As I work with our diverse student population, I’m learning that I can’t make assumptions. I can’t assume that our students will read beyond the top of the screen or even the text beyond a picture. I can’t assume they’ll turn the page. I can’t assume that students will be able to problem solve something as basic as figuring out how to assemble all the materials needed for registration in time to enroll without very clear instructions. For someone who started planning her college search in 8th grade, this is a definite shift.
Backwards design. Knowing what your goal is and then having the know-how to construct a path to get there. Our students all have the equivalent of a high school degree and yet for far too many, simply figuring out the steps to get to point C from point A is too much to do without structured guidance.
How do we teach that level of independent problem solving, without which innovation isn’t possible? And who is responsible for making sure that it is learned?
Higher education in our nation has become, for many, the last chance for success. I hear teachers talk with increasing frequency about wishing they could teach students who want to be in school rather than students who are there for a myriad of other reasons– government incentives, parental or spouse pressure, desperation. Our charge in public community and technical colleges, however, is to teach everyone. All comers. Whatever the motivation, when they cross our front threshold, they become our responsibility. That is our mission. Student success. As defined by a job in their field of study. How, then, do we help our students learn that most basic of life success skills, the ability to know where you want to go and figure out how you’re going to get there?
Part of the innovation in higher education has to come from the ways we address these kind of challenges– the social emotional development pieces that are becoming as critical as skills training. This is the kind of investment that doesn’t have a clear ROI. It’s difficult to quantify the economic benefit or efficiency savings of having an employee with solid inferential thinking skills– and yet we all know how taxing it is to work with someone who lacks it. When employers tell us that they need workers with strong soft skills, this is what they’re referring to. I wish it was possible to invent a soccer ball that would solve this problem, but it’s not that easy. If students don’t learn how to independently plan for success with us, it’s still a skill employers rely on and those who don’t learn it will not be equipped to compete.
The innovation conversation has to remember that it’s not just Ivy League graduates who will lead us forward. It’s not a tide that can carry just a few select people ahead. It’s a total overhaul of the way we work and no one can be left behind. These are the tools that are required for this age and it is incumbent on us as educators, as citizens to ensure that all people are ready.