If you haven’t seen this yet, then you should watch it.
I simply loved watching John Oliver comment on the current state of testing and the business of testing in the United States. Side-note: one of my favorite experiences of my Masters degree had nothing to do with school. John Oliver did a stand-up set at my university in 2006 and I had the opportunity to ask him in a Q&A session afterwards what he thought of American news. His answer: “I’m so sorry”.
Anyway, his above commentary on companies taking a larger role in our students lives is a scary thing indeed. But this also affects the roles of teachers, elearning professionals and other staff in higher ed and K12. What I’ve noticed at my institution is something quite sad, and I hope it unique in the trends of how colleges are run.
At present, we have a very high turnover rate, both in teaching and professional staff. I myself, am moving on to work on my doctorate, so I got to thinking, ‘Why is everyone leaving?’. For me it was simple. Our college spends an incredible amount on the services and products offered by external companies, and this is our default setting. Whenever there is a problem to solve, our administrators usually don’t look internally, and this manifests as reduced spending on professional development for staff and teachers, which down the line hurts students.
What’s even more exemplary of this trend is the following example:
I requested funds to provide stipends for faculty members to explore OER, with the expressed goal of reducing costs for students. This request was denied, while the words Pearson, Hobson’s and Noel Levitz are heard at least once or twice a week. Our money is not going where it should — to students, but instead goes to services and products that help us run our colleges more like a business, and that is where we seem to be headed.
It’s really no wonder that my institution sees such turnover. The expertise that many of these people were hired for is now being outsourced even though these people still work here. This even includes teaching in the form of canned online courses, and the sad part of it is, I don’t think administrators are fully aware that this is happening. They are sold products as a way to streamline efforts in student services and instruction, when many times the product they buy is overkill for what the school needs.
So how do we stop this trend?
The solution is the same in administration as it is in eLearning and instruction. Instead taking the myopic stance of “this product says it can do the thing I need it to do”, take a step back and share the problem you need to solve within your institution before going outside of it for a solution. Whether this is a policy, or a charge put forth by your President, it doesn’t matter, but it should be a deliberate effort. Chances are there is a staff member, a department or even a group of students that could solve the problem for a lower cost, even if you pay them a stipend for their work. And if the only solution is to use an external vendor, then at least you know that wasn’t the first place you looked; At least you know that you recognized the talent and potential around you and made that a priority.