Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Students Unable to Keep Up with Rising Costs

I just read an interesting article dealing with this issue (one close to my heart, and my pocketbook).

The increasing descent of students (at the undergraduate, and most of all, graduate levels) into a lifetime of indentured servitude is astonishing...

The size of tuition and fee increases at four-year public colleges has declined for the third year in a row, according to the College Board's annual tuition survey, which was released last week. But lagging federal grants left many lower- and middle-income students still struggling to keep up with the rising cost of college...

Read the full article: Public Colleges See Slower Rise in Fees: 6.3% in a Year

American Tech Grads Moving to India

More on global creative economies:

Nicole Dun made her way through customs at Bangalore International Airport, then onto a bus bound for Mysore, India, 86 miles away. She was understandably nervous. A freshly minted 22-year-old computer-science graduate of the University of California at Davis, she was leaving the United States for the first time and on her way to her first serious job.

It wasn't at Google, or Cisco, or eBay. Along with about 300 other American college grads over the next year, Dun has signed on as a software engineer with Infosys Technologies, the red-hot Indian engineering firm that plans to add 25,000 employees to its 58,000 over the next year. She'll train in Mysore for six months before joining Infosys's Fremont, California, office.

You can read the full article here.

You know you're in a college town, when...

No WiFi For You

Ireland: A Lesson for America

Over the past decade, Ireland has been transformed into what’s become known as “The Celtic Tiger.”

Wise economic and educational policies have taken the country from its unenvied status as one of the poorest European nations, to one of the most dynamic, creative, and technologically advanced economies of the developed world.

To give you an idea of just how dramatically this creative and well-educated country has been able to turn itself around, take a look at this: Ireland considering immigration deal with U.S .

Last year, Americans moving to Ireland outnumbered Irish moving to the US by 2.5 to 1.

A recent job fair in New York, for employment opportunities in Ireland, drew crowds that created a line more than 2 and a half blocks long!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Teachers can make a real difference--to students, and to the future of their areas of study

Situations like the one pictured below reaffirm my belief that professors and teachers have a duty to not only familiarize ourselves with sites & services like Wikipedia--but to contribute accurate and valuable information to them.

The least we should do is keep an eye on articles in our specializations...

The Whole Internet Truth

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Fight Against BlackBoard!

I just saw this, and had to spread the word...

BlackBoard has long been one of the top software platforms in use at colleges and universities. BlackBoard has also been in hot water over its aggressive enforcement of policies that often seem counter-productive to the educational process...

For instance, their Terms of Use state that they own the copyright on any student and faculty writing that is written/posted via their software. Wow... All of the educational materials, creative writing, content of student discussions, etc. is no longer your own the moment you hit "Post."

That's why I've migrated my courses to a more copyright-friendly platform.

Well, after the latest unfair BlackBoard action, the people over at EDUCAUSE have written this public letter:

Mr. Michael Chasen
Chief Executive Officer
Blackboard, Inc.
1899 L Street, 11th Floor
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Mr. Chasen,

I am writing you on behalf of the higher education IT community, the EDUCAUSE Board of Directors, and our executive team to express in writing what we have conveyed in prior conversations. Our community is deeply concerned by Blackboard’s patent and its recent law suit claiming patent infringement against Desire2Learn. Our community feels these actions go beyond competition to challenging the core values and interests of higher education.

One of our concerns is that you may not fully appreciate the depth of the consternation this action has caused for key members of our community. Among those who have been most directly involved in the development and evolution of course management systems—customers whom Blackboard has relied upon for ideas and advice—these concerns are most pronounced. Their anger over the law suit is so intense that many are simply not communicating with Blackboard. We have seen this intensity of anger only a few times before. In those cases, the corporations involved were unaware of what was happening outside their official channels. Please do not underestimate this consternation which we believe will impact Blackboard in both the short- and the long-term.

We are sure you are aware of the many blog postings discussing the law suit. Web sites have been established to gather evidence of prior art to refute the patent claims. The expressions we hear range from the vilification of Blackboard, to stories about the cold reception Blackboard is receiving at presentations, to the embarrassment of your employees who are asked to explain this corporate action. Even those members of the community who counsel taking a wait-and-see approach are not necessarily less concerned, just more focused on what they might have to lose by speaking out against the dominant vendor in the CMS market. The fact that these perceptions exist is not likely to lead to greater market share or profitability for Blackboard.

EDUCAUSE is a non-profit association dedicated to serving its 2000 college and university members, as well as its 200 corporate members. We do not endorse products or take the side of one company over another. Our corporate guidelines, established in 1998, are very clear that EDUCAUSE is primarily accountable to its institutional members. In the event of a conflict between corporate and institutional member objectives, we must support our institutional members. Let me clearly state that we are not siding with Desire2Learn at the expense of Blackboard. Our discussions and actions are based solely on the collective interests of our institutional members.

There are two core tenets behind the community concern. One deals with co-creation and ownership; the other deals with innovation. Course management systems were developed by the higher education community, which includes academics, organizations, and corporations. Ideas were freely exchanged, prototypes developed, and refinements continue to be made. The new EDUCAUSE Catalyst Award, given to course management systems this year, celebrates that course management systems “were conceived and developed among faculty in pockets of innovation throughout the world. They originated simultaneously at a number of institutions,” as stated in the award announcement. One of the reasons course management systems were singled out for this award is because of the “fluid movement of ideas and initiatives between academia and the commercial sector as individual limited-use efforts evolved into enterprise-wide systems.” Our community has participated in the creation of course management systems. A claim that implies this community creation can be patented by one organization is anathema to our culture.

We realize that what one believes is not necessarily legally binding. As a result, EDUCAUSE engaged the services of a highly reputable, independent law firm to review the patent. The preliminary conclusion is that the patent was very broadly defined and was inappropriately approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. That is certainly the view of the higher education community, many of whom are contributing evidence of prior art.

The other core tenet is to promote innovation. The free exchange of ideas fosters innovation. The open sharing of ideas does not preclude commercialization or profiting from ideas. Innovation is critical to the higher education community and it is critical to corporations. Blackboard has espoused the importance of listening to customers as its source of innovation. This law suit will certainly have a chilling effect on the open sharing of ideas in our community.

We believe that Blackboard should disclaim the rights established under your recently-awarded patent, placing the patent in the public domain and withdrawing the claim of infringement against Desire2Learn. We believe this action would be in the best business interests of Blackboard and in the best interests of higher education. We do not make this request lightly or underestimate the courage it will take to implement. However, we believe it is the right action for your corporation and our community.

As EDUCAUSE members convene this week, this patent and its implications for innovation in education will be discussed more broadly. Now is the time for Blackboard to demonstrate why it is a leader in course management systems and listen to the marketplace that has been a primary source of collaboration and innovation. I, along with members of my executive team, are willing to meet with you at any time.


Brian L. Hawkins

On behalf of the EDUCAUSE Board of Directors
Robyn R. Render, EDUCAUSE Chair of the Board, Vice President for Information Resources and CIO, University of North Carolina, Office of the President
John E. Bucher, EDUCAUSE Vice Chair, Chief Technology Officer, Oberlin College
Ellen J. Waite-Franzen, EDUCAUSE Treasurer, Vice President for Information Technology, Dartmouth College
Jeffrey W. Noyes, Secretary of the EDUCAUSE Board, Director, Student System Consolidation Project, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia
Rebecca L. King, Director for Information Systems and Services and Interim CIO, Baylor University
Lucinda T. Lea, VP for Information Technology and CIO, Middle Tennessee State University
Marilyn A. McMillan, Associate Provost and Chief Information Technology Officer, New York University
Margaret F. Plympton, Vice President for Finance and Administration, Lehigh University
David L. Smallen, Vice President, Information Technology, Hamilton College
George O. Strawn, CIO, National Science Foundation
Brian L. Hawkins, President, EDUCAUSE

I truly hope that the brave people at EDUCAUSE come out on top...

The State of Higher Education

Another fun 'toon

Seeing as how this blog is created and maintained on a 4-month-old Intel MacBook, I figured this was applicable:

Mac vs. PC


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Education: A National Crisis

Another Guest Article from Dr. Reid Cornwell:

Education: A National Crisis

In 1948 I entered South Fork School in Forsyth County, North Carolina. It was a rural school with K-12 in the same building and there was one class per grade. Unlike my peers, I had already learned to read. In fact, I was reading National Geographic mainly because I loved the pictures. I was also able to count and do basic math. In other words, except for the socialization, I had completed the first grade.

Mrs. Smith, my teacher, recognized that there would be a problem and suggested to my family that I should be advanced to the third grade. My family, not wanting me to be treated as different, rejected the suggestion.

Thus began a saga of boredom which led to acting out and ultimately dropping out. I then went into the Marine Corps. Six weeks later I took the GED scoring a perfect performance.

John Moyles, a gifted systems analyst, walked this same path and is now a highly sought after consultant. My eldest son, an anthropologist, and co-director of The Center for Internet Research has a similar history.

My youngest son, equally bright, finished high school with good marks and ACT scores got an early admission to a University and promptly failed all of his classes. He was unprepared for college curricula.

A young girl was not allowed to start public kindergarten because she was a few days to young. Her parents sent her to Montessori where she excelled. Now old enough to enter the public system she was forced to repeat kindergarten. Her parents were told that the state would NOT provide the funds for the first grade because she was too young.

Students were given a project to build catapults. The criteria called for the dimensions to not exceed one cubic yard. Creative students reasoned that decreasing the width of the base they could lengthen the throwing arm making it more efficient. Not so said the teacher, it had to be 3 by 3 by 3 feet. The student's grades were penalized.

These stories span a time period of nearly 60 years. While some are personal stories, they are similar to ones I have heard hundreds of times. Simply put, the crisis in public education system is not new. It is an evolving problem made worse by changes in the demands of our economy. It has persisted for decades and will persist for decades more unless a concerted effort is made to alter our theory and practice of education.

New technologies afford the opportunity for a revolutionary revitalization. Only an irrational fear of "something new" stands in our way.

Albert Einstein once said, "A crazy person is someone who does the same thing over and over and expects a different outcome." Dressing up old practices with a new lexicon is not reformation. It is crazy.

Many years ago, the American Negro College Fund had a slogan, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Despite billions of dollars spent, public education continues to squander the minds of millions of kids. This project is dedicated to those children who struggle to find the skills necessary to lead full and productive lives.

The Education System is not a failure. To our credit, we give an adequate education to millions of learners. The problems in our education system relate to specific national goals and interests. The problem is most profound at the extremes of ability. The system fails at exceptions.

The most strident complaints appear to come when students of above average or gifted ability fail to reach their potentials. It is unfortunate that many of the students who to fail to graduate fall in this group. These students universally express the sentiments that they were bored, not challenged or did not see the relevance to their lives. Many of the students that do complete K-12 express the same opinion.

We believe that computer technology offers the opportunity to remedy many of the problems that plague scholastically challenged students. These technologies can remove the arbitrary structures that impede motivation and curiosity while liberating teachers to provide the essential services required by the overwhelming majority of students.

The "Connected Learning" project can be a panacea for the students that are indeed being left behind despite our best efforts. Connected Learning can be developed outside the mainstream of our system to serve the mainstream and also serve the minds we are wasting.

At most every university in the U.S. effort is going forward to develop uses of technology that will provide opportunities that are embodied in the theory suggested by "No Child Left Behind". This effort is fragmented. Universities themselves are hobbled by practices that are atavistic. As one award winning professor (tenured 36 years) puts it, "Universities have not changed the way they teach in forty years."

"Connected Learning" will attempt to provide a framework that will address both the myths and realities of education. Its goal is to provide organizing principles to guide empirical research and development. Although it is couched in the language of reform, it is believed that it is about reinventing education in the light of advances, not only in technology, but also in educational practice and learning science. Read the full whitepaper.

Ambitious! Yes, and to the extreme. Daunting! You bet. Necessary! Absolutely!

We believe that the crisis in education is more profound than terrorism. It is so, because you are hundreds of times more likely to fail to graduate from high school than be killed by a terrorist. Since 9/11, millions of students have fallen by the wayside of education. It is so, because it affects the heart of what America represents.

Copyright 2006, Dr. Reid Cornwell

  • The Center For Internet Research

  • Other Writings by Reid Cornwell
  • Professors Can Learn A Lot From Web 2.0 Technology

    Another interesting article over at Wired Campus:

    "Professors can learn a lot from Web 2.0 enterprises like Digg, the technology-news aggregator, and Second Life, the fast-growing virtual world, Ms. Wagner said. By connecting users to online communities, she said, those services provide more memorable learning experiences than students may get from more-entrenched, less-interactive technologies.

    Web 2.0 may be a hot property among techies, but academics, it seems, have been a bit slower to embrace user-generated content." ---You can read the full post here

    Wednesday, October 25, 2006

    Hot Topic Over at The Chronicle's Website

    Over at The Chronicle's "Wired Campus Blog," there's a seemingly innocuous topic post regarding the need for academe to create "genuine collaborative and cooperative structures in our colleges and universities."

    This topic has somewhat exploded... I recommend having a look at what's going on in the Comments section.

    "As Millennials reach 30 and move into faculty positions, colleges should be prepared to meet the needs of these tech-savvy people, advised John O’Brien, vice president of academic affairs at Century College in Minnesota, during a Tuesday afternoon session at the League for Innovation conference in Charlotte, N.C..." ----You can read the "discussion" in progress here

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006

    Monday, October 23, 2006

    Is Social Intelligence More Useful than IQ?

    In the News: NPR Interviews Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence

    "Daniel Goleman, author of the book Social Intelligence, explains why human beings are hard-wired to connect, and how those connections can actually change our biology."

    You can listen to it here.

    I wonder, how does social networking impact "social intelligence," according to Goleman's theories/research?

    Now that would be worth a conference paper (such as the call for papers below).

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Guest Article: Finding the Spark of Genius Within You

    Finding the Spark of Genius Within You
    (c) Copyright Bill Allin, 2006

    "You have to allow a certain amount of time in which you are doing nothing in order to have things occur to you, to let your mind think."
    - Mortimer Adler, American educator and philosopher (1902-2001)

    Busy people believe they accomplish a great deal. And they do, if you measure completing tasks as accomplishments.

    What we call genius may not be superior intelligence at all, but a different way of organizing thoughts and thought patterns. That takes time.

    Albert Einstein was convinced that every baby is born a genius. It may well be true that every baby born with a healthy brain has that potential.

    Something over the ensuing few years knocks that potential away so that most children are conformists by their early school years. The more involved with activities they are--the busier they are--the more they are apt to be social conformists and hardliners as adults.

    Thinkers tend to be social misfits--not that the reverse is necessarily true. Thinkers spend more time alone, building with their minds, creating, rebuilding, reshaping, continually making something more. Thinkers are not necessarily loners, they simply spend some due amount of time alone with their own thoughts and mental castles.

    It's not by accident that a large majority of good writers do most of their work alone. Artists, including musicians, tend to spend great amounts of time shaping their craft and crafting their shape in their own lonely cells.

    Thinking requires time, a commodity so precious that most people today claim to have litttle of it to spare. Therein lie great lessons.

    Just as Olympic athletes are great because they have taken great amounts of time to develop their skills, often practising alone for hours each day, thinkers become great by practising alone.

    A thinker may be alone, but never lonely. There is, after all, too much to think about: thoughts not yet thought, castles not yet devised, symphonies of thought not yet written, universes of thought not yet explored.

    Take time to do nothing. If you can handle the alone-ness, your brain will...think.

    Think enough and you will find the genius within you. The spark is alive.

    Bill Allin, MEd
    'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to help you find the genius within you.
    Learn more at http://billallin.com
    Reprinted with permission.

    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    Call for Proposals: Scholarship of Teaching & Learning at the Liberal Arts Colleges

    Perhaps you have been using blogs in your classroom(s)? Maybe you've been using educational technologies such as Web Biographies, and would like to share your experiences with it?
    (You can read my earlier post on using Web Biographies in my classrooms here.)

    "We will be watching the planning for this upcoming conference with great interest, as it provides a view into the future of the scholarship of teaching and learning movement’s progress within a liberal arts context.

    One of the claimed distinctions of the education offered at liberal arts colleges is that the faculty there are genuine teacher-scholars, dividing their time equally between their research and undergraduate instruction. On the surface, these are ideal circumstances for many to begin to engage in thinking about their teaching as a form of research. Yet we wonder: How many of these faculty will shift the focus of their research toward the practice of teaching within their chosen disciplines? How many of our institutions’ tenure and promotion committees will accept such scholarship as a substitute for traditional scholarship?" --You can find the full call for proposals at http://www.academiccommons.org

    (For some strange reason links to their posts only return server errors from their system. So, you can find the CFP for Scholarship of Teaching & Learning at the Liberal Arts Colleges under the section/tab titled "The Center for Teaching and Learning".)

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Guest Article: What’s So “Liberal” About Higher Ed?

    Are new digital technologies compatible with the aims and traditions of “liberal education?” Or do instructional technologies pose an inexorable threat to higher education understood as anything more than vocational training?

    The answers to these much debated questions are yes and yes; it all depends on how the aims and traditions of “liberal education” are understood. My observation, admittedly as a practitioner rather than a researcher, is that there is no consensus in the higher education community about what liberal education actually is; rather, the term invokes a range of sometimes-conflicting academic practices and values. Specific instructional technologies support some of these practices and values and challenge others. Both “liberal education” and “instructional technology” are terms that point to a wide array of different things. In discussing their relationship it is therefore necessary to unpack our assumptions about liberal education and to specify which instructional technologies are at issue.

    Some hypothetical, but familiar, cases might offer a useful starting point:

    College A is trying to decide whether to create a learning commons in its library integrating the help desk and reference functions. Even though projections from the business office suggest that this move would save money, the librarian, the IT leader, and the faculty are all rather passionately opposed to the idea. Their (much more expensive) priority is to add smart classrooms in other buildings. Meanwhile, a mile down the road, College B has a merged organization with a librarian at its head and combined its help and reference services years ago, largely in response to demands for better research support for both faculty and students, but it has yet to install wireless access in its student union and outdoor gathering spaces.

    College C spends more and more every year on subscriptions to electronic journals and databases but has not yet implemented a course management system because the faculty technology committee doesn’t see why so much should be spent to just “put our syllabi on the web.” College D, whose campus abuts College C’s, spent its first discretionary IT dollar on a course management system, immediately requiring its deployment in all courses and creating modules to make it an environment that student organizations can use -- even though it has not yet been able to increase its budget for digital subscriptions for several years now.

    Colleges E and F, meanwhile, have both decided that Internet 2 connection is a high budgetary priority. E’s reason is that a handful of leading faculty members have research agendas that require the transfer of enormous data sets. At F, the decision was driven not by the faculty but by the administration, which is concerned that if the campus isn’t on I2 it will be less attractive to strong prospective students. Asking anyone at College F what they will do with an I2 connection once they have it gets a blank look in return.

    And then there is College G, which has made all its course materials open to the secondary schools and community colleges in its region by putting them all on the open web with what some might see as a rather casual attitude toward intellectual property. College G equips students who are going off campus for their required internships with digital cameras and PDAs for data capture, even though it can’t afford to create the GIS lab several science faculty have requested.

    And in each of these cases, when these IT decisions are explained to the community, they are justified as “consistent with our college’s core commitment to liberal education.”

    One could conclude that there is little logic to the decisions campuses make when it comes to IT strategy. But the issue may actually be that there are multiple competing logics, all bundled together as “liberal education.”

    “Liberal education” is a little like “freedom” or “excellence” – a term invoked to convey a sense of undisputed good while encompassing a wide range of contested meanings. Academic institutions aspiring to offer anything distinct from vocational training justify important curricular and resource decisions with reference to it. (Of course, the value of non-vocational higher education itself is not universally assumed by either families or policy-makers; the high value on liberal education within the academic community is not currently shared by American society at large.) However, the claims and aspirations of colleges and universities reflect various theories of “liberal education,” some incompatible and some complementary.

    These competing understandings of liberal education are not discrete schools of thought so much as interwoven threads in institutional discussions: colleges end up looking different from one another in part because they weave the threads together in different proportions and patterns at different moments in their history. Tracing the threads can be a useful way of framing the values and goals that shape specific strategic decisions about the adoption and deployment of digital technologies. Further, understanding how their institutions think and talk about liberal education can help IT leaders frame important issues in terms of educational values and purposes, making them more influential advocates by creating a sense of shared mission with their faculty and administrative colleagues.

    The most venerable thread in the tapestry of liberal education is the curriculum-focused definition of “liberal education” as the study of the liberal arts and sciences – that is, as study liberated from the pressure of immediate circumstance and pursued by people free to explore the liberal arts disciplines without regard for immediate application or benefit. It is the commitment to learning for learning’s sake. The idea here is that liberal education emphasizes “pure” rather than applied disciplines and requires familiarity with the major areas of intellectual achievement in the Western tradition. By this standard, business, education, nursing, performance, and other applied studies are not seen as properly part of a liberal education. This is the logic that has some colleges giving credit for music theory and history but not for music performance, for economics but not for business or accounting, for developmental psychology but not for counseling, and so on. Further, in this view liberal education is above all else an academic pursuit. Colleges in which this tradition is strong are often leery about giving credit for non-academic work, so that internships, community service, and experiential learning are not highly valued.

    This definition has been on the decline for several years now and relatively few institutions remain “pure” liberal arts colleges from this point of view, but it still echoes loudly through discussions of curriculum, requirements, and mission. Just the other day, for example, I was seated at dinner next to someone from a college that doesn’t give credit for the study of introductory language – on the grounds that language acquisition is not itself a liberal study but simply a tool which enables the liberal studies of literature, history, philosophy, and so on. A college where language is taught specifically to enable literary analysis but just as specifically not to enable tourism or business dealings is, for example, acting on this logic of liberal education.

    A second, and increasingly influential, logic defines liberal education as operating from a pedagogical methodology that emphasizes active learning, faculty/student collaboration, independent inquiry, and critical thinking. This view is more pedagogical than curricular and emphasizes the development of intellectual skills and capacities over the study of any specific materials or content areas. To return to the example of language, in this approach the justification for teaching language is to develop the capacity to understand how languages work, to problematize the assumptions inherent in the native language, and to master new syntactic and lexical structures – goals that can be accomplished equally well in the study of any language without regard to the literary or historical inquiries that might follow.

    The defining characteristics of liberal education in this logic are not disciplines but practices -- practices like group study, undergraduate research, faculty mentoring, student presentations, and other forms of active learning. From this point of view, a discipline like nursing or education, for example, can be taught either liberally or illiberally, whereas in the first view nursing would never be seen as a liberal study. If nursing students are engaged in active learning with peer and faculty colleagues, doing direct research on important current issues in their field, encouraged to question dominant assumptions and procedures, and expected to solve complex problems independently, they are seen as being liberally educated. On the other hand, nursing students who are attending lectures, assigned material to learn by rote, rewarded for mastery of “correct” answers, and drilled in unvarying standard procedures are not. Liberally educated nurses are in this view learning to exercise judgment, understand the reasoning behind protocols and standards, and to be lifelong learners, while nurses who are illiberally educated are seen as being trained to be proficient technicians.

    This view of liberal education is strongly influenced by social-constructionist theories of knowledge, research in learning theory, and a high value placed on the questioning of authority. Colleges that emphasize small classes over large ones, seminars over lectures, student research, faculty mentoring, peer study groups, and similar educational practices, while including applied studies in the curriculum, tend to be acting on this logic.

    These two views reflect the complementary but tense relationship that exists between scholarship and teaching in the reward structure for faculty. Most colleges and universities are committed to both views of liberal education, just as they are committed to both scholarship and teaching. The ideal on many campuses is to teach a liberal arts and sciences curriculum (as in the first definition) using student-centered pedagogies (as valued in the second.) Just as with scholarship and teaching, however, while it is easy to agree that both the curricular and pedagogical understandings of liberal education are valuable, negotiating their competing claims presents real and specific choice points in setting institutional priorities. Colleges C and D took very different paths when investing in IT, for example, C choosing the discipline and content focused priority of subscriptions and databases while D chose the student centered and pedagogical priority of a course management system. These choices suggest that C acted more on the first view of liberal education and D more on the second.

    A third notion of liberal education, related to the second but distinct from it, holds that the defining characteristic of liberal education is preparation for democratic citizenship and civic engagement. The AAC&U, for example, has in recent years emerged as a strong advocate for this understanding. In terms of curriculum, this approach tends to value the development of skills specifically believed to be central to effective citizenship -- literacy, numeracy, sometimes public speaking, scientific and statistical literacy, familiarity with social and political science, and critical thinking. It tends to value curricular engagement with current social and political issues alongside the extracurricular development of ethical reflection and socially responsible character traits in students, seeing student life as an educational sphere in its own right in which leadership, rhetorical, and community-building skills can be practiced. Where this view is influential, you will find things like community-service requirements or credit-bearing service-learning projects, a high level of intentionality about the paracurriculum offered by student government and residential life, a tendency to focus course modules and assignments on recent or local cases, a sense of shared mission between faculty and student life staff, and a strong concern with extending access to higher education. (For many colleges, the framing of liberal education as preparation for service and citizenship dovetails with values derived from their founding religious traditions.) Campus G, providing open access to its materials on line and equipping students for their mandatory community service projects even when there are unmet needs on campus, is investing in this view.

    Finally, a fourth view associates liberal education with a specific institutional type -- the small, residential, privately governed, bachelor’s granting college. From this point of view the sum of the experiences such institutions provide is “liberal education.” Identifying liberal education with liberal arts colleges tends to emphasize structural characteristics and institutional settings as essential to liberal education and leads to skepticism that institutions with other characteristics can provide a truly liberal education. Do residential community, small size, and undergraduate focus in fact create conditions in which a distinctive educational experience can be crafted? Certainly there has been acknowledgement of the educational value of these institutional characteristics as an increasing number of large institutions have created units imitating the small, residential, living-learning community typical of the small college, often as honors colleges. And historically it is institutions of this type which have nurtured and attempted to combine all the educational priorities I have mentioned above. But even these small colleges, when attempting to do it all, face strategic choices and have to prioritize what to do when.

    To the extent that liberal education is seen as the product of an institutional type, keeping the small colleges alive and vital is essential to its preservation. Technology, from this view, is valued in so far as it supports the survival of this sector of the higher education industry. The president of College F, who feels his institution must have I2 connectivity to remain viable in the marketplace even though he isn’t quite sure what it’s good for, is thinking this way.

    There are no doubt other factors interwoven among those I have mentioned. But in general, this broad typology describes the main threads of the current discussion of liberal education: the curricular, the pedagogical, the civic, and the institutional – threads which are woven together on every campus but in different proportions on each. What, though, has all this to do with technology?

    Let’s return to the first, curricular, understanding. When a college or its faculty is strongly influenced by this view, it is likely to regard technology as valuable primarily as an extension of the library offering new access points for scholarly resources. These are the people who are most excited about technology’s potential to allow them to view incunabula on line, access massive scientific datasets, or share documents with a remote specialist in their subfield. Institutions influenced by this view are likely to see digital scholarly resources as a priority area for investment, to assume that faculty research priorities should drive many IT decisions on campus, and to see the library as central to planning for information technology and services. These may be institutions that will prioritize digital subscriptions and put a librarian over the information organization – but not really see much point in spending a great deal on a course management system or creating collaborative student work clusters. When College E connects to I2, even though only a handful of its faculty will actually use it regularly, it is acting on these values, as is College C every time it prioritizes subscriptions over course management in the budget process.

    What are the resistances to instructional technology that are likely to follow from this view? First, there is often a concern about ascertaining the quality and authority of materials located on line. This view worries that students, exploring cyberspace without the guidance of faculty members or librarians, will be misled about the value of what they find or will not be able to distinguish authoritative sources from irresponsible ones. Calls for “information literacy” programs therefore often come from this angle. There are also faculty concerns that technology offers distractions, erodes student’s ability to “read” and “reflect,” and values the quick and thoughtless over the deliberate and well-informed. In this view technology is valued for expanding the content of study but not for its potential to change the method or nature of study. In this model, the IT organization on campus is often most valued for supporting a powerful network with little or no downtime and easy access points and interfaces for accessing digital materials, but it may not be especially engaged in instructional partnerships with faculty or with maintaining student learning spaces, for example. Typically, in institutions where this view in influential, the IT department is seen as serving the library and faculty.

    The second, pedagogical, point of view is much more invested in what technology allows teachers and students to DO than in what it gives them access to. These folks are excited about the way technology can transform study, about new ways of thinking and perceiving that might arise from digital interactions and resources. To the extent that this approach is influential, institutions tend to emphasize a student-centered vision of IT and to prioritize spending and support for communications tools, classroom presentation tools, course and learning management systems, and the like. The hypothetical faculty at Colleges A and D who were advocating for more technology in the classroom and for more robust learning management systems are probably influenced by this view. In this model such tools are valued for their ability to encourage communication outside class, facilitate group study, and allow students to author multi-media assignments. Colleges where this approach is strong might therefore also prioritize upgrading multimedia centers or teaching and learning centers, for example, or might approach the design of networks and spaces by thinking about how collaborative groups as well as individual users will use them. From this perspective, the IT department can be seen as offering important professional development to the faculty, as creating important learning opportunities for students, and sought after as a partner with the faculty in instructional design.

    As for the negative side of this coin, resistance can arise when a commitment to digital pedagogy creates a sense of strain in faculty roles. The need for faculty to master new tools and develop the pedagogical skills to use them effectively leads to the perception of IT as an additional, onerous, and sometimes resented job expectation. Faculty and deans complain that there isn’t enough time for faculty to keep up with technology. Those faculty members who do engage in creative digital teaching may wonder if their efforts will be rewarded by tenure and promotion committees. Facing new demands to develop faculty skills and partner with faculty innovators, the IT staff itself feels pressure of time and staffing. And when the faculty/IT relationship is strong and focused on classroom pedagogy, it can be difficult to see what the appropriate role of the library can or should be, leading to tensions between the library and IT departments.

    To the extent that the third, civic, approach is present, campuses may be likely to emphasize the ways technology can help them extend beyond their own borders and engage with non-academic materials and activities. These campuses may develop digital projects in partnership with the local secondary schools or public libraries. These will be faculty who are excited about the way technology allows their students to mentor local high school students by offering 24/7 homework assistance or to document their experiences during a community service project. These educational values might lead, for example, to e-portfolio requirements integrating academic and extracurricular learning or investment in videoconferencing technologies to support the integration of on and off-campus learning. These institutions might be more interested in making campus collections and course materials available to community partners, like our hypothetical college G, or to using technologies to support extracurricular activities than in purchasing highly specialized database subscriptions or equipping smart classrooms.

    With its strong emphasis on community and ethical relationships, this is the position from which concerns about the impact of technology on the campus community and on relationships among and between students and faculty can give rise to resistance. I sit, as it happens, on the editorial board of a journal. At a meeting of this group we recently had a lively discussion related to a possible future issue. The discussion ping-ponged back and forth between excitement about expanding access to previously excluded students through technology and concern about the erosion of real, carbon-based interactions threatened by these same technologies. Both the excitement and the resistance were born of a commitment to liberal education as preparation for civic and community life.

    For those who understand liberal education as essentially identified with one institutional type, much of the value of IT is in making sure that small colleges remain competitive with larger institutions able to offer a more extensive range of opportunities to students and faculty. Many small colleges and faculty cherish the hope that IT will help them to offer the virtues of small and the benefits of big, leading to optimistic ideas about the ability of IT to help small institutions do more with less and save money to boot. However, as we know, technology demands scale, something these colleges cannot muster, leading to continuing and especially difficult assessments about technology costs on small campuses. Will an expensive application be bought for the one faculty member who is likely to use it? When an IT staff has only three positions, how many optional applications can it actually support? Collaboration is an obvious strategy for small colleges to achieve some scale and lower some costs, but it is a difficult strategy for this point of view to consider – since the primary goal is institutional survival, and since collaboration can appear to threaten institutional distinctiveness, collaboration can appear to campus leaders as a counterproductive strategy. Further pulling against the need to control costs is a strong awareness of the need to keep up with the Joneses, leading to resentment and a sense of coercion on the part of decision makers.

    All this is not to suggest anything more complex than that the discussion of technology and liberal education is entwined in debates about broader educational priorities and value. When institutions are facing decisions about where to put their IT dollars, they are often indirectly struggling over what their academic and educational values and priorities are. And this struggle can be particularly difficult for institutions committed to “liberal education” because of the multiplicity of competing goals and agendas subsumed within that term, particularly when resources are limited and difficult choices must be made.

    Faculty and administrators who express concern about the impact of technology on liberal education are sometimes dismissed by technologists and CIOs as simply resisting change or failing in imagination. However, campus resistance to new technologies is often a matter of defending perceived threats to important educational and professional commitments. IT leaders, for their part, do well to explicitly connect specific IT challenges and issues to the educational values and practices characteristic of their institutional and campus clients. IT leaders have a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate to their colleagues that technology can indeed serve many of the goals of liberal education. They also serve their institutions best by framing technology choices in terms of the various and competing goals of liberal education and promoting discussion of which should be central to institutional strategy and why.

    --by Jo Ellen Parker, Ph.D.
    First published at The Academic Commons (academiccommons.org)
    Reprinted here under the Creative Commons Liscense of The Academic Commons

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    National Science Foundation Releases Study on the Changing Demographics of PhDs

    The National Science Foundation has released a very interesting report on the demographics of those earning PhDs.

    “A new report released by the National Science Foundation (NSF) documents trends and patterns that reveal the rapid growth and changing demographics of doctoral education during the 20th century, especially over the last 25 years.
    U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century reveals many factors about who is educated and where. It also describes the complex changes taking place in the pursuit of doctoral degrees, many in new interdisciplinary fields. For example, relatively small Oberlin College in Ohio provided the baccalaureate origins of more science and engineering doctorates over an 80-year period (nearly 2,800) than the University of Nebraska, Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, Virginia Tech and the University of Iowa. Another example is that five of the eight leading doctorate-granting universities from 1920-1999 were Midwest-based, Big Ten schools. Prior to that period, the majority of doctorate-granting institutions were East Coast institutions.

    "The report shows how much has changed in doctoral education in just 25 years," says Susan T. Hill, director of the Doctorate Data Project in NSF's Division of Science Resources Statistics. "For one thing, nearly two-thirds of all doctorates awarded in this country occurred in the last 25 years of the 20th century. Second, the United States has become an educator of the world, expanding its role in providing doctorates to foreign-born and U.S. students. Third, the U.S. system reveals a great flexibility in opening varied pathways for Ph.D. recipients into career opportunities both in and outside their fields. This has increased U.S. innovation, competitiveness and leadership in many fields."

    The report is based on the Survey of Earned Doctorates, which had a 95 percent response rate. Some of the report's major findings include:

    Changes in demographics

  • Men received 73 percent of all doctorates awarded in the 20th century, but in the 1990s, women made significant gains, receiving over 40 percent of all doctorates.

  • Foreign nationals held less than 10 percent of all doctorates before 1960 but received more than a third of all science and engineering (S&E) doctorates by 1999, and 17 percent of non-S&E doctorates.

  • New pathways to doctoral degrees

  • Two-year colleges vastly increased their role in educating those who go on to pursue a Ph.D. In the century's final 5 years, 1995-1999, one-fifth of all American Indians/Alaska Natives who received doctorates attended two-year colleges. One-sixth of all Hispanic Ph.D. recipients also reported having attended two-year colleges.

  • From 1995-1999, almost a third of African-American Ph.D. recipients reported receiving an undergraduate degree from a Historically Black College or University (HBCU).

  • Increasing Indebtedness

  • In 1999, for the first time, more than half of all graduating doctorates reported debt from their undergraduate and graduate education.

  • In non-S&E fields, doctorates owing more than $20,000 from education loans quadrupled between the late 1980s and late 1990s. The corresponding percentage for science and engineering doctorates owing more than $20,000 was also significant, more than doubling during the same period.

  • "The report is an essential reference for understanding how the nation's educational system evolved. It's an indispensable starting point for those who plan the next steps we take in this remarkable enterprise," Hill says. "The increasing reliance on loans to support doctoral study is a trend we should follow as students from lower income groups make decisions on whether or not to seek advanced degrees."

  • (Read the full report here)

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  • Friday, October 13, 2006

    Promoting Creativity in the Workplace, and the University

    Many of the issues surrounding higher education interest me. Most can be categorized under a broader topic of "Creativity."

    I want to uderstand the creative:

  • How might one promote creativity in the workplace, as well as the classroom (which is simply a different type of workplace)?

  • What can one do to be more creative in one's own professional field?

  • How far does the promotion of creativity reach? For example, if one makes creativity a priority (as an employer, as an employee, as a teacher, student, etc.) what other changes occur?

  • The first piece is "The 6 Myths of Creativity" by Bill Breen, published in the December 2004 issue of Fast Company

    "These days, there's hardly a mission statement that doesn't herald it, or a CEO who doesn't laud it. And yet despite all of the attention that business creativity has won over the past few years, maddeningly little is known about day-to-day innovation in the workplace. Where do breakthrough ideas come from? What kind of work environment allows them to flourish? What can leaders do to sustain the stimulants to creativity -- and break through the barriers?" --(Read More)

    The second article is "What Do We Know About Enhancing Creativity and Innovation? A Review of Literature" by Eleanor D. Glor, published in The Innovation Journal

    "Theresa Amabile (1988) identified the factors that promoted problem solving or personal creativity by studying a group of 120 innovators working in research and development. Although one factor, qualities of the group, assisted creativity, other group factors were not shown to do so. Personal characteristics were related to creativity, including specific personality traits, self motivation, special cognitive abilities, a risk orientation, diverse experience, expertise in the area, social skill, brilliance and naiveté (pp. 128-129). The qualities of problem solvers that inhibited creativity, on the other hand, were lack of motivation (30%), unskilled (24%), inflexible (22%), externally motivated (14%), and socially unskilled (7%) (p. 129). Individual creativity was enhanced, in other words, by domain relevant skills, creativity-relevant skills and intrinsic task motivation.

    While individual factors and initiative were important to creativity, social environments also made a difference. Environments that encouraged creativity for these innovators exhibited freedom (74%), good project management (65%), and sufficient resources (52%). A half to a third of the innovators identified the need for encouragement (47%), specific organizational characteristics (42%), recognition (35%) and sufficient time (33%), whereas only 22% identified the need for challenge (22%) and pressure (12%). They felt that organizations required "a mechanism for considering new ideas, a corporate climate marked by co-operation and collaboration across levels and divisions, and an atmosphere where innovation is prized and failure is not fatal" (p. 147).
    " --(Read More)

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    More on the Struggle for Talent

    A nice segue from my previous article What is the Role of Today's University:

    The Economist has published a similarly-themed article, The Battle for Brainpower

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    The State of Higher Education, from a Global Perspective

    Now and then, I'll try to include perspectives on higher education from around the world. As the push for educational reform begins to target higher education, there may be lessons for us in the stories of others.

    Today's Guest Article is from Shirazi, of Pakistan:

    Human beings - fortunate of all creatures- are unfortunately plagued with needs. We want material things and comforts of life besides our basic want like love and social recognition. Some time ago, in an effort to improve material well being, my outer adult joined an educational institution to study the behavioral sciences that are at work to shape the very complex society at the present time. This brought back the memories of student life: students’ culture, the fun of school days, aspirations I used to have when I was very young, prophecies of my teachers and the missed opportunities I (now) think I should have availed. My admission has also brought in focus the main stream educational system working in our country.

    Earlier, I learnt most of what I have known throughout my life during early stages of life from my parents and in primary school. My teachers in a small village primary school taught me reading, writing, counting and other basic skills required to lead a successful life. I have never forgotten the efforts of junior Vernacular Teachers to instill some kind of discipline in me. They also taught me about giving, sharing, enjoying, commitment, helping, smiling, trying and caring in addition to the academics.

    After 16 years of schooling, as a fresh graduate from a professional academy, I started looking for openings to join the race for a practical life. The field I landed in was very demanding. This was like boarding an express train. I had the chance to go places, meet people from different walks of life and experience a few of the fading cultures of our society.

    Someone write this, I always think it must have been for me, “I learnt to take orders, give orders, solve equations, write a poem, program a computer, butcher a chicken, make a tasty meal, fight efficiently and listen to others. Specialization has never been a passion in my life. I used to think it is only for academia and the intelligentsia.” I always thought I knew enough how to live in the world of mortals. Obviously, I was wrong. Knowledge is cumulative and keeps changing. “The process of learning”, as they say, “is stretched from cradle to grave.”

    During my career marathon, I have had an enlightening three years in the National University of Modern Languages (UIML) Islamabad - one of the finest institutes in the world. There I learnt the rich language of Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov, Fedor Mikhailovich, Dostoevsky and Maksim Gorky. Without physically going to Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (now Central Asian States), I got aquatinted with the closed Soviet society and the classic literature produced by Russian writers during eighteenth century.

    In developed countries, almost every student has to take one foreign language of his choice as a compulsory subject. This chance has not been provided in our system of education. But I was lucky to get a chance to learn the language. It is during my three years at UIML that I learnt as to why largest circulation Soviet newspaper Pravda (meaning truth) failed to report the news of Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in 1979. I also became vaguely aware of some of the reasons that ultimately caused the death of the USSR - despite large natural resources and literate work force - at the age of 74.

    Thus, as a student all my life I have experienced our rich and diverse educational heritage. But sadly, I am aware that we have no regular standard and perpetual educational policy. Even the curriculum is different in different institutions. In the last 52 years, eight education policies were given by different governments, and these policies died the moment those governments went out of power--which is why we find no uniform education standards in the country.

    So as a student, who started from a village school, where in summers classes are still held under shady trees and who has now joined one of the best universities in the county, I would say to the government: accord education the priority it merits, not by giving yet another policy or plan, but by providing in perpetuity a conducive atmosphere where schools, colleges and universities can become centers of excellence and innovation.

    Visionary initiatives should be taken to enable these centers of learning to create new knowledge. Then we will not need an additional test for admission into medical or other professional colleges and our degrees will have their value. Students, teachers, the private sector, publishers of books, and the government all have to play positive roles to change the existing educational culture before it is stagnated.

    Albert Einstein, one of the exceptionally intelligent scientists of last century, who gave us the famous Theory of Relativity, in his book, ‘The World as I See It’ wrote, “Lecture rooms are numerous and large but the number of young people who genuinely thirst after truth and justice is small”.

    The youth of my country, who are faring well despite all disparities and odds, have to disprove this thought. Provide them the opportunity, and they can do it.

    Reprinted with permission,
    (c) 2006, Light Within

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Guest Article: Examining Culturally Relevant Teaching Stategies

    Teachers face challenges reaching diverse students

    The children in America's classrooms are changing in complexion and complexity, making teaching students with diverse backgrounds one of the greatest challenges school districts now face. Administrators are also under pressure to "close the achievement gap" between white and Asian students and their racial and ethnically diverse counterparts.

    The challenges educators face prompted Bonnie M. Davis to write How to Teach Students Who Don't Look Like You. Davis says she wrote the book to offer "culturally relevant teaching strategies."

    According to the author, nearly 40% of U.S. citizens represent racial or ethnic groups, families who may "see" the world through a completely different cultural "lens" than the "average" American.

    So who are diverse learners? Davis offers a comprehensive answer.

    "They are the homeless children, the migrant children, the immigrant children learning English, children dealing with gender issues, children with learning disabilities, special needs children, and children from diverse cultures - students perhaps not previously included or successful in our classrooms."

    This workbook is designed for educators seeking to reach and teach students of varied backgrounds. The publication offers successful strategies for all subjects and grade levels.

    Davis shares a number of practical tips:

    * How to first recognize one's own culture to understand needs of diverse learners
    * How to examine racism and its impact
    * Strategies for establishing a school climate for teaching diverse learners
    * Research-based instructional strategies to implement across the disciplines

    According to the author, zeroing in on relationships and expectations are key when it comes to producing proficient students.

    Davis writes, "To provide diverse learners with culturally responsive instruction, we must build relationships and hold high expectations, provide rigorous content knowledge while making explicit the hidden rules of learning, and teach students how to learn as well as what to learn."

    The author, a veteran teacher of 37 years, is passionate about education. She has taught in middle schools, high schools, universities, homeless shelters, and a men's prison. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including Teacher of the Year, the Governor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Anti-Defamation League's World of Difference Community Service Award.

    How to Teach Students Who Don't Look Like You is published by Corwin Press. To read a chapter from the book, click here for the PDF document.

    Copyright 2006, Deb Sistrunk

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  • Sunday, October 08, 2006

    Guest Article: A Breach of Contract

    Today's Guest Article is from Dr. Reid Cornwell

    A Breach of Contract

    With the decrease in the number of students qualifying for college, increasingly institutions rely on the reputations of their faculty to attract families to their campuses. They tout the number of Nobel Laureates or Turing prize winners or other such awards for research and publication.

    Universities and colleges actively recruit high profile people to join their roles to beef up the institutional resume'. They give them big salaries and big titles but little responsibility.

    Ordinary professors are put on a diet of "publish or perish.' Few accolades are available to highly successful scholars who only wish to teach. In fact, if a Professor wants to be a great teacher, but not publish, they are unlikely to get tenure and the protection it affords.

    Success in academia is measure by how much grant money a Professor can garner. If they are highly successful they can use their grant money to buy out their teaching requirements. As a result, most undergraduate students will never get access to these scientists or scholars.

    The institutions, that require some teaching load, will allow a Professor to use graduate students to take the lion's share of the teaching responsibility. Unfortunately, these graduate students lack the preparation, training, content expertise, language skills or personality to do the job well.

    Few senior Professors want to teach introductory courses. It is a common practice to let some graduate student carry this load. However, they have their own classes and requirements to manage. The result is poor classroom preparation, lack of availability and slowness to return tests and other indicators of progress. The supervision by a senior Professor is often an illusion.

    The result is that the least capable instructors in the academic community are teaching the most needy students. This combination is deadly for struggling students.

    Let's revisit the notion that tests are returned slowly. Today I learned of a Chemistry Professor that decided to take an introductory course last spring. He complained about the quality of instruction but more importantly he reported that despite repeated requests he had not had his final exam returned.

    For a struggling student the tests are the way they find out what they don't know. In a science or mathematics courses, ones that are based on building a systems of laws or rules, if you take three weeks to return a test and you move on in building the foundation, a student can be in over their head and not know until it is too late. This is a recipe for failure.

    At all levels of education, this slow return practice is common.

    Take my neighbor's son. At mid-term he reported a "B" average in calculus: at final he failed. He had in fact failed his mid-term but the graduate assistant did not give back the test until a week before the final. By that point he was drowning and did not know it.

    If you contracted with a master carpenter to perform some service and instead his junior assistant showed up you would be upset. If an ad promised a product of a certain quality but when it arrived at your house it was not that same standard you would call it "Bait and Switch". Under the law this is fraud and a breach of contract.
    Yet everyday colleges promise the credibility of the major professors and what they deliver is a graduate student. How is this different than "Bait and switch?"

    If your carpenter promises to deliver his service at a certain time with a certain quality and he did not, you would be irate.
    When a University publishes that Dr. Aristotle will teach a class and his graduate assistant, in fact does, how is this different?
    In my backwoods thinking, this is a breach of contract of epic proportions! The consequence may be catastrophic to your child.

    Copyright 2006, Reid Cornwell

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  • Saturday, October 07, 2006

    On Education and Tolerance

    The Politics of, and in, the Classroom

    I always try to be as inclusive and engaging as possible in the classroom, of course. But it's tough to know how far one "ought" to push those who object to certain directions of discussion/thought/action on issues as personal as religion, or basic worldviews.

    When does one cross the line between respecting differences and encouraging growth, and forcing one's agenda on others?

    Do the power-relations of the classroom--that of teacher/student--mandate that we error on the side of caution, and simply let it go? But wouldn't that be to give up on one of the most basic qualities of an education (to expand one's sphere of knowledge and value)?

    Location, Location, Location

    It seems that schools (their capabilities, and their populations) are quite different based on regional factors, and the various characteristics of place.

    For example, I've recently relocated to Colorado, and it's as though I've moved to a different country (my former life was in in the South). Now I'm living in an area where, according to the last census, over 91% of the population has at least a high school diploma, and nearly 40% have at least an undergraduate degree (vs. 75%, and 18% respectively, in my former location). I know I'll never go back.

    However, this experience has brought home the issues of a cultural/economic divide within the nation. Certain geographic regions have drawn the highest populations of college educated graduates. These areas have not only held on to the vast majority of their own graduates, but they are drawing graduates from the rest of the country, and abroad.

    It's not enough to say that there are simply more business opportunities there and leave it at that. These grads are seeking more than just jobs. Young people are looking for places that they can feel "home"--that is, they can be themselves.

    Certainly, there are a number of factors that come into play regarding where one chooses to live and work...

    Dr. Richard Florida's economic and sociological research/analysis of the subject (that is, the distrobution and socio-economic impact of Talent, Technology, and Tolerance) is certainly worth a read. He is the Hirst Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University, a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization, and a Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institution. He has taught regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University, and has been a visiting professor at MIT and Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

    I wonder, what could be the role of Social Networks in the promotion of Forida's "3 T's" of Talent, Technology and Tolerance?

    21st Century Education, and the Rise of Social Networks

    Does social networking provide a new and more powerful tool for the struggle against ignorance?

    Whether it's a free place for communities to preserve and share their stories or family histories (such as one finds at Gather, or on Web Biographies), or a way for members of the business community to network and share innovative approaches to their industries (such as one finds on LinkedIn), social networks provide a space to broaden one's sphere of knowledge and associations.

    Isn't this simply a 21st Century version/vision of that most basic goal of the educational process?

    Shouldn't teachers be USING this new and exciting tool---one which students have already embraced--to help share our stories; to broaden our worldviews; to force us to look at one another in new and engaging ways?

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    When Politics Drives Science, and Vice Versa, with a Splash of Religion

    June 16th's episode of NPR's "Talk of the Nation" was terribly interesting (you can listen to it here you can listen to it here).

    The authors of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science and The Republican War on Science had something of a debate on the issues surrounding the pursuit of science (and education) in this country.

    The scientific community hasn't been this politicized for a LONG time (I'm reminded of the trial of Galileo, the outcry against Darwin--the Monkey Trial of the 20th Century, and then again over Intelligent Design, in Dover, PA).

    I've taught for a number of years, and have encountered students who've objected to course material on religious grounds. At a public college, no less.

    While I personally detest any fundamentalist stance that seeks to squelch the free exchange of ideas, I felt that the most ethical thing to do in that situation was to make concessions for the student in question (we worked together to design a suitable alternate assignment--a compromise sacrificing neither this student's education, nor religious conviction).

    However, I know this must be happening more and more often--and not only in the South. Have any of you encountered this issue? How'd you deal with it?

    I can understand a religious-minded education at private institutions. That's why they were originally created, anyway. But history is full of examples where this has gone too far. Science in the Muslim World, for example, has NEVER recovered from the rise of fundamentalism at about the time of the European Renaissance. The Moorish city of Cordoba had running water...when most of Europe was reeling from the Black Plague. Just a few hundred years later, the situation was very different.

    Scholars such as Richard Florida, in his books, The Rise of the Creative Class, and The Flight of the Creative Class, have documented the effect that an open society has on education/technology/scholarship. Basically, research has shown that the brightest people go where they will find the most tolerant atmospheres in which to work and live (areas/nations that are most open to new ideas). And the businesses/industries which require such skilled and talented workers will follow their lead (i.e. Silicon Valley, Austin, Seattle, Boston, New York, the Denver-Boulder area, etc.). Many of the companies located in these places simply COULDN'T operate as well elsewhere. They require a highly skilled--and highly creative--workforce.

    Now, the U.S. is seeing a rise in religious fundamentalism (though this is nothing new, it IS taking on a new strength), in tandem with that of the Middle East.

    Are we in danger of a second Dark Ages, as the best and brightest move to Europe, Canada, or Asia?

    The number of international students at U.S. universities has gone steadily downward since 2001. At the same time, European, Asian, and Canadian universities have ramped up development and are starting to woo scholars from around the world (basically, playing our own game...and winning).

    So, are we beginning to see signs of an American Brain-Drain--or at least of a significant "migration" elsewhere? If scientists and other creative types begin to feel unwelcome (in an area, region, or nation), they'll leave. They can easily find positions elsewhere. The competition for talent among universities and businesses is fierce, and is growing all the time.

    For me, religious conviction and education are NOT mutually exclusive. Our own university system is an ancestor of the Medieval period--the Cathedral, and Palace Schools of Charlemagne and Alfred the Great.

    But to today's new breed of fundamentalists, it seems that a full consideration of an opposing point of view is anathema to the fundamentalist stance. Perhaps I did that student a disservice....

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  • Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Guest Article: "A New Approach to Home Schooling: Unschooling"

    From time to time, I will feature articles from other teachers and scholars on topics related to Education.

    Today's Guest Article is from Duane Bates:

    A New Approach to Home Schooling: Unschooling

    More and more parents are taking home schooling to a new level and are educating their children without any curriculum or formal plan. It is called "unschooling" and it is based on the belief that children will learn better and faster if allowed to follow their own interests and curiosity with guidance and assistance from their parents. There may be as many as 200,000 children being educated using the unschooling approach in the United States. A link to a full report is posted below.

    As radical as this approach to teaching young children may seem, it can be more effective in specific situations. I saw an interview with a family in Chicago that is using the unschooling approach, and was impressed with the both the parents and their children. The wife was a college educated stay-at-home mom and her husband had a doctorate in Physics. The three children were a ten-year old girl and two boys about seven and 4 years of age. The parents were natural teachers who inculcated the love of learning in their kids, and modeled the same value. They did not use the TV as a baby sitter and did not appear to be obsessed with material wealth or the "more is better" syndrome.

    Each morning the mother would talk with her children about their learning interests for the day. Then, she would assist them in finding the right resources to accomplish their goals. Some days, the plan for the four-year old included watching some TV or just playing as any normal boy that age would. I was particularity impressed with the ten-year old girl who seemed to have an excellent fund of knowledge on a number of subjects and who was very articulate. The mixture of play and learning is an established method of maximizing education, and is often used in the traditional home schooling approach. Families planning learning and play activities together can accomplish social interaction with other kids, and more public schools are allowing home-schooled kids to participate in school based activities such as sports and selected classes that need specialized equipment or teaching skills.

    Some good friends of mine have home schooled their five children during their Primary years, gradually transitioning to public and private schools as they grew older. Right now, the youngest boy (who is fifteen) follows a home school based curriculum for most of his courses, but attends ROTC and Chemistry classes at the local high school.

    I have no concerns about the kids in the Chicago family's educational plan. Their parents have the needed attitudes, values and behaviors to produce educated children regardless of the teaching environment or method. Our two daughters attended public schools in the US and Europe. But we knew that what they learned in school was only the beginning of their education, not the end. A child's education begins and ends at home, with his or her parents. Our schools can only do so much in overcoming the educational deficits in our homes and culture. Occasionally, a child's natural intelligence and desire for learning will overcome a poor home environment, but this is clearly the exception.

    If a society does not value learning and education, as our does, the result will be the gradual decline in the overall level of knowledge, productivity and civility in the general population that we are now seeing in the United States, and a continuing growth in the gap in income and wealth between the well educated and poorly educated. Effective home schooling, with or without a formal curriculum, requires that one parent be at home, meaning that the family must be able to live on one income. In the United States living on one income is becoming more and difficult to achieve for eighty percent of the population. Middle-class incomes continue to decline in the face of lagging wages and inflation. And the cost of higher education is soaring.

    At the same time, tax-payers seem more and more reluctant to provide the needed funds for public education, just when the need is greatest. It is not surprising that the home schooling and unschooling movements are attracting more educated parents who are determined to provide their children with an education that will prepare them to compete in the global economy.

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    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    What Really ARE the Needs of Our Students?

    When considering any notions of reform, it's normally helpful to make an effort to define one's terms and intentions.

    As a college instructor, I've a personal interest in defining the role of today's universities. My academic backgrounds--the fields in which I have undergraduate and/or graduate degrees--are in Writing and Poetics, English, and Secondary Education.

    However, I'm also a member of the business community. In the past, I've served as Director of Online Marketing and Content Generation for a national powersports dealership (we sold and delivered new and used ATVs, motorcycles, jet skis and jet boats to consumers all over the US), and I've just accepted a position at a recently launched Tech startup. This means that I've a professional interest in the "product" of universities/colleges--namely, the quality of the students' education--those whom I'll make the decision to hire, or not.

    I suppose this situation gives me a somewhat different perspective than many of my collegiate colleagues (though of course there are many others like myself out there--particularly in disciplines such as Business or Engineering). Like Tiresias, I feel I've been given the opportunity to simultaneously approach this issue from differing sides.

    The old ideal of the Liberal Arts Education still holds sway among most academics--particularly in disciplines regarded as among the Liberal Arts (i.e., the Arts & Humanities, my own area).

    We want our students to receive a well-rounded education. We want them to be able to think critically about various problems, and to approach solutions from an interdisciplinary perspective. We stress collaborative learning, tolerance for opposing points of view (academic, or otherwise), and want our students to be effective and enthusiastic life-long learners and communicators.

    Many academics want the university to hold a place of respect, approaching reverence, in the popular culture. We value education (having personally devoted the bulk of our adult lives to it) above mundane concerns such as "What are you going to do with a major in English? Teach?"

    Education is something we pursue for the beauty of it. We like the idea of education for education's sake. It is its own reward; deepening our experience and understanding of the world around us. Intrinsic motivation is our primary motivation.

    Our students, particularly those from Lower- or Working Class backgrounds (like me), take Liberal Arts classes largely because they're requirements for graduation. These students are interested in what's "practical" for their future careers.

    Certainly there are many of these students who share the educational values I mentioned earlier, but the statistics are grim for traditional Liberal Arts disciplines, like Literature, where the number of students pursuing the major has been in steady decline for the past decade (see the many studies/reports conducted by the Modern Language Association at MLA).

    Is the rising cost of a college education, and proportionately rising amount of student loan debt, forcing a shift in the way we teach as well as what we teach? How do we satisfy the expectations, and needs of our students? What really are the needs of our students--and are these also the needs of employers?

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    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Why Teach?

    I'd love to hear how others came to choose this life-path too. Please, share your stories!

    I first came to teaching through my martial arts background. Fairly early on in life (my early teens), I was chosen to help teach beginners. My teacher always had more advanced students show the basics (stances, punches, kicks, etc.) to new students on a 1-to-1 basis. He would tell us that "You never really know anything, until you've taught it to someone else." Our teaching became part of our training. And he was right.

    I quickly found that I genuinely enjoyed this, while some of my fellow student-instructors just hated this assignment. And of course, none of them told our teacher that...

    Over time, I began to consider the possibility that one day I might open my own Martial Arts school.

    Eventually, I went to college and pursued a degree in something that I enjoyed (a BA in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing). Once I graduated, I found that there were no decent prospects for me in my home town. I had friends at Penn State who'd gone on to decent-paying technical writing jobs, PR positions, or as content managers/creators for websites (this was in '96, and the first Internet Boom was just revving up). But those friends were from, or had relocated to, other cities. I didn't have that luxury at the time.

    After a year or so of back- and soul-crushing labor in a factory (which is the ONLY opportunity for young people where I grew up--college educated and high school dropout alike), I decided to head back to school and finish the additional coursework for a second undergraduate degree in Secondary Education, English. I already knew that teaching was something that I enjoyed doing, and it would give me an opportunity to move pretty much anywhere in the country.

    I attended a job fair on campus near the end of my Senior year, and I was hired for a position in Texas (a town just outside of Houston).

    During that first year, I quickly decided that teaching 8th-Graders was very much not for me. God bless the people who do it, it's one of the toughest jobs you can imagine. It's even more difficult than my year on 3rd shift factory work!

    Of course, there were other dimensions to my move. I was living in Houston the year they beat Los Angeles as "American with the worst air quality." The place was quite literally making me sick.

    When I look back, teaching 8th Grade was definitely a valuable and formative experience. The good days showed me that teaching really was something I loved to do--and that I cared quite deeply about the profession, my students, and my pedagogy. On the bad days, I felt more like a babysitter, than a teacher.

    I came to realize that my teaching style, and personality, were best suited to a university setting.

    I set plans for grad school in motion, as my contract year in TX came to a close.

    As a grad student, I found that I positively flourished as a college instructor. I could really make a difference, and connect on a deeper level with my students. There was no longer this teacher/student divide that was always there with the 8th-Graders, where I sensed that I was often a surrogate parent.

    In my college classrooms, we were ALL learners participating in the educational project together. My favorite classes were--and are to this day--the ones where I am taught by my students.

    When I read their work, they're always venturing into new territory--and that's inspiring!

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