The Transparent School
          " Show me the figures!"
                            W. Edward Deming

        Transparency is an old word that is taking on new connotations. The classical definition of transparent is a material that is clear or permeable to visible light. A lot of people are confusing transparency with it's second meaning honesty. After all, to be transparent is to be without guile or even a little naive. It is quite understandable with the Enron and Worldcom financial disasters that lots of people would like a great dose of truthfulness in the business world and it is easy to see with all the hoopla over transparency how people might think that honesty and transparency are the same thing.
        In "new tech parlance" or with "connectivity" transparency has come to me more than just telling the truth. In the business sector a transparent company makes everything available to everyone, at least those working inside the company. A common example is that everyone can "see" everyone's salary or sales quota. (One strange paradox has been that with these "open source" firms the only people who don't have unfiltered access to information are the owners and investors. They just have to settle for quarterly reports.)        
          Perhaps the most famous example of a major company going transparent was Cisco Systems. John Chambers, the CEO, wanted a sort of instant picture of his company based on continuously updated data. Remember, this was no small task Cisco was and is a multi billion dollar international corporation. Even worse, Mr. Chambers wanted to see everything from his desktop. In order to accomplish this many "cyber management tools" had to be developed to assemble the enormous amounts of data into an understand- able format. Today it is quite prevalent to see middle management using real time assessment software verifying diverse objectives such as: the average transaction size, expense to customer ratios, even weather reports or economic indicators for sales regions. What makes all of this business intelligence  work is the artificial intelligence designed into the system. If the critical information is not displayed or delivered to the right people you end up with something called the "Haystack principle", like looking for a needle in a haystack The sheer quantity of data in a transparent corporation can mask or even obliterate essential knowledge.
     At present the Transparent School is an alien concept. Yet, all the tools are being put into place with no one is ready to implement them or consider their implications. Schools are collecting data, dealing with suppliers, keeping vast records, using e-mails and intranets etc. "Outsourcing" some school functions are already taking place. Consider the TOEFL, TOEIC, GMAT and other multiple choice tests that render there results in to quantifiable numbers. This is only the beginning. Hopefully, educators will not be lost in the figures, inspite of all quantifying's advantages  not everything taught can have a score.
        What are the new concepts or changes that define a Transparent School?
     Connectivity is a important change for any traditional institution. By connecting everything via Information Technology you speed up everything. This includes errors. Humans whether  department heads, professors, or students will need intelligent filters to sort out all of the information available to them. The idea of "tracking" becomes paramount. Progress or lack of progress should become visible in a Transparent School. On demand courses or a more personalized education will be far more widespread. With transparency comes verifiability. This paradigm shift to  authenticate progress or results is relatively unknown in the academic world. Knowing how much time a student or teacher is on line writing e-mails may or may not be a valid criteria for judging competence. The software, protocols, and tools must be installed but a great deal of reflection and adjustments will be needed before we can be assured of their reliability. Applied artificial intelligence has the capacity to be either implemented brilliance or utilized idiocy. One idea that is often linked with "full disclosure" or "connectivity" is the idea of lifetime learning and lifetime clients. The reason being is that transparency requires some commitment and investment in the network itself and such an investment of time would be wasted with the cessation of the relationship. How these procedures and thoughts would translate in an academic environment is anyone's guess.
       What are the advantages of  Transparency?
That question can be answered in two words: speed and flexibility. We live in a world where the truism "the big will devour the small" is taken for granted. Many schools and institutions, quite rightly, seek to enlarge their enrollment. This is still a reasonable strategy. Having more alumni out in the world in general means greater visibility nationwide or even internationally. Moreover a larger student base permits more and different topics to be treated. However, in the Twenty First Century the heuristic will probably be " the quick will eat the slow". Preparing and instituting transparency in a school will speed up all sorts of transactions. The fact that the school has the skills to work in a transparent environment will facilitate collaboration with sophisticated industries or other educational establishments and institutions. Many
papers have been written recently suggesting that the very reputation of you school will be based not only on courses given but on the quality and quantity of your partnerships. One more reason to consider the Transparent School especially since there are only a limited number of  academic institutions embarking on this concept. Just by considering implementing full disclosure would put our school in the forefront among the leaders.
Christopher Yukna

Ce texte © 2002-2003 Christopher Yukna - tous droits réservés




Advanced Learning Technologies Project Manager

Délégation aux Relations Internationales
Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines
158 cours Fauriel
42023 SAINT-ETIENNE Cedex 2


email : yukna@emse.fr