Monday, April 03, 2006

Writing from Chicago

I’ve been at the Higher Learning Commission annual meetings for the past couple of days. Although this is not a technology-focused conference, the best speakers that I’ve seen have had a technology angle. Maybe I'm the only who thinks this, so I guess there's a chance that I'm biased.

Mark Milliron, former CEO of the League of Innovation in the Community College and now a V.P. at SAS, delivered a great keynote about “Insight.” Basically he makes the case that we have a lot learn in Higher Ed from the Amazon.coms and 1-800-Flowers of the world about how to relate to our customers/students. He is an extremely polished speaker and always has an important message to share (I’ve probably heard him speak 10 times over the past 5 years).

A few takeaways from his talk (although none of these were his main points):

  • Why do we continue to show a two-year program planner to students when only 5% of them finish a “two-year” degree in two years. Similarly, why do we continue to call them two-year degrees and two-year schools? Who are we trying to kid?
  • Suggested reading list:

His point about data-based decision making is a good one. We need to be able to make real-time decisions using data, not two to four years after the fact. We should be collecting student data to help students, but not just help the students who will come to us at some point in the future after we have figured out what we are learning from the current batch of students. In other words, students want to know: “How can you use information about me…to help me?”

Another great session was offered by Mark Taylor of Arkansas State University – Beebe. His session was titled: Generation NeXt Comes to College: 2006 Updates and Emerging Issues. He commented several times about how he couldn’t possibly cram 3 hours of material into 45 minutes, but he did a pretty good job of moving along at “fast-twitch” speed, which is of course the way I like it.

Taylor says that the book Millennials Rising by Howe and Strauss has it all wrong. (Here's someone else who thinks that too.) I think I agree with him. He provides compelling evidence that the current 18-26 year old group (which he calls the NeXt generation) is not at all the throw-back to traditionalist values that Howe and Strauss predicted: "Over the next decade, the Millennial Generation will entirely recast the image of youth from downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged--with potentially seismic consequences for America." (see here)

Taylor is another speaker who makes the point that we cannot continue to use old-school approaches to educating the youth of today. He comes at it from a slightly different angle than some of the other "we will soon be irrelevant" evangelists (whom I happen to agree with), but he does offer reasonable solutions to bringing higher ed into the 21st century, even though so many of us old fogies are stuck in a world that will never exist again.

The sad truth for me is that I did find much of the rest of the conference to fall into that "same-old, same-old" school of thought. Not many new ideas, not much thinking outside of the box, and not much real evidence of significant change in how well we (and other levels, especially K-12) are educating the students of today.


Mary Berg said...

I agree with your comments about the HLC conference and Mark Milliron's presentation. Education definitely needs to start answering students' question, "How can you use information about me, to help me?" Two other sessions that taught at warp speed were the Mac presentation on PodCasting and Carol Twigg's closing General Session on "New Models for Online Learning." Educational conference sessions need to utilize best practices, not just talk about them!

Barry Dahl said...

Hi Mary, and thanks for your comment. I didn't go to the Twigg session because I've seen it three times already. It seems like she and I keep going to the same conferences.

I didn't go to the Apple presentation because I thought it might be a sales pitch, but heard from others that it wasn't and that it was quite good. I did go to a different podcasting session that wasn't very inspiring. I often think that a boring session on these things does more harm than good, no one in the audience can get inspired to do new things when the presenter is not inspired. BD