By George Artem for metaCAMPUS – with a reference to the “Soul” of Higher Education.
Recent articles and heated discussions in academic circles have perpetuated a common perception about a growing crisis in American higher education. Evidenced by the wunderkind pace of the MOOC Movement, our industry is facing disruptive innovation the likes of which it has never seen before. In a book titled “The Idea of the Digital University, Ancient Traditions, Disruptive Technologies and the Battle for the Soul of Higher Education,” author Dr. Frank McCluskey excellently documents the rapid and unprecedented changes in traditional classrooms and institutions.
A quake of external forces is shaking the age-old foundations of the University, and the hallowed ground of academia has evolved into what we might now call the “higher education business.” This article synopsizes the transformational trends of our diverse national academy and attributes them to several major forces affecting what many now refer to as the higher education business:
1) The growth of a professional management class within institutions raised by the growing complexity of institutional operations and a trend away from faculty governance;
2) Increasingly digital classrooms, team based review and assessment of instructional delivery; and
3) The rising cost of higher education, growth and proliferation of alternatives and overall competitiveness of the bachelor’s degree.
As a result, three distinctive models of institutional governance have emerged – the Teacher-Centered Model, the Bureaucracy-Centered Model and the Learning-Centered model. In totality, the goals of an academy are to break new ground for the development of knowledge through research, to insure academic freedom for its faculty, and to illuminate a brighter future for its constituents. Each of the governance models above effect the ability of an institution to fulfill each of these goals and provide the right value mix for its diverse stakeholders.
Evolving models of governance in higher education
The Teacher-Centered (T) model of governance, a model under which most American universities were established, has been the standard since faculty guilds were first introduced to the world through the very first universities. In the T model, faculty are in control of institutional operations; each department chair has the last word when it comes to questions or decisions related to their area of expertise, and the professoriate is free to teach their students with little oversight or interference from administration. While the main advantage of the T model is its inherent ability to preserve academic freedom for faculty, the drawbacks are related to the faculty’s effectiveness in certifying the competency of their students and in defining specific, measurable learning outcomes based on the needs of the community they serve.
With the advent of the digital classroom, the T model is eroding. New tools made available to us by the digital revolution enable institutions to gather data about the efficacy of professors lectures, assignments and the overall competency of their constituents in any given student learning objectives. Professors no longer lecture behind closed doors in lecture halls, accountable only to the students in attendance. The new technology increases transparency, and the potential for mass scrutiny.
In the Bureaucracy-Centered (B) model of Governance, management principles and “operational efficiencies” are favored over the more conservative, faculty-centric, approach. While there is still a structural hierarchy within academic departments, and departmental chairs remain important to the institution’s mission, faculty needs are often secondary to the institution’s objectives and administrative mandates related to scheduling, registration, and accounting. We often find this kind of model at community colleges or community college systems that are governed by a district or other parent entity. Here, the business managers define the mission and direction of the institution – ergo the term “higher education business.” While the goals of a B model institution are to be efficient and grow top and bottom lines, the bureaucracy is often self-serving, quantifies enrollment and pays less attention to measured student learning outcomes. The digital revolution provides tools to measure these things, but the bureaucracy often does not understand what needs to be measured. As a result, the B model is often driven by a “feed the machine” mentality.
The Learning-Centered (L) model of governance, on the other hand, presents a compromise of both the B and T models. The L model is fostered through the collaboration of faculty and management groups, making the goals of the students the central focus of the institution while also maintaining the academy’s other core responsibilities to academic freedom and research. In an institution governed by the L model, academic freedoms are maintained; the professoriate is open to the review and assessment of its lectures and teaching methods based off relevant data. Additionally, the costs are corralled, and the value of the education is assured through a system of constant improvement that can be based off empirical, competency-based evidence of performance.
The role of technology in Teacher, Bureaucracy and Learning centered models of governance
So while we know about the tools that have been implemented to support higher education in the last quarter century, during the growth of the B model, we don’t yet know what kind of tools might be used to support the still evolving L model, nor have we ascertained the role technology should play in these kinds of student-centered institutions.
We do know that B model technology grew out of the complex business and operational requirements of the academy. The use simple of operational abstractions of systems like Six Sigma, or JIT (Just In Time) management, which equate classrooms to widgets on complex assembly lines, have missed the mark completely when it comes to assessing the efficacy of faculty and their responsibility to their students. Technology vendors developed a plethora of software modules to support a fundamentally flawed workflow that links student records with financial aid, bursar, registration and scheduling functions, such that it forgets about tracking or connecting with the goals and outcomes expected by the student. B model technology, the modern Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, feeds the machine.
Where B model technology lacks insight is in a broader understanding of the institutional process and the diverse goals of any given institution. Here, the main point is that L model technology needs to be flexible in a way that will allow institutions to embrace the forces driving the digital transformation in higher education. Additionally, L technology needs to be cost effective, and needs to support the workflow related to the student-centric goals of the institution. This workflow starts with the faculty process of assignment and approval of curriculum and accreditation, where student-learning objectives are defined, while scheduling, registration and financial functions remain distinctly separate from or secondary to this essential process.
Tracking student achievement and progression towards degrees should be the central tenant of any educational institution, while adapting to and even facilitating the divergence of educational models should be of primary concern when applying technological infrastructure. Fortunately, with the emergence of new technology supporting the transformation of modern education models, even age-old academic institutions can seamlessly adapt to modern trends while adhering to high academic standards and improving student outcomes.
To take advantage of the modern technology and remain competitive in the ever-changing business of education, institutions must be willing to let go of antiquated systems of governance, embrace the advent of global connectivity and adapt to increasing demand for accessible, transparent and effective educational offerings. Doing so will change the perception of crisis to one of opportunity that will ultimately shape the future of education.