You Don’t Need a Weatherman…. By Dr. Peter Smith

Early in the last decade, Roger Benjamin and his associates at the Council for the Aid of Education (CAE) developed the Collegiate LearningAssessment(CLA) which, along with the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and other instruments subsequently developed, has dramatically re-drawn the assessment landscape from a predominant focus on multiple choice and high-stakes approaches. Among other characteristics, the CLA’s attractiveness stems from reliability, affordability, and comparability; all from an independent and validated third party source. Perhaps most interesting, to me at least, is the assessment’s scope. It gets directly at the value-added in cross-cutting intellectual areas that heretofore have gone unmeasured, like critical thinking.

To be candid, we live in an educational world where our understanding of quality is dominated by the status model and the reputation of America’s top historic universities. But the rest of us, the other 95% where most of the work is done and the societal challenge for equity through education is joined, need this type of measure to validate our qualitative contributions. As we move towards learning outcomes in higher education, having good, independent measures will encourage us – traditional and innovative institutions alike – to focus on quality that can be demonstrated so that our learners and our policy-makers can be confident in the investment they are making.

Now, along comes another tool of disruptive innovation, the Individual, Student-based CLA. Benjamin and his team are at it again. Imagine a learner being able to assemble their personal learning plan (with or without expert assistance), engage with open education resources (or any other resource for that matter), and then assess their learning growth once or twice each year with the individual, student-based CLA. Now, as a learner I have in my portfolio not only the courses and experiences that I have engaged in and the products that I have produced as evidence of ability to apply what I know, but also an independent, valid, and reliable assessment stream that charts my growth, or value-added in the cross-cutting intellectual areas measured.

In my estimation, this development, the Individual, Student-based CLA, is the tip of an iceberg that brings valid and rigorous assessment away from the major corporations and universities and puts it in the learner’s tool box. The implications for scale with consistency and quality where it matters most – learning outcomes – are enormous. And the consequences for those of us who want to be part of the value-add that is higher education throughout life, include a required re-thinking of what we add to the proposition.

The last three blogs, under the title “You Don’t Need aWeatherman…” have attempted to suggest that the web and web-enabled technologies as well as related developments, have and will continue to disrupt the traditional model of higher education in every manner possible. They signify the “game-changing” capacity that is now available to virtually everyone. And while I cannot predict the rate of change or the pace of acceptance, I am certain that the future, while inclusive of college degrees and certificates, also includes multiple learning modalities and an understanding that any recognition of learning is but one marker on the long term pathway and management of a lifelong learning plan.

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