Dale J. Stephens


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Self-directed higher education

UnCollege helps independent learners create their own higher education. In a traditional college setting, individuals easily lose the joy of learning amid lectures and theoretical perspectives. After years of this passivity, traditional students are sapped of creative force at the beginning of their careers.

UnCollege students see no separation between themselves and the world. Through self-designed projects and experiential learning, they truly engage in the world and learn from it — on their own terms.

Individuals can use UnCollege to complement university experience, replace traditional education or further their education — at any age! Together, these unstudents create an age-diverse and interest-diverse group dedicated to meaningful learning.

For nominal tuition individuals gain access to the UnCollege website and community. The website gives unstudents access to a project-based learning curriculum and connections to UnCollege’s network of like-minded peers and mentors. Students customize projects based on their own interests and can complete them individually or in groups. UnCollege staff and mentors are available to provide personal guidance to unstudents when required.

By creating, completing, and evaluating their own curricula, UnCollege students claim ownership over their educations. The learner defines her own higher education and won’t flounder when she must direct her own life.

Read more about UnCollege at http://uncollege.org.

  • Mar 23 2011: Given that a degree "certifies" the student in the eyes of employers, the education system you preach should have a strong entrepreneurship component. The ultimate and most valid test, I believe, is whether or not your acquired skill set makes you a better problem solver. If you have the capacity to improve whats out there, society will reward you with money, recognition, respect or any other thing that may be considered success.
  • Mar 16 2011: "I would like to design an educational system built around rigorous, valid assessments to measure what students know and can do with their knowledge. The assessments would be approved for validity by professionals working in their fields."

    There is danger of then falling into error of thinking that this assessement system will be valid for all. e.g. Timed test exams might be valid form of assessment for many, but some might 'go blank' and be heavily disadvantaged by this form of assessment - it then doesn't measure their knowledge and ability in the subject, but rather a difficulty with that form of assessment. It can be valid for some, but not others.

    A single unitary assessment system might be something to be desired, but it is not necessarily achievable. Sometimes the desire for it to be so can blind college educators to it not being so - so imposing forms of assessment on students which are not appropriate or valid for them.
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    Feb 27 2011: I believe that we are getting closer to that, however as Michael points out, and I hope I have it right, a Diploma is still the thing by which we judge a level of competence. That said surely it would be simple enough to present ones self education to a body in order to have it appraised and then be awarded a qualification accordingly. You would still arrive at you goal on your own terms but you would have the weight of a governing body to endorse it. In many ways Educational Institutes are participating in that in a lesser way by awarding credit for life skills. Why make a successful Catering Manager of ten years sit a course with a group of 19 year old's on 'basic principles of management' when they could be receiving credit for the life experience and working on something that would benefit the more in their chosen programme.
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      Feb 27 2011: I agree 100%. The value of a formal education is two-fold: the actual learning that takes place in such an institution, and the diploma which serves as a certification of one's cognitive abilities. As we all know, however, there are many ways to learn outside of formal schools, so the problem of equivalence reduces to the diploma part: how to alternatively-educated persons demonstrate equivalent learning? This is particularly important for career advancement.

      As a college educator, I see a parallel problem in assessing students' readiness for entry into courses, based on coursework taken earlier. If a student earned an "A" in calculus 15 years ago from an accredited college, are they ready to begin studying differential equations today? If that student has not regularly applied what they learned 15 years ago, then the answer is probably "no." What about someone who has learned calculus by working alongside engineers, and has been applying it daily at their job, but has no letter grade from any college attesting to their knowledge and ability? The answer is probably "yes" for that individual. In other words, the credential (or lack thereof) is really meaningless. What matters is what they can actually remember and do today.

      If I were king for a day, I would like to design an educational system built around rigorous, valid assessments to measure what students know and can do with their knowledge. The assessments would be approved for validity by professionals working in their fields. Anyone at all would be eligible to test, and the assessments would involve practical demonstrations where possible. Not only would this open the door to alternatively-educated students, but it would also put much-needed pressure on formal institutions to do their jobs better.
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    Feb 18 2011: Scarecrow, all you lack is a diploma.