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Navigating the Great Upheaval: Week 4 - Looking at the Panorama


The Great Upheaval: What Will Change and When?

The Great Upheaval concludes with the prediction that “the demands of the global, digital, knowledge economy” will shape the future of higher education - colleges, universities, 2-year, 4-year, for-profit, and not-for-profit. The authors outline what will change (“five profound and jarring realities”) as well as how and when this change will occur. While the book wraps up with recommendations for institutions and policy makers, there is little in terms of strategy or preparatory best practices for faculty, staff, or students.

Quote: “[N]ew realities will transform the industrial era model of higher education and establish the template for its global, digital, knowledge economy successor. The emerging model will have these characteristics.

  • Higher education will be based on learning and outcomes. Competency-based education, which is independent of time and process, will become the norm. Students will be required to master specified outcomes or competencies to earn a credential. The Carnegie unit and credit hour, which are time-based will give way to competencies mastered ast eh currency and accounting system of higher education.

  • Certification can be granted for mastering a single competency such as learning a foreign language or for achieving a set of related outcomes such as the Google IT competencies. In short, it is the learner’s mastery of competences that will be assessed, certified, credentialed, and recorded on student transcripts” (Levine & VanPelt, 2021, p. 230).



The Future of Community Colleges, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2021. (10 min read) 

Quote: “There are two big issues that are going to affect us long term if we can’t solve them now. One is housing and food insecurity, which is keeping students from completing the degrees they’re seeking or skills they’re building. The other is that we have to completely reimagine the way we structure ourselves to build workplace skills that lead to a family-sustaining wage. That means moving away from a century’s developed academic model and partnering with our work force to reimagine where learning happens, how it happens, and who it’s happening with.”

So, you want to take the grades out of teaching? A beginner's guide to ungrading, Susan Blum, Times Higher Education, 2021. (3 min read)

Quote: “Although you have come here for practical advice about how to ungrade, I warn you: ungrading is connected with the philosophy of education and with views of schooling in general (and politics and social values)... 

  • The fundamental reason we are in school is to foster learning.
  • All students deserve a robust opportunity to learn.
  • Coercion is not the best way to facilitate learning.
  • Assessment is in service to learning; it is not the central goal of school.
  • If all students learn well, they should all be able to be recognised for that learning.
  • Learning is multidimensional.
  • Compliance and behaviour may or may not facilitate learning, but they are two different things.
  • Fear is a poor dimension of communities of learners.
  • Perfectionism is often an outcome of our conventional grading practices and is harmful.”


How College Has Changed - and Should, Harvard Graduate School of Education, May 4, 2022. (37 min)

A conversation with Howard Gardner and Wendy Fischman about their comprehensive study of the undergraduate college experience at liberal arts institutions across the United States. As reported in their book The Real World of College, the student experience today can be filled with surprising levels of alienation and a too-narrow focus on grades and piecemeal deliverables — fostering a sense that many colleges and universities have lost sight of their principal reasons for being. Today, as this sector of higher education re-sets after major pandemic disruptions, we step back to ask: how can these institutions be successful in the 21st century? 


Knowledge And Ability, Not Just Time In A Classroom, Should Determine Education Credentials, Today’s Students Tomorrow’s Talent podcast, April 6, 2020. (67 min)

Education in the United States uses time as a measurement for learning. My guests talk about changing this paradigm to value knowledge, skills, and abilities over how long it takes to learn. Dr. Charla Long of the Competency-Based Education Network, Natalie Schwartz of Education Dive, and Dr. Zainab Okolo of Lumina Foundation discuss the current state of competency-based education.

Quote: “At the root of this is the relationship between time and learning… what we should be prioritizing is learning over how much time you have.”


The Real World of College: What Higher Education Is and What it Can Be by Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner, 2022. (384 pp.)

Quote: “[I]t seems that at many institutions, the students— who come to college with transactional motivations— and the faculty— who come to the work with a transformational stance— are (perhaps unwittingly) working at cross-purposes. What’s the impact of such a misalignment? Do students feel lost or alienated, as a result? Might they be so disappointed that they give up, especially when considering the “value proposition” of the college experience? Or could the misalignment sometimes serve to motivate students to persist, faculty to rework their approaches, leaders to rethink how they conceive of their institution and how they communicate their vision or their mission to others?” (p. 100)


  1. How do you see the role of the instructor changing in a competency-based education model where the focus shifts from delivering content to guiding and facilitating student mastery of specific skills, knowledge, and outcomes?
  2. How accurate do you believe Levine and Van Pelt’s predictions to be? What evidence or trends are you seeing that support or undermine their assertions?
  3. What changes to higher education - radical or otherwise - are you positively anticipating? What potential changes give you a feeling of unease or fear and why?
  4. What skills, resources, information, or support would help you prepare for and respond to the radical transformations that Levine and Van Pelt outline?
  5. Based on what you have read, discussed, and contemplated, what kind of impact can individual faculty members have on the future of higher education?
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