Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Credit where credit is due: credentializing experiential knowledge.

With all the years of experience, research, presenting and writing I’ve done on unschooling education, I think I merit a Ph.D. At least a Master's degree.
Of course the irony is that I am a proponent of unschooling- curriculum free, self-directed, passion- based learning. That usually implies no grading, diplomas nor certificates.
But our current way of valuing education and acquired skills is by issuing pieces of paper.
So here’s what I propose: lets give credit where credit is due. If you can prove you’ve got the knowledge through experience or osmosis and show that you’ve earned that piece of paper, you should get it.

You can pay for it -don’t get me wrong. It will be far cheaper than buying it through an institution of higher education-places that currently hold monopoly on credentialism.

I’d like to know if anywhere in the world you can get degrees etc for the work you have done outside of a university.
It happens with unschooled kids who skip school and high school and prove that they are ready to go straight into colleges and universities- and get accepted in.
Jane Godall skipped over her undergraduate and Master degree-straight to a Ph.D. I want to see more of this happening.

I asked folks on Facebook if they knew of places where credentializing experience-based work is happening. I didn't get the answer I was looking for but fortunately, things are beginning to move in that direction.
I got some responses mostly to do with apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are nothing new. Ever since people have lived on this planet, children have been learning along side the grown ups. That’s direct exchange of knowledge. Today, this could mean that the employer trains the youth. Learning by doing.
Over in India, one person explained that when he applied for the Teach For India Fellowship, examiners judged his application based on his essays, performance in  a mock teaching session, group discussions and so on, and a personal interview where they could see first hand if he had what it takes to be a teacher.
Fellowships like the TED Fellowship take a similar approach where you don't need a degree to present a talk. You need to know your stuff.As we all know, having a degree in a subject doesn’t mean you are fit to get a job in the field.
Someone else pointed out that Zoho University is getting noticed as an alternative to conventional university education and certificates.
Then there’s the Thiel Fellowship out in San Francisco which according to their website says it ‘brings together some of the world’s most creative and motivated young people, and helps them bring their most ambitious ideas and projects to life.
Thiel Fellows are given a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 to skip college and focus on their work, their research, and their self-education. They are mentored by our network of visionary thinkers, investors, scientists, and entrepreneurs, who provide guidance and business connections that can’t be replicated in any classroom. Rather than just studying, you’re doing.
Nice work if you can get it.
Here in Hamilton, the McMaster Discovery Program offers university-level non-credit courses to Hamilton residents who face barriers to post-secondary education.
Here's what they say:
Modeled after similar initiatives in other Canadian cities, the program aims to create opportunities for local residents to take part in a process of learning and discovery in the liberal arts tradition, to inspire a passion for lifelong learning, and to foster engagement and mutual learning between McMaster and the communities it aspires to serve.
Of course, there's also the 'open source' movement in education that I keep harping on about and if you don't know about it, you should. Sanford, MIT and other top notch universities have already begun to open up their courses for free. Doesn't solve the problem about credentializing but who knows, maybe society is starting to question credentialism itself?
Your thoughts and comments welcome- as always.


JMaltman said...

www.udacity.com is the free online university started by Sebastian Thrun and others after the success of their course, and they're moving in the direction of providing certificates of completion.

www.uncollege.org is looking to do exactly what you're talking about, finding ways to better give people avenues to learn and ways to prove what they've learned in ways that its relevant. Unschooler.com had two interviews with the founder.

rfs said...

@jmaltman- Super! Thanks for this. I do know about Dale Stephen's work with uncollege and will look into this.

Anonymous said...

Sounds a little risky. Any Tom, Dick and Jane is going to think they are all that, when in reality they would not qualify for a degree.

Sarah R said...

I'm curious about why you want/need this credential. Not questioning you, but sincerely curious as I have often thought the same thing about my work in university admissions. Heck, I've been interviewed on the work I've done in education by PhD students who were going to get degrees in part by researching *me*, so maybe I'm worthy of something, eh? :)

I did apply for an MA program at York University in my "work field" (not my undergrad field) and was actually accepted despite not having the right kind of undergrad degree because I'd done so much work in the area. But at the time, I turned down admission because I realized that spending time getting the Master's degree not only wouldn't help me on a career ladder (as an entrepreneur) but would take me away from my business. It just didn't make sense when I was working.

Now that I'm no longer running a business and have the luxury of time, I do occasionally think about going back for graduate work (maybe conveniently online through Athabasca U). But then I start to think about *why* I want this credential, and I can't think of a really solid reason that doesn't somehow just come back to vanity. (I'm not accusing you of that, of course, just explaining my situation.)

So, whether I could be retroactively granted one, or complete one through distance education (which fits my current living/travel situation), I don't know what I'd *do* with one. And in the case of just being granted one based on stuff I've already done, it's not like I'd be learning anything new, so really, what benefit would it give me? At least enrolling in a program has a chance of giving me new experiences. But just being given a "gold star" for stuff I've already done? I can't see a compelling educational reason for that.

So I really am honestly curious about what opportunities you think an experience-granted degree would provide.

rfs said...

@Sarah- thanks for commenting. It's a question of fairness really. Why shouldn't the work and skills that are acquired with out university/college education be considered inferior just because they are not approved by these institutions? Why should people who are seeking a job be shortchanged because they don't have the credentials their peers might have by going to an institution? They can't enjoy the same level of respect that their peers do and their work is viewed as deficient. If you want to go the route of credentializing your work,then there should be those opportunities to do so methinks!

Denise Robinson said...

Thanks for sharing your meaningful insights. Many students will surely be informed more.

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