February Update

Dear Education Design Lab Community,

Thank you for taking an interest in our development over the last 6 months and for being part of the Lab’s Innovator Network.

The Lab feels real now that we have three design challenges underway: two with George Mason University and a third with George Mason and Northern Virginia Community College. The pace of interest in “reinventing” higher education continues to amaze us—on campuses, in the edtech sector, and even on trips to Europe. This short video shows the Lab in action and provides a peek at how we work: Inside the Education Design Lab on the 21st Century Skills & Badging Challenge

Steve Case, former AOL Chairman and CEO, calls this time “the second Internet Revolution.” I couldn’t agree more, as someone who worked for him at AOL during the last one. Then as now—imagining every category of information delivery in a new context and the social and business implications that might follow—you feel as if on a precipice. For education, the promise and the risks of disintermediation feel very real with the hyper-speed development of mobile and consumer-driven service demand. But even though the tide of recession is going back out, the economic sands may now be permanently retaining the $50,000 a year college degree.

The Education Design Lab is trying to harness this moment on behalf of student success in higher education. We are learning so much about the changing value proposition of a traditional college education, business models, partnership strategies with universities and faculty, what students want, what they don’t want, and what the post-college marketplace is and isn’t finding in its hires.

We will share insights as we go, but here are a few as we are working through our first round of design challenges:

Insights 1–3 are from our 21st Century Skills and Badging Design Challenge

 #1 Students Get It

Surprisingly good news: college students haven’t only been beaten over the head with the importance of STEM, they also have a pretty high awareness that “21st century skills,” e.g. the 4 C’s of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication, are critical to their future success. (See Hart Research Associates study, for skills employers wish students bring to work.) But, most admit to having no clue how to navigate course choice decisions to build those skills. Also, when we suggest building more requirements into a degree there is big pushback from students, understandably, most students are trying to move through college quickly, contrary to the stereotype. Each credit requirement is time and money, particularly to non-traditional students who are self-funded.


#2  Assessing workforce readiness

There are some good assessments on the market for emotional intelligence and knowing your personality strengths, but very little exists out there to help colleges and universities assess a range of workforce readiness skills. There’s even less to help them move students up the curve. Critical learning assessment tools do exist and we had a great early January design session with six of the assessment players as they grapple with this issue, too.

Our take away from that design day is that these for-profit and non-profit providers are on the cusp of some impressive tools for individual students, and that these tools will help level the playing field for students who don’t have impressive social networks when they hit the job market, but we don’t have  much employer-driven curriculum advice for how schools can help students “skill up” on these non-academic competencies. We are in no way discrediting the academic majors, we just need to help schools use the majors to build workplace skills on top of knowledge.
Insight  #3: A new job for career offices?

College career offices are working very hard to adapt to the changing workplace, but most students don’t really want to engage the traditional career office, even though starting in their junior year, they are quite worried about employment. Colleges engage employers to market their students and understand demand, but there has been very little organized input coming from employers that would help colleges understand how to shift course in building workplace competencies. We have to figure out how to bridge that supply and demand gap. Is that a role for career offices of the future?


From our Apprenticeship challenge

Insight #4:  Is there an app for that?

One of our challenges is helping the non-profit Enstitute (enstituteu.org) adapt their successful professional apprenticeship program inside a university, so students might get a full year’s credit. In this challenge we are learning just how important work experience can be to help students find their pathways, but also to provide context for their degree, not to mention building the workplace skills described above. One recruiter from a national consumer finance company wondered aloud, “Can someone create a course called  ‘Reading the Room?’ because that may be the skill set that correlates best to success at our company.”  When we think about how to teach this stuff, apprenticeship keeps coming up, but apprenticeships are hard to scale as they require a senior manager to mentor the student. Enstitute has 75 Washington employers signed up so far for its non-university based program in DC, which starts this month, so we’ll look forward to thinking about scale.
The Lab was invited to the White House Education Datapalooza on January 15 to explore how edtech innovators are using open, accessible government data to enhance all aspects of a student’s journey into and through higher education learning experiences that are linked to workforce needs. The Department is understandably most focused on financial aid and data tech solutions as that is their biggest consumer touch domain credibly displaying 21st century skills, but the push on higher ed outcomes, i.e., can we measure the value of college?,  is really helping to drive innovation.


On January 13, we held the second design event for our Veterans to Cybersecurity Jobs Challenge. More on that effort to come. In the coming months, the Lab will develop prototypes across all our active challenges and creating the plans our founding design partner, George Mason University, will use to bring these innovations to students.

Kathleen deLaski &
the Education Design Lab team