or end of the line?

This paper proposes that the adaptation of a rigorous RPL assessment process, modeled on some processes in operation at various post secondary institutions around the world, could offer a solution to the open learning assessment issue, a solution that would be academically viable, reputable, and sufficiently constructivist-oriented so as not to negate the energy and spirit already exercised by open learners. A delicate balancing act? Perhaps so, but in times of rapid, important, and disruptive change, both delicacy and the need for balancing abound. (p. 44)

Oregon is way-finding — and in doing this important work on behalf of Oregon learners, we need to remember that there already exist pedagogically sound CPL frameworks and practices that actually support deepening students’ learning. Icing on the credit cake. Let’s take a bite!

Rearranging Our Sense of What’s Possible

In his recent post titled Napster, Udacity, and the Academy, Clay Shirky writes a few very important things about the future of higher education that I believe we need to pay attention to. This paragraph sums up why:

Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt.

MOOCs, I believe, are currently a place-holder for Big Changes A’ Comin’. I actually don’t think MOOCs as we know them now (in all of their various forms) will BE the change; I think they are instead indicators that change is happening now. And Shirky says why:

The possibility MOOCs hold out isn’t replacement; anything that could replace the traditional college experience would have to work like one, and the institutions best at working like a college are already colleges. The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled. MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system …

I, for one, do want change to come to higher education — I deeply want improved access to meaningful and significant learning experiences. But I don’t think of students as an “audience for education.” This implies a somewhat passive, receiving role for learners. (And thus the MOOCs that are recordings of superstar professors giving their lectures aren’t that exciting for me.)

Change – Thank you zacklur on Flickr for allowing this image to be used.

The change I want to see is focused not on how content is delivered because content delivery is not learning (though this will surely be part of it), but in how we engage learners in processing that content, integrating it with their own learning and experience and other ideas from other sources, and making some sense of it all. I want to see changes in how we help our learners and ourselves develop our capabilities to be able to work and communicate effectively with others, to be creative in solving our world’s significant social and environmental challenges, to deeply value diversity and experience and wisdom, and to excel at critical self-reflection and ongoing learning. As I’ve written before, enough with the ivory tower that privileges obtaining certain kinds of knowledge and privileges who gets to obtain it. More and more, our non-ivory towers are doing this same thing, and not even realizing it.

My biggest fear right now is actually not that higher education is changing;  I fear that if we’re not careful with how it’s changing — not careful and super-intentional as we lead these changes — that more people, not fewer, will be shut out of significant, meaningful, transformative learning experiences.  MOOCs might solve part of the access problem for delivering content and perhaps even being able to work through that content with others; MOOCs aren’t going to solve the access problem to significant, meaningful, transformative learning experiences. For one thing, MOOCs do not at all address the digital divide, which I believe is still an issue in our world.

Furthermore, problematically, we still are attached this construct called a degree that is supposed to represent learning and ability. This is evidenced in Shirky’s post:

In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as songs came unbundled from CDs.

I think it’s ok if learning becomes unbundled from the pursuit of a degree if by offering degrees we are really only aiming for students just getting degrees. Unless we can focus on ensuring meaningful, engaging processes and experiences of learning, then why bother? I am as compelled by the piece of paper as I am by the archaic representations of learning such as seat time. I am thus also compelled to lead change in particular ways — with learning and access to it at the center of decision-making and innovation and resourcing — because I  actually believe in the value of rearranging our sense of what’s possible. When we rearrange our sense of what’s possible, we can ensure that our students can, too.

And THAT changes everything.

No Ivory Tower There

UC Berkeley campanile – aka, the Ivory Tower. Thanks lobotomy42 on Flickr for making this image available.

Lately I have been engaging in a thought experiment (sadly, mostly by myself), imagining what an institution of higher education focused on heutagogy might look like. Heutatogy is a learning theory, originally developed by Stewart Chase and Chris Kenyon, that places emphasis on learning-to-learn, on developing the capacities of mind for self-determined learning. A heutagogical approach focuses on developing not only competencies, but more significantly, on developing capabilities to learn deeply in an ongoing way. As Blaschke (2012, p. 59) summarizes, capable learners demonstrate:

• self-efficacy, in knowing how to learn and continuously reflect on the learning process;
• communication and teamwork skills, working well with others and being openly communicative;
• creativity, particularly in applying competencies to new and unfamiliar situations and by being adaptable and flexible in approach;
• positive values (Hase & Kenyon, 2000; Kenyon & Hase, 2010; Gardner et al., 2007).

This deep learning process involves a double loop, accordingly:

Image borrowed from Reply – Online Magazine for Organizational Change Practitioners

I look at double-loop learning as a a meta-assessment cycle that results in transformative learning; critical self-reflection and awareness are key features that allow the process to work (for individuals, and also for organizations).

I wonder, if an institution of higher education were focused on a heutagogical approach,

  • Would there be majors or programs of study that are content and discipline oriented? Or would it be truly interdisciplinary?
  • Would we focus on pre-determined learning outcomes, or would they be emergent?
  • Would knowledge be provided to or constructed by participants?
  • Would we measure learning by tests, or add up learning by seat time and credits? (ACK – please say no!)
  • Would there be courses? Or would learners and instructors get together differently? Or would they get together at all?
  • Would we even have professors or instructors? How might their roles and responsibilities be different than now?
  • Heck — would we have “students” as we know them?

I’d like to think that such a “place” (which might likely be less of a place and more of an experience) would be very different from higher education now, because its values, principles, and practices would be totally different.  I like to think that such a place/experience might:

  • Be grounded in experiential learning in nature and in focus so that the double loop can really have meaning;
  • Strive to provide an integrated experience for its participants — where work, life, and education are not kept separate, but inform and shape each other;
  • Nurture the development of personal and communal learning networks and processes (as Blashke points out, Web 2.0 technologies can support these practices nicely);
  • Develop in participants an ongoing practice of critical self-reflection and, ultimately, the capabilities that Blashke describes;
  • Support exploration and adventure as a way of learning;
  • Be open — to new ideas and to new ways of doing learning work, so that it’s always evolving; and to all people, at low or no cost, so that everyone can participate, somehow.

This is the kind of place or experience I’d like to create; this is the kind of place I’d like to be, and experience I’d like to participate in! For one thing, there’s no ivory tower there.

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

Sabbatical: My Doing-By-Learning Bucket List

Week after next I begin a mini-sabbatical…almost 7 weeks of time to focus on projects that I want to focus on. I have a giant bucket list of projects I want to work on that I haven’t had time to do in the hustle and bustle of my faculty/dean/mom/spouse/dog-walker/cat box-cleaner life. I see this time as a great gift from my university, and I am grateful for it.

Many of you have asked what I will be doing, and I’ve had a hard time, in the moment of your question, articulating everything on that list in a coherent way. I also am trying to pose this time less as “what I will do” and more like “what I will learn” (as in: doing-by-learning. Natch!).  So how’s this for an idea? Let me write it all down and share it with the world:

PROFESSIONAL LEARNING PROJECTS

1) In October, I will be joining a grant-funded team from DePaul University’s School for New Learning in facilitating learning sessions for faculty and staff at Tangaza College (in Nairobi, Kenya) about adult, competency-based learning programs and Prior Learning Assessment.  I’ll also be helping develop a PLA course … a chunk of my sabbatical time will be working on these projects.

2) I ‘ll be writing an article about the ways that indirect assessment and direct assessment collide and how that collision might support deep, meaningful student learning (hint: reflection).

3) I’ll be updating and pitching my literature review of assessment in academic libraries.

4) I have an idea that I can create some drafts of rubrics to support the process of peer-review in my university’s accreditation region. We’ll see …

5) A colleague and I are soon to launch a “multi-faceted open educational project dedicated to making a life-changing education available to any serious adult learner who would like to participate.” Think that sounds ambitious? It is … and now more than ever, a learning-based model for education is critical. Personally (I can’t speak for my colleague), I am getting sick and tired of the conversations about disrupting higher education and higher education innovations that seem to have forgotten LEARNING (Randy Bass says it all way better than I – read it here).  My colleague and I only partially joke that our uber-goal of this project is world peace (hey – there’s nothing wrong with being an optimist). We also think that a person’s ongoing ability to learn is their biggest, most important asset — substantially more important than their retirement investments, house, car, diplomas adorning their walls, or resume of past experience — and that if we all can learn how to develop and manage our learning assets and help others do the same, we’ll be better off.  So – I’ll be dedicating a chunk of my sabbatical time to moving this project forward. (Stay tuned – you’ll hear about it here.)

6) Heutagogy. It’s cool. Scratch that. It’s AWESOME!!! And if you’re an adult who is a learner (and, well, why wouldn’t you be?), it should change your life. I’m totally compelled to write a something-or-other about how so. (Indeed, this relates to the “multi-faceted open educational project dedicated to making a life-changing education” discussed previously … these projects are all pretty interrelated.) If you can’t wait for what I have to say about it (and why would you?), you can read these excellent overviews:

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

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

PERSONAL LEARNING PROJECTS

  • I am going to try to use all the free online resources out there to re-develop my Spanish-speaking skills. 30 minutes a day … we’ll see how it goes.
  • I am going to do a lot of yoga; thus, I am going to learn how to practice yoga (versus how to fit it into a busy schedule, which is what I usually am focused on).
  • I will be learning how to run at Foot Traffic University – my friend and I enrolled for their training for the Holiday Half Marathon. (If you know me well, you know that this is hilarious…HILARIOUS! But I might as well try even though I doubt that right now I could run a block even if a bear were chasing me.  And I like to hang out with my friend a lot and we don’t get to do it very often, so this is one way we can. And maybe I will learn that I can run a block if a bear were chasing me … for a free pair of cool socks, which is what FTU gives us, I am going to try!)
  • I am going to learn how to  play ukulele  … eventually …  like this guy (but maybe not by September 6th):

OTHER STUFF

  • I hope to paint the bathroom (if I actually do paint the bathroom, then I will learn how to remove wallpaper and fix some major holes in the wall).
  • I’d like to learn how to make a good Prezi.
  • I’d like to remodel this here blog. It needs a new look and feel … feedback welcome!
  • If the right homeless mutt makes herself present to us, I will likely work on integrating her into our lives.

P.S. 

Sabbatical technically means a rest from work.  HA!

So! Much! More! Than Credit

I’ve been publicly prattling a lot about Prior Learning Assessment lately. For example:

Here

Here, and

Here.

But I fear that the important things about PLA are not getting enough attention. So let me say it loudly and in a bright font here:

PLA is about earning credit – and it is about so! much! more! than earning credit.

Many thanks to cogdogblog on Flickr for allowing this image to be used.

I could go on and on about the so! much! more!, but instead, let some of our students tell you. Below is a list of students who share their experiences with the PLA program at Marylhurst University. Some are videos, some are written testimonials, and all tell great stories about the ways in which PLA challenged them, benefited them, and changed their perspectives on their experiences and themselves!

That’s right: the process of doing PLA — the process of reflecting critically on their experiences, making new meaning from those experiences, articulating those experiences in new ways — changed them. In some cases, the process resulted in pretty significant transformative learning.

Thanks to all of our PLA students who are willing to reflect on their experiences, one more time.

Imagine This: Doing-By-Learning

Thanks to Mark Brannan on Flickr for making this image available.

Traditionally, higher education has been in place to prepare us to do. And it still seems to be in place for that purpose. First you learn; then you can do. First this; then that. And if you do that first, you will either regret not doing this first and come back to it, or you will continue to do that, but not be happy or find meaning in your life.

Higher ed seems to operate from this idea; its entire structure is focused on it:

  • Learn first; then do. This here piece of paper that says you learned makes you qualified to do, so go forth and do! (Oh – and you can stop learning now. That part is over, unless you want to keep learning, in which case you can go to grad school.)

Thankfully, engaging adult learners in higher education seems to have helped us think a little bit differently:

  • Ah – you went and did first. That’s cool! You’ve done all this stuff; now reflect on it and learn what it means (and by the way you can get credit for that through Prior Learning Assessment while you’re at it), and then learn some more. You think differently about it – about you – now? Great! Icing on the diploma cake! But now that you’ve done all that, and learned more, and now that you have our paper in hand that certifies your learning, you can go do, again. Because our piece of paper here says that you’re qualified to do more, or do different, in a better job for higher pay and a better life. (Oh – and if you want to keep learning, go to grad school. Doing is not for learning.)

I want to turn this upside down, make it do cartwheels, get all dizzy and mixed up. I have no doubt about the power of learning-to-do, or in learning-by-doing. But I have a hunch that there could be more power — more energy, more possibility, more long-term outcomes — in doing-by-learning.

Doing-by-learning is a phrase that I apparently blurted out in a recent meeting, according to a colleague, and I asked her, “Did I say that?” and she said I did, and then I thought, “Of course I did. That’s what I believe.” And since she pointed out to me that I said that, I’ve been thinking about what I meant.

Here’s what I think I meant:

  • Doing-by-learning means that deep, meaningful, significant learning is our partner — it’s not an outcome, but it is; it’s not a prerequisite, but it is. In doing-by-learning, learning doesn’t come after we do, and isn’t in place in order to do. We do/learn, learn/do: together, hand-in-hand.
  • Doing-by-learning means we engage in reflective practice all. the. time.
  • Doing-by-learning means we get to approach our work, our lives, with inquiry and curiosity and freedom to f*8k up. It means we can experiment, try, fail, try again differently.

WAIT! FAIL? (Gulp!) (You mean failure might be learning too? No way!)

  • Doing-by-learning means we can innovate! It means we can change our lives, our circumstances, our ideas.
  • It means we can change our minds.

WAIT! Change our minds? Doesn’t that make us a “flip-flopper?” Huh? You mean it makes us learners? How ’bout that?

  • It means that when we have a problem to solve, we can frame questions through which we can approach that problem. How should we work together in this situation? What do we need to know to move forward through the problem? What are the options? How will we know it worked? What if it doesn’t work? What will we try next? What new problems might we create in solving this one? Wait – are these even problems???
  • Doing-by-learning means there isn’t likely one correct answer to find, one set of “best practices,” or one right process.

Yah yah yah – maybe this idea isn’t new or original (it isn’t). But imagine this: What might higher education look like if we claimed it as an institution that facilitated doing-by-learning instead of learning to do, or doing and then learning, or even (in the case of internships and other experiential programs) learning-by-doing? That’s what I am going to imagine. I’ll keep you posted with what I come up with.