Higher education is facing multiple crises, grappling with issues like enrollment cliffs and the overwhelming advancement of technology. The decline in the number of students enrolling in colleges and universities could be attributed to various factors, such as demographic shifts, changes in birth rates, shifting attitudes toward academic pursuits beyond high school, and even external events like pandemics or economic crises.
On September 27, 2023, Dave led a webinar for IFEES entitled Six Continents of Change: Reflections of a Peripatetic Change Facilitator. You can watch the full webinar below.
Ten years after my initial appointment as an assistant professor in engineering mechanics (Alabama), I wrote a whitepaper questioning the research uber alles culture of my then university (UIUC) and other R1s (Goldberg, 1994). That whitepaper turned into an ASEE Journal of Engineering Education paper (and award winner), thereby launching a 30-year interest in the loci, processes, and products of change in engineering education. The establishment of the iFoundry change initiative (Illinois) and the formation of the Olin-Illinois Partnership in 2007 and 2008 (Goldberg & Somerville, 2014), respectively, saw that interest rise to the level of a major research thrust, whereupon I resigned my tenure and distinguished professorship (2010) to go out into the world and try to make practical change in schools around the world. 13 years and six continents later, I sat down and captured what I had learned about higher educational change-making practice in the new book, A Field Manual for A Whole New Education: Rebooting Higher Education for Human Connection and Insight in a Digital World (Goldberg, 2023).
This webinar takes a continent-by-continent tour of some of the biggest lessons of this journey by (1) articulating one key lesson per continent, (2) recounting a key story associated with the lesson, and (3) discussing a tool, mindset shift, or process improvement that can help realize practical change back home. The webinar concludes by challenging participants to reflect on which lessons are most relevant to their experiences and school.
Universities, created as an assembly of experts in 1088, are as outdated as buggy whips. The cost and rewards of a college education are increasingly under attack. To sustain great universities requires cultural transformation consisting of 5 Steps:
This three-day workshop develops participant skills and strategies for creating change that “sticks.” In particular, we dive into a set of personal and organizational skills that will help participants develop both personally and professionally as effective change agents:
- Developing coaching & negotiation skills, including noticing, listening, and questioning and 3 critical negotiation distinctions
- Design and use of language in change processes, including sticky language, 5 speech acts, and the art and science of narrative analysis and design
- Understanding and applying integrated change & culture change models, including those of Kotter and the Heath brothers. The course also introduces and demonstrates application of the Big Beacon Change Model (BBCM) for effective engineering education transformation.
- Leading from any chair, leading change both with and without title, authority, and responsibility.
- Designing and implementing innovation structures within existing institutions, including incubators, respectful structured spaces, and change artifacts.
- Using collaborative design process and facilitation as a change mechanism.
- Understanding effectuation versus normal (causal) modes of planning for effective action when uncertainties are high.
- Building and using culture and community to sustain change.
Through provocative readings, transformative experiential activities, and lively discussions we develop crucial frameworks for thinking about change, increase participants’ hands-on skills thereby enabling participants to return home as qualified change agents, and increase participants capability to be reflective and supportive in their teaching practice and their change leadership efforts.
- Speed 1: The NO Track
- Speed 2: The SLOW Track
- Speed 3: The GO Track
The NO track is, arguably, the most important track of educational transformation, but it is also the most difficult, and the one where most misspent effort is directed. Tenure and other institutional artifacts make contrary faculty members better boo-birds than team members, yet many change efforts spend a lot of time trying to change the minds of those dead set against the effort. Change leaders will array “evidence-based” methods, persuasion, shame, and then coercion against those on the NO track, to little or no avail. All this is natural enough given shared governance and the widely shared notion that all faculty must “buy in” to all innovations. In this way, academic decision procedures are a NIMBY problem (“transformation is great; just don’t change my course.”), and logrolling (“you vote against innovation in your course, and I’ll vote against it in yours”) results in nothing much changing. Making this work: The best approach to NO-track faculty is to simply go around them (with their blessing and ultimate approval), and have them witness genuine student engagement as frequently as possible. We think of NO-track faculty as hard headed and hearted, but my experience is that when they witness genuine student engagement, they soften and change their hearts, then their minds.
The people on the SLOW track are those who want to make transformative change and “buy in” to the conventional wisdom of change (e.g., active learning, PBL, experiential learning, flipped classrooms, etc.). These people are “expert” in change, , and the are likely to resist calls for more extreme measures–to emotion and culture change or to trust and courage leading to deep unleashing experiences (see Chapter 5 of A Whole New Engineer), for example–as much as the NO track resists the idea of any change. This resistance to the ultimate aims of transformation must be skillfully managed. Making this work: Those with an appetite for conventional change are important because they are ready to act, and once they establish micro-cultures of change, these pockets of reform become a locus for both future go-track membership and capture of the old culture with new sets of artifacts, beliefs, and assumptions.
The GO track is for those working who are ready and able to move as quickly as possible to the boundaries of what is possible in educational transformation, but ironically transformation is made more difficult because the process itself misleads practitioners into believing it is easy. The 4 steps to the slow or no track for go-trackers is a s follows:
- Confidence. A content-matter expert is successful in a narrow academic discipline.
- Underestimation. The expert judges educational change to be easier than mastering his/her discipline.
- Shallow reflection & study. The expert grabs at-hand examples–usually conventional and incremental examples–and starts to execution without deep reflection or study of best practices by others.
- Poor execution. To make matters worse, the expert executes individually, poorly, using methods aligned with ordinary class routine.
The result is a fairly shallow, poorly diffused, and unsustainable change effort. Thus, a key difficulty in transformative change is unleashing go-trackers and preventing overconfident NO- or SLOW-trackers from hijacking the ultimate aims of the transformation effort. Making this work: Several things help get the GO track moving at top speed. First, carefully assess the individuals and organizational units involved in transformative change to understand both their aspirations and readiness for transformation Ontological assessment helps do this by listening to units and individuals in units along key dimensions of change (What is education? What is change?). Then, put align individuals with there ability to move ahead, NO, SLOW, or GO. Finally, train GO and advanced SLOW trackers in the methods of personal and organizational change (using a ThreeJoy training (here) courses along the lines of Facilitating Change that Sticks here) and then unleash them to work with willing students in a number of little bets with the goal of obtaining a sequence of small wins.
Thinking and acting in this way will accelerate the conversion of NO to SLOW to GO tracks and boost both the speed of transformation and the chances of its continuing and sustainable success.
David E. Goldberg is president of ThreeJoy, the founder of the non-profit Big Beacon, and also a noted computer scientist, entrepreneur, civil engineer and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He resigned his tenured professorship in 2010 to work full time for the transformation of engineering education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Goldberg published A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education earlier this year (with co-author Mark Somerville and writer Catherine Whitney). The book is available from ThreeJoy Associates and in hardcover and all major e-book formats.
Coming home on a long flight I was reading Kegan and Lahey’s book How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation. In working as a coach, the power of language, story, and reframing is hard to overestimate. As clients work to change, the role of talking differently about themselves and others is often a key element to making the changes they say they want to achieve.
What We Want & What We’ll Do to Keep from Getting It
What clients “say they want to achieve” is one thing. What they will do to keep from getting it is critical here and is is driven home in the book in the introduction. There, the authors quote Harvard colleague William Perry as follows:
“Whenever someone comes to me for help, I listen very hard and ask myself, `What does this person really want-and what will they do to keep from getting it? ‘ ”
In change, the major obstacles to change are often internal, not external, and the client’s own actions against his or her own stated interests are often obstacle one.
7 Languages for Transformation
The book discusses 7 shifts in language as follows:
- From the Language of Complaint to the Language of Commitment
- From the Language of Blame to the Language of Personal Responsibility
- From the Language of New Year’s Resolutions to the Language of Competing Commitments: Diagnosing the Immunity to Change
- From the Language of Big Assumptions That Hold Us to the Language of Assumptions We Hold: Disturbing the Immunity to Change
- From the Language of Prizes and Praising to the Language of Ongoing Regard
- From the Language of Rules and Policies to the Language of Public Agreement
- From the Language of Constructive Criticism to the Language of Deconstructive Criticism
The choice of complaints to commitments as the first shift is an interesting one. It can be an important first step away from playing “ain’t it awful” with oneself, one’s colleagues and co-workers and toward making clear requests, commitments, and agreements toward actions that matter.
Educational transformation is a difficult undertaking. Reading this book and applying it’s lessons can be an important step toward utilizing language in productive ways to bring about transformation.
There are many challenges in navigating the transformation of education in the 21st century. Key among these is the movement from an educational culture of expertise in which disciplinary lecturers impart their knowledge to obedient students who listen, to a more collaborative community of learners in which broadly aware and educated coaches trust and unleash self-motivated learners in service to the learners’ educations and lives. This would be challenging enough, but in making such major shifts in educational culture, the organizational cultural challenges of university life are themselves remarkably daunting.
The Gods of Management
One of my favorite organizational books is Charles Handy’s 1978 text Gods of Management
(nice summary here). In it he talks about the importance of culture in understanding organizations, and to make his point, he calls out four cultures:
- Club or Zeus
- Project (Problem solving) or Athena
- Bureaucratic or Apollo
- Existential (Star) or Dionysus
In a club culture, a single figure, the Zeus, often the founder, has great knowledge and knowhow about how to get things done. VC firms and private equity firms are often organized around Zeus. Members of the organization have one question to answer in making decisions about their own contact: “What would Zeus do?” Zeus cultures are effective in fast-moving environments where good-enough decisions must be made quickly and well.
The culture of Athena is a project or problem-solving culture. Teams of experts work together to find and solve problems. Engineering firms and other consultancies worship at the altar of Athena. They are fairly costly, but they are effective at tackling a discreet challenge.
The culture of Apollo is a culture that excels at doing routine tasks. A culture of rules and procedures, it can seem impersonal at times, but it will help yesterday happen today and tomorrow and the next day fairly reliably.
The culture of Dionysus is the star or existential culture. In Hollywood and hospitals, for example, movie stars and doctors are treated as the central and valuable figure they are. They aren’t particularly coherent cultures, and they tend to spend a fair amount of effort assuaging the egos of the stars; they do, however, effectively utilize the stars in the special roles they play.
What Gods Universities?
When we look at this typology, and think about universities, it’s a fairly interesting exercise to reflect about the Handian culture of universities. Apollo comes to mind immediately. Anyone who has worked 15 minutes in a university is struck by the rules and regulations, governance, & concern with process to the point, sometimes, that it is hard to understand how much education or research gets done.
But another few minutes of reflection and we realize that the culture is far from pure. Universities, are concerned with hiring and assuaging star research professors, and our minds drift to Dionysus and the star culture.
This is an interesting hybrid (hospitals are also this hybrid), and many of leadership breakdowns of universities can be understood as the culture clash between Dionysus and Apollo.
Stars vs. Rules -> Status Amplification
There are many ways in which this culture class can express itself, but here let’s focus on just one. The rule following part of the culture is relatively insensitive to status, and goes about its business, enforcing its rules and procedures, but the dynamic thereafter is interesting. Stars perturbed by some impersonal enforcement of the rules believe they are exceptional and demand special treatment, usually from the department head. And herein is the interesting part.
A main function of a department head is to determine which of these demands should be accommodated and which can safely be ignored. Nowhere does it say in department head training that this is the case, but much of the limited discretion a department head has is in this domain (and in hiring the stars). The functional result is that certain faculty members receive special treatment outside what the bureaucracy routinely offers. The end result is a heightened status hierarchy with a greater sense of privilege and entitlement for those chosen to receive the special treatment, and a greater sense of resentment among those who do not. And given that the backdrop for those who don’t receive special treatment is impersonal treatment by a callous bureaucracy, the contrast can be stark.
Implications for Administrators & Change
Simply having a model of the culture class may be helpful to effective administration of the institution. In what ways can the bureaucracy be better trained to understand the importance of all the stars? In what ways can rules be modified to promote smoother operation and respect for the stars? In what ways can the bureaucracy undergo continual improvement to be more efficient and effective in support of the larger culture? In what ways can the worst effects of the status gradient be ameliorated.
Moreover, the post started by talking about change, and in trying to mount an educational initiative, a third god pops into the picture: Athena. All initiatives are projects and to move from Apollo+Dionysus to Athena requires special care. This issue will be taken up in a subsequent post.
The old saying says there is no “I” in “teamwork.” What do you do when there is no “we” in faculty?
Since leaving the University of Illinois in December 2010, I’ve worked at a number of universities around the world to help bring transformative change to engineering education. Transformative change and routine business as usual are very different things. In the usual routine setting of the university, great individual performance by faculty members is expected and often delivered. Faculty run their courses, their labs, hire and fire their graduate students and the system proceeds. Occasionally faculty members are required to get together and “collaborate” on committees, but even there, most university committees are less teams and more like working groups, where individuals can assemble their work product relatively independently. The situation is so common as to not require comment; however, if you are trying to bring about change in the university, the lack of teamwork chops among faculty can be a showstopper.
In change initiatives, something new is being created and oftentimes there are joint curricular and cultural decisions to make together. In general, there is more need for common purpose, cooperation, and collaboration than in the usual routine setting, but given the lack of experience in working together faculty members are ill-equipped to interact effectively enough to get the job done.
So what can be done? Here we consider 4 possibilities:
Notice & acknowledge the cultural shift. Moving from a routine, individualistic culture to a startup, team-oriented culture can be deeply disorienting and a difficult adjustment. To notice and acknowledge the difference is the first step to doing anything about it. Reflecting on Schein’s model of culture (here) is helpful to understanding the obstacles to shifting gears.
Use individual performance when possible Getting individual performers to become great team performers overnight is difficult, especially in an individualistic culture. To the extent possible, if the task can be broken into small pieces, do so. You’ll play to the strengths of your actors.
Go with pairwork or very small teams to start. Going cold turkey to large teams is often too hard. Instead move to the smallest unit of collaboration, the pair. I’ve coined the term pairwork and written (here) about the value of using pairs and small teams in educational and interdisciplinary initiatives. Once people get their teamwork legs under them, you can move to larger teams.
Provide principled teamwork training. Faculty can be rough on fluffy trainers, so give them some red meat by talking about speech acts (requests & commitments) and some simple team ground rules to help provide some structure. Using facilitated team meetings or team coaching is another way to go, if the resources, both financial and human, are available.
Moving from “I” to “we” in a university setting isn’t easy, but there are times when it is necessary, and some of the suggestions here should be helpful to making the experience more productive.
Since World War 2, we have lived in a world of experts and expertise, and for an expert, not knowing gets a bad rap. Actually, its worse than that. For an expert, the very idea of not knowing challenges one’s self-image, one’s entire story of oneself. After all experts are people who have learned and now know a lot about some particular subject, and experts are judged as good or bad depending on the extent of that knowledge and their ability to apply it.
There are three parts to this. The first, is the idea of knowing everything (or quite a lot) about something. The second, is how one comes to know, and the third, is the idea of judging and being judged. Let’s examine each and also consider two practices that can serve us come to grips with these matters.
Expertise Mission Creep
Built into the idea of being an expert is the idea that one knows a lot about one’s domain of expertise. This seems natural enough, and much of professional training is devoted to mastering what are generally considered to be the core competencies of the field, the so-called basics. Of course, any discipline worth its salt requires development beyond entry level skill, and herein lies the rub.
The notion of being an expert wouldn’t be so troubling if we could contain or bound the notion of sufficient knowing. That is, if we could limit our appetites for knowing a reasonable amount at a reasonable stage in our development then we would be OK with what we know and our rate of increase in knowledge, both. But human beings being human beings, our conception of our own expertise often suffers from a kind of mission creep; we hold ourselves accountable for more and more until, for some, the idea not knowing anything becomes, itself, unacceptable.
This unacceptability of what we don’t know can creep either within discipline (we don’t know enough in our domain of expertise) or to include areas of knowledge outside the boundaries of our expertise (what we now need to know goes beyond our declared expertise and we don’t know enough of that stuff, either).
Four Stages of Learning or Competence
Four stages of competence or skill learning were described by Gordon Training International in the 70s by Noel Burch (here) and these are listed below
- unconscious incompetence
- conscious incompetence
- conscious competence
- unconscious competence.
These are often plotted on a 2×2 graphic like the one shown (original link here).
When one is unconsciously incompetent, one doesn’t know–one isn’t even aware–that one doesn’t have the particular skill. When one becomes consciously incompetent, one notices that the skill is lacking and useful. As skill is built, one is conscious of the growing capability, and at some point, the skill is mastered to the point that one doesn’t notice the skill any longer.
2 Modes to Blocking Stage 2: Denial & Self-Judging
The key step in this process is stage 2, conscious incompetence. Becoming and acknowledging the possibilities in new knowledge or practice are the starting gate of learning. Anything that blocks awareness of the dividing line between knowing and not knowing can be an obstacle to learning, and herein lies one difficulty with expertise mission creep.
As our expectations of what we should know grow, one way our mind deals with mission creep is to simply deny that we don’t know. People ask us questions, we make up answers–theories based on what we already do know–and life goes on. In this way we remain in stage 1, unconsciously competent, relatively blissful about our ignorance, but also not at the starting gate of learning.
A second way we deal with the enlargement of our expectations is to judge ourselves, sometimes harshly, about the things we don’t know (c.f., the choice map, here). Unfortunately, when we are judging, we are not open–we are not learning–and although we are in the stage of conscious incompetence, being in harsh judgment of our incompetence again holds us away from the starting gate of new knowledge.
2 Practices for Peace & Learning
So what’s an expert to do? The very notion of “expert” seems to demand an insatiable appetite for knowing more and more, and yet this logic seems to leave us (a) unpeaceful or (b) unready to learn. Fortunately, there are two simple practices that can help:
- Practice “I don’t know.” The first practice is simple, yet elegant, and it was suggested to me by Coach Bev Jones (here). When you are asked a question to which you don’t know the answer, simply say, “I don’t know.” That’s it. By doing this, you immediately become aware that you are in stage 2, and you sidestep the difficulty of denial with the very speech act of saying, “I don’t know.” If said with a peaceful sense of detachment and calm, “I don’t know” makes it OK that you don’t know and leaves you in a place where expertise mission creep does not take place unless you consciously choose to increase the boundaries. Tip for improving: To help enforce the practice at first, give yourself a daily quota of 3 or 5 or 10 times of saying “I don’t know” during the day. At first, this may be hard to do, but as you practice, it will be easier and easier to come to grips with not knowing.
- Practice “I am curious.” Of course, saying “I don’t know” and leaving it at that is not appropriate in all circumstances. There are times when we don’t know something and we choose to learn it. The key word is “choose.” When faced with something we consciously don’t know, we can choose to learn it or not, and the trick when we would like to know something is to keep ourselves out of self-judgment and to get ourselves to take action to learn the thing we don’t know. A practice that can help in these circumstances is to say, “I am curious.” That’s it. Saying “I am curious” is powerful because it creates the intention of learning the thing, yet it does so without invoking the judgment, “I should have known” or “I am stupid for not having known.” Tip for improving: To help enforce the habit of saying “I am curious,” self-observe the frequency with which you say the phrase day by day for two weeks. A large number is not “good” and a small number is not “bad.” The idea is not to give yourself a grade or to judge yourself; it is simply to help you become more aware of how often you are consciously curious.
Practicing these two practices together can be a powerful way to tame expertise mission creep and keep on learning.
The Beauty of Not Knowing
We live in an age that values expertise, yet expertise often brings with it certain side effects around not knowing and learning. This post has discussed certain aspects of the logic of the story of expertise and considered two practices that can help short circuit some of the deleterious consequences of that logic. The practices are straightforward and they can help bring more peace and learning to life. They also can be a gateway to increased vulnerability and wholeheartedness (here) in ways that can also be beneficial. The practices are easy to try, and not difficult to sustain. Why not give them a whirl and see what they can do for you?
This blog post has been featured on the Huffington Post here.
After finishing up a post over at Big Beacon on Educating Wholehearted Engineers & Educators (here), I was reflecting about the notion of vulnerability and the ways in which we are vulnerable both publicly and privately. To summarize, the blogpost was a riff on Brene Brown’s Power of Vulnerability video (here) and the ways in which our willingness to be vulnerable–to be open & honest in the face of uncertain response–is a key to educational reform. Here, I’d like to make a distinction between public vulnerability and private or personal vulnerability.
One thing I’ve noticed in my work with faculty and students as well as in my coaching practice is the ways in which public steps of vulnerability appear to be relatively easy to take. A key to such ease is given by Don Migel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements. The second agreement is key in situations like this and it states, “Don’t Take Anything Personally.” This agreement is useful in a number of ways, but the sense that it is helpful in being publicly vulnerable is captured by Ruiz in the following passage:
If you keep this agreement, you can travel around the world with your heart completely open and no one can hurt you. You can say, “I love you,” without fear of being ridiculed or rejected. You can ask for what you need. You can say yes, or you can say no — whatever you choose — without guilt or self-judgment. You can choose to follow your heart always. Then you can be in the middle of hell and still experience inner peace and happiness. You can stay in your state of bliss, and hell will not affect you at all.
Ruiz, Don Miguel (2010-01-18). The Four Agreements (Toltec Wisdom Book) (Kindle Locations 622-625). Amber-Allen Publishing. Kindle Edition.
In this way, we can stand up, make public declarations straight from the heart, and be relatively free from fears of anonymous others and what they might think.
In personal relationships, a shift in language and growing willingness to be vulnerable with others also has an effect. In the forming of new relationships, it seems as though vulnerability attracts those willing to be vulnerable. Clients report that when they are willing to be more open that they attract those who are themselves willing to be vulnerable and this is, to them, a blessing undisguised.
Of course, existing relationships can pose additional complications, however, because a shift in language and vulnerability can be discomfiting to old friends and loved ones. Your willingness to “open up” is no guarantee that those close to you will be able to do so. Moreover, this vulnerability gap can be quite irritating. Your gremlin says “Don’t these people know how hard it is for me to be open like this? Why can’t they just dig it; why can’t they reciprocate and dare to be vulnerable themselves.” Our tendency to reciprocate is a fairly deep biologically based response (here), but this is not the whole or even most of this story.
Attachment and the Personal
Our difficulty with newfound personal vulnerability with existing friends and loved ones stems, I think, from our personal connection with the person, and “not taking anything personally” with someone with whom we have a connection is harder than with someone we don’t know very well. Both are difficult, but our attachment to the friend is the greater. Clearly the choices we face with the friend are the same as those we face with an anonymous public. We can be authentic and vulnerable–risking the vulnerability gab with the person–or we can vulnerability match with the person–be vulnerable unto them as they are able to be unto us.
Personal Integrity & the Relationship
The integrally aligned solution would suggest two thing: (1) being vulnerable yourself to the extent necessary to be authentic in context with the friend and (2) concern for the relationship as you make your way on your vulnerability journey. Let’s look at each one of these.
As one moves from fear of openness to wholeheartedness and vulnerability, authenticity requires alignment between interior and exterior to the extent necessary in the context of the relationship. This is not carte blanche to dump all the crazy new thoughts you are thinking or what we might call gratuitous vulnerability. It suggests an intelligent approach to sharing and being vulnerable to those close to you in a manner they can accept and adjust to. This suggests concern for the other person and the relationship and not assuming the person understands the changes you are going through without communication. It also requires you to communicate your new, increased willingness to be vulnerable in ways the person can understand.
Over time, this new way of being in the world becomes your new normal, and living wholeheartedly with greater joy and less fear the payoff for the risk you took by opening up. In this sense, a willingness to be vulnerable is an investment in the universe, which returns to you and the others around you in surprising and sometimes beautiful ways.
This blog post has been featured on the Huffington Post here.