Education Sector, an "independent think tank that challenges conventional thinking in education policy" has just published an excellent research article on The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT). The paper is called The Course of Innovation: Using Technology to Transform Higher Education," and was written by Ben Miller. (Full disclosure, I served as a reviewer on the paper). The paper tells the story of the growth of NCAT, and the model that Carol Twigg and her team developed to catalyze large scale course re-design.
Perhaps my grieving over the cancellation of Law & Order has impacted my judgement, but I think the NCAT story (ripped from the headlines) would have made a great episode.
"In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories."
An organization (NCAT) cracks the code for re-designing courses that demonstrate both improved outcomes (across measures of learning, retention, and student satisfaction), while also reducing costs. This methodology, the NCAT methodology, while adopted by a number of schools, fails to become the "standard" approach for course re-design. The status quo is largely preserved. (The paper does a great job of describing the various NCAT course re-design models and providing data to demonstrate their efficacy).
Suspect 1: Culture: To quote from the paper: "Reluctance to change is hardwired into many of the structural features that define today's colleges and universities, and it will be very difficult to achieve large-scale reforms of any sort without dealing with them directly."
Suspect 2: Governance: Again, to quote from the paper: "The root of the dilemma lies with the decentralized and inherently conservative nature of the modern higher education institution."
Suspect 3: Structure: Another quote: "While there is some bureaucracy to handle issues such as course scheduling, credit assignment, admissions, human resources, and capital planning, the core enterprise of teaching is left to the individual departments. And NCAT is fundamentally about the transformation of teaching."
Well, this one never went to trial. We are left with a strong desire among many educational professionals to learn from (if not adopt) the NCAT model - and many questions about how to get from here to there. The paper ends with the depressing quote that:
"There are clear paths to reform. But NCAT and others cannot do all the work on their own. Without a greater push from federal and state policymakers and more openness to change from colleges and universities, higher education innovation will continue to be the exception, rather than the norm".
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