Defining the value chain in academia

Wikipedia tells us that a value chain is a set of activities that a firm operating in a specific industry performs in order to deliver a valuable product or service for the market.” Applied to academia, the “product” is an educated student, and the “set of activities” that generates this product involves all of the inputs to the education process. The university campus and its various resources as well as the students themselves contribute to the value chain, as do countless academic and support staff with non-instructional roles. A primary task of instructional staff is to use their expertise to package information and experiences related to specific subject areas in a way that (hopefully) elevates the knowledge and skills of the learner. This task, arguably, represents the start of the value chain in academia.

If you are a higher education instructor, you have undoubtedly created numerous intellectual tools that you have found to be effective in the classroom. These tools may include presentation slides, videos, works of art, case studies, group activities, class assignments, tests and quizzes, and, of course, syllabi—all of which we should consider sharing more broadly with our academic peers across disciplines, institutions, and even continents. In the same way that shared research improves the knowledge base in any given subject area, shared teaching resources and strategies can improve the quality of instruction we bring to bear in the academic value chain. 

The innovative and creative contributions by individual professors to the academic value chain are not always obvious.  Many higher education instructors may prefer it this way, particularly if teaching is a calling rather than a drive for recognition. But this view may be doing us a disservice, if not undermining our profession altogether. The quality of higher education can improve dramatically if we share our instructional “gems”, informed by our subject matter expertise and honed over repeated applications in the classroom. Like research publications, these instructional tools can and should be attributed to their creators, which in turn will elevate the contributions that individual instructors make to their disciplines and subject areas.

As professors, we are the curators and translators of content in higher education. Consider the possibilities if we could easily find and learn from the best teaching tools of hundreds or even thousands of peers teaching courses similar to our own. The implications for the higher education value chain are profound.

Image: @ teddybearpicnic