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On college costs, and standards

November 4, 2013 Leave a comment

This business about the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) is so polarizing as to make your head spin.  It’s a brilliant example of the difference between intention vs. policy, idea vs. implementation, and goal vs. mechanism.  Politicized beyond belief (although since when has public K-12 education not been politicized), the CCSSI is, at its core (ahem), an intentional attempt to identify the kinds of skills and abilities students need in the modern world.

I’m not going to wade into the political elements of the debate, or the apparent deficiencies in the standards model itself, but I am quite fascinated by how the CCSSI views and expresses (implicitly and explicitly) what it thinks higher education is all about.  There’s an emergent view of higher education’s “job”, and I suppose you can only evaluate whether we are “doing our job” if we can all agree on what that job is.  Educating the masses?  Elite education for the few?  Create new knowledge through research? Develop independent thinking skills in our students?  Create entrepreneurs?  Generate wealth?  Service learning?  There’s many more possibilities here…

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Your value online…

October 14, 2013 2 comments

The idea of a digital identity has emerged over the past few years as a crucial part of our “real” identity.  We’ve got ubiquitous social media, we are constantly connected, and we have a variety of profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) that we use for different purposes.  Most of us do not take a deliberate approach to curating our digital identity, and we don’t really have a strategy for presenting a coherent package of information that expresses a narrative about us in a clear way.  Partly, this is due to the tools that we use:  we use Twitter for short-burst social purposes, while Facebook is both social and (?) more durable, and LinkedIn is the FB for grown-ups looking at a professional network.  Then there’s Instagram and Tumblr and a wide range of other choices.  Moreover, you can now link all these things together, so that each of my tweets immediately appears in my FB timeline.

So, social media has been on my mind lately, quite a bit, as we try to figure out how to leverage our seemingly infinite connectivity in the service of learning and connecting.  Social media means more than Facebook;  it means using the ubiquity of the web to connect, to share, to inform, to consume, and to transmit information.  This includes things like Twitter, but is also includes lots of sharing sites like YouTube.  The point here is that there is simply too much potential in this form of communication to ignore it, or to hope it goes away.  It may not be Facebook, which jumped the shark a few years ago.  But, it will be something.

But there are consequences to the proliferation of social media, and here’s one which has gained alot more attention in the past year or so: your online reputation.  There are lots of stories out there about people leveraging YouTube as a resume circulation tool (remember this guy?), and finding a job through your social network.  But there’s more to the story, and it starts when a prospective employer checks you out on Facebook.  Sure, you’re in a few tagged photos, maybe at homecoming tailgate, and next thing you know, you’re not offered the job.

This sort of thing generally falls into the category of managing your online reputation, and it’s more important than many people think it is.  Take this recent blog post:  it starts by asking about whether to put your Twitter handle on your resume, and ends with the question “what’s your social capital”?

The question here is:  how can higher education help students burnish their online reputation and harvest their own social capital?  What experiences (curricular or otherwise) can we put into place which give students the opportunity to really shape a positive and influential online identity?  In addition to a curriculum portfolio of work, do students need to generate an e-folio summarizing their online writings and activities?

In higher education, we generally ignore this question altogether.  We have other, better things to do than this.  Like teach students in much more traditional ways.  But I do think the broader conversation of how to foster in students an awareness of, and interest in, their online reputation is important.  Students can really leverage a positive reputation as evidence of the “real them”–by this I simply mean the student as an individual, going about their daily lives.  Their online presence can portray them as helpful, collaborative, and wise…or it can portray them as arrogant, unhelpful, and unlikeable.  I think we have both an opportunity and an obligation to help students form an online persona which is both genuine (i.e., really is a true reflection of their values) and helpful in their future prospects.  This is easier said than done, and I will revisit this topic in the future with more specific ideas of how we in higher ed can help.

For now, all I can say is I am fascinated by the potential of badges and other micro credentials, instead of measuring student achievement using the unit of “the class” or the “credit hour”.  We can help students understand the importance of curating their online identity, and we can help them burnish it, by our actions and by considering innovative ways to recognize student achievements.  I’m thinking alot about this and plan to use this space as a sandbox to explore some ideas.  Stay tuned.