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Best of Breed Education

Baby Talk - Competency Level 1

Baby Talk – Competency Level 1

When Elliot was a teenager, he went off to a weeklong sailing course approved by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) in Britain. He passed with flying colors and received an International Certificate of Competence as a Sailing Crew Member – Level 1. The certificate attests to one’s “ability and provides documentary assurance from one government to another that the holder meets an agreed level of competence….”

With his certificate in hand, Elliot could serve on any sailing crew that requires Level 1 competency. He could also take his certificate to any other RYA-approved sailing school and immediately enter the course to achieve Level 2 competency.  He could choose the next sailing school based on schedule or location or teacher or whatever. Not only does Elliot know something but his knowledge is also certified in a manner that’s globally recognized. That means he has a wide array of choice and options – he’s a free agent.

Why couldn’t higher education work the same way? Why can’t we flip the educational model to make it student-centric? Why can’t a student accumulate knowledge from a variety of sources and then have it certified in a globally recognized manner?

For instance, my online students at the University of Denver clearly want to acquire knowledge that will afford them broader skills and opportunities. Some are pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge. But many students also want that knowledge to be certified. Since the University grants the certification, students are incented to take courses only from one institution. It’s an institution-centric system.

Now the University of Denver is a great school but why couldn’t one of my students – perhaps living in Montana – also take online courses from New York University and the University of Toronto and the London School of Economics plus some on-campus courses at Montana State and have it all count toward a Master’s degree? In fact, why couldn’t she also acquire knowledge from workshops offered by the local Chamber of Commerce or a chapter of the Project Management Institute and also have that knowledge count toward a degree?

Why couldn’t she bundle it all together and have it certified as the equivalent of an MBA? We can certainly imagine that courses from multiple sources might offer a richer, more varied, and perhaps higher quality education. Every university has some good teachers and some not so good teachers. Why not select the best teachers and best courses from multiple institutions rather than taking all courses from only one school? Let’s call it best-of-breed education.

To deliver student-centric, lifelong, best-of-breed education, we’ll need to develop several new processes and agencies. The good news is that several of them are already under way.  Let’s talk about them tomorrow.

3 Responses to Best of Breed Education

  • Interesting idea – I’m not sure it’s ready for prime time.

    Your example student took one – week long – certification course/program from a widely respected leader (I’m guessing) in the area. The general population can agree that a passing grade from this institution qualifies the student to perform at an adequate level on a fairly specific set of tasks.

    Perhaps I misread the intent of your article, suggesting that a student can earn an entire multi-year degree from any assortment of sources, and that regardless of the assortment of sources, all degrees should be considered equal. This doesn’t, however, seem like clear thinking to me.
    first – not all sources provide an identical level of rigor, breadth of topics, or thoroughness. Within an institution, we can be reasonably sure that what’s not covered in EE 101, will be addressed in EE 102, but stitching together a pastiche of work from the variety if sources you suggest, and presenting that as evidence of proficiency to some educational institution – which is unlikely to have intimate knowledge of what each source provides – really doesn’t seem credible.

    This assumes all teaching at all institutions is equivalent. Hmmmmm. Really? I’m not going to say that every professor at Yale is the epitome of the best of the best, but it does seem likely that the professor at Yale, or even a state 4 year college, as compared to the “local Chamber of Commerce or a chapter of the Project Management Institute” is likely to have a greater depth of knowledge to pass along.

    You seem to be working under the assumption that education is comprised of interchangeable ‘lego blocks’ and all blocks are created equal. Have all teachers in your memory been equal? Did you learn equally from all of them? Most people who have been through school think they could run a school, but in my experience, entering the teaching profession at the tender age of 47 (and thinking it would be a breeze) education is far more complex than most people realize. The ability break down ideas to their building blocks and present them in a way that students can build a referenceable infrastructure, the process of guiding inquiry, practice and retention. Designing assessment so that even the assessment activity offers an educational process….. this isn’t as easy as saying ‘open your book to page 65, read it, learn it, then do problems 1-50.”

    It COULD work, IFF ….
    – you break down any degree to only its essentials, (thus losing the richness of that singular ethics discussion that happened one day in your biomed 101 course, for example, or the breadth of knowledge offered by Professor Smith, for another)
    – AND create a national certification test for that degree (and not to be too cynical, but the creation of a nationally agreed upon anything usually results in a watered down version. )

    The complexity this adds to the system and the opportunity for obfuscation and avoidance of the tougher ideas and work….. really makes me leery of this idea.

    Perhaps for one week, one month, or maaaaybe even 6 month programs….. this idea could work, and if that was your intent, I withdraw my disagreement. We could even use this, possibly, to build an approach for larger programs. For the moment, however, I prefer to have my surgery done by someone who graduated from one strong accredited program, I want my pharma drugs designed by someone who really knows their biomed, I want my car’s safety systems designed by an accredited engineering team, and the earthen dam behind my house designed, built, and maintained by people who really know their stuff. …..and not someone who studied under the local chamber of commerce.

  • Julie brings up some good points. It’s hard to measure competence or even ‘ability to learn’ if different measures/standards are used within one institution, let alone multiple unaffiliated.

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