Phi Beta Cons

The Future of Higher Ed, or of Credentialing?

A wide variance in student ability and motivation leads many professors to “teach to the middle.”  Doing so seems great on paper, but in practice, it shortchanges the top and makes unreasonable demands of the bottom. A better alternative is working one-on-one with students, but that is not always realistic because of class sizes and research demands.

Western Governors University’s mentoring model tackles this problem head-on, reports Mark Bauerlein on Minding the Campus:

The student first undergoes a pre-assessment, a test that measures the student’s preparation for the material the course covers from beginning to end. Every student scores differently, of course, but that’s the point. After the results are tabulated, each student meets with a “personal mentor” who has been assigned to the new student to discuss his or her performance and develop a plan for learning the things the student needs to learn in order to complete the course successfully. Each course has a set of “learning resources” that includes books and other reading materials, instructional videos, online simulations, and a WGU “course mentor,” an individual knowledgeable in the field of the course and ready to answer questions through online contact.

A step in the right direction? Yes. A perfect solution? Not quite. Bauerlein notes that the WGU pedagogy can allow for all courses to transform into the lecture/recitation model. But, as he also states, “The system functions best when a field has a more or less stable body of knowledge.” 

The WGU model may be best for credentializing content knowledge.

Reading through WGU “program guides” does nothing to ease my credentialing concern. For example, the required readings for the MBA program are largely theory and terminology-based textbooks that do not lend themselves to deep reading. Any “mentor” can master Mickey Mouse texts; fewer are experts in the great books of each discipline — hence the lack of primary source materials in the program guides.

Yet, more power to the people behind WGU for aiming to fill a market need. Let’s just not call this model the future of higher education. It looks more like the future of employment testing.

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