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Why go to class? Do I really need to know that?

Two interesting items crossed my desk this week. Allow me to share.

First, a cartoon from Family Circus, where Billy struggles with homework and asks his mom, “Why do I hafta learn this stuff when I can just look it up on the computer?”

View the Family Circus cartoon at

Second, I’m a bit behind in my online reading. Here’s an interesting article that appeared recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education that raises the question, Why even have a traditional college course?

Actually Going to Class, for a Specific Course? How 20th-Century.

Both of these artifacts pose a provocative question about the expectations associated with 21st century curriculum and instruction. Among the concepts implicit in the discussion:

    • What’s worth knowing?
    • What does it mean to know something?
    • Is knowledge really of two types as Samuel Johnson claimed? (“Knowledge is of two kinds: We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”)
    • Do I have to experience a lecture in synchronous format or will it be available for replay later?
    • Is there any value in going to class if I am simply expected to copy the PowerPoint presentation?

As readers consider the application of universal design in education, do we need to re-examine the purpose of education? Do we need to examine the evidence regarding the efficacy of classroom instruction vs. guided independent instruction vs. self-directed learning? Will our advances, made with the rationale that digital curriculum is more accessible and flexible have unintended consequences? And, how will our answers to these types of question impact our ability to design teaching and learning environments and materials that proactively support diverse learners in ways that foster high levels of academic achievement?

Measuring Learning in Post-secondary Education

The shockwaves generated by the January release of the book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, are still being felt as more professors, administrators, and policymakers are finding time to read more than the book’s jacket. The conversation about the quality of post-secondary education will continue as a result of a new framework released by the Lumina Foundation.

The Degree Qualifications Profile
Press Release
Full Report

The Degree Profile offers a framework of specific student learning outcomes intended to transcend arbitrary distinctions between the pursuit of degrees in the arts and sciences and those in applied and professional fields. The framework spells out reference points for what students should be learning and demonstrating at each degree level in five areas: Broad, integrative knowledge; specialized knowledge; intellectual skills; applied learning; and civic learning.

The framework benchmarks the associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, regardless of a student’s field of specialization. Doctorates are not included at this time because of their emphasis on advanced research skills specific to individual disciplines

A Degree Profile illustrates what students are expected to know and do across different degree levels (see Figure 1). Such frameworks are usually presented in a table or matrix that arrays an ascending sequence of credentials (e.g., associate, bachelor’s, master’s) on one axis, and specific areas of knowledge or performance (e.g., written communication, use of specialized tools, using data) on the other axis.

A spider map of five variables perceived to impact student learning outcomes: Broad, integrative knowledge; specialized knowledge; intellectual skills; applied learning; and civic learning.

Degree Profile

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Two regional accreditors of higher education, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools’ Higher Learning Commission, and a private-college association, the Council of Independent Colleges, have already agreed to test Lumina’s proposed framework.

The Lumina Foundation for Education, an Indianapolis-based private foundation, is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college — especially 21st century students: Low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners. Lumina’s goal is to increase the proportion of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina pursues this goal in three ways: By identifying and supporting effective practice, through public policy advocacy, and by using our communications and convening power to build public will for change.

A key question for educators interested in universal design centers on how such a learning measurement system will inform universal design efforts? That is, will such the Degree Profile be useful for measuring the outcomes of universal design in education?

Maryland Universal Design for Learning Task Force Drafts Initial Recommendations for State-wide Implementation of Universal Design in Education

The state of Maryland has set its sights on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in a big way. In May 2010, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Universal Design for Learning bill (HB 59/SB 467), establishing a statewide Task Force to Explore the Incorporation of UDL Principles into Maryland’s Education Systems.

The Task Force has been meeting regularly and interviewing experts around the country since last Fall. Last week the Task Force released a draft version of its report: A Route for Every Learner. Click here to view the PDF.

The report provides an interesting glimpse of the potential of UDL and the policy initiatives that are needed to capture the potential. The Task Force addressed a series of important questions: What is UDL? What does it look like? How do teachers and schools go about implementing UDL? What benefits can be expected? A second of recommendations are devoted to UDL initiatives in higher education.

Comments on the draft are due to Idalyn Hauss ( by 3 p.m. EST on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.