Guest Post: Blended Learning in Kigali

Note: Through March 27 I’ll be sharing this Digital/Edu space with some excellent professionals in the area of learning and innovation on Thursdays. In addition to bringing new voices and ideas to our readers, this will help me as I finish the first draft of my forthcoming book, The Test, on the past, present and future of testing in public schools, to be published by Public Affairs in 2015.

 This guest post is from Chrystina Russell, the Chief Academic Officer of Kepler, a startup hybrid university program for students in Rwanda that incorporates MOOCs, face-to-face instruction, and a competency based degree program.

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One of the most exciting yet challenging aspects of launching and leading Kepler Kigali on the ground is navigating the many lines we straddle on a daily basis. For example, innovation versus traditional best practices, understanding core concepts versus pushing critical thinking, building a program for scale versus meeting student needs, local relevance versus globalization, partnership needs versus our own mission/vision, learning for the sake of learning/growth versus learning for the sake of employability. The list is endless.
In some ways, we are not unique because all industries have to navigate the fine lines that can greatly impact the outcomes of an organization. The joy of working in an educational setting is that the choices made can be life-changing, but the terrifying part is that if we make the wrong decision, the stakes are immeasurably high. Our students won’t have a second chance at a university degree, and the difference in the quality of the education we provide could determine if our students live a life of poverty or move into the middle class.
As we’ve launched into the oh-so-fabulous and equally oh-so-challenging project called Kepler, one of the most interesting lines we’re straddling isn’t relevant just to Rwanda—it’s a world-wide issue and challenge.
  • We’re committed to planning the best program for our students, and to do so we concentrate deeply on their futures.  In examining their futures, we’re working to figure out how—as the world of work rapidly changes—do we develop a university program for students that are coming out of a K-12 educational system that hasn’t necessarily prepared them for readiness in a rigorous curriculum like the one we’re designing? It’s a program that at a minimum requires the following:
  • Blended learning (in person teaching and on-line teaching) that demands high levels of independence
  • Technological fluency
  • Skills to collaborate and effectively work in a group for desired outcomes
  • The ability to access, analyze, and synthesize complex and large quantities of information
  • A flexible attitude that embraces engagement in ambiguous situations and rapid change
  • Leadership through influence
  • The ability to think critically by asking questions about problems rather than rushing to solutions
  • The willingness to take feedback and continually improve projects until they demonstrate competency
In grappling with how to best build these skills for our students’ futures, we’ve quickly been brought to their educational pasts.
Every corner of the world has its own local version of how these readiness challenges manifest themselves, but university educators have some universal similarities in preparing students for the world of work. Essentially, higher education institutions have two choices: 1) continue the traditional models that many students have engaged in for their first 13-15 years of education, with the likely result that students will not be prepared for tomorrow’s workplaces; or 2) disrupt the traditional system and develop models of teaching and learning that prepare students for a rapidly changing knowledge-based economy. At Kepler, we’re choosing the latter, which is clearly an easy choice (maybe the only one?). But choosing and implementing are two completely different phenomena, and it’s our daily efforts at executing the decision that bring the challenges, imagination, failures, resolutions, and aspirations of building Kepler to life.
I’ll be posting more about our curriculum, implementation, challenges, and our efforts at disrupting higher education as we build Kepler in the weeks ahead, so keep an eye out.


POSTED BY Anya Kamenetz ON March 27, 2014

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