Framing the Educational Scenario: From Denial to Transformation

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 18–19, 2011

University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras and University of the Sacred Heart
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Buenos días! I am happy to welcome you to Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, and look forward to jointly exploring the implications of the emerging technologies that are impacting education in this new millennium. My objective today is to outline the current educational scenario, discuss what is at stake for all of us as educators as a result of the socio-economic transformations we are experiencing in the world, reflect on available options to address these transformations, and then raise some critical questions to ask as we seek effective pedagogies.

Background Settings and Pedagogies

I’ll start with a quote from a report that Dr. Nyvea Silva, who leads our Educational Policy Institute for Community Development, shared with me last week. It’s a report by Deloitte called Making the Grade, 2011 and with the selected phrase the authors describe the current higher education environment:

“Higher education institutions are in the midst of a perfect storm. Government funding is declining, market conditions have reduced the size of our endowments, private backing is on the wane and costs are going up. Yet, these combined challenges create a unique opportunity for transformation. Educational institutions willing to think laterally can position themselves to outperform into the future.” [p. i]

But the outcome of this storm is essentially up to us. If we design and implement effective changes, and can differentiate what we must preserve from our millennial past and what needs to change from our current practices, higher education will succeed and we will have a major say in its future direction. But, what is the probability that we will take advantage of what the report is stating? I really do not know.

Do you believe that most members of academia accept the proposition that this “perfect storm” environment exists? Do you believe this description is accurate? Do you believe that we need to change the way we approach education? Do you believe that significant changes are already happening and will happen as we move into the future? I guess you do, since you are here at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón on a long holiday weekend in sunny San Juan.

Let me first share images of the seals or logos of some distinguished universities, selected because they reflect specific periods in the evolution of the higher education system of the western world. I have illustrated four phases. The first phase is the birth of European higher education. Place yourselves at the Università di Bologna, Paris-Sorbonne, Oxford or Salamanca. These institutions were established before the European Renaissance. I ponder what their emerging pedagogies were.

The second phase links the Renaissance with the European discovery of the Americas in the 15th century. Europeans found us—for better or worse!—and we are celebrating today in Puerto Rico the 518th anniversary of this encounter. Thus, for this second phase, I have selected two landmark institutions of America, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima, since it was the first higher-education institution in the hemisphere, and then Harvard.

For the third stage in the 20th century I have selected the two oldest Puerto Rican institutions: Sagrado Corazón founded in 1880 as an all-women school that evolved into a collegiate institution and the University of Puerto Rico, established in 1903 as the public higher education system of Puerto Rico.

Finally, I represent higher education in the 21st century with an Abu Dhabi photograph with the NYU logo next to it. I selected Abu Dhabi because it reflects a new direction of higher education as it moves into the global, mega universities arena, crosses cultural boundaries and moves into a non-western setting. This initiative blends a 19th-century institution [NYU] with a 21st century site in Abu Dhabi.

What the Abu Dhabi and NYU symbols reveal next to one another is how dramatically the higher education landscape has changed. Just like we have global corporations that are everywhere, we are now seeing global universities located all over the world. How much of it is driven by educational visions? How much of it is driven by economics or both? What does that movement where hundreds of universities are establishing campuses in other countries imply for educational and other faculty-student engagement goals and methods? What does this mean for higher education structures, policies and procedures? What do such developments bring to our minds, as questions and challenges? What do they imply for the stability of cultures; for the homogenization of cultures and other complementary political and economic consequences? This is a topic I invite you to explore in depth as we engage this conference’s theme of emerging pedagogies for a new millennium.

When we look at images such as the ones I have shared in the presentation, what do they represent? How were the epochs when these institutions were founded different from the current ones? That is, in the 11th century when Bologna was founded—and on the way towards the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries when other European universities were born—what was happening in the world? What ideologies were supported by these universities? What pedagogies were dominant? Why?

Later, from the 15th century on, after the Americas were discovered by the Europeans, what new challenges were addressed by existing universities? Did the pedagogies change? Did the ideologies and educational imperatives change? What new issues, events and ideas evolved? And how did higher education respond to these changes?

Then in the 20th century, what changes took place in the geopolitical environment, the sciences, the arts and other fields that transformed elements of the higher education establishment? What is different in the 20th century, compared to the 11th century? What about the 21st century? How did those socio-economic, political, technological and cultural conditions impact the way we educate and live? Did they significantly impact the way we teach and relate to students? These are issues higher education needs to discuss as we move into unique settings and situations.

The Emerging Scenarios

This brings us to question how different is this millennium from the previous one as far as higher education is concerned? For this presentation, I have shared images that invite you to reflect on the ways of educating throughout history; images of institutional logos and symbols, of physical classroom layouts, of educational tools and ways of interacting. What do these images represent regarding the title, “Emerging Pedagogies for the New Millennium?” How “new” is this millennium from previous ones? And how this topic reflects an effort to transform our educational methods as a result of an awareness of a need to change and a willingness to act?

The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is a symbol of socio-economic and political transformations that had been forming during previous decades. Although nothing happens in just a day, there were specific factors brewing to make that day in 1989 possible. As a result, both Western and Eastern societies evolved in new directions, the end results of which are not within sight. It was, amongst other factors, a technological and geopolitical revolution that led to the possibility of globalization as we know it today. These changes resulted in an “open season” for change. As a result, we are faced with an increasingly knowledge-based society and a knowledge-based economy. These two factors are essential to what globalization may eventually lead to, in terms of competition and international collaboration. As these changes continue, it seems evident that we are not facing a transformation of a system. We are facing what Kuhn called a “paradigm shift” in the nature of work and in the nature of societies, economic and political systems.

I would like historians that have studied in detail the world before and during the Renaissance and before and during the Industrial Revolution to engage more in the conversation that will help us learn more about how families and other groups managed those transitions. This knowledge may help us share with our students a historical context that can help them as they transition into a different social and economic system.

Another dimension of the globalization process is the role that some of the more recent and increasingly influential regions–Asia and the Arab world will play in that process. Too many faculty members and college students have little knowledge of these regions except that they will play more significant roles in the next decades. Asian and Arab countries are gradually becoming major players, but we do not understand them because we generally focus on the Western world. I am not saying we should not focus on the Western world, because it is our world; but we have to integrate Asia, the Arab world, as well as Africa, into the educational experiences we provide to our students.

Another transformation that has to influence the new pedagogies is of a demographic nature. One of the demographic changes has to do with the baby boomers—those who changed the consumption habits of the world, stimulated the economies of the world, attempted to change the politics of the world, and are now driving pension plans and health insurance systems to bankruptcy as they [us] retire. In many socio-political issues, countless baby boomers are also becoming a conservative electoral segment of the population. Just look at voting results in many counties and states that have attempted to get approval for new bond issues to support education. What has happened in these elections? Those seeking approval for the bond issues lost. Why? Some analysts argue that many baby boomers want to have money to live independent lives as they age; they do not want more taxes, and do not want to pay for more services they will not be using.

A very distinguished economist and social analyst, Fareed Sakaria, stated that by 2030 Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid account for 60% of all federal expenditures and questioned the low levels of spending for education. [April 19, 1971, San Juan, PR Conference] Thus, we may be the first society to be spending more on the elderly than on the young. The reader can deduce where such societal priorities will lead the nation.

In another dimension of these demographic variables, the US is seeing a significant increase in its Hispanic population. Yet, according to Census data: 37.2% of Hispanics 25 and over have not completed high school as of 2010, compared to 12.5% of non-Hispanic whites; 13.9% have a bachelor’s degree and 4% an advanced degree as of 2010, compared to 30.3% and 10.7% for non-Hispanic whites; and 59% of Hispanic high school graduates ages 16-24 were enrolled in college in 2009, compared to 71% for non-Hispanic whites. But by 2050, one out of two new entrants to the workforce will be a minority worker with the largest share of those being Hispanic. If Hispanics then have the same educational profile as they have today, what types of jobs will they be capable of holding? Will the jobs to be created for a knowledge-based economy find enough qualified workers? What emerging pedagogies will address these issues? In this climate of cuts to major social programs, what will higher education institutions do to face these trends?

To complete the demographic issues that must be addressed by higher education one needs to face that on a global scale, there are vast migratory movements, although these are not new events in the history of the world. The world has frequently been reshaped by migratory movements. But for many reasons, there is now a growing rejection of immigrants in most countries of the world. The issue is that many western countries in Europe are facing a diminishing workforce and their governments are realizing that if there are no people to work, who is going to pay social security, feed pension plans, and future expenses? What will happen to their GDPs and to their tax base? How will this impact the financing of higher education and what role can higher education institutions play in educating for diversity and multiculturalism?

All of these developments are bringing us to what is a critical issue: government, and more specifically, governability. Is our democratic system worn out? Is so much corruption in so many governments, in almost every country, just a minor problem that has always been there? What does this tell us? And what does this say about the role of the university in educating for citizenship? What pedagogies educate leaders rather than followers or non-engaged individuals?

It seems higher education has not gone as far as it needs to go in providing for the integral formation of the person. It is evident that some students do achieve this integral formation at their institutions. The question that remains is: How many do? Universities teach Humanities, Social Science, Ethics and many more liberal arts courses, and students go through textbooks, but how much do these contents support the case for an engaged citizen committed to the values that institutional mission statements expose? It is impossible to have democracy without citizenship.

Finally, in the age of the technological, digital, media revolution where access to information is not a concern [for those who have access to the technology, of course], what is the role of transmitting knowledge as if this was a runner’s race, where you pass the baton to the next generation, so they can pass it to the next generation? Now, a student can use a search engine like Google to find almost any information he or she would need in just a few seconds. But what students want to know is what do they do with this information? How can they use it to better themselves and the world? If, as faculty, we see this transmission activity as fundamental, we will become irrelevant as the technological revolution makes access to information a simple routine.

What do all the trends, issues and concerns that I have briefly described mean for higher education and its pedagogies? The faculty has to revisit the roots of higher education and ask, why are we here? We need to focus on developing the person, developing the citizen, developing that human being, and not to the exclusion of professional vocations, because students come to higher education attracted to a field from which to contribute to society. This is the goal of a solid liberal education. We must identify how the emerging technologies can assist us in achieving our institutional missions and goals.

As this point it is useful to recall Robert M. Hutchins’ statement [The Learning Society, 1968] on behalf of a liberal education: “A liberal education is for everyone, because everyone has the right to have his mind set free.” Isn’t that what an education is all about? What pedagogies support having the mind set free? Can emerging technologies assist in this goal? They could, if we know how to use them for what they can do best.

A well-known author, John Naisbitt, in his 1982 book Megatrends, introduced the phrase “High tech/high touch.” This phrase may tell us something about the context for the emerging technologies in higher education. With this phrase, Naisbitt wanted to represent the paradox that the more “high tech” our environment becomes, the more “high touch” experiences we need. In an undergraduate liberal education we need to have “high tech” without losing the high touch. Skype is fine; it can facilitate learning; using all these technological advances and resources is fantastic. But if we do not find ways to provide the “high touch” either through some face-to-face interaction or thorough some other effective method, the educational experience will not be complete.

There is another report that I believe defines the fundamental role of education. It was chaired by Jacques Delors, former President of the European Commission and distinguished economist. Between 1993 and 1996 Delors chaired the UNESCO Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century. This Commission published their work in a report entitled Learning: The Treasure Within. The report states there are four aspects we need to educate for—learning how to know, learning how to do, learning how to live together, and learning how to be. That is what education needs ultimately to be all about. What curricular, cocurricular and extracurricular experiences are needed to support that students attain those four goals? What pedagogies can support these goals?

How much better are we doing today in these tasks? Yes, we need to use new pedagogies and also to keep using others that are not that new like the Socratic method that has been used during the last two and a half millennia; we have to revise our methods in light of current technologies and the complex contexts within which we hope to educate in order for civilized society to have a future. But we must also ask ourselves: What is the meaning of all of these changes and challenges; how will they shape and define the future of higher education? There are many beliefs about proper pedagogies that are assumed to be true but have no empirical foundations. In addition, as the field of neuroscience advances, we will be facing findings that will force us to redefine teaching and learning.

Implementation of Traditional and Emerging Pedagogies

At this point, I would like to share with you some of the projects established at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón to make use of emerging and other recognized pedagogies. These projects have been implemented to address the challenges presented by the socio-economic and political changes that have taken place during the last four decades.

In 1994 a new strategic plan identified four assumptions that have guided the development of new projects and pedagogies at our University. These were: new jobs and careers will arise in the 21st century, and existing careers will be significantly transformed; as a result of economic integration and interdependencies, graduates will have multiple careers, work in different countries and, at some periods in their careers, will be self-employed.

The 1994 strategic plan also proposed that the classroom was the world; that outside resources needed to be integrated into the classroom experience; and that students needed to extend the boundaries of the classroom out of the university, and into the community to gain real life experiences. It proposed that learning—the best kind of learning—occurs when the pedagogies of research, of engaging students in the process of questioning and constructing knowledge, and of integrating theories and practice are applied. These pedagogies see research as a pedagogical mindset, and teach students to go into the community to learn and to apply what they have learned to address real and unique situations.

At Universidad del Sagrado Corazón we also believe that the main component of the bachelor’s degree is not actually a major. Rather, it is the liberal arts—a well-rounded multi, inter and transdisciplinary education—because a significant number of the students’ first jobs will have nothing to do with their majors. In reality, how many of us have directly used our specific undergraduate studies for our jobs? We study something, yet in most cases, we do not actually work in that specific area.

At too many institutions, undergraduate students are being trained for jobs, and of course, we should not be questioning that because seeking a job is a desirable goal. We cannot make education and jobs alternative options, because we would be betraying the students. We would be betraying their hopes to engage in and contribute to society. All of us contribute to society through our own work. At the same time, while there is nothing wrong with using undergraduate education to prepare students for jobs, it should also aim at preparing qualified students for professional and graduate schools, particularly in this knowledge-based, global economy.

Whether we are educating and training for jobs or for a graduate education, higher education institutions need to identify what society expects from our graduates. Such findings will influence the choices we make of pedagogical systems that best contribute to attain the identified attributes in our graduates. To do this requires a systematic dialogue with the leaders of the different sectors that make up our society. At Universidad del Sagrado Corazón this dialogue was initiated in 1993 and is held systematically every three to five years. As a result, various desired attributes have been identified and corresponding educational experiences have been introduced to achieve them. The following list indicates the most significant qualities identified by key social and corporate leaders:

  1. capacity to integrate theory and practice;
  2. capacity to manage the technological tools to learn and to work;
  3. high communication skills, and this in Puerto Rico means communication in both Spanish and English;
  4. teamwork competencies;
  5. multi-cultural and global understanding;
  6. ethical behavior; and
  7. advanced knowledge.

When these dialogues were initiated in 1993, the first three qualities were dominant. In the late 90s, the fourth one was introduced. After 9/11, the fifth one—multi-cultural and global understanding—emerged. After the Enron, WorldCom, Halliburton, Arthur Andersen scandals and other similar events became public, ethical behavior became a major concern. In the conversations held in 2008-2009, all of the previous qualities were validated and repeated, but the last one—advanced knowledge—was added due to competitiveness in science-based and knowledge-based economies. Most recent dialogs are adding “educating for engaged citizenship” as an expected outcome of a higher education experience.

As educators, we ourselves need to be engaged if we are going to be teaching student engagement, and the projects that we have initiated encourage our students to be exposed to and engaged with society. To promote and facilitate making the world our classroom, the university has established more than a dozen initiatives that allow students and faculty to apply field knowledge to concrete problems whose solutions improve society. There is a Center for the Development of the Third Sector established to train community leaders and support their efforts to improve their communities and the Center for the Entrepreneurial Development of Women aimed at supporting the efforts of women in distressed communities to become independent and establish microbusinesses. Both of these projects are linked to our School of Business. The University also established its key pedagogical reform project, the Community Engagement and Service Learning project. The service-learning project started in 1994 and became a comprehensive program in 1997, institutionalizing this pedagogy into every major in 2001. No one graduates without going through a service-learning capstone course. When students enroll in their service-learning major course, they work in small teams as a consulting group with an assigned community-based organization that has identified a major problem that the student will help solve. Grass-root organizations bring their problems to the Community Engagement Center where the request is analyzed and referred to the major course that houses the expertise needed to address the problem. The case is shepherded by a faculty member who creates a team of students—five to seven. Students work on this problem during the semester to solve it. When the projects are too complex, they are phased into segments and each semester the corresponding team addresses the assigned component. The impact of this project on student professional, ethical, social and civic development has been validated and has become a very effective and meaningful pedagogical tool.

At Sagrado, the School of Communication is also engaged in the Center for the Freedom of the Press; with a cable television project that runs the C-SPAN of Puerto Rico; and with the first digital radio station established by a Puerto Rican university and ran by students. The University offers the only M.S. in non-profit management in Puerto Rico and also established, with the support of the Kellogg and Ford foundations, an Educational Policy Institute for Community Development whose most recent project was the development of the profile of the competencies, knowledge, attitudes, skills and values that the Puerto Rican public high school graduate should have. It was a two-year project where thousands of people participated, and had contributors in every town on the island. The University also has the Human Rights Institute and the Mediation Center, and other projects that engage the faculty and students to learn through community centered initiatives.

Final Observations as We Move From Denial to Transformation

I have described the scenarios being faced by higher education institutions that require the rethinking of our pedagogies. I have not covered many other developments that also influence the teaching/learning process at our institutions such as distance learning technologies; the impact of the media revolution in the learning processes and preferences of young people; the developments in neuroscience; and the breakthroughs in telecommunications with the potential impact of intelligent phones and the tablets. These and many others developments will add to the need for honest and in-depth assessment of student learning outcomes and for the development of a research mindset among faculty members. We need to see teaching as a investigation project where different treatments are evaluated to identify which ones work better under what conditions, fields and learning styles of students.

Higher education needs to move from the denial of these challenges to an assertive will to face them in a collaborative manner. We can star by asking ourselves various questions. What pedagogies characterized the first universities in the 11th and 12th centuries? What would be your teaching job, if you had been in Bologna? How would you have taught in San Marcos or Harvard in the 16th and 17th centuries? How would you have taught at the beginning of the last century, versus how you are teaching now? Are there are key differences? Which are they?

It may be that we cannot identify major changes in the professional methods we use, considering all the transformations that have occurred since the 11th century. If they are few, how can we explain the lack of changes? How would any profession explain such results? What if every major profession in the world responded this way? We must think about our pedagogies and their effectiveness. This is really our biggest challenge.

I will never forget two books that the late Janice Gorn, one of my favorite professors at NYU, made us read. They were Limits to Growth and Only One Earth. I remember people downplaying those books and their authors. Still, most of the environmental problems we face today were analyzed and exposed in these two books. But little attention was paid to them and today, we are suffering the consequences. Higher education has been facing similar calls for change since the 1970s [just recall the Carnegie Commission Reports on Higher Education and many more]. Now the outcomes of the current pedagogies, structures and processes of our sector are well below societal expectations and do not correspond to the resources that the sector receives. There is growing criticism of our sector and its outcomes; societal support is dwindling and many question if the resources we are receiving are being spent well.

In the 21st century, what pedagogies are emerging? Some pedagogies we have had all our lives. When asked about major changes in higher education pedagogies we all turn to the use of computer technology. In the presentation, the title that underlines the opening slide should also give us thought. It shows an image entitled “access denied.” What does this represent, and exactly how many students are denied access? Are new technologies adaptations of the older technologies?

The U.S. News and World Report publishes yearly university rankings. We can talk about their accuracy or lack of. But the publication has been identifying what they consider the “programs that help undergraduates thrive” These best practices describe some basic pedagogies. They are: First year experience programs; internships; use of learning communities; senior capstones; service learning; study abroad; undergraduate research; and writing in the disciplines. These initiatives are not impossible to replicate nor do they demand illegitimate expectations from faculty. None of these activities actually needs to integrate expensive servers or complex technologies. They can be implemented without the “cloud!” Thus, we have to think about these previously emerged pedagogies together with the emerging ones, and determine how each one of us—in one way or another—can introduce these effective elements. We should at least analyze alternative pedagogies and try to understand why they are being used; What do they contribute; and What can be improved?

Recently I came across a report called the Horizon Report, which was done by the New Media Consortium [2010 edition]. They identified the following trends: “An abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators, sense-making, coaching, and credentialing.” And this last factor—“credentialing”—may disappear soon.

Faced with these challenges, if we do not move quickly enough, corporate universities and other new businesses are going to be doing all the training, because they can run their businesses with less costs that us. If all educators want people to know is information that is very easy and inexpensive to do. Automate; simplify. Anybody can do it.

Although people now expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want, this does not mean they do not want to sit together with a professor and their peers to work, or that they do not want to sit under a tree with their college friends and discuss a book they have read, or play guitar and plan the next Occupy Whatever. Regardless of the setting, the college experience should be increasingly collaborative. We also need to think about how our pedagogies reflect ways student learning experiences are structured. The pedagogy may use technological tools or not but what is fundamental is the interaction between faculty, students and knowledge. But, let me be clear, I am convinced that the new digital technologies can add significant value to the teaching/learning experience and allow for a much diverse and enriched learning environment.

As we move into the second decade of this 21st century we need to define our higher education utopia. Utopias are born in times of crisis, when conflicts go beyond the limits of what is acceptable. (Aguirre-Lora, Num. 90, 2003, p. 2) There is no question to the fact that higher education is in a state of crisis. We initiated this conversation with a quote that described the current environment in higher education as “the perfect storm.” To face these challenges we need to construct a vision of what the higher education system should be like. We need to define how are we going to address the needs of our students, the needs of our citizenship, the need for our democracy? These are the key issues, and we must find ways to tie these issues together into a comprehensive vision-a new utopia.

To view the powerpoint slides that accompanied President Rivera’s keynote address, please click here.

Go to the table of contents for:
Spring 2012: Emerging Pedagogies for the New Millennium