9.5 mile marker post along highway

Celebrating milestones

Mile Marker CC-BY-NC-SA by Michael McCullough on Flickr

Mile Marker CC-BY-NC-SA by Michael McCullough on Flickr

According to a recent National Student Clearinghouse report, one in five students completes their college degree at a different institution than the one where they began. For many students the path to a college degree may be a long and circuitous route.

When deciding to run a marathon, we don’t get up one day and say “I think I’ll try to get in 26 miles this afternoon”. We set incremental goals – milestones – and then by building upon these smaller successes we eventually reach our objective. We start out working up to a mile, then maybe a 5 K, then a 10 K, at some point we go for the half marathon, and eventually we reach our goal.

I have on several occasions, heard students, parents and faculty say they aren’t interested in getting their associates degree – or a certificate in their program. Their focus is only on getting the bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, according the the National Student Clearinghouse report, only about 54 percent of those starting out actually achieve their goal.

I wonder if this is a cultural norm. How is it we do not value the opportunities for smaller successes along the way? And if indeed, this is the case, how might we begin to think differently and start celebrating the milestones and thereby encourage completion?

Some thoughts on how learning technology might support such a shift…

Use online discussion forums, blogs, and rosters at the start of the course, asking students share something about themselves to the class. Instructors can model by providing a simple introduction: my pets, favorite sports, hobby, etc. This can be helpful in creating a sense of community, especially in the online course where students may feel isolated without the advantages of face-to-face interactions available with the classroom environment.

Social networks  like Google+ Communities can offer a means of connecting with other students moving along similar pathways. Google+ Communities may be particularly well suited for establishing strong cohorts across programs and disciplines. Our campus already uses Gmail as its student email solution, thereby providing every student with an account making joining the network practically transparent.

Second year students might serve as moderators or hosts in the community for newly admitted students. Such communities may also include program alumni who are employed in their field or continuing their program of study elsewhere at a four-year institution or graduate program.

To take the marathon analogy a step further (at the risk of overdoing it) the long run is achieved not only with the help of those running along with us in the event, but also with the help of others cheering us on along the way. Hopefully we can help to make the finish line seem all the more within their grasp.

Definition of Innovate from Merriam Webster: to do something in a new way : to have new ideas about how something can be done

Innovation, Risk-taking, and Unexpected Results

The very nature of innovation requires risk-taking – meaning sometimes we’re likely to get unexpected results.

Coursera, in collaboration with Georgia Institute of Technology, enrolled 41,000 students in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on The Fundamentals of Online Education, that unfortunately had to be shut down this past week due to technical issues before it had a chance to get fully off the ground. –Inside Higher Ed.

Apparently, the concern had to do with the ability to manage small group discussions using Google Docs, but there were problems.

“If we tell people to just do safe things, we’ll stifle innovation.”
– Richard DeMillo, Georgia Tech

I couldn’t agree more.

Innovation means trying things out – oftentimes for the very first time – and that can be risky business.

In our efforts to foster innovation and experimentation we need to recognize that failure is part of the process. We make a  first attempt, when something unexpected occurs we try something else – and then we ask, what was the difference? Did we get what we expected? We try again – did we get the same or new results?

There will be those going forward who will likely not give MOOCs a try, pointing to this attempt that “didn’t work”. But the fact is, it did work. It worked by failing, and now we learn from it asking what happened, and trying something else. Hopefully the next time it will work better.

Technology Fail
Unexpected results are always a risk when we innovate. No guts – no glory!

Its just a bigger deal when 41,000+ people are looking than when you can’t get the damn projector switched from the laptop to the document camera on the first day of class.