Archive for September 28th, 2011
Rupert Murdoch‘s reputation precedes him—but one thing he’s not well known for is his education reform advocacy. But that could soon change. Next month, Murdoch will make an unusual public appearance in San Francisco, delivering the keynote address at an education summit hosted by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has lately been crisscrossing the country promoting his own version of education reform.
The high-profile speech to a collection of conservative ed reformers, state legislators, and educators is just the latest step in Murdoch’s quiet march into the business of education, which has been somewhat eclipsed by the phone-hacking scandal besieging his media empire. Murdoch has made it very clear that he views America’s public schools as a potential gold mine.
Is it OK with you that faculty are not required to know anything about teaching? Do you think the government and institutions are meeting their responsibilities to the public by not requiring faculty to know how to teach? Do you think that the teaching practices associated with online learning are the same as the teaching practices used in the classroom? Are you fearful that online learning will eliminate the need for faculty? If I said to you that a faculty member can be replaced by a pre-recorded lecture streaming from a server, would you believe me? Or would you find such an idea laughable? Is a lecture an effective means of providing education? Do you think of lecture capture as an innovation? Or is that laughable too? Do students like having lectures available online? How would you teach online?
Do you know the difference between synchronous and asynchronous? Do you get all atwitter over Tweets? If you had to choose between using a blog or a wiki for online learning which would you choose, and why? If I said to you the first online course I ever took was on Enjoying Wine would you believe me? Can you imagine how such an online course would structure activities to engage students’ sense of smell and taste? Have you ever enjoyed champagne with popcorn on a hot summers day?
This book poses question after question – mad, peculiar, and often very thought-provoking. Unlikely though it sounds, it’s a work of real charm.
Might I ask you a question? How do you feel when the prose that you are reading suddenly erupts into the interrogative, into a question posed directly to you? Are you irritated? Do you feel challenged, intruded upon, put on the spot, rather as if someone has just pointed a gun at you? Does it break the narrative trance in a way that you find disruptive and off-putting, much as you dislike those plays in which a character breaks the fourth wall and turns to directly address the spectators? Does it feel, that is, like an attempt at an annoying form of audience participation? (And if so then are you, like me, the sort of person who tends to avoid plays where you think this sort of thing might happen?) Or do you have the opposite response – are you pleased and gratified that the author, who up to this point has perhaps been behaving like a self-obsessed monologist, a party guest who just can’t stop talking about himself, has suddenly recognised the existence of persons beside themself and shown a degree of interest in you? Are you, that is to say, flattered to be asked?
Read also: The Interrogative Mood
Over the past two years I’ve been noticing a lot of commentary, articles, and conversation lamenting how out of step traditional institutions are with contemporary students and forecasting the demise of the university. Here are a few examples:
End the University as We Know It
The Impending Demise of the University
DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education
Why Free Online Lectures will Destroy Universities Unless They Get Their Act Together Fast
I read all of these with great interest and have considerable empathy for much of the disenchantment I hear expressed. However, my interest isn’t around the doomsday portent but in unearthing substantive descriptions of alternatives.
I’ve been playing around with some alternatives in my own mind and thought I’d work one of them out here in public. The alternative I’m imagining recasts the traditional “open university” in contemporary terms. It synthesizes multiple related “open” initiatives into a common core operating principle that defines the university and the education it provides.
I’ve started imagining a University of Open.
Almost universally, studies find that scientists believe the public is inadequately informed about science topics, including food risks, genetic modification, chemicals, and even aquaculture. Further, scientists believe that, except for a small minority, the public is uninterested in becoming more knowledgeable.
The consequence, and cause, of the public’s limited scientific sophistication has also been the subject of speculation by scientists. Several studies find that scientists view the public as non-rational and unsystematic in their thinking such that they rely on anecdotes and then overreact to minor risks. Others have found that scientists see the public as emotional, fear prone, overly focused on the sensational, self-interested and stubborn in the face of new evidence. Because of these perceived limits, scientists argue that scientific information needs to be simple, carefully worded, visual and entertaining.
Language is so central to everything we are and do from toddlerhood on that unless you are a) a linguist or b) right now raising a toddler it’s easy to forget just how amazing our capacity to produce and decode speech actually is. For the most part, language just works – by some mysterious process, people all over the world absorb the complex, underlying rules of their native grammars and store a vast lexicon of words and idioms in long-term memory. Effortlessly, we share stories, make demands, manipulate and delight one another with language. Almost never does the conversation come to a screeching halt as someone reels from vertigo over this linguistic highwire act we’re constantly engaged in.
But the process of language acquisition is mysterious indeed, and the subject of intense, internecine quarrels among linguists. Noam Chomsky, a titan in the field, famously argued that humans are born with an “L.A.D.” (language acquisition device) – a structure in the brain that is hardwired with “universal grammar” so that a baby airlifted and deposited in any country on earth is primed to acquire the local language fluidly and rapidly. Earlier hypotheses viewed children’s minds as a “tabula rasa” – a blank slate of memory that records, verbatim, all language spoken around it. This, Chomsky and others have argued, is simply insufficient to explain children’s early understanding and creative use of the underlying structures of language.
View also a Video
The traditional approach to learning—one focused primarily on formal education—is inadequately preparing the future workforce for competitiveness-critical occupations. A new approach—one that encourages formal education and practical application supports lifelong learning and offers potential to turn the tide.
For many years, most of the ongoing research in the fields of Learning Sciences, Social Sciences, and Engineering Education Research has been directed primarily at understanding learning and teaching processes within formal educational environments such as schools. These research fields are changing and now include informal as well as formal learning opportunities. A more holistic, ecosystem view includes a new emphasis on workplace learning.
The workplace, it turns out, is an excellent setting to allow formal and informal learning to be more explicitly connected (e.g., competencies and learning strategies taught in the formal environment are directly linked to student learning and performance within the workplace). If the educational ecosystem investment (formal and informal) is viewed as a portfolio, then funding investigations that look at education as a capacity-building system for the workplace should be considered.
Too often the higher-education leadership establishment gets furious when outsiders offer observations about the way they do business. The way to low-cost higher education, then, lies largely outside the current establishment. We need new approaches, utilizing new technologies. American ingenuity is responding, and we now have several promising ways that Americans can learn cheaply at a “higher” level than what passes for knowledge and wisdom in today’s secondary schools. Let me mention four innovations.