I just read the first chapter of Disrupting Class. Clay Christensen (2008) is laying out the central premise of his book, which is that each person learns differently. He then presents the tension between interdependence and modularity in product/service parts. Because schools are temporally, laterally, physically and hierarchically interdependent, customization is expensive and complicated, so we standardize. That means that the way we teach (standardized) and the way we learn (customized) don’t match, and we won’t be able to teach the way we learn until we change the system.
This is interesting—it makes me think of the Bologna process, the Tuning report, the WASC reaccreditation requirements, the goal of writing SLOs and assessment plans for all the majors. If Christensen is right, this massive shift toward standardization is doomed to failure, frustration and inefficiency because it doesn’t match the way we learn, and universities are fundamentally about learning—students learning in classes, faculty learning through their research. The attempt to have faculty direct might be seen as a way to stay customized and modular, but maybe it is more of an attempt to foster faculty buy-in. Because even the Bologna process is meant to set up a way to more easily compare European universities, standardize the learning, streamline the transfer process. Can these two be reconciled? I don’t know yet.
It also makes me think about how this fits with the CETL philosophy of teaching and learning. The fact that we give individual peer consultations to both faculty and TAs, based on what we learn from observing them in action or interviewing their students—in specific classrooms, quarters, etc.—means that we prioritize customization of both teaching and learning. It suddenly seems like a strange tension to house the consultations about teaching and about SLO/assessment plans in the same center. I’ll have to think carefully about this—and read further to see if and how Christensen resolves the tension. He must have some solution, because we simply can’t escape the facts of system size, tradition, and vast numbers of stakeholders in today’s educational system.