Category Archives: Innovation

Community Learning Coaches

A PROPOSAL TO HELP EDUCATION IN RURAL POPULATION AREAS BY SOLVING THE ADJUNCT FACULTY CRISIS

Several of the Democratic Presidential candidates are advocating some variation of free college. Either paying for the first year of college or tuition-free attendance at the local community college, the idea is to make college affordable for low-income families. Sounds like an effective solution to helping rural populations gain the skills to compete in the coming Fourth Industrial Age economy.

Free college is not the best answer. Opposing free college may sound strange from someone with a Ph.D., three master’s degrees, and who has taught college courses for nearly twenty years. But, it is my experiences as both a college student and professor that led me to think of another solution.

Several buildings in a rural field.

The Problems with the Free College Solution:

1. A traditional college education will take too much time – A fulltime student will need at least two years to obtain an associate degree and four years for a bachelor’s degree. There are part-time options, but that will only extend the length of time needed for the degree. Students – especially adult students – will need to sacrifice years of prime earning opportunities until they are skilled for the workplace.

2. Students must leave their communities to attend college – Community colleges are probably more available to low-income students than state universities and colleges. For many rural areas, there are “education deserts” in which students will need to commute to their classes.

There are online options, but this depends on the availability of broadband. In many rural areas, the broadband Internet may not be available. The lack of broadband Internet also exacerbates the education deserts problem.

3. Universities are not designed to train people for workplace skills they need now – Community colleges and trade schools are the best equipped to teach students technical skills. Universities and colleges specialize in liberal arts education. A liberal arts education is valuable for teaching critical thinking skills and preparing students for leading people and organizations. However, a liberal arts education takes longer to acquire than most technical skills.

Your typical college professor is rewarded by his or her research productivity. Tenured professors are rewarded for the number of research articles published, and research grants acquired. Teaching is not as valued and even discouraged if teaching interferes with the professor’s research output.

The adjunct faculty perform most of the undergraduate teaching for colleges and universities. The number of adjunct faculty hired over the last fifteen years has risen dramatically. Seventy-five percent of college professors are non-tenured. A recent article in The Atlantic describes the shocking reality of adjunct teaching.

“To be a perennial adjunct professor is to hear the constant tone of higher education’s death knell. The story is well known—the long hours, the heavy workload, the insufficient pay—as academia relies on adjunct professors, non-tenured faculty members, who are often paid pennies on the dollar to do the same work required of their tenured colleagues.”

It was after reading this article and reflecting on my own experiences as an adjunct faculty member I came up with the following proposal. I am still working out the details, so what follows are broad sketches of my idea.

The Community Learning Coaches (CLC) Proposal

1. Determine which rural communities need help in reskilling the population for new jobs. The new skills can be how to run an additive manufacturing business, a vertical farm, a renewable energy plant, or similar Industry 4.0 job.

2. Create a training center with state-of-the-art classrooms, satellite Internet broadband, and an Internet café. These centers will be in targeted rural communities for easy access by the population.

3. From among the adjunct faculty population, hire “community learning coaches” to live in the towns and run the training centers. The CLCs will determine the educational needs of the local people, create courses, deliver training, and coach students into self-learning experiences. The CLCs will be given room and board along with a decent wage as they work to help the local population increase their opportunities in the new economy.

4. The CLCs will be trained in the latest training techniques to help the local students rapidly improve their knowledge, skills, and abilities. The CLCs will be supported by a national network of educational experts linked through online communities.

My proposal solves several problems at once — first, CLCs help to prepare rural communities to thrive in the new Industry 4.0 economy. Second, CLCs help to alleviate the issues that adjuncts face in the current university teaching situations. Third, universities and colleges can continue to concentrate on their primary mission of research. Diverting the money that would have paid expensive college tuitions to build community training centers staffed by CLCs seems to be a better use of federal tax funds.

Goaling Too Far – When Following a Goal Destroys Innovation

In my latest column for PA Times Online, I wrote about why innovation in the public sector is challenging. Public sector innovation (and innovation in general) is an emergent process in that new ideas build on previous innovations. However, as research has found, there is not a direct path to change. The indirect and surprising ways invention occurs was the basis for James Burke’s Connections series. I highly recommend watching the episodes available on YouTube.

The typical way that innovation occurs is that a vision of the new product, service, or method is created. Then, a program is launched to achieve an innovative goal. It’s a proven formula that works. Think of the major U.S. government projects like creating the atomic bomb, building the interstate highway system, and landing people on the Moon. There is a mix of moving directly toward the goal while taking advantage of unexpected side routes.

So, how to harness the power of emergence with its sudden leaps in the service of steady progress toward a goal?

One way is to recognize the symptoms of destructive goal pursuit. Dr. Kayes examined Mt. Everest expedition disasters to explore the destruction caused by a single-minded pursuit of goals. He called the intense focus on an objective, goalodicy. There are four limitations to the goal-setting process:

  • Goals are difficult to abandon.
  • Goals limit learning.
  • Goals increase risk-taking.
  • Pursuing goals may lead to unethical behavior (p. 50).

The warning signs of goalodicy are the acceptance of a narrowly-defined goal, high public visibility, pressure for face-saving behavior, an idealized future with few or no problems, pursuing the goal is the goal itself, and that achieving the goal is destiny (p. 76). The best way to overcome goalodicy is for leadership to encourage learning and questioning. Leadership also needs to encourage taking advantage of the unexpected to find new ways to achieve the goal or even modify the goal.

Stanley and Lehman (authors of Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned) wrote that “[b]eing open and flexible to opportunity is sometimes more important than knowing what you’re trying to do.” The goal is essential but allow for feedback and recalibrating the goal when necessary.

It is easy to fall into the goalodicy trap because people, teams, and organizations fear uncertainty. As Patrick Hollingworth wrote: “Kayes suggests that uncertainty prompts us to idealise the future, insisting that we tell ourselves that everything will be OK, just as long as we can reach this projection of the future (italics in original).” In my next posting, I will explore how to manage the effects of uncertainty on innovation.