Tuesday, August 28, 2012

We talk too much

It's not that I'm opposed to conversation; I thrive on razor-sharp dialog, lightening-quick humor, and premise-challenging interactions.  What I want to stop is the habit of lecturing that we've somehow substituted for teaching.

My semester is off and running and I am reminded (yet again) how much I enjoy the craft and calling of teaching...and how frustrated I am by the myriad forces that have created an increase in the size and number of lecture courses.  I am one of the fortunate ones, afforded the opportunity to work with smaller, specialized  undergraduate classes and the ubiquitously-diligent graduate classes.  Even there, however, the method of teaching is not always ideal, as noted by one of the exiting graduate students this summer:
There was no course in the MMBA program (where) we were able to get one-on-one or even group interaction with a professor.
This bothers me, as an educator, as the parent of a near-college-age student, and as a citizen.  The advent of classrooms and schools rather than individual or small-group interaction (think "Socratic method") were an attempt to be efficient and effective in educating more people more quickly.  Good idea.  Good intention.  Mediocre implementation, taken as a whole.

This is on my mind, of late, due to the steadily growing body of data that indicates we have a better way to educate--one that is efficient, effective, and replicates many of the best aspects of the mentor, the dialog, the one-on-one.  But don't take my word for it. Listen to Daphne Koller, who has enough academic credentials and research experience to be more than credible when she says:
We should spend less time at universities filling our student's minds with content by lecturing them, and more time igniting their actually talking with them.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What I sent to our vice provost

One of the reasons I enjoy my work is because I am often challenged to think.  That's a good thing.  So, having been challenged (asked) by our new vice provost for distance education about my objection to the use of "innovative technology" to describe our distance education strategy, I took some time to consider my objection:

There's a reason I am not in marketing, despite having been assured many times that I'd be "perfect" in that role.  I can understand why people might think I'd be a fit for marketing, when the reality is that I am a questioner, a challenger, and, when I believe in something, a persuader.  Marketing tends to be selling the sizzle, creating the buzz, etc.  It's important and brands are built that way, but it's not what I do best.  

Unless I'm overlooking something (or it's somewhere on campus that I haven't been), my university is behind in our pursuit of quality distance education.  That's actually the good news, because the innovators take the risks, make the mistakes, and blaze the path.  It's the ones who come later (second movers or those who adapt to survive) who can learn from the mistakes and offer a better product.  

I don't see innovative technology on our campus.  We have some of the basics (Blackboard, Skype, some pockets of other technologies, etc.) and some very large holes that even the two-year colleges within our system have filled better than we have.  So, from my perspective, only a marketer could describe our technology as innovative and cutting edge.  

But what we DO have are innovative ideas, innovative people, and a system-wide spirit of innovation to address the opportunity and challenge of the things you've articulated very well (below).  What I'd like to see us do is not simply copy or play catch-up with others in this space, but to step back, start without any pre-conceived ideas, and see what possible solutions our innovation can provide.  Innovative solutions.

One example:  Our system does not function as a system, but as disparate and, sometimes, competing entities.  That wouldn't matter, perhaps, except that the big losers are the students we are trying to serve.  If I am a student (traditional college age or older student who is seeking a college degree later in life), the system is a morass of conflicting and confusing offerings.  If I am fortunate enough to find one of the two-year colleges who offer me a mostly (or fully) distance/online schedule and I work diligently to gain my associates degree, then what?  The majority of the distance/online offerings at my campus are graduate degrees, which are of no use to me at all until/unless I complete two more years of online offerings (which could be blended and include some monthly or weekly sessions at my local high school or library).  Where in the system can I find the solution to my problem?  And why is that not one of the questions we are addressing?