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    Community to Curriculum to Course

    External Partnership is Essential to Restructuring Programs for Future Learners 

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    Over the past decade, our rapidly changing world sparked concerns that educational programs, curricula and courses would be out of date by the time students completed them. 

    In essence we asked, “How can higher education prepare students for an uncertain future? For jobs that do not yet exist? For solving wicked problems?” In the midst of converging global and national crises –a global pandemic, an economic downturn, and social unrest–these concerns have been amplified.

    Socio-economic progress nationwide and globally depend on internal (program, dean, faculty) and external (government, regional business, community leaders) stakeholders working collaboratively to create a new future.  

    Without a shared perspective on the most up-to-date information on local and regional business needs requiring advanced education, these external stakeholders may become critical, again, of the effectiveness of higher education.  

    In this blog series, we’ll explore two considerations: 

    1. Different types of higher education institutions and their distinct missions
    2. The value of collaboration across stakeholders in bridging the gap between community, curriculum, to course creation. 

    What Stakeholders Agree On

    One might suppose that tax-payer funded public education, endowment supplemented research institutions and corporate sponsored career readiness all desire an educated society that improves the lifetime earnings of citizens equally. After all, spending less time unemployed leads to a healthier individual overall – one who is less likely to experience incarceration, will become an informed voter and contribute to society.   

    Access to all of this exists today, however it’s fragmented across five types of institutions of higher education. The trouble is, most adults do not know how to navigate and progress through lifelong learning opportunities. The pathway — and as a result, the will — may remain murky or elusive to adult learners.

    Advancing one’s education after high school can be realized in a variety of choices. Types of institutions, such as 

    • 2Y liberal arts private colleges
    • 2Y public career, vocational, technical and community colleges
    • 4Y public teaching facilities
    • 4Y research institutions
    • 4Y private liberal arts universities and post-graduate professional tracks.  
    • And now, the internet and DIY badges.  

    Yet, to most, all of the above is bundled under one word: “College”.  

    One might agree the spectrum of the above choices represents an enormous accomplishment of community and campuses working together to meet societal needs.  

    So, What’s Missing?

    I’ve spent the last two years talking to a cross section of people from this American smorgasbord of internal and external stakeholders. There is a genuine desire amongst all stakeholders to redefine and rebuild a new future without placing blame on any one group for the struggles of the past.  

    I suspect that good-natured, smart people (internal and external) have the best intentions with each new student access, student success, and software implementation initiative they pursue. Yet, despite the best of intentions, so many great programs are dying on the vine thanks to initiative fatigue. 

    Does that sound familiar? How many promising programs have stalled on your campus alone?

    In an era where all you see, hear and inadvertently participate in is the blame game, what if we created something innovative?  

    Consider, that our best intentions as humans are so comprehensive, and there are so many process steps to fulfill that we had to build silos over the last 100 years to complete the complexity of the work of academe.  

    Silos were created to concentrate the work that needed to be done quickly, and they formed according to the role you played in the bigger mission. The one thing that all five types of higher education institutions have in common is the role people play and how resources are organized and distributed. Three common categories of silos or roles – across all types of colleges and universities – might be labelled administrative, academic and technology.  

    Personally, after investing twenty years in the belief that technology was the solution, the hard lesson I’ve learned is that technology is only one part of a complex holistic picture.  

    I’m seeing other thought leaders suggest that the gap in our experience lies in people and process, not technology. I couldn’t agree more. People have built-in capacities to “put blinders on to get the job done”, inadvertently being blinded to what other departments see, do and falsely conclude about their role in the big picture.

    For the next two decades of this one hundred year journey into the 21st century, it’s time to “Silo-Bust” and build inter-departmental lines of communication that accelerate productivity and measurable results.  

    Sounds simple? Take Nike’s advice – Just Do It!

    Sometimes Before Learning, We Need to Unlearn

    Sadly, if it was that simple, we already would have done it. So, let’s look at what we have to unlearn before we can create something truly innovative.

    What if, as an industry, we unlearned communication without technology enhancements?

    The fact is, humans are suffering from cognitive overload in today’s information age. Habits from our past – like the false belief that person-to-person communication is sufficient to generate action – means that otherwise good ideas are often left in the dust.

    The spoken word, complemented with technology enhancements that leave participants completely clear on the next step can take those ideas out of the dust and bring them to life.

    As Kevin Kelly taught me, “Technology is a tool to enable what works well, so we can do more of what works, faster.” 

    But who determines what works well and prioritizes which track of advanced education we need to do more of, faster?  

    > People  

    What do people need to examine to determine where to start?  

    > Process

    Old processes of individual committee meetings are time-consuming and lack the big picture focus. 

    More importantly, the input is not anonymous. Whereas, technology-enhanced, large group virtual meetings (to complement face-to-face discourse in smaller groups) across departments, with a large number of people, is a better combination to achieve effective results.  

    Wait, you just said it’s not about technology.

    You catch on quickly, don’t you? It’s not about technology ALONE. 

    For years, we’ve been investing in technology as a solution to our problems. But technology can be thought of as simply a tool. You may invest in the fanciest hammer around, but without an experienced builder (people) and a blueprint (process), you won’t be building a house anytime soon. 

    At least not one built to last. 

    Technology + People and Process = Collaboration

    What I’ve learned from the experts in the field is that an unbiased person, acting as a facilitator and aided by technology, can pose questions that require honest reflection to an active audience answering anonymously. When the audience sees (again, with the aid of technology) the authentic input from a large group, the blinders they’ve acquired in their silo disappear.  

    Lenny Lind taught me that organizational development experts have catalogued similar patterns in human dynamics in hundreds of meetings over the last twenty-five years.  Therefore, a design methodology emerged.  They designed a series of feedback queries to identify the predictable groan-zones and disconnects common to all human communication (or lack of discourse).  

    Once a group of people collectively move from awareness of the problem to understanding of their role in solving the problem – a shared framework of understanding emerges

    Next Steps

    In our next blog in this series, we will dive deeper into the different types of higher education institutions and their distinct missions. It’s possible, collectively when we look at that together – we’ll see a bright new future ready to collaborate in creating.

    Lexi St. Laurent


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