Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Curious about what happens to curiosity

If curiosity were framed as a competitive advantage in the workplace, business schools would be in serious competition to develop curricula in curiosity.  Consider, if you will what might be taught in:
  • Competing for Curiosity
  • How Curious is Your Strategy?
  • Curious Economics
  • Curiosity Killed the Competition
  • Accounting for the Curious
  • Curious Markets I Have Known
A Google search on curiosity has 26,600,000 results.  Narrow the search to intellectual curiosity and the results shrink to 3,360,000.  Much of the accepted wisdom in the articles, news stories, and blogs is about how kids are naturally curious.  Which is why I'm wondering what has happened to those Curious Kids by the time they get to college.

Curbing the curiosity Is it the educational system?  Is it the demands of the job market?  Is it our parenting style(s)?  Perhaps some inextricable combination of multiple factors?  Whatever it is, I'm seeing classrooms full of students who diligently take notes, perform at (what they perceive to be) the minimum requirement to get the grade they want, and, more often than not, accept without question whatever lecture material is provided.

(Let me wander off the path momentarily to differentiate the all-too-prevalent "gotcha" students--the ones who exhibit the obsolete meaning of curiosity, which is exactness or accuracy--from those who have a desire or inclination to learn about or inquire into any subject.  The former are proliferating as rapidly as the latter are disappearing.) 

I have very little in the way of scholarly wisdom to impart; rather, I just miss having the equivalent of academic playmates who find joy in intellectual discovery of something not known at the beginning of a spontaneous episode of curious cavorting.  I make room for it in my class planning, I encourage it in my students, I demonstrate it (sometimes to the point of absurdity), and the joy of learning--for no other reason than the fun of it--seems hard to find.

What if the absence of curiosity--and the related joy of learning--is a symptom that we're teaching and studying the wrong things?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Writing crap

In the world of online reading, it's hard to know where the road will lead. That happened today when I found Danah Boyd's post about the academic impact of what we--meaning, loosely, academics--write.  In a conference presentation to academics focused on research output, Danah (a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society), calls it as she sees it:
If you didn't believe in the value of research, my guess is that you could game the system to maximize citations and publications. There are plenty of folks out there who do indeed write crap that they don't believe in so that they can stir up controversy and get people to pay attention to their work.
Impact doesn't necessarily have to be about the public, but it does have to be about the future. It is fundamentally about getting people to think and see the world in new ways. My hope is that we can find a way to get beyond discussing impact and generate research that does impact.
In this view of the world, impact includes writing for the public, which may actually make some research far better, more useful, more engaging.   Anne Davis writes about the unfortunate dichotomy between research and writing in her EduBlog Insights:
I have blogged very little since working on published research for the past two years. I can’t help but think all the published results would have been improved with input from the larger audience that would lead to better meaning making.
This isn't a new dialog; it's been around for as long as I can remember and all that's changed is the forum.  But perhaps a larger forum will generate more possibilities by blurring the line (for the better) between quantifiable research for the purpose of securing tenure and research that allows us to be better educators.  Or, as one of my students wrote:
(We) should be taught real world experiences from teachers (not researchers) with real world experiences. Researchers should be in educational walls, but in concert with teachers. Researchers provide a great foundation for the theory of the concepts used in the real world, while the actual teachers should provide knowledge of how to apply these concepts in real world situations. This would apply Bloom’s taxonomy by providing the knowledge, understanding and application from researchers and analysis, synthesis and evaluation from the teachers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Are we taking the harder right?

"Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won."  This quote from the USMA Cadet Prayer kept playing in my head after reading student responses to Employers Want 18th-Century Skills

Today, I'll let the student voices stand alone; they really don't need any help from me.
Senior finance major.  The comments posted at the end of this article are the perfect example of the problems inherent to this country’s educational system. The writer of the article used a title that he did not fully clarify within his writing and instead of having an intelligent discussion about how to improve education, the entire conversation is about what is meant by the title.
In my personal opinion, colleges should be a place of elitism. It is hard to go to college. It is expensive, it is hard work and it should not be a vo-tech school. You should be forced to read classical literature, forced to learn a second language, basic math in college should be calculus and a semester of study abroad should be required. You should work hard to get a college degree and it should give each student a general knowledge of all subjects.
Senior management major.  This is the problem in Japan too. Many people are good at doing what they are told to do. That is, they have problem-solving ability. However, they are not good at thinking critically and voluntarily; they don't have problem-seeking ability.
Senior finance major I agree with Mark when he states that businesses are looking for employees who can both write and communicate clearly. Let’s face it. Who wants someone who has to have someone revise and edit their e-mail before they send it out to their superiors or colleagues? Secondly, who would want someone who goes around the office speaking the language of SMS, using lols, and omgs? Furthermore, to comment on the tangents being produced throughout the comments about punctuation, and grammar, most of these were minor errors. But, I do have one question. With all the elaborate word usage and detailed demonstrations put into written words in each comment…would you honestly forgo your literacy training in college for a technology skill to be taken in its place?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Educator, teach thyself

 In an article sent to me on Friday with the subject line "chapter you might appreciate...," I learned something...then I learned something else...then I got excited about both of those, did some research, and starting seeing connections:
If we wanted to apply his style to, say, working on a new sales presentation, we wouldn't use other sales presentations for ideas, we'd use novels or plays, movies, paintings . . . maybe even, I don't know, zoos, or airports. And not just one, but dozens. Some would become rough models, several going at once.
By this point in my reading and research, I was seeing connections everywhere.  Because the Gehry Style is what I encourage when I teach.  It's through the use of novels, plays, movies, mythology, and music that many of us do our best and most creative work--and learn to see the connections that exist across and among seemingly disparate things.  And the ability to see connections seems critical to correctly framing a problem...and then solving it.

And, based on student responses to The Journal of  Higher Education debate, the students get it...maybe even more than the educators.  More on that soon.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I can work with anyone....except her

I've written before about grades and the unintended consequences of placing too much emphasis on GPA.  At our career center (I shudder even to write this), students are instructed to place GPA at the top of their resume.  Little wonder, then, that grades loom large here.  And yet, employers continue to take a much broader view of potential candidates, as illustrated by CNN's recent Top 10 reasons employers want to hire you, where good cultural fit (described as being able to adapt) and ability to work with others are two of the 10.

The course I'm currently teaching has, by design, both individual work and teamwork as part of a student's grade.  The biggest complaint about the teamwork is that they lose control over the quality of the work; thus, teamwork may cause their grade to suffer.  The most popular solution offered by the students?  Don't make us work in teams.  And, if you're going to force us to work in teams, don't make us work with people we don't like or who aren't as smart as we are.

I've been incredulous listening to students explain how The Real World doesn't work this way, that they will be able to control their own destiny when they get a job, and that I simply do not understand how unfair it is to have others negatively impact ones work.  My internal response is roughly, "O, really? You seriously think my reputation is not affected by the professors you label as uncaring and incompetent?  By the anonymous feedback provided through teacher evaluations?  By committee meetings--and members--that often drain my last ounce of creativity and interest?"  My external response is a sigh.  I wonder whether it's possible to develop a thirst and drag them to water.

Since one of the teams in my class decided to "fire" a member this week--for communication and performance differences which seem insurmountable to them and are, in fact, the very issues they will encounter in every company, job, and working relationship--I am highly motivated to seize this learning opportunity, both for myself and for my students.

This debate in The Chronicle of Higher Education exemplifies the difference of opinion among educators about what we should teach and why--which, of course, raises the question of how.  And that brings us full circle to assessing whether students are learning what they need to know.  So, one of the assignments for my class next week will be to read the article and the responses.  Then they have to weigh writing...for a grade.  It's a place to start.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why I love teaching

There are some days when it just works; today was one of them.  And if I could explain why and how it happens, I would.  What creates engaged students, willing contributions to class discussion, and startled disbelief that almost 2 1/2 hours have passed?  This is why I love teaching.  This is also why I despair some days about ever getting it right.

It may be a rare combination of subject matter, students enrolled (over which I have no control), prevailing winds, and the capriciousness of the gods.  Today we talked about Sun Tzu's Art of War (which you can read here), Rudyard Kipling's Six Honest Serving Men, Total Quality Management (TQM), competitive rivalry, Cirque de Soleil, and softball.  It just doesn't get much better.