October 22, 2010

“Since the way we run universities now is such a train wreck, what’s a better way?”

Recently over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Marc Perry provided us with a gem; “What If We Ran Universities Like Wikipedia?”

One of the commenters, “drjeff” posited the title of Marc’s post should have been “Since the way we run universities now is such a train wreck, what’s a better way?”

Bless you ‘drjeff’.

And not just for using the term ‘train wreck’.

Saturday, October 23, 2010, for me at least, was a special day. I had the fortune of delivering a TED Talks at an event titled Fast Forward Education. (download my slides here)

Although I have great respect for teachers, professors and learning professionals, I too think the education continuum is rather flawed. Dated. Antiquated. Even harmful.

The fact of the matter is that the education continuum, between elementary grades, through high school, across higher education, as well as into corporate learning and adult/life-long learning, is stuck in the industrial revolution, and it doesn’t know how to right the ship.

The candle evolved into the fluorescent light bulb. We even figured out how to make a better light bulb with CFL technology, but the entire education spectrum remains mired in walled classroom mentality.

That’s literally speaking as well as figuratively.

Where is the critical thinking? Where is multidisciplinary subject matter learning? Where is real-world problem solving skills? Where is collaboration, sharing, and learning to work together to execute on initiatives? As Cameron Herold points out, where are the entrepreneurial skills required for the 21st century in our kids?

We are stuck in the cartel of individual subject teaching, a New York publishers dream state. We can’t seem to separate the fact that we need both theory and application, particularly in the high school and higher education foci.

Publishers are part of the cartel. Higher education is part of the cartel. High schools, ministries of education, school boards are all part of the cartel. Add teacher unions and higher education unions as well.

We need a change.

We need to change for the sake of our economy, our country, and our children.

Thank you “drjeff”. Here’s an answer to your question to mull over:

The 50-50 DNA Model

  • Decommission the learning model; 50-50 going forward
  • New 50-50 admissions guidelines for higher ed & a 50-50 B.Ed program from now on
  • Actualize 50-50 higher ed final transcripts

Let’s look at each of these separately.


I believe the education teaching process at high school and higher education levels need to radically shift. In both environments, I recommend teaching the theory of various subjects for half the day, and the other half is spent working on the amalgamation of subject-matter through application. That’s right – half the time in theory and half the time applying said theory in real world, critical thinking, cross-collaborative, multi-discipline ways that allow the student to actually practice ‘learning by doing’ concepts whilst learning the theory.

Call it the yin-yang model if you have to.

In both arenas, teachers/professors would continue teaching the theory, and using new technologies and the like when necessary to do so. But only for half the time they normally do today.

The other half of the time, teachers/professors are uniting in teams of two, three maybe even four to offer projects, case studies, real-world scenarios that allow the students to apply what they’ve learned in past years, and during the aforementioned subject matter theory. Projects, community involvement, other opportunities, whatever.

This takes into consideration the subject-matter that they’ve learned in previous years, as well as what they’re currently learning in the theory portion of the school. Students are then graded two fold; one for their theory and two for their application of said theory. The former may be quantitative whereas the latter will have to be qualitative. That’s ok though in my books.

This model of 50-50 needs to be applied both in high school and in higher education. The corporate world needs not only subject matter drones who are skilled at rote memorization and solid depths of theory; it requires thoughtful, collaborative, critical thinkers with entrepreneurial skills backed by the normal depth of subject-matter expertise and theory.


In high school, what ostensibly occurs as you move up the ladder of grades towards graduation year is the fixation on marks, by each of the subjects a student may be cramming for.


Because higher education stipulates that student marks must be submitted in order to be admitted into their prestigious institution. Yes, those marks are by subjects only. (aside from some good but anomalous higher education examples across North America who also ask for community involvement, personal essays, etc.)

Here we see the cartel in full force. High schools, school boards and ministries of education succumb to higher education, and, somewhat dutifully, arrange their school year around subjects backed by textbooks from New York publishers.

If, however, higher education were to ask for two sets of marks, life would be so much better.

If higher education asked for both the theory component of the new 50-50 model and the qualitative assessment of the student from their real-world application of said theory, we’re now in business.

Higher education now has admitted a student who is used to the 50-50 model, and higher education can continue that same model over the course of the credential said student is trying to achieve.

What else is new?

The antiquated B.Ed program needs a hammer taken to it. If we continue to ‘train’ future K-12 teachers in the methods of sage on the stage, we are doomed to fail.

I recommend that the entire B.Ed program be overhauled such that teachers are prepared for the 50-50 model. Further to that, I also recommend that any existing educator be ‘sent away’ for 6 months of unschooling and to begin their transformation to the 50-50 model. It only works if we right the ship, and all passengers, at the same time, give or take a few years.


Once a student graduates from higher education, they are not only better prepared for what the corporate world is asking for, they are armed (again) with two sets of marks.

One set of marks are for the theory components of the credential and another set is for the real-world application of the theory.

Thus, when a student graduates from higher education, the corporate world has a better assessment of what the student can bring to the table, both in terms of theory, and in terms of creativity, entrepreneurship, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, etc.

It also (and obviously) creates a more well-rounded and holistic graduate ready to take on a world that desperately requires more innovators, more entrepreneurs, and more ways in which to ensure a sound, thriving economy.

In Summary

I’d be interested in your feedback on the 50-50 DNA model I’ve proposed. I haven’t yet articulated all of the various steps that need to be taken in order to get there, but at least you can see ‘the dream’.

And what I really want to end with is that I have the utmost respect for every educator out there (wherever you are, and whatever level you are teaching at) that a) want to change the systemic nature in which education is currently offered and b) who are making changes that they can INSIDE of the classroom today. These folks are in fact trying to utilize technology, to create collaborative environments for their students, to provide real-world problem solving examples, linking critical thinking to innovation to entrepreneurship.

You leaders are the leaders of tomorrow. You can help us affect this change as a united force.

But, sadly, change cannot solely come from the classroom walls; we need the entire continuum turned on its head.

Let’s get there together.

I’m in. I’m game. Put me in coach!

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