Monday, January 30, 2012

Academic Records and the Changing Education Model

I think, increasingly, what we will be buying from individual college and universities, is the credential, not the full learning experience that we associate with traditional college.  How we store records supporting the credential, and put those records together to indicate evidence of learning, may change in the not too distant future.

Imagine a space where you, as an individual, take some courses from MIT or Stanford, online, open and free.  You build your knowledge for knowledge sake.  There are two reasons we pursue knowledge:

  • personal growth
  • obtaining meaningful work that pays a salary that meets our lifestyle expectations

The open course-ware model works perfectly for personal growth.  But how does an employer know that you've assembled a body of knowledge that leads to you being a talented individual that is knowledgeable, capable, and hire-able?  Right now, degrees provide that university tattoo of knowledge.

Today, each university owns the academic records that make up that tattoo.  The student has to meet the requirements of that university to obtain the tattoo.

What if the world was different:
Each student owned their academic records, rather than the educational institution owning the records.
Students might hire a company that is an "academic records repository" or "academic records bank".
Some records in the repository are graded; some are not.
Some records may be combined to present a "Badge" of learning.  A Google search on the two words "learning" and "badge" show this growing concept.
Some records, graded and accredited, may be assembled into a traditional degree.
The student assembles a personal tattoo that is not defined by a university, but by the student.

What is the role of the university in this environment?  The university may offer some courses for credit and some as open (like Stanford is doing now).  The student may obtain the knowledge in either path.  One path, the credit path, achieves a higher standard of knowledge certification (i.e., grades).  So what the university is really providing is knowledge certification, not just a diploma that represents completion. 

What if I, as a student, can build knowledge from several sources, some certified, others open, and record that with the third-party academic records bank that is independent of any particular university?  The records bank doesn't certify, but provides the transcript of all the work, instead of the university transcript.  The university credit transcript would feed into the academic records bank, as well as open course work, technical certifications and whatever.  The employer would request knowledge verification from the academic records bank, not any one university.

The "Big Blue Button" idea of medical records could apply to student records.  But if institutions could send directly to the academic records bank, what would be the point of the "Big Blue Button"?  Perhaps to make a record withdraw to send to a potential employer.

We are now sending all academic records to the State of Michigan for storage in a state-wide database.  Perhaps certifications and other learning mechanisms could feed into that database.  So perhaps, down the road, the state will provide the academic records bank.

What does this do to the academic records we store on campus?  Is there any reason to keep years and years of campus history if we can store the records in a single centralized bank?

There is potential for a shift in where and how we store student academic history.