Last week I had the unique opportunity to be a ‘fly’ on the wall at a gathering of some of the most forward thinking ‘rebels’ I have had the pleasure of meeting. Participating in the event as an ‘outsider’ was akin to waiting on the other side of the velvet ropes at an A-listers red carpet event, and being invited to step inside the lines.
Where was I? No, not the Oscars, but HAILstorm. What is HAIL? It stands for Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners, and represents those with ‘Innovation’ in their job descriptions from various higher education institutions from around the nation. This group defines itself as grassroots, focused on not just rethinking, but revolutionizing the tenets of Higher Education. While as individuals, few share the same job title, all share a vision, or concerns, regarding the future of Higher Education.
In light of soaring textbook costs, astronomical student debt, the ever increasing time it takes to earn a ‘four year’ degree, and a hostile political climate, it is no wonder many view the future of Higher Education with trepidation. As illustrated in Michael Berman’s story The Castle, Higher Education is standing at a precipice, where ‘two roads diverge in a yellow wood’, with a fine line between hope and fear.
HAIL brings a message of hope and unity in what appears a polarized, disruptive, messy time in Education. While those who attended represent a diverse set of beliefs, institutions, problems, backgrounds, and expertise; from my perspective, everyone shared one critical motivator – students. Each member of HAIL unequivocally identified Higher Education as the catalyst to democratizing social and economic mobility, but not in its current state.
Where is the hope? According to HAIL, hope lies in innovation, not just technologically, but innovative thinking and action. Drawing from business models and the role of R&D in educational innovation labs, HAIL members work within institutions developing everything from Apps to learning pathways for faculty and students that improve teaching and learning. Success is not measured by access, but outcomes. Success is as much about informing best practice across the spectrum of Higher Education as it is a specific institution. HAIL meets throughout the year to network, share, consult, encourage, and inspire its members.
As a ‘fly’ what were my takeaways?
- Supporting Student ‘success’ requires a variety of pathways that begin before students apply, and extend beyond graduation.
- All stakeholders at all levels have a voice that matters and pipelines for communication need to intersect
- The value of ideas is not determined by the credentials behind your name. Innovation can come from anywhere. Do institutions have pipelines that support innovative thinking everywhere?
- We live in a world of ambiguity and Higher Education must prepare a citizenry that thrives in uncertainty
- Failure is shared and valued as much as success. Innovative leadership embraces this reality.
- Higher Education has the potential and responsibility to catalyze social and economic mobility for every student who knocks on the castle door. Are we creating pathways through the Castle or throwing students in the moat?
What’s my Challenge to HAIL?
I am a ‘PodCast’ junky, with EdSurge being one of my favorites. Driving to a conference the day after HAIL, I listened to Overcoming Barriers to STEM Education. In the conversation, a reference is made to Cathy Engelbert, CEO of Deloitte, the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. When speaking to the Posse Alumni about how she overcame barriers, Cathy said the following:
- You have to work really hard
- You have to find a mentor
- There has to be someone who will pound the table for you
You have given me hope! I want to pound the table for students. I am one of those students. I am first in my family to go to college, earn a Master’s Degree, and emerge as a ‘baduate.’ But HAIL, I want to sit at your table and have a voice in your conversation. I want to build bridges and pathways for those ‘fair-haired youth’, especially the one I call my son.
But I am fearful that without a ‘terminal’ degree, I too may be tossed in the moat. But why? I have a voice, I am inspired, I am passionate, and I love my work, but the barriers to the table seem overwhelming. I am a single mom and I must work full-time making traditional doctoral programs inaccessible. This severely limits my options for pursuing Higher Education. Creating pathways gives me hope!
Like Cathy, I work really hard and have amazing mentors. Who will pound the table for me and those like me, who are ready and willing to do the labor, but right now, are not invited to the table?
My final thought
Challenging the Castle opens Pandora’s Box. It requires we face our fears and confront all the beauty and ugliness that exists within its ivory walls. However, we have to open the box if we are to release hope. HAIL brings hope to those of us who believe in Unicorns and desperately seek to ‘re-innovate’ the Castle.
The author of The Castle invites his reader to choose one of two endings. Berman, I choose the first ending. Bring on the dragons!