Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Higher Education Reform | Situated-Systemic and Design-Method Recommendations

Hi Colleagues,

I write this post on higher education reform as an expanded version of my comment to Dr. Kelsky's article To: Professors; Re: Your Advisees in the Chronicle of Higher Education. She extolled academic advisers need to do a better job preparing graduate students for situating themselves for a tenure track job.

Academic Background

I graduated with a Master of Arts in Communication and Organizational Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Communication with emphases on Creative Writing and Mass Media Studies from the University of Washington.

My academic progression has been diverse as I transferred to UW from a local community college, and invested my first year in personal development via studying Journalism, Bible & Theology for one year at Mulnomah University, a faith-based institution. I appreciate learning the diverse culture and design at each school. For three years I also interviewed directors, faculty, professors, and students in my effort to locate a doctorate program for my contribution. During that time I've learned my notion of what constitutes higher education reform.

Tell me a [Moral of a] Story

1) While an undergrad, students, passersby, and politicians alike asked me, "What are you going to do with an English degree? Teach? You know technology is where it's at. You need to get a degree in computers." Prior to graduation I prepared a nifty writing portfolio with the help of my friend, a Tech Comm major, and interviewed via two leads.

Then I graduated and an awesome aerospace company hired me as a technical writer.

Why? Their engineers couldn't write. I knew via intuition and encouragement that I wanted to study writing and to write. It so happens that with my boatload of elective requirements I added a second major: Communication. While I've yet to consistently monetize my work, this social science-arts/humanities hybrid serves me well.

2) I benefited vastly from Gonzaga's Jesuit Ignatian Pedagogy, or what I call andragogy (i.e., we're adults, not children), hinges on transformational, reflective, and holistic learning, or teaching for the whole person. I also enjoyed the support of every professor there well after I graduated, from critiquing my writing, papers, thesis, to inviting me to conferences and to submit to publications, to encouraging me, to making time via skype or phone to advise me when stuck, to writing letters of recommendation, and so on. 

Regarding advisers, I chose, vs. was appointed, my thesis director, whom I chose for his framework and method as being on the *opposite* spectrum as mine (I did an impressionistic performance auto/ethnography and he a statistician). I chose him because I knew I needed help writing clearly for an audience unfamiliar with, and skeptical of, my method. Then I chose my mentor whose framework, dissertation, and dialogic style matched mine. She encouraged me greatly, and I needed this ethic of care especially considering the weight of my topic (fear of death in end of life caregiving contexts).

Moral of the story (1): Build education via a vocational design. Be both clever and wise.

Moral of the story (2): Choose advisers for efficacy (a) and support (b). Be both concise and compassionate.

Situated-Systemic Recommendations

3) Situated-Systemic Recommendations, or fancy talk meaning people work and learn in a system that they and others design | There's much we can do to improve academia including job placement. For starters, it helps to appreciate how people situate in the academic system, and that in the larger socio- political and cultural system, each of which influence the process we presume to be ideal or necessary and the actual outcomes.

The gist: Design applied research programs to better situate learners as social contributors

So blaming advisers for not doing their job or students for not "working hard enough" reflects meritocratic assumptions, but ignores the primal implied in a system's design. For instance, self-replication, or that academia exists to produce other academics. Self-replication comes across as vanity at worst, and limited at best. We need to be sensitive to train people to write, research, lead, and communicate their genres cross-sector for a societal benefit. That's applied research at its best.

Other fear-implied behaviors include territorialism, classism, and phobic behaviors such as clinging to institutional models, methods, paradigms, or roles that give the impression of job security and certainty (e.g., see Angus, 2000). Leave your students, administration, and faculty to silo their contribution in their office outside of you and you set up people to fail and the richness of their contribution to rot hidden away.

Be more responsive and inquisitive. Inquire-respond; Live-learn; Respond-inquire; Learn-live--always back and forth. Flesh out individualism to understand the skills and behaviors needed to apply work in a social context.

Appreciate, instead of reduce, psych-social-emotional-narrative processes as part of learning (or becoming, e.g., Rogers, 1984). Embed psych-social-emotional-narrative paradigms and an ethos for identity in program design to achieve an ethic of care. Emotions, for instance, flag that which we value (Pugmire, 1994). Respond to our frames of knowing to locate that treasure trove, or that vocational contribution situated in a systemic context.

More to the point, assume people themselves to be a learning organization in constant development. Design programs with inter- and trans- disciplinarity, not for discipline's sake, but for pathways and sagways to conversation with people and paradigms in addition to our own. Programs provide the stage on which people rehearse and perform those job and life relationships. Performance needs people to be versed in expression, verbal, textual, interactive, and so on, and in service to an overarching purpose. I suspect that employers need graduates with such socio-creative skills.

Why all this fuss? Your students and faculty are people (1), and however you design your program, so shall it be (2). It's not an ends justify the means or vice-versa, but the means influence the ends and vice-versa.

It's time to revamp academia by designing graduate programs to orient research-practitioners who can situate themselves to benefit society by applying their themes cross-sector in areas such as health, education, or more broadly, well-being and community development. 

Then scale those as cross-sector bridge to organize society, and imagine the reformative benefits.

Design-Method Recommendations

4) Design-Method Recommendations, or what, how, and why we do what we do in a job or academic setting | Design such programs to be nimble and *completeable* in 2-4 years depending on the degree. Make programs less heavy-weighted with assumptions that umpteen courses adequately "prepare" a student to teach. Stop wasting student's money by treating education as a static, distant, and deep container to fill (see Freire 1970, 1994). Make your design SMART: Strategic/Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Results-Based, and I add Relevant, and Timebound.

Instead let students organize their electives in clusters that can become credentials (e.g., a certificate in professional communication, writing, health leadership, etc.). Stop using education to colonialize fields and degree nomenclature by making some fields primary over others (as indicative in salaries and funding). Elevate praxis and ethos, or design programs so students apply their paradigm, frameworks, and themes to whatever field or social concern of interest.

Also appreciate diversity in titles such as PhD, DBA, DA, DocSocSci, DFA, and so on. Welcome multiple frames of knowing (see Carey, 1999; Moreland, 1997; Rosko, 2010, May 1). Challenge assumptions and learn to dialogue with epistemologies that correct or differ from the norm (start with dialogic reads by Anderson, Arnett, Buber, Cissna, Sieberg). Put negatively, abandon this idea that education means those smarter folks think in abstract, and then criticize them for poor job performance later on. Put positively, credentialize your requirements so your graduates go forth and multiply with a diverse portfolio.

On projects, require learners to pitch, collaborate, negotiate, produce, write intermedia texts, and facilitate via different models, preferably those conscientious of interculturalism (e.g., Rosko, 2008; Stanfield, 2000). Teach learners systems perspective (e.g., Oshry, 1995), dialogue, negotiation and mediation techniques, and the practice of reframing, such as how to frame their concerns, fears, phobias, complaints, topical problem, and social woes into an ask, or learn how to apply your contribution with others in conversation (e.g., Garner, 1997; Fisher & Ury 1981; Schenk, 2002).

On process, scaffold the dissertation into the program with benchmark courses starting with reflective exercises and the literature review. Teach learners to build their bibliography via iterative papers and projects required throughout. Make graduate groups and plan interval networking socials. Runners usually train for a marathon iteratively. They build up to it. When a gymnast, I conditioned for months and added to maneuvers.  We grow our strength. Strength training requires rest, renewal, and nourishment. Refer to the Agile Manifesto for transferable ideas on designing programs for iterative and expeditious deliverables.

Phase out requiring umpteen courses that divert students' focus from their contributed work. Improve morale by making their contribution matter, and make it matter by embedding its development in your course requirements and available resources. Same goes for comps. This idea that we store up knowledge, again, evokes the container metaphor. Do away with that in favor of a system that better tandems with living, breathing, and growing--in development--beings.

On economics, revamp education for sustainability and applied research to improve the economy and reduce cost. As a society overall we must rethink our infrastructure. Consider how many PhDs depend on food stamps, rising tuition costs, withdrawn political support (US), and longer times to complete. We need to care better for our students and design programs as sustainable may in turn reap socio-economic benefits. If academia dislikes monetizing education, then address the paradox of tuition.

If your company reimburses your tuition, reward them for supporting you by asking if your focus can benefit them. Conflict of interest? Disclose them. There's a flipside to most things. Research for no pay? Social justice error to not pay you for your contribution, and yet charge you for tuition. Yet people need to be paid for their contribution including writers and academics. Yet a company financing a doctoral program can impart impressions that you're researching in service to someone else's interests and not the "greater good."  Yet, yet, yet. Flipside Impressions matter, but they're not deal-breakers. Account for them.

On pay, if we want to change the economic motivation, then we must change the system. At the present moment, and for the sake of social justice, do pay instead of pooh-pooh people for their work. We can reduce cost in education if uni's refer out to community level practitioners such as Dr. Kresky's consulting. It's good to collaborate cross-sector and interagency for a shared purpose. That's called conscientious governance, and we can use more of that, too, these days.

On networking, it helps that today we've multi-modal methods to network. Reach in to reach out I say. Embark on a "career interviewing" method (see Kevane, 1994), where you research people online and via your existing contacts per your themes of interest. I exercised this method for over 3 years just to locate a doctorate program. I benefited from expanding my network, learning language and current issues in the field, all the while developing my application materials for each program to which I applied. I learned much about higher education culture and needs for reform. I saved money this way by filtering programs and selecting others instead. I gained confidence and pratice as I revised my elevator pitch. I even made a few friends.

On praxis, volunteer. Volunteer for human services, NGOs, local start-ups, grassroots and political campaigns, art groups, and/or churches. Make your work relevant. Volunteer also to network and situate your projects and dissertation work. The key: Focus your contribution on applying your framework via your method and modality for a sector that concerns or interests you via your theme for whatever virtue you want to see. "Be that change..." mantra applies here. For whatever standard you espouse, you must lead by example (see Kouzes & Posner, 2003).

On resumes, applications, writing samples, and statements of intent, you impart credibility with such compassionate and quality results in an arena both inside and outside academia. Success often turns on belief, or action based on impressions of you and your deliverables. A word of caution: for every goal or intent you state in your application and resume materials, that you must do *now*. However more verbose, that much more you must do.

Credible contribution takes time sometimes. I've volunteered and contracted my development and consulting services for almost 2.5 years now with overlaps in my career and doctorate queries, research, and coursework. Constantly develop by reflective action. Add your projects to your resume. Acquire letters of recommendation from your volunteer colleauges. Put your portfolio online. Permit volunteerism to invoke calls to action and social justice overtones, or to add heart to your ethics.

On education as development, develop on-going. Demystify education. Remember that you situate yourself in a larger system. People design the system; context matters, and so do people. People hire you, fire you, admit you, graduate you, advise you, and so forth. What's missing overall: Value and practice in conversation. If we demystify education and employment as development at least catalyzed by a conversation, whether a reflective conversation with oneself, or an interactive conversation with another person, then it may be seem more accessible to innovate program design and locate a niche for oneself.

Emphasize development

On institutional change, design work requires foresight and reflection. Orient yourself to envision future trends (see Deloitte, 2010; ETS, 2010, April 29; Naisbitt, 1984). Notice that, for instance, people migrate to creative cities (Deloitte, 2010), changing demographic and workforce needs, which means that academia must include professional development (ETS, 2010).

Throughout reflect on your situated and systemic vision, mission, goals, ethos, and desired contribution. Decide together your institutional and program standard, and embed such virtues, themes, and applied research into your program.

Being so creative means to cease cookie-cutting the template of other programs to mediate uncertainty over the quality of your design (3-5 years coursework, comps, then 2-7 years dissertation, for a whopping unidisciplinary 5-10 years finish). Put another way, compete by being different. Tinker. Yes, tinker. My dad turned auto-tinkering into two hot hot rod rebuilds that spanned 20 years. Make your program appealing, attractive, and aesthetic.

On resistance, anticipate and understand the law of reactions, or that swinging pendelematic response that can become an overeaction, such as beefing up theoretical and methodological requirements, but at the expense of praxis, or vice-versa. So be mindful of that and aware of how your design responds to the dialectic of your stated purpose. Say you value social justice? Include money as an access issue to redress. Value money? Include corporate social responsibility in your course. In any case let the push back help to manage risk by accounting for possible misses.

In any case, people are smart, sentient, and intuitive beings and occasionally snarky creatures. While repetition aids learning, sometimes a "little dab-a-do-ya."

Say farewell to education in bulk. Say hello to a education in development. People commit to memory and devote lives to their contribution.

To that purpose situate your institutional change. Change by embarking on foresightful and reflective inquiry together. Turn what you define as deviance into an asset. Deviance often turns up as a strength facing opposition, and of opposition, we've much with which to contend with even within ourselves.

A Note on Practitioner Renewal

5) A Note on Practitioner Renewal | You're a human being. There are no "other" sciences save human sciences, as we humans create, interpret, design, teach, and contribute our given framworks. As education is not a container, or a normalized verb, but educating... so People aren't a vaccum. You need to refresh yourself to contribute well. On vocational development, ask yourself if in the end will you be proud of the quality of your contribution both in process and expression? Much empowerment comes in realizing intent (see Performance studies writers such as Conquergood, Turner, and Narrative writers such as Mattingly).

So you owe it to yourself to reflect on your own vision, mission, goals, gifts, and desired contribution, each of which often made compelling by lessons learned through adversity (see Miesbach, 2001; Palmer 2000; 2004). Such composes the stuff I call vocation (see Buford, 1995; Palmer, 2000; 2004; Tillapaugh & Hurst, 1997).

Situating yourself by vocation in academia endows you with a paradigm for networking and praxis. Renewal involves reflecting and then applying oneself to that located desire. Motivation means we intend to act on that desire. The act of acting upon intent essentially defines faith and necessitates courage (see Palmer, 1998). Set aside supercilious labels and stigmas that demarcate taboo, and focus on your main purpose.

Design and Develop education as a progressive interplay of 
development. I suspect that doing so creates a thriving and healthy academic commons.

On community development, nurture a supportive culture and resources (e.g., see Kelsky, 2011, July 18). Available resources make a system, and allocation of those resources turn a system into an -ism. Go for organizational health and well-being. Draw on leadership and holism (e.g., Palmer, 1990; 1993). A mystic = a reflective-writer-practitioner. Learn from techno-cultural value of sharing, collaboration, open source, and artistic expression. Respect constituents' choices, traditions, cultures, and religions.

Our greatest risk as educators: Perpetuating self-centricism. Be broad-versed enough that you care about the whole.

On sustainability and hospitality, give back to your hosting locale and the people who comprise your institution. Share in the world based on your themes and network. Appreciate tacit knowledge, or that even the most irritating or enlightening colleague proffers something salient. Be that kind of campus community where administration and faculty and students alike feel proud, energized, and encouraged to contribute themselves, their work, their families, and their lives. Honor your demographic by inquiring from them, verses assuming, what they want or need.

Above all, we must change our discourse. One change will fell the house of cards that we call Western civilization. Transition from a separatist motif that leads to container metaphors that objectify people and reduce scholarship to passive nouns. Move to an active discourse that reflects our applied vocation. Respect embodied scholarship as both limited and motivated by our mortal existence (see Blau 1992/1993; Chvasta, 2003; Rosko, 2010, December 17).

Forgive the Western-normativity, but write actively even if doing so requires "I/We" language. Speak in verbs, and do what you say. Forget the distant passive tense that defies everything decent taught in basic writing courses.

Research actively, too, as the research-participant that you exist by your design and analysis (e.g., see Chase, 1996). Regard yourself as an embedded contributor. Appreciate the compassion needed for your participation, and that you need to participate on some level with your foci to know compassion (see Russell, 2004).

Demonstrate praxis in your digital world, too (see Chvasta, 2005). Explore dialectics. Explain analogies. Be silent. Listen. Respond. Care. Contribute. Deliver. Graduate. Hire. Employ. Work. Create. Express. Produce. Collaborate. Iterate. Develop. Intermediate. Be. Write your tagline. I wrote mine:

Developing & Consulting 
People & Organizations to 
Write, Communicate & Lead for 
Health, Education & the Public Commons

Barring all else:


To follow @Twitter nomenclature:  #thatisall


To sum, design the academic *system* to *situate* people as societal contributors via their *applied* discipline(s), method, or modality and do so with a primary value for sustainability, a vocational process, a standard for quality, and the results of a successful finish.

Academia must free itself from the separatist and container motif so embedded in Western language/discourse to let their students go to live and thrive as go-getters who know the value in contributing to society their living text.

Access my curated and blogged ideas for higher education reform: (Scoopit), (Pinterest), and (Blog).

Thanks for reading,
Dena Rosko, MA-ComL


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