Higher Ed Innovation Weekly Roundup 2.5.18

Gen ed, incentives and more.

February 5, 2018

Welcome to the Weekly Higher Ed Innovation Roundup.

  • General Education and the Challenges of Implementation

The annual Association of American Colleges & Universities Conference ran from January 24-27 and that meant that everyone seemed to be writing about General Education in the week that followed. For faculty, gen ed is often seen as a space for innovation. We dream that it can move us beyond a mere checklist of requirements. IHE’s coverage of AAC&U included a nice piece on three liberal arts colleges reimagining gen ed. While we dream of it as a space where we can do really cool things, we often also run up against the politics of departments “owning” courses and gaining or losing power and positions based on specific courses (see Dean Dad on the politics of course ownership).

We also face the dilemma of deferring the launch of our lovely new general education requirements, because we don’t have enough courses developed for the launch (see Harvard). Gen ed seminars are often interdisciplinary, which can pose another set of challenges for implementation. For many faculty and administrators, interdisciplinarity has been hailed as the promised land that often fails to deliver upon implementation. How do you support interdisciplinarity when your union contract makes it challenging to support creative curriculum development? How do you work around these constraints? Do you create new courses or do you certify existing courses as fulfilling gen ed requirements, or is it a combination of the two?

The move to create new classes is difficult to scale at a larger institution, where faculty hires and  department structures have been built up over decades around existing requirements. Perhaps a new focus with interdisciplinary seminars is ideal? What kind of work needs to be done with your union representatives before you implement an innovative general education requirement? How does climate impact the early adopters or cheerleaders of a new gen ed?

Catch up with Sara Goldrick-Rab on Twitter as she responds to Governor Haslam’s (TN) move to require 30-in-12 (30 credits in 12 months) to qualify for a free community college scholarship. We need to realize that students take breaks, and they move from full-time course loads to part-time loads, and back again. Their lives are constantly changing, and their ability to juggle life, work, and school is also in flux. We need to make policies that put this reality front and center. Read this Civitas Report for a more nuanced take on the challenges. Forcing students to comply with a set structure is not innovative. Figuring out how to meet them where they are is a greater challenge but one that we need to address. 

  • Community, looks like we’re in this together. VOCATIONAL keeps the workers in their place.

I can’t help but see a focus on vocational and employability as very strategic and intentional. They restrict the purpose of community colleges and move them from focusing on education that includes job training to education that is job training. This move combined with the backlash against the "liberal" agendas on college campus seem like a sustained attack on organized resistance and protest. I stumbled across a fantastic article from Rachel Higdon last week, “From employability to ‘complexability’: Creatour - a construct for preparing students for creative work and life.” (Industry & Higher Education)- “ ‘Employability’ seems an increasingly redundant term, having little resonance with undergraduates, graduates or employers. I would argue that ‘complexability’ is a more relevant word to describe what graduates should develop for potential work in an international environment.” Thinking through complexability provides solutions beyond employability. I would ask us to consider our end goal in higher education:  Do we want students to get their next jobs or do we want more for them? Ultimately, don't we want students to succeed in life?

What did I miss? What should I cover next week? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @mary_churchill


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