One of the assignments I had for my PIDP 3240 class was to do a Pecha Kucha 20×20 PowerPoint.
I had heard of the format during some recent training we had done at work, but never done one so thought it sounded fun. Luckily I had recently just catalogued a woodworking project from start to finish so had no problem getting the 20 images I needed. I also learned a few tricks in doing PowerPoint narration and animation that I will use in the future.
I came across an interesting article the first week of our PIDP 3240 course. I subscribe to a number of newsletters on education and technology, including Academica’s daily top ten. Every weekday morning at about 6 am – shortly before I leave for the bus, I get an email that has today’s top ten news stories in the world of Canadian higher education.
Every day, there is at least one article that talks about technology, and this article from January, by Alexander Holt in the online news magazine Vox, really stood out to me as something that I would likely want to draw on at some point. The article is titled “How Amazon could Destroy College as we know it”, and is a fictional account of a speech given by Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, in the year 2030.
However, it touches on certain aspects of technology and education that are already happening and how they might unfold over the next 15 years. In my course journals, I wrote about how I felt the integration of higher education and technology into workplace learning struck a chord with me.
Firstly, I don’t teach in a college setting, or really have any aspirations to do so, but work very closely with teachers, deans, instructional designers, and others involved in that space.
My next big shocking secret is that I have no University Degree, unlike my three brothers who are all PhDs and live very much in the university world.
I chose a path in the trades as a cook, and have leveraged that expertise plus my knack for picking things up quickly and strong core competencies in the English language and all of the other tenets of an academic education like critical thinking skills and the ability to analyze complex information and think outside the box into a decent white collar job over the last 8 years.
For these reasons, I am drawn heavily to the idea of competency based education, and believe it’s what you can do that matters most. Most recently, I have been doing a lot of work on blended learning and open education, particularly in ways it can help apprentices in the trades complete their certifications, but also how I can use similar approaches to help support the tourism industry’s training needs, which is the main function of my job.
Let’s get back to the article. In the story, it talks about how Amazon started to first support their employees’ training in traditional bricks and mortar classrooms, and then started use technology to develop internal certifications, and how that expanded into a discovery that many of their university educated employees didn’t have the skills Amazon needed as their employer.
Now these things have already happened in real life and not just at Amazon. Last year, several major international firms based in the UK, including Ernst and Young, Deloitte and Penguin Random House all abandoned their requirements of a university degree as a minimum standard for new hires, citing no real evidence that having a degree meant better on the job performance. We’re not talking about new, nimble start-ups here, these are serious major corporations in the business world.
Next the article starts talking about badging – something that I am very interested in and is just starting to take hold in some fields. Badging is the issuing of mini digital credentials, usually linked to a certain competency area, that is recognized by employers as well as in some academic circles. Think of it as a representation of some training or proof of competence that is small, portable, and can easily be validated or accessed, but has a credible source behind it.
Here’s how it works. Take a short course, or get assessed in an area, and you get a digital badge in your portfolio, and move on. Get a few badges that show you are competent in a whole work area, such as supply chain logistics. When you apply for a new job, you show your digital portfolio and badges, etc. Do you get the picture?
Where the article gets into new territory is the next evolution of this. Holt poses that as companies like Amazon build these internal certification systems and see the value, they will realize that other companies might be willing to purchase these same services from them, particularly if they have a digital delivery system. Hence the birth of the fictional Amazon University in the article.
Overall, I found this article a fascinating read, and that it tied into so many of the concepts and ideas that I came across in our text and research for journal entries. In my last journal, I posed the following question, that Brian suggested I share with my classmates:
Will we ever get to a place where the workplace and the classroom are fully integrated?
Is the google degree, or the Amazon University of the future really that far off? Have a read of the article I have talked about today, and let me know your thoughts.
Change is not only coming to higher education; it has arrived. In Teaching Naked, Bowen (2012) discusses the impacts that are coming to university campuses and links them to similar revolutions in the distribution of journalism and music. Two recent articles I read pose differing opinions of how universities are reacting to this change. Some universities seem posed to lose their perceived value of prestige (Kinsley, 2016) by offering more and more open online courses, often for free and some even for credit. Other post-secondary institutions, particularly those that have lost status compared to their higher-priced competitors, are reacting by actually raising tuition (Askner & Bothner, 2016), using the notion that a higher price indicates higher quality, not unlike how Champagne can fetch prices higher than sparkling wines of similar quality from other regions. Similarly, there is a battle for control of access to academic research, to the extent that Russian neuroscientist has created a controversial site that allows free access to over 47 million academic papers that normally would be only available behind expensive paywalls (Resnick, 2016)
What does this mean for the post secondary system? Does the fear of the unknown actually create more rapid change within colleges and universities (Wheeler, 2016), which are build on a foundation of innovation and expanding thought? Bowen (2012) suggests that colleges should challenge assumptions like time-based teaching and even look at how space is configured and accessed to react to not only a change in technology, but in learning itself. I am actually quite excited to see what the post-secondary world looks like in another 20 years, and whether or not some of the new innovations like badging, gamification, and adaptive learning (Wheeler, 2016) have taken hold fully.
I see so much potential in the emerging trends of education, particularly in how this translate to life-long learning and professional development. Will we get to a place where the workplace and the classroom are fully integrated? Will we still feel in 20 years’ time that the knowledge students get in their first year classes will be largely irrelevant by the time they graduate (Dougherty, 2016). Perhaps the whole notion of graduation and degrees will have changed, and employers will be looking for more competency based evaluations and endorsements like those that populate our LinkedIn profiles will carry true weight. Is the google degree that far off?
I believe that we will get to a place where it is no longer questioned that content is freely accessible and that the value in paying for an education is in the understanding of how to interpret that knowledge. Open content is being delivered by open courseware, and now even syllabuses are being shared in the open realm (Karagnis, 2016). The curators of open content will have a responsibility of not only maintaining the resources, but also for being the new gatekeepers that allow us to find the most relative information out of the cloud.
I started a massive online open course (MOOC) last year (ironically, it was a MOOC on how open education is changing the post-secondary space) through Stanford Online, and quickly realized that although the content was relevant and engaging, participating in discussion threads with thousands of others from around the globe meant being constantly bombarded by attacks on my inbox with the latest response to a thread, many of which even started to include spam and clear advertising links! Sifting through the noise became too much of a distraction, so I abandoned it a few weeks in.
I have a colleague who likens what is happening with higher education to handing someone a library card and telling them everything they need to know can be found in the New York Public Library and to go and help themselves. Without systems in place that will allow us to filter, and people available to discuss the meaning of what we find, even if they are at the end of a phone or on an ooVoo chat, we will be lost.
I, for one, am happy to pay a bit for that filter and a smaller community of learners around me, no matter how far apart physically we may live.
There is no doubt that technology is changing the world of education. In chapters 4-8 of Teaching Naked (Bowen, 2012), the author takes us through the various ways that technology will impact course design, delivery of information, student engagement, assessment and ultimately how teachers use the classroom. These changes and more are already taking place, as recent literature continues to unfold and predict how technology is shaping education in increasingly short, iterative cycles. Contact North recently released a two part essay featuring their 2016 outlook on online education and highlight many of the themes predicted in Bowen’s book, but also some that were not even on the horizon yet, such as the emergence of adaptive technology and artificial intelligence into the education space (Contact North, 2016).
Colleges and universities are also moving away from standardized tests and doing more assessment of learning outcomes, with the number of colleges using standardized assessments of knowledge to benchmark student achievement dropping to 38% compared to nearly 50% in 2008 (AACU, 2016). While this is happening, we still rely almost exclusively on high stakes- must pass multiple choice written examinations as a mechanism for certification. The Red Seal program, which issues inter-provincial certification endorsements for 57 trades, relies on a must pass, 100 to 150 question multiple choice exam with a fixed pass score of 70% (Red Seal Program, 2016) as the single most important benchmark for certification. A focus on time spent in the trade, but not necessarily how that time is spent, is the second most used critical factor.
As someone who has worked for a number of years within the post secondary system and specifically in the trades context, this would seem to be an insurmountable challenge. All of the information and research around adult education over the last half century would lead us to believe that must pass certification exams combined with time in trade are not necessarily the best indicators of competence.
Other fields, such as the medical community are moving away from cumulative certification exams and time in trade towards more competency based models (Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, 2015). For those faced with the reality of our certification system in the trades, does this limit the ability of instructors to use technology to transform our educational practices, or does is mean that they have to approach the situation differently?
This presents an interesting paradox for those teaching and designing learning in the trades. While there are those who want to embrace the latest thoughts on course design and ways to use technology to deliver information and assess our students, the reality is that we must still prepare students to write a comprehensive, paper based, multiple choice, timed exam that will be recorded and scored on a bubble sheet. No books, no devices, and not even their instructor will be in the room, as the process is overseen by a third party government assigned invigilator.
Whether or not the students pass this test will be used to determine in part the effectiveness of the teaching, and may also be used to determine which programs get funded in the future, as educational budgets tighten. But does that mean that we can’t embrace better ways of imparting information to the student, and that we shouldn’t strive for students to really understand and interpret the content so that they can apply it to practice in the field? Bowen (2012) articulates how we can use instruments like multiple choice examinations to test higher level thought processes, and perhaps that is one way we can attempt to bridge the concept of using modern teaching practices in a world where antiquated assessment processes still exist.
The reality is, even in the most progressive universities and colleges there exist these kind of paradoxical challenges. I have no doubt that eventually the mechanisms by which we certify tradespeople will shift. I was fortunate to work on a national pilot with The Canadian Centre of Directors of Apprenticeship which tested out various competency based assessment approaches, and which is informing further work to evaluate and implement additional assessment methods and improved national occupational standards through the Strengthening the Red Seal Initiative (CCDA, 2012). It will likely be several more years yet before we see any real change how our summative Red Seal assessments work, but that doesn’t mean that embracing new ideas for teaching and using technology in and out of the classroom is for naught.
I can see that by building skills and scaffolding learning, along with using technology and elements of game play to deliver content and assess progress, we will make the students better prepared for the workplace, but also help them to pass the dreaded “final exam” at the same time. I liked how Bowen (2012) referred to students knowing all of the answers in the test bank as being perceived as cheating or teaching to the test, but his view was of them actually really having a full grasp on the content. We need to look at certification exams as a necessary evil, and do everything in our power to ensure our students are best prepared to succeed. Introducing game play and having them “level up” each time they master a section of the content is a great way to make that happen, as is finding new and engaging ways of delivering the content to them in ways that they will best be able to understand it.
Technology is changing education, but education changes at a much slower pace.
The world of education is changing. With that change has come a new focus on the ability of graduates to perform effectively in the workplace, and the question of whether credentials themselves are valued less than the skills, learning or knowledge they represent. In 2015, several leading companies, including Ernst and Young, Penguin Random House, and Deloitte all removed the requirement of a university degree from their recruitment policies, citing no clear link between holding a university degree and better on the job performance (BBC, 2015).
More and more students are taking online courses, with over a third of all post-secondary students taking at least one course online and over 70% of academic leaders saying that online learning is critical to the long term strategy of their institutions ( Allen & Seaman, 2015). With that, educators are starting to focus more on developing the skills needed for the 21st century economy, which has meant that knowledge management, or the ability to find, analyze, and apply information, and new information in particular, has become more important than all of the knowledge gained during one’s course of study (Bates, 2015).
Add to this pressure from administrators to embrace new classroom technologies, as well as an influx of tech savvy younger teachers entering the college system, and the stage is set not only for change but also for some huge opportunities for existing instructors to re-think how they teach their craft.
For teachers, this can be a scary thought. Most instructors I know, particularly at the post secondary level, were hired on the basis of expertise in their field. To now face a cohort of digital natives, who have access to the breadth of information accessible from smartphones anywhere there is wi-fi or a data plan, poses a whole new set of challenges, and can be downright scary. Much of the information students bring forward will be untested, unreliable, or even downright wrong. There will also be things you as an instructor haven’t seen and new insights that will add to your expertise.
This will undoubtedly create some discomfort, particularly for faculty who have been teaching the same subject matter for a long time. In my field of expertise (cooking), there have been huge changes in style and technique is the relatively short time since I left the industry, so without some way of being connected to those trends, there is no way that I would be able to even fathom some of the concepts that questions students may have questions about.
The question becomes, what to do as a teacher in this environment? Some will try and grasp furiously to tradition, and others will willingly embrace the technology that has effected the change. To be able to access something close to the sum of all human knowledge from the palm of your hand is overwhelming and presents a host of distractions, but also creates the opportunity to leverage that power for the collective benefit of the class. Technologies change rapidly, and as quickly as they emerge they change or are overtaken by a new trend. Without awareness and understanding of how students are changing their ways if accessing information, how are we supposed to help the students make sense of the informational overload and learn to select, analyze, and disseminate information? Perhaps we should be encouraging students to individually search for the same content and then work together to separate the wheat from the chaff. More than anything, we need to help students harness the technology and the world they live in and apply it to the context of learning.
By embracing the technology and speaking the same technological language as our students, we as teachers have the ability not only to be current, but also to be a leader and a catalyst for change within our organizations. For me, as an individual who entered the workforce just at the same time the personal computer did, I have seen the evolution and insight that using technologies as they emerge can bring. Having had to write assignments longhand or type them, without the benefit of spellcheck, fonts, or formatting, I jumped at the idea of a personal computer and every new technology since that has emerged with a new opportunity.
I’m actually quite excited about the opportunity that today’s connected society brings to the classroom. It’s now a given that students can go out and find as much information as they need on anything. I love the fact that I can watch something happening in the kitchen of one of the world’s top restaurants in real time on Periscope and interact from half a world away in real time. As I write this, the twitterverse was aghast at the rumours of moving from a linear to an algorithmic feed (Fingas, 2016), but it’s just another example of how rapid information moves in today’s world.
The role of the teacher is transitioning just like the world around us, and actually is allowing us to focus more on helping students understand the information they are given, than a focus on being the fountain of all knowledge. We need to be connected, to use the platforms they use and discover new tools for ourselves. We should be coming into the classroom knowing what was happening in the social feeds since we last saw our students, and we should be finding ways to use the tools of their generation to connect the knowledge of ours. To do anything less would be to turn our backs on why many of us wanted to teach in the first place – a commitment to the sharing of knowledge and life long learning.