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

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.

Learning Through Commitment

Thanks to eschipul on Flickr for making this photo available for use.

In this recent article written to new college graduates, Caty Borum Chattoo provides six pretty nice pieces of advice. The first seems most significant to me – it’s about the great potential of personal commitment. Though this certainly applies to new grads, even more so I think it applies to all of us engaged in learning, creating, discovering, and growing. Here it is (bold and color added for emphasis):

 (1) At the moment of commitment, the entire world conspires to assure your success.
(This was paraphrased by Norman [Lear], but originally thought to have originated from the philosopher Goethe.)
With a surface-level read, this may seem obvious and potentially overused — as in, work hard and it will all work out for you. But to me, understanding this bit of philosophy in a deep, internalized way only came with age and experience. When Norman first said this to me, I remember thinking that the key to this mantra was the “world conspiring” part of it — the thought that the world owed me success. But not only is this not the key idea, it misses the entire point. What I came to learn, through the messiness that comes from large and small professional decisions, is that the key is the commitment piece, which has everything to do with your own active engagement in your own life, pursuits and passions. At the moment in which you truly commit to a project, an idea, a version of yourself, you may find the world lining up in ways that allows the success to happen — you meet people who make connections, you have a conversation with someone who tells you the exact thing you needed to hear, you find a partner with whom to collaborate, and on and on. In my own still-evolving professional life, I have encountered the most amazing moments of a world conspiring — but only when I was fully, honestly engaged, with the kind of commitment that is felt deeply when no one else is around to see or validate.

I have experienced this same phenomena. When I fully commit to something, everything seems to line up. But it’s not “everything” doing that — it’s me doing that. There is an inexplicable energy that comes with such a commitment.

Right now I am exploring a new project, a potentially big and risky one. When I am ready to commit — and if I am, I must fully commit — I believe I will make it so. It might fail, and it might fail gloriously, but in that I will have committed to it, I will have also committed to learning with, through, and from it, regardless of the outcome.  It’s a refreshing perspective because it can eliminate some of the apprehension and fear that sometimes act as back-seat drivers.

I also wonder if this is where the construct of faith comes from — there is a leap of faith that is involved with such commitments. Because really – are we ever 100% certain something will work out? My quotient of certainty increases as my commitment increases.

PS: The Goethe Society of North America has more about this original quote, HERE. It’s a good read.