In 1906, Englishman J. J. Thompson challenged the scientific community’s understanding of the atom with his “plum pudding” theory. The model ultimately led to scientific evidence of the first subatomic particle, the electron. Thompson and subsequent pioneers of subatomic theory proved a powerful point: changing the unit of measurement can radically alter how we engage with the natural world.

Contrast this scientific revolution with our experience in the dynamic and changing world of higher education. For too long, higher education has relied on 19th-century definitions and measures to solve for 21st-century needs. The yardstick of academic progress—the transcript—has been the instrument to measure all learning that takes place during a student’s journey.

Students, families, and employers have serious doubts about the value of higher education—doubts that may be well-founded. Far too many students are exiting higher learning without the skills employers and society demand. One survey found that 87 percent of recent graduates felt well-prepared for jobs and careers after earning their diplomas, but only half of hiring managers agreed with them.

Is measurement helping to solve that problem—or contributing to it? It’s past time that higher education probes the question of whether we’re using the right definitions—and measures—of student success.

Learn how the University of Central Oklahoma is redefining higher education

Consider academia’s approach to measurement: Academic transcripts can depict students’ achievements within courses and majors, but they often overlook opportunities to track and validate their growth across courses and fields, where critical interdisciplinary skills are forged. If we are to close looming gaps in our workforce, postsecondary leaders must embrace a shift that measures learning in a more holistic and granular fashion.

5 ways the University of Central Oklahoma is modernizing higher ed
The first step in this shift is embracing a unit of measurement that is both more precise and more comprehensive, as well as being evidence-based. Here’s how we’re already doing that at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO).

1. New measures of learning. At UCO, we have attempted a different approach through a program called the Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR). The program awards badges based on the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ VALUE Rubrics to assess student progress in five different multi-disciplinary areas; the application of skills and competencies happens not just in a single course but across the learning experience.

(Next page: How UCO is transforming higher ed)

About the Author:

Jeff King is executive director of the University of Central Oklahoma’s Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching & Learning.


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