Dr. Cristi Ford (00:00):
Welcome to Teach & Learn, a podcast for curious educators, brought to you by D2L. I’m your host, Dr. Christi Ford, VP of Academic Affairs at D2L. Every two weeks I get candid with some of the sharpest minds in the K through 20 space. We break down trending educational topics, discuss teaching strategies, and have frank conversations about the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today. Whether it’s ed tech, personalized learning, virtual classrooms, or diversity inclusion, we’re going to cover it all. Sharpen your pencils. Class is about to begin.
Thank you for joining us today on Teach & Learn. I’m so excited to have both of my guests joining us for this exciting episode, which has turned out to be a continuation of a series on up-skilling and the future of education. We’ll be discussing the skills gap with a focus on practical skills versus degrees, what makes a good partnership between employers and institutions, but also highlighting concerns around associations and the different taxonomies that we’re starting to see come on the forefront. And we’re going to lastly talk a little bit about teaching and learning methods outside of CBE that may deliver some measurable results.
So, listeners, before we jump in, I want to take a moment just to introduce my two guests today. Dr. MJ Bishop is Vice President for Integrated Learning at the University of Maryland Global Campus. Previously, Dr. Bishop served as a director of the William E Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation at the University System of Maryland, and also served for four years as a program director for teaching, learning and technology at Lehigh University. Dr. Bishop has held roles outside of academia. Prior to Lehigh, she was a software development project manager and vice president for operations on a multimedia thinking skills project funded by the National Science Foundation. MJ, thanks for joining us today.
Dr. MJ Bishop (02:01):
Thanks for having me.
Dr. Cristi Ford (02:03):
I’d also like to introduce Dr. Bill Hughes. He’s the president and CEO of Education Design Labs. He oversees the operation and leads new business initiatives, talent development, communication and marketing strategies. Prior to join joining the lab, Bill was the founder and CEO of Job Ready formed in 2018 in partnership with the National Education Foundation, with the goal to reach the next million job seekers with world-class career skills training. Over the past years, Bill has held leadership positions at Learning Objects, Pearson, Mercer, Cambridge Innovation Center. He held an AB from Harvard and an SM in management for MIT where he was a CB scholar, so thank you Bill for joining us. I’m glad to have you to be a part of this conversation as well.
Bill Hughes (02:52):
Thank you, Christi. And I know it’s a slip of the tongue, but I’m the only person on this call who’s not a doctor.
Dr. Cristi Ford (02:59):
Okay. My apologies. I have decided to give you, I thought you were able to-
Dr. MJ Bishop (02:59):
Bill Hughes (02:59):
Let’s take that.
Dr. Cristi Ford (03:08):
So what I’ll do is I will re-record that small piece before we move forward, but I want to jump right in. I feel like we’ve had a number of conversations. I’ve been a part of a number of conversations. I know that you have as well, where I feel like this conversation around how do we attack the skills gap is front of mind from multiple vantage points in terms of institutions and employers, and both of your experiences offer such interesting experiences to this conversation, so MJ, I’m going to start with you. I think one of the things that I hear people talk about is a looming chasm between institutions and employers, and I would love to hear from you, how do you think we close this gap? How do we get to the root cause and what is the root cause of this issue?
Dr. MJ Bishop (03:59):
Well, thanks Christi for that question. I don’t want to oversimplify things and I’ll be curious to hear how Bill responds to this notion, but I think largely what we have is a communications problem. I think as academics we have a tendency to speak in terms of learning objectives and Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs and all those things that just don’t resonate with employers, and I’m really excited about the growing skills conversation. As I’m thinking about what that means for us and what we’re thinking about at UMGC around skills forward curriculum design is that it’s about figuring out we need that Rosetta stuff. We need to figure out how we retain the things that are important to us about the way we design curriculum with respect to understanding the learning, the course learning objectives, the program learning outcomes and so forth, but at the same time figure out then inside of that curriculum, how do we embed the skills and use the terminology that resonate with the employers.
In fact, I was having a conversation with one of my directors of learning solutions the other day who’s working on one of our programs about terminal skills and enabling skills as part of modules of instruction that we’re creating, and I said, “You know what? As instructional designers, as educators, we’ve always been the ones to define what those terminal objectives, and in this case we’re talking terminal skills should be. Maybe instead as we think about terminal and enabling skills in our curricula, those should be the ones the employers are looking for and those are the things that we should, the ways in which we should be tagging our content and in our designs, helping our students be able to articulate as part of what they’re learning in the classroom, in the learning experiences.” So I think finding ways to close that chasm is going to be a lot about doing a better job communicating. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but I think that’s a really important first step.
Dr. Cristi Ford (06:02):
I appreciate that MJ, and as you were talking about the importance of terminal versus enabling skills. First, thank you for keeping this front of mind for our listeners that we have long are the days of hard versus soft skills and how we think about this dichotomy, but as you talked about who should be responsible for helping us decide what those terminal versus enabling skills are. I just wonder as we focus on that demand, Bill, I wonder from your perspective who should be driving that demand and how do you think about the same conversation around this chasm between institutions and employees?
Bill Hughes (06:41):
Yeah, that’s a really good question. Thanks Christi. I appreciate your comment, MJ, about communication and I know you’ve got a bit of a background in curriculum and instructional design, that orientation. My orientation is as an entrepreneur and an engineer, so I’m going to use a different word which is alignment. The problem that I see is that if you’re trying to solve a problem like we are right now, where the majority of the people in this country don’t have a degree and yet an increasing number of jobs require either a degree or something that smells like it, that’s a big problem, so our apparatus for conferring credentials is struggling right now. It’s got a lot of credentials that have too many requirements for people that also may not even be aligned with what they really care about.
So I would say the ones who should be driving the bus, as it were, are learners, learner-earners and we even think about them as such. There’s a term called stars that we focus on, which are people who skill through alternative routes other than a degree as a primary thing, but those learner earners and what do they care about and what are they looking for? And employers, which who are the people that they’re going to end up trying to work with, so education, post-secondary education is really a facilitator and intermediary in that regard as opposed to the one driving the bus. Even though I think we have a history of in higher ed of thinking we’re driving the bus and I think that’s actually a problem and it’s starting to show.
Where I use the word alignment is when you’re thinking about the end goal of that learner, and we know a lot about learner centricity from the last decade of ed tech and how things have evolved, putting that learner earner at the center, understanding what they need in order to get from where they are to where they’re going, realizing that the folks with the greatest challenge are people over 25 years old and they probably have a kid and they probably have a job and they probably have other bunch of other hurdles in their life. Then the fact that work is as dynamic as it is, and I think some people believe employers should be driving skills entirely. I think the problem with that is they’re not good fiduciaries of skills in the long term. They care about their interests, but their other interests. There’s more culture, national interest, and long-term interest for the individual I think that higher ed has always been good at, but I think it needs to be a lot more flexible in how it aligns with those other actors.
Dr. Cristi Ford (09:48):
Completely agree what you offered there, and I appreciate, and maybe you can tell us a little bit more about when you talked about even about stars in terms of how do we elevate and highlight exemplars of experiences of individuals who’ve taken an alternative path. I think that in my work in higher education, I sometimes feel like we’re coming from a specific mode or model that doesn’t always allow us, as you mentioned, to put learners at the forefront and really be able to think about how do we tap into that resource over and over again and do a litmus test around this work.
And so I appreciate that comment and I really want to move us from, we talk a lot in the field theoretically about how this work has happened, what the root causes are, how do we change some of the dynamics around this, but I want to drill in a little bit more on something that’s a concrete, tangible examples for our listeners that people can think about as they implement or even as they think about moving forward. I want to move to back to you MJ and talk a little bit about some of the work I know that you are working on in terms of skills tagging and the work that you’re embark upon at UMGC. Would you be willing to tell us a little bit about that?
Dr. MJ Bishop (11:05):
Sure, and for your listeners who may not know, UMGC is almost entirely online. We deliver most of our learning experiences asynchronously, so we have a wealth of curricula that has been developed intentionally, obviously to support learning up into the disciplines through a variety of degree programs, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. As I look at that content, as I think about that portfolio of curricula that we have, it occurs to me that as we’re thinking about things like prior learning assessments and transfer and credit for prior learning and work-based learning experiences and so forth, we’ve got to begin by understanding what the puzzle pieces look like on our side of the equation first. We’ve deliberately built out curricula in a way that either through disciplinary standards or other things that we believe train and support learning to the point where they’re going to be successful in their careers and in their professions.
So then once we’ve built out this map and understand all of the skills that are involved there, first of all, we can, it gives us the opportunity to begin by understanding where are the holes, where are things that we need to do to better align, to Bill’s point, to what the employers are looking for. But secondarily, then again, getting back to Bill’s point about being learner centric, it allows us to say, “Okay, Christi, you’re coming to us with this set of skills. You’re an adult learner. You’ve been out in the workforce. There’s an awful lot of problem solving you’ve done in the jobs you’ve had so far. There’s a lot of basic level knowledge in this area that you bring to the equation as you come to us.”
When we have that skills map and can understand what skills you bring to us, then we can figure out what you bring fits into that puzzle much more easily, but until we understand what we have on our end of that equation, we’re less able to do that. We’re making guesses, we’re spending a lot of time evaluating your portfolio and those kinds of things as compared to saying, “No, if you’ve done this for this many years and perhaps passed some assessment, we’re willing to bring you in at this level in this program and support your learning moving forward.” So I think it’s critical for us to have that skills map initially in order to be able to do that.
Dr. Cristi Ford (13:37):
MJ, I want to just jump in, because I think that as I listen to you talk and I think about our listeners, some of our institutions believe that they’ve done that. In creating prior learning credits and how to articulate, when you talked about the portfolio, that wonderful e-portfolio, how do we need to really redefine and shift the paradigm and where do we need to do things differently?
Dr. MJ Bishop (14:02):
I think we’re going to need for a lot of it to be more granular and more modular. Thank you for that prompt, because that’s the piece I failed to address in my response to you. You could be, and we learned a lot of this quite frankly, as we’re doing some of the MicroMasters degree programs with edX, where the plan there, and I thought it was really well-thought-out, was for students that engaged in a MicroMasters program to then, and if they passed a summative assessment at the end of that and were admitted into our degree programs, that they would come in at a certain level. That they would advance to a certain level within the master’s degree program. As long as we’re thinking about all of that very linearly, that works.
With PLA though, people are bringing in a variety of different skills that are all over the map, and you may come in, let’s take an instructional technology, or let’s take an instructional technology master’s degree. You may come in with a certain amount of technology skills, but not have any of the learning theory and the things that would go along with an instructional technology master’s degree, so how do we make sure that as you’re plugging into our curriculum, you’re not retaking an awful lot of technology skills courses and content, but rather getting specifically the things that you need in order to advance in instructional technology with respect to learning theories and those things. I think that when we’ve also got our skills map worked out, we can then begin looking at creating more modularized learning experiences that support the learner to get to their goals, acknowledging the prior learning that they come in with as well.
Dr. Cristi Ford (15:50):
I appreciate that because I think it’s those smaller LEGOs, and really being able to create those bite sized learning opportunities. And I like that you talk about that in more modular approaches to not just think in the context of a course, but how do we think about those discreet skills that students need to have? And you may mix and match a little bit of that to be able to build that bigger play.
Dr. MJ Bishop (16:15):
Now, the danger there is that it starts to become de-contextualized. This is the learning objects conversation that happened in our field years ago. Sorry, Bill, not to take you back to a prior career, but the theoretical learning objects conversation that we’re having back in the ’80s where if this gets too modularized and too granular, we lose the context. Finding ways to strike the balance and thinking about how our learning management platforms and our learning content management systems and so forth can support this to make sure that we’re not getting down to the granular level to the extent that then everything becomes so small that it doesn’t make sense in context.
Dr. Cristi Ford (17:02):
Bill, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. As MJ talked about the skills map and the importance of institutions working on that side of the house, I know that your organization, education Design Lab has been focusing on a skills validation project and network, and so I’d love to hear a little bit more, share with our listers a little bit more about that project as well.
Bill Hughes (17:24):
To dovetail off of some of what MJ has shared, that modularity I think is really important. What I think of, there’s modularity, there’s also evidence of capability and achievement, there’s also then how do you package all of those things together? That’s a lot of what higher ed is worrying about. It’s really worrying about productizing packages of skills and abilities and so forth, and even more than that, an experience that you go through that says, if you have this credential, it should mean this about you, which is great. Often what that means is that there’s so much focus and emphasis on, again, what the institution is doing to try to get a group of people to a particular place that the institution has decided is valuable. There are a lot of other ways of understanding value from a learner standpoint.
When I think about, for example, what WGU did, their major innovation was to say, “Okay, you’re an adult. You probably, you need something, you need this credential and you’ve done a bunch of things that suggest that you’re probably pretty close to it, but we just need to have evidence that you’re there. We’re going to give you the final…” in the very simple way I think about it is, “We’re going to give you the final first, you pass the final, you pass the class. You don’t, then we have a way of backing you into it.” And in some cases, you really should go through that whole pedagogical journey, but there are people who have gone through journeys in their life, which are richer, frankly, than a 10 or 12 week course to teach them something. I think we’ve learned a certain way of packaging things in higher ed, so being able to not just modularize, but also deconstruct what we’re doing and why.
Sometimes people need evidence of learning. Sometimes they actually need to go through in learning experience. Sometimes they need to be in a cohort and they need instruction and guidance to do it. Sometimes they just need a mastery challenge to show that they can do something. What we’ve done is we have a project, a pair of projects. One is the skills validation network, which we just launched and announced last week, which supports a project that we’re working on funded by Walmart Foundation called X Credit. The idea of X Credit is, you mentioned MJ, credit for prior learning and things like that. It’s the next gen of that, and there’s even another project Experience You where doing something similar with a learner employment records, taking artifacts, and basically sense making what do these artifacts tell you about where a person is. I know UMGC is one of the leaders in training military vets. There’s a lot of mapping of your MOS, your military performance and activities, mapping that to skills.
Part of our X Credit program is exactly that. It’s like, “Well, what should we be giving you credit for? And can we normalize that with other ways that people can get credit?” We also invested a lot in this project around authentic assessment, so these mastery challenges, which is not multiple choices. It’s literally putting you in a situation so that you can show evidence of soft skills, the invisible skills that employers really care about. Now when you do things like that, we started having a different conversation around these assessments. They’re automated assessments, people can take them. They’re very gamified, they’re fun, but we started talking about, “Well, what if you brought those to some of your gen ed courses?” Because right now your students might be learning all these different skills, but they don’t know what they’re called. They can’t talk about them in an interview where they can’t build on them in a systematic way because they don’t know that they have them.
So we actually name them and we have a competency map for 21st century skills. I think there are a thousand organizations who are using it. It’s free and open. You can build your own courses around it, but it’s a way to think about what these skills are that are important in the world of work, and then you can bind those into some of the hard skills that you need to learn, these more terminal skills, and as you start rethinking what’s the unit, what’s the module, you begin to realize, “Wow, there are lots of different applications for this. It’s not about just another way to organize a course.” By modularizing it, it unlocks a huge amount of opportunity to be much more responsive in the ways that we engage with learners, to be much more responsive in the way that we support the labor market.
Dr. MJ Bishop (23:04):
That problem solving module can be plugged into a lot of different things. When it’s named, the students come away knowing they’ve achieved problem solving skills in the discipline.
Bill Hughes (23:15):
Dr. Cristi Ford (23:17):
And as I’m listening to both of you, I think I also am hearing you reflect back that student agency. We have learners who have a sense of where they want to go, they have really rich skills that they’re bringing to the table, and how do we plug those in? And so I was talking with a colleague, Dr. Betty Jo Boucher recently about credit for prior learning, and one of the things she said to me is, “What if AI could allow us to create an opportunity where we pull in all of these assignments and activities and portfolios and help us to determine a profile for the kinds of skills we’re looking for? What’s a good assessment versus a bad assessment?” We are hearing a lot around AI right now being a bad thing, but there are a lot of opportunities, especially in this space, that as we think about moving forward, how can technology help us to solve some of these solutions? So I don’t know if you have any thoughts on, either one of you have thoughts on that.
Dr. MJ Bishop (24:16):
We’re playing around a little bit with that right now, doing a couple of pilots with some AI providers to take a look at that massive content that we have in our content repository and help us understand, can this help to facilitate some curriculum mapping? Can this help us understand where skills are being introduced, practiced and assessed and named, as to Bill’s point and help us identify where are the holes? And we’re actually comparing that up against what we’re getting from our faculty about where they think these skills are being addressed, both to understand the capabilities of the AI, but also to begin saying, “Okay, exactly that, Bill. You say you’re teaching critical thinking skills in this course on the novel, but do you ever talk about it? Do you ever mention it? Is it explicitly assessed in a way that your students are walking away understanding? Yeah, I was an English major, but I have critical thinking skills too.” And that’s something the employers are looking for.
Dr. Cristi Ford (25:20):
Bill, any thoughts there?
Bill Hughes (25:22):
Oh, a lot. The Experience You project I mentioned is a number of organizations. I think Gates funding it along with the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and we’re participating in that, and essentially they presented this past Wednesday one of the things that Phil Long, who’s working on the project shared was a picture, essentially a vacuum, an experience vacuum. How can you suck in with AI all the different stuff that someone’s doing, make sense of it, map it to skills, which is all fairly straightforward AI technology.
And then you could do a couple of things with that. You can begin to understand where someone’s skills are and then maybe assess them accordingly. You can highlight them as MJ is talking about, so that they can again, develop their own profile and self-concept. Then you can also start matching those just to jobs, careers opportunities, or even in higher ed courses that align. It’s as if you are talking to somebody who’s really smart, like a maven of all the stuff out there, and they hear a little bit about what you are, they read your resume, they read this, and they say, “Oh, gee, you probably would be really interested in X, Y, Z.” Well, we know that works for Netflix. It can also work for learning and it can work for work.
Dr. Cristi Ford (26:59):
I appreciate that, and so as you’re talking, it takes me back to the original, how we started this episode, MJ, when you offered that sometimes it’s a communication issue, that sometimes I’m speaking German and you’re just speaking Chinese, Mandarin. We just can’t break down these really complex structures, and so I wonder what you think about, we’ve seen a surge of taxonomies and associations coming into the field to help have some sense making, using Bill’s terminology here around how do we help to create this piece. And so what do you think about that? Is that helpful? Is it harmful? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
Dr. MJ Bishop (27:46):
Well, it depends on which aspects of this you’re talking about. I can share that as we’re starting some of these conversations about skills mapping with faculty, if the first words out of their mouths are, “Well, how do you define skills and how does that compare to a learning outcome and which taxonomy are we going to use?” Almost right away I can guarantee this is not going to go anywhere very fast. I think we get a little hung up on definitions. I think we get a little hung up on levels of granularity and so forth when quite frankly, instructional designers have designed instruction and curricula like this all along. Whether it’s at Bloom’s Taxonomy against the knowledge domains, or if it’s lots of different things that we rely upon. The point is that, you have to begin at the beginning, you have to learn some of those initial concepts and then build upon that as you go.
And that’s what we’re talking about with stackable credentials and everything else. I don’t, again, want to oversimplify things, but I do worry sometimes as academics that we get so bogged down in how are you defining skill? How does that compare to a competency? Does that… At the end of the day we have to communicate to employers, and for me, I think to the extent that we can simplify and say, “All right, Christi, as an employer, you’re calling this Python skills, and I’ve bundled that up in a learning outcome with problem solving skills or syntax and all these other things.” The end of the day, we’re still talking about the same thing. We just need to tag it that way and make sure that when my folks come out to you and it’s in their comprehensive learner record or whatever it is, that you understand what you’re reading in that extended transcript.
Dr. Cristi Ford (29:39):
Yeah. Completely agree there. As you were talking about that connection point and how do we make sure that it’s thoughtful, we do as educators get caught up in vernacular. We love to talk about language and acronyms and-
Dr. MJ Bishop (29:57):
Dr. Cristi Ford (30:01):
But Bill, when something you said earlier in terms of the work that you’re doing and how we miss opportunities even in gen ed courses to be able to help students understand what they’re learning. I wonder, as you think about what can we do to create better value proposition and help students to understand how to communicate the value proposition? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that, because I think for micro credentials, there are lots of things on the skills umbrella we’ve been trying for quite a number of years now, and that value prop and how to help students to communicate that. I think we’ve been missing the boat a little bit.
Bill Hughes (30:39):
One of the pieces of work we do, and it’s probably the part that’s farthest along, is under our Community College Growth Engine Fund, where we’ve raised millions of dollars each year to stipend community colleges to build out what are called micro pathways. Micro pathways a new innovation in that as opposed to being locked into a degree model, it can be credit, non-credit, it can be degree, non-degree, but it’s always aligned to a job and career. Really what you’re doing there is you’re saying, “I’m aligning this program not only with the employer, but with people who are pursuing opportunities with that, with a particular…” And not just even one job. It might be a journey, like you’re going into healthcare, you might start it at one level as a clinical technician and move up all the way to being a radiologist. You might start with a non-credit certificate that gets you the job, and two or three years later, you’re doing what’s called the weave. We call it the weave of weaving, learning, working, and living, because that’s what people actually do.
They’re not… One person I saw in a JFF conference this past year, very powerful comment as a young African American woman who’s being interviewed and people were saying, “Well, what do you want us to know about you?” And she said, “Well, the first thing I want you to know is that we are people, we’re not students. We happen to study, we happen to go into, but we’re managing and balancing all these things.” So again, modularity helps create more things that are more flexible.
I think the non-credit world that is actually benefiting in some way to be able to work faster because it doesn’t have the burdens of, the regulatory burdens effectively that are on the four credit side of the house, which means they can move faster. It means they can create less expensive products faster than online, so you don’t need 500 people per semester to go through a course just to make your money back. Building up the course, you can give it to 10 or give a 20, and you can recombine pieces of it, so there might be a six-week piece here and a three-week piece here, and a 12-week piece here. You can, based on what the needs are, organize them, stack them up, so those are some of the things that we see in terms of really trying to get a little bit closer to what these learners are doing.
I would say, the one other thing I would just encourage higher ed to think about more generically is what are the other things that you’re doing to help these students be successful? It’s not just about content, so we had a whole program we did around single moms. It turns out that if you look at the community college space, I think 30% or something like that are single mothers and a lot of them are failing to get through. They’re the ones who are starting non-completers because of all these different issues that have nothing to do with their intelligence or their capability or their desire for making their family better. They have to do with, “Well, we’ve put this little gauntlet in front of you. We’re going to only offer this course at this time of day. We don’t have daycare. We don’t understand that you missed an assignment by an hour because you were doing pickup in the evening.”
So all these things that are just crushing people and I think if you flip that around, and I’ve talked to someone the other day who’s in student services, really had a great lens on how their institution was working closely with first gens, for example, and thinking about all the different things that they need to be successful in these programs. I think there’s opportunity for schools to differentiate themselves as innovators in these ways where these other things are the building blocks, as opposed to having very, a more rigid way of thinking about the institution and making the world bend towards the institution, because increasingly, even places like Harvard are beginning to realize they need to bend in the direction of where the world’s going and not the other way around.
Dr. Cristi Ford (35:36):
As you were talking, Bill reminded me, I was talking with Dr. Terry DePaolo at Dallas College, and he does this talk on the importance of living wage in the Dallas community. To your point, he talks about education is an opportunity, but if all the new jobs are being developed in the North and all the Black and brown communities live in the South and there’s no transportation access point, how good is that educational experience? Or if, to your point around single mothers, if there’s no childcare accessible students can’t, these people can’t avail themselves to educational experiences. I think you’re hitting on something that I think collectively we have to do a better job of addressing and realizing it’s a larger conversation, and so… Oh, go ahead, MJ.
Dr. MJ Bishop (36:28):
And it’s reciprocal. When that mother is unable to get her degree, her children are less likely to get a degree as well, or to get further education, so it just, it’s a vicious cycle.
Dr. Cristi Ford (36:40):
Yeah. Yeah. MJ, I want to ask you the same question around student, value proposition. I know that in the Kirwan Center you did a really massive badging initiative with multiple campuses across the state of Maryland. I just want to ask you what you saw in that work and how do we start to really think about elevating our students to be able to communicate this value prop they’re getting?
Dr. MJ Bishop (37:08):
Yeah, thanks, Christi. That’s interesting. I’ve come to realize, at least with the micro-credentials and the work we were doing out of Kirwan Center that started in 2015 was actually again about communication. It was about some of the things Bill’s been talking about. In fact, we did some of our early work with Education Design Labs and Kathleen Valesky at that point, but what we were trying to do with that project, it was about badging career ready skills, and to look at as our students are going through our general education curricula and perhaps some of the liberal arts degrees and so forth, helping them understand exactly what it is that they’re getting along the way with respect to the, we were using the NACE competencies, so problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, leadership, those things.
I think it was a tough road to hoe to some degree in that helping students, particularly at the more traditional institutions that we were working with in mostly at the Kirwan Center and at the system level in Maryland, it was hard to get students to understand the importance of this, and a lot of those programs were opt-in at the time. To get them to opt in, we weren’t asking them to do a whole lot of additional work. We were asking them to reflect, to collect evidence of the acquisition of these skills, but otherwise, these were things that were embedded in existing courses, but even so, it was hard to get them to understand on the back end of this, you’re going to get asked a difficult interview question like, “Tell me about the time you had to communicate bad news and how you did that or that you chose to follow instead of leave.” It’s hard to convince folks of that.
I have since come to believe that I love these models where the comprehensive learner record is the lead on that and collects the evidence. Central Oklahoma University’s done some great work along these lines, Jeff King and folks down there, and there’s other examples as well and we’ve done some of it at UMGC too, along the way with the comprehensive learner record. Let that be the thing that leads and provides that Rosetta Stone translation for learners. That transcript, that’s nothing but a bunch of A, Bs and Cs, hopefully mostly A and Bs. It says nothing about what and are able to do. Instead, the comprehensive learner record translates that, and then from that generate badges. Once you get that bar filled all the way, you’re going to get that problem solving badge and so forth.
So I’m finding myself leaning in that direction for those kinds of models as compared to other kinds of models that were also just beginning to really explore at UMGC.Again, getting back to that modularization of content, so that, and to some of Bill’s earlier points, as I’m hitting milestones along the way and acquiring certain resume worthy skills, I ought to have something I can walk away with, because goodness knows, life gets in the way I may have to step out for a little period of time. I ought to come away with that badge that says I’ve learned coding in Python so that at the very least I can advance in my job, I can put that on a resume or something that will help me advance.
And then of course, we can also be looking at the badges that could be coming in from outside and partnering with the IBMs and others that offer these kinds of training opportunities. Here, again, with a curriculum map, I know where that plugs into our curriculum and I’m going to be able to say, “Okay, yeah, not only could you earn it while you’re with us, but Christi, if you bring it to the table as you apply to us, you’ve passed those modules. We can move past that for you.” So I think I’ve lost track of your original question a little bit, but these are the things that are on my mind with respect to thinking about that kind of digital badge work. I think, again, the badge itself is just a technology, it’s a tool. What it communicates is entirely up to us in the way that we design and think about, strategically think about how this fits into a more learner-centered approach.
Bill Hughes (41:28):
And if you don’t mind, Christi I just want to dovetail on something, and this may, hopefully it’s not too far field, but there’s something we haven’t talked about at all, which is the economics of all this and the financing. How post-secondary lending gets paid for. I think the reason why we have all these contortions is because of the funding policy apparatus. I’ve been astonished at how many times what MJ has said is not happening. Even though the people on the ground who are working with students or teaching, they know that it should be happening, they’re trying to make it happen, but then all of a sudden, “Well, I’ve got to make this in a certain credit hour course because we need to be able to generate this kind of revenue for this cohort of people.”
So now it’s no longer about how many people can we serve? It’s about how much revenue do I need to hit my budget? It’s not about giving flexibility to students because that flexibility actually is terrifying for schools, because what if the student doesn’t come back? We have a cohort model and we put you into the plan, and you’re supposed to be here for a certain period of time doing a certain amount of things, and if that doesn’t work for you, well, oh my God, it’s not going to work for us.
Dr. MJ Bishop (42:50):
It can mess up our budget model.
Dr. Cristi Ford (42:53):
Bill Hughes (42:53):
Yeah, and you look at what happens on the, I hate to call it the non-credit side because it diminishes what happens over there, but there’s not nearly enough support, not just both academic and non-academic support, but imagine if someone could pick their level of engagement. I’m a self-study learner, I’m an autodidact. Just give me the content. I’ll take the test. I’m done. There are other people who are going to say, “I really need some one-on-one support. I need to work through some things.” There are other folks who are going to say, “I really need to be in a cohort and I want to have a cohort experience. I want to belong to something.” Well, what if that were the way we were pricing higher ed based on the input costs, frankly, and not simply based on what could attract the most fund dollars and Title 4 dollars and this and that. I think if we can figure those things out, we’d get innovation happening a lot faster in the sector.
Dr. MJ Bishop (44:00):
That would require us understanding what our learners are hiring us to do though, and getting past our broad swath demographic, look at our learners and instead understanding what is the job they’re hiring us to get done.
Bill Hughes (44:18):
Yes. I can dream. I can dream.
Dr. MJ Bishop (44:23):
No, I love it.
Dr. Cristi Ford (44:24):
It’s a great dream to have, and as you were talking, I thought we’ve taught for many years about USA War Report news rankings and how we have to really figure out how to re-conceptualize, how do we demonstrate value? How do we measure value? How do we relate that value? And as I work with institutions in my role at D2l, I see this pandemic has really caused people to question how do you show the value proposition around higher education of today? And so Bill, I think it’s a good talking point and talk track around where we should be thinking about breaking down some of these models that we’ve created.
And so I want to make sure I leave a little time at the end to ask one final question of each of you. I would love to understand, you can answer either one, but one, if people want to follow the work that you’re doing, you’ve talked, you both have talked about a lot of different initiatives, a lot of different opportunities. How might they do that? And then secondarily, for the folks that are listening today that are grappling with these same issues, what would be your call to action? What would be your recommendation to how they can move from just all of these philosophical, rhetorical conversations into some real concrete tangible opportunities? So I’ll open the floor to either one of you for that.
Dr. MJ Bishop (45:52):
I may jump in here so that I can leave the harder question to Bill. I’m going to come in on the second part, because I think unfortunately, I don’t know that we’re disseminating what we’re doing is tough because we’re so busy doing the work, and that’s really part of the answer to my answer to your second part of that question, which is I think we just need to start jumping in. I think we need to stop talking about it and start jumping in. It isn’t always going to be pretty, and some of it’s going to be mind-numbing, boring work. Curriculum mapping just really sounds like drudgery to me.
Dr. Cristi Ford (46:31):
Dr. MJ Bishop (46:32):
The more we can get the AI tools to support it, the better, I think, but I think, like I said, we’ve got to get past the defining all these things and getting hung up on taxonomies and just start digging into the work. We’re excited about our partnership with D2L and the opportunities there to also explore how the technology is, again, to your point in the platform, can help to support what we’re trying to accomplish too. And partnerships, we’re beginning to create a network of other institutions that are also exploring doing some of these things in the same way that we’re thinking about it as well, so I think those are the things that we need to be continuing to build and just getting started with it.
Bill Hughes (47:21):
I would 110% agree around the getting started with that part. What we found with a lot of organizations, a lot of schools, is they can’t get started because they don’t have the capacity to do something other than core operations. One of the reasons why we started the Growth Engine Fund, for example, was to say, “We’re going to not only buy you some place and time, we’ll give you a grant, a stipend to help you figure this out, but also create a process.” So our design thinking, driven human-centered design process is, it does a lot of really good things, but one of the things it does is it creates a space for innovation to happen in an institution, and so we’ve done that.
We’ve also realized you can only do that for so long, and then you have this great experience and then it’s over. It’s like, “Oh, what happens? Can we Summer Camp reunion? I love summer camp so much.” But so what we’ve actually done is we’ve combined two things. We have something called the Innovator Network, so if you go to eddesignlab.org on the web and just sign up for our innovator network, you can stay up abreast of the kind of things that we’re doing. Then we’ve started investing in what we call communities of practice. We started this with our single moms work, but we realize there’s a lot of different problems that people are trying to solve, and it’s scary as anything to do it on your own, so we’ve created essentially places for peers to work together, to share and collaborate around various topics and we’re basically making that the afterglow of all of our projects.
So if we work with schools, we then essentially put people into communities of practice. Now they’re not just working within their organization, they’re sharing a across, and we’re opening up in selective ways that kind of more intimate work to the innovator network. We’re trying to take the barriers down there, and we’re hoping that the broader thing is building the field. The only way that any massive change is going to happen, and we see this moment right now as a shift to skills in a bunch of different ways. It’s almost like a shift to the internet, to the web. Work still gets done, but it’s getting done in a different place in different ways and some protocols, and as soon as you have these protocols in place, boom. Look at what innovation can explode if we all just agree to a few common set of things as the starting point or some of the constraints that we have.
So those communities of practice and the Innovator Network is a way to stay in touch is a great way of either mobilizing yourself, gathering data to mobilize or if you can’t actually pull away just getting in the flow and getting your mind readjusted to the world as it’s moving forward.
Dr. Cristi Ford (50:31):
I love that. I think that shift to skills, I’m going to get a little T-shirt that says that. I think that having you here today has been phenomenal. Thank you, Dr. MJ Bishop, Bill Hughes, for just helping us to figure out how do we move and create that shift to skills. And thank you for sharing some of the work that you’ve done and tangibly, MJ, to your point, just jump in. Like Nike says, just do it. Just get started. I just want to thank you both for the time and the conversation today. I really appreciate hearing your expertise.
Dr. MJ Bishop (51:07):
Bill Hughes (51:08):
Thank you so much.
Dr. Cristi Ford (51:13):
You’ve been listening to Teach & Learn a podcast for Curious Educators. This episode was produced by D2L, a global learning innovation company, helping organizations reshape the future of education and work. To learn more about our solutions for both K through 20 and corporate institutions, please visit www.d2l.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. And remember to hit that subscribe button so you can stay up to date with all new episodes. Thanks for joining us, and until next time, school’s out.