One of the most interesting phenomenon in global higher education these days is a movement known as the Tuning Process. And, surprise, surprise, Canada’s allegedly-globally-linked-in, ultra-internationalized universities are nowhere to be found.
The Tuning Process is a process of detailing learning outcomes at the program-of-study level – a mostly faculty-driven process to determine what students should know, and be able to do, by the end of their degree. What distinguishes Tuning from the kind of learning outcomes process we see at Canadian universities, such as Guelph, is that the process of determining outcomes statements aren’t the responsibility of faculty members at a single institution; rather, they emerge from the collaborative effort of multiple institutions.
The original Tuning was designed to come up with Europe-wide outcomes statements in a few fields of study. Since then, it has spread around the world: to Latin America, Russia, and Japan. More recently, it has expanded to places such as China (where, to be honest, it seems hard to believe there was much practical difference in learning outcomes between institutions, anyway) and Africa (where the degree of faculty particularism makes it really hard to imagine this process taking off). Globally, Tuning has been at the heart of the OECD’s AHELO project, which aims to compare general cognitive skills and specific subject knowledge.
But perhaps the biggest surprise is what’s happening in the United States. There, the Lumina Foundation launched a Tuning project about three years ago with a number of US states (Indiana, Minnesota, Texas, and Utah) in a variety of subjects; more recently, they have attempted to do a Tuning process nationally, on a single subject area, through a partnership with the American Historical Association.
Tuning is a big deal. Though institutional participation in Tuning is everywhere voluntary, the speed at which it is spreading around the world means that within a relatively short space of time degrees that are “tuned” (that is, come complete with widely accepted learning outcomes statements) will be the norm. Once that’s the case, there will be implications for the ability of the “untuned” to attract students. In professional programs, this isn’t a huge deal because accreditation serves more or less the same function. But in other disciplines, while a few institutions are stepping up to the plate, we haven’t yet got to the point where we can have grown-up, national conversations about program outcomes.
We’ll pay for this, eventually, if we don’t board this train. Someone needs to kick-start this discussion here in Canada. But who?