Even if I hadn’t lucked into the last seat on the only flight home ahead of the impending snowmaggedon in DC, I’d have been glad I had the opportunity to attend AAC&U’s networking meeting, General Education and Assessment: Disruptions, Innovations and Opportunities, in Portland, OR, the last weekend in February.
The conference began with a keynote delivered by Randall Bass of Georgetown University and Sybril Bennett of Belmont University. What struck me most during the keynote was Bass’s tactic of predicting what the work world might look like in 2030 and reflecting on what higher education should be doing now to prepare. He envisions that there will be three types of work: work that requires creative problem solving, work that can be done by computers and robots, and low-paid service work. Predicting the future, of course, is rough sailing, but his forecasts ring true to me.
Rather than being alarmed, though, I was hopeful. The Communication discipline and its graduates who are entering the work force are creative problem solvers. From figuring out how to address a hostile audience, to motivating a lackadaisical group member on a small group project, to analyzing and creating messages for a variety of contexts, our graduates are adept at using communication to creatively address problems. Although I’m not certain that Bass’s predictions of the work world will come to pass exactly as he envisions, it makes sense to be thinking about and preparing our graduates for the work world they will encounter not just in the first few years, but through mid-career and beyond.
Of course, we want our graduates to do well when they leave our environs, but we’re not just about turning out workers to serve the needs of the labor market. Many sessions addressed this issue, focusing on civic learning and the importance of having a framework to make informed ethical judgments in varied situations. In particular, sessions that addressed the next version of Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile focused on the importance of both areas in general education curricula.
The main reason I attended the conference involved presenting with NCA member and NCA Advancing the Discipline grant recipient Leslie Reynard of Washburn University. Our presentation was titled “Calming 21st Century Disruptions in Higher Education: Aligning General Education and Program Goals.” Leslie discussed the results of her related project, which investigated best practices in Communication capstone courses, and I discussed the many related initiatives NCA supports, from strengthening the basic course, to providing resources, to helping programs better position themselves in their institutions. The program was well-attended by faculty and administrators from many different disciplines.
The meeting was a wonderful opportunity to interact with higher education faculty and administrators from multiple disciplines who in the wake of “initiative fatigue” and dwindling resources, still work hard to serve students well and provide a compelling case for the high-quality outcomes higher education produces.