The Power of Transparency

Historically, we are used to thinking about transparency as being “open” and available so that others know what we are doing. As a recovering politician, I experienced open meeting laws in that arena as a legitimate check to assure that decisions were discussed and reached publicly, for all to see and hear.

However, the power of transparency in learning and employment in the digital dimension goes far beyond the concept of “openness.” It transforms the expectations of learners, the perceived value of college, and our understanding of what it means to be ready to work, not just ready to graduate.

Remember the final scene in the Wizard of Oz, when Toto pulled back the curtain to reveal the real life “wizard” as a little man manipulating levers to create the booming voice and resulting intimidating effect of the fictional Wizard. The little man tries to deflect the situation by saying, “Ignore the man in the corner, I AM the great Oz!” It doesn’t work.

Perhaps this is a little hyperbolic, as an example, but in a world where we have all been taught to accept that the “symbol” of learning and knowledge is the degree and the institutional pedigree, transparency down to what someone actually knows and is able to do will have a galvanic effect. For learners, it will have the power to reveal what they actually have to know in order to succeed, moving beyond what the college says it thinks they need to know. And it will allow for them to create their own learning and career paths based on their starting position, not simply to follow the paths of others.

Likewise it will enable employers to see and understand far greater detail in multiple dimensions about job applicants and the current work force. Imagine an employer that needs to downsize part of its operations, but still wants to add a new division in another part of the enterprise. Now that employer will be able to look beyond job titles to actual employee capacities to see if any of those departing can actually be retained and moved to the new division.

This transparency will allow those colleges and other learning enterprises who so choose to understand the workplace value of their courses and degrees in far more detail than any advisory committee or faculty curriculum development effort can achieve.

And to those who see “vocationalism” in this understanding of transparency, I would say this: Transparency can also uncover the “employment” value of the liberal arts. If someone is accomplished in the study of American History or Emily Dickenson’s poetry, they will, in all likelihood, find work not in spite of their study, but because of it. Studying the liberal arts well includes good writing, critical thinking, problem solving, and reflection skills. All of these are traits that have great value in the workplace. Indeed, this transparency could well demolish the false dichotomy between the liberal arts and professional preparation once and for all.

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