An unexpected takeaway

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic conference last week on pedagogy in higher education, a definite interest of mine as I explore teaching opportunities in post-secondary settings.  Attendees and presenters represented every discipline – from engineering to interior design and everything in between.

The presenters at the very first session I attended, however, were from a teaching and learning background.  They teaching aspiring teachers how to teach, so pedagogy is their thing.  And I like pedagogy.

Carol Ann Tomlinson‘s name was mentioned, my ears perked up and I smiled.  She’s the mother of differentiation – or maybe I just gave her that title, but she might as well be.  And she just happens to teach and conduct research just down the road in Charlottesville.  My head was nodding in agreement with the presenters:  You can change the learning experience for each student by varying the content, process, product, and affect.  Yup, I’m with you. You’re right.  Absolutely.

And then I look around the room.  Some professors were hearing this for the very first time.

Not every student has to use the same text to learn the same concepts.  Not every student has to write the same paper to demonstrate their learning – why not make a movie or a podcast or…  Yup, I’m nodding.  It’s almost a southern church experience where you want to affirm with an amen once in awhile.

And yet not everyone in the room is generating such affirming body language.  It wasn’t that they disagreed vehemently – not at all.  It was just seemingly a new idea – which I confirmed afterwards in a few informal conversations.  And this floored me.  This is not a new concept in K-12 settings.

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You see, in the K-12 world, we don’t have admissions offices screening students.  We have to take everyone who comes to our doors.  We can’t just not worry about the kids who don’t come to class or don’t seem to be generating an effort.  High-stakes accountability systems dictate accreditation and in some cases, funding.  We can’t allow students to be naturally weeded out if they can’t hack it early on.  We see direct impacts on our local communities and economies when students drop out.

I say this not at all to vilify higher education and make K-12 educators look like Mother Theresa.  There are wonderful professors and administrators in the higher education system who do care and see the big picture and put interventions in place to intercept those who slip.  And there are K-12 educators who do not.

My unexpected takeaway was this:  I am proud of the efforts of folks in any place in the educational system who recognize the need to do “more,” “better,” and sometimes “different” to meet the needs of their students.  And I’m especially proud of K-12 educators who have recognized this for years.  Decades.

From what I’ve been reading and hearing, this push for increased accountability is moving upwards to higher education.  And it makes sense given challenges in the job market, increasing tuition costs and student debt.

It’ll be a challenge to figure out what this new movement will look like in higher education, but accountability ultimately is a good thing.  The policies that are enacted to get us there, eh, we’ll see.  But differentiation will have to become more the norm if colleges and universities get serious about retaining students and seeing them through to graduation and career readiness.

And based on the light bulb moments I saw happen in the conference session, I’d say there are a number of professors who may experiment and begin to test the waters.  Cheers to that.

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