A “Barney partnership”—that’s the way to describe a relationship that may sound positive and start productive, but soon becomes fluffy and empty.
For those who don’t have small children, Barney is a large purple creature who sings songs with lyrics like “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family,” which sound just as fresh and entertaining the 100th time you hear them.
Many partnerships in higher education though, like in any sector, quickly degenerate into Barney partnerships. It’s hard enough to coordinate one organization towards a common goal, let alone two or more. And in education, the common goal of better educating students is so compelling that it motivates many partnerships.
I’ve come to realize, however, that education organizations have more to gain from partnering than almost any other organization. The missed opportunity lies in what I would call “insight partnerships”—partnerships that provide a learning organization with greater insight to inform ongoing improvement of its learning effectiveness.
Mark Milliron has been writing about the value of greater insight for higher education longer and more cogently than anyone in higher education. He describes insight initiatives as “explorations of information from the past (hindsight) combined with looks to the future (foresight) that come together in a moment of insight to power decisions that make a positive difference.”
During a recent session of outside training that some Blackboard staff members attended, we were told that “Your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant.” I don’t recommend repeating this phrase at home (and be careful at work, too), but the point made during that training was well taken: evidence is necessary to inform good decisions. And some evidence can be gained only if we partner with other education stakeholders to obtain it.
Some of the most exciting initiatives in education are insight partnerships that aspire to follow and capture data on the full education “life cycle” of each student – real longitudinal data – from pre-school and K-12 through community and technical college, undergraduate, and graduate school, and into the workforce.
These cross-sector partnerships often focus on storing student data in a data warehouse for sharing across partners. Florida’s P20 data warehouse is considered one of the most innovative insight partnerships and is used as a model by states across the country.
Get too involved in the data details, though, and you miss the big picture. Think, for example, about the benefits of access to data that isn’t collected or now accessible to K-12 schools, and how higher education and other stakeholders can help provide it.
* Imagine that schools knew the post-secondary enrollment and learning outcomes of their student graduates (based on valid and reliable direct and indirect measures, not just grades). How interesting would it be to know what percentage of K-12 students who took college prep courses are now taking remedial courses in college?
* Imagine further that schools could correlate future student outcomes to current outcomes, current curriculum design, even participation in particular programs or courses. Perhaps the social skills and hand eye coordination gained from bowling after school are highly correlated with future business success (I certainly hope they are). More practically, how useful would it be to know that success in a redesigned algebra course or participation in a summer enrichment program correlates highly with future success?
Partnering to learn the future outcomes of their students helps schools to gauge the alignment of their curriculum and other activities with the skills and abilities that will drive “success” in higher education, the workforce, and civic life.
Data, of course, flows both ways between partners, as do the benefits of sharing. K-12 enrollment, curriculum and student outcomes data, for example, can do much to help and inform higher education. There is no reason for fluffy Barney partnerships when we have not yet begun to explore and tap the benefits of insight partnerships.
Are you participating in any insight partnerships with K-12 institutions? Employers? Other higher ed institutions? I’m interested to learn how Blackboard can support your efforts. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know what you have learned and what we should know.