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Embracing a new vision in the information age

I am a trend-watcher. As CEO of a higher education institution, I
must ensure that my college remains a viable, thriving force. Here are
some trends that I have culled from recent reading:

* Reskilling will explode. According to the American Society for
Training and Development, 75 percent of the current workforce will need
to be retrained by the year 2000.

* Competition will be more aggressive. Our colleges are not “the
only game in town.” Students have a multitude of choices and they want
to go where they have the best chance of enhancing their employment

* The mismatch of what education provides and what our economy
needs will become more glaring. For example, traditional education
deals with facts. Yet employers want employees who are problem-solvers.
Another example is how our colleges emphasize individual effort. Yet
every employer you talk to is looking for good team players.

* Work and learning are becoming the same thing. Don Tapscott, in
his excellent book, The Digital Economy, brings out this important
insight. Maybe that’s why so many employers are becoming “educators. ”
McDonald’s Hamburger U. provides credit-level education to more than
10,000 employees each year. There’s also Motorola U., Hewlett-Packard
U., Sun Microsystems U., to name a few. Employee education is growing
10,000 percent faster than academia.

Bottom line? Community colleges must get more in synch with the
Information Age. We must do more than change our institutions. We must
transform them.

Ask yourself: How many of your faculty are still teaching lecture
style? This style is fine to prepare students to work on a factory
assembly line at the turn of the century. But how effective is it at
preparing students to make it in today’s workforce where collaboration,
problem-solving, creativity and collective decision-making are required?

Technology is redefining the role of our faculty. Rather than
fact-givers, they must become navigators, guiding their students into a
whole new world of discovery. The spotlight must now shine on learning,
rather than teaching.

What we are seeing at my college, Parkland, is that students and
faculty are becoming collaborators in learning. They work on projects
together, explore resources, share ideas and, in many ways, feed off
each other’s excitement.

Technology also is changing the way we lead our institutions. Now
it is easier not only to share information, but to share consciousness.
I saw this happen earlier this year when we were developing our
college’s strategic plan.

Parkland has a planning committee composed of representatives from
throughout the college, but in an institution of nearly 1,000
employees, obviously only a fraction were involved in the early stages
of strategic planning.

Then we put the draft of the strategic plan on e-mail for the
entire college to review. This may sound like a small I thing, but I
recognize it now as a revolutionary change for our college.

E-mail allowed everyone to be involved with strategic planning.
Everyone had a voice. More important, the strategic plan, the road map
for our college, is now part of everyone’s consciousness.

One more point about e-mail. While I always have a full schedule of
appointments and meetings, I know that a) sometimes it is difficult to
get on my calendar and b) there are some people who feel intimidated
meeting face-to-face with the college president.

But with e-mail, I communicate with anyone who wants to share an
idea, tell me their problems, ask me to lunch or whatever, and it takes
much less time than a traditional office appointment. E-mail may very
well be the most democratizing, inclusive force in technology.

As technology helps us to transform our institutions, we will move
away from hierarchical management models that, in effect, send the
message, “Stay in your little box and just do what you’re confined to
do.” This just doesn’t make sense in the quantum world where what
matters is interrelatedness.

In the Information Age, workers have the knowledge to manage
themselves. Bureaucracy will become a thing of the past as the line
between worker and manager blurs.

Our institutional transformation must allow workers to socialize,
share ideas and collaborate. Technology makes this easy and efficient.
We need to rely less on standardization and policy manuals, and leave
room for improvisation.

So much is possible in the Information Age. The best thing we can
do as leaders in our organizations is not hold people back. At times it
may feel as though we are working in chaos. That’s part of change and

We all have people in our institutions who want to hold onto the
past. Do what you can to nurture these people and make them less
fearful of change. But we cannot let them prevent us from moving toward
the future.

As community colleges, our ability to serve and remain viable will
be based on whether we can move from an industrial model that no longer
is relevant to one that embraces a new vision for the Information Age.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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