Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Defining College Prep - part 2

In my last post, I explained that I've been exploring what "college prep" actually means, both in 2011 and in the years to come. After all, I believe its entirely possible we're doing "college prep" in schools across the country based on what college looked like for us years ago rather than based on what college actually looks like now and may look like in the near future. To get a current, accurate snapshot of what's happening on college campuses, my school organized an Alumni Summit, a round-table discussion with current college and university students. In a nut shell, they said the three things most frequently expected by their college professors are:
  • Collaboration for the purpose of solving a problem
  • Reading, writing, discussion
  • Clear, concise, fact-based oral communication
Let's begin with the first bullet point: collaboration for the purpose of solving problems. The vast majority of our alum in attendance agreed that the group project model, or collaboration, is used in more classes than not (again, in their collective experience). Here's the important thing to note, though, for those of you who see group projects all the time in your school: in college, collaboration is required for solving a problem. In other words, collaboration is not for creating a poster project or even a flashy presentation. Collaboration is for the purpose of problem solving. There is a huge difference.

An alum attending an excellent business school gave examples of groups that were required to create a business from scratch: brainstorm the idea, make a pitch for the startup capital, create a business plan, create a marketing strategy and and ad campaign, create accounting ledgers with profits and losses, etc. An alum attending an excellent engineering school described a group project in which his group was given the blueprints, schematics, energy consumption data, and other data for the university's cooling plant. Their task was to identify the weak links and inefficiencies in the system based on the data then design a solution for the problems. These should be textbook examples of collaboration for the purpose of solving a problem.

What did they learn in the process of collaborating? To name just a few things, these college kids learned to coordinate several busy schedules, to lock in deadlines and checkpoints on their calendars, to assign tasks and work based on group members' strengths, to light a fire under those who weren't meeting and exceeding expectations, to look into the future to predict possible conflicts or problems, and the list goes on. If that doesn't sound to you like a list of real-world, practical skills these kids will use in the workplace very, then I can't imagine what you do every day in your job.


Shawn said...

And this is why FIRST Robotics is so awesome. It requires exactly this type of organization. So hard to fit into a class and yet so awesome for team "sports".

Nathan Barber said...

I couldn't agree with you more. For anyone who wants to know more about FIRST, read the book The New Cool and check out my post on the topic: