Friday, September 29, 2006

The Collegiate Experience

As a writer concerned with the current events of higher education, it is only appropriate that I comment on the recent speech by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Unfortunately, I feel like I am entering in the middle of this discussion, and I am not ready to begin participating in it. Instead I'm simply going to offer you some article links and talk about something else.
The Spellings Plan
The Sounds of Conciliation
In Focus: The Spellings Commission

Instead of Spellings, I want to talk some more about the implications of Course casting. I know that I've already posted on this, but I just can't get over the excitement of what it all could mean. Everything to follow is my personal and probably overly optimistic hopes for the changes that would follow the widespread availability of quality courses online with audio visual components.

If the content of a course is available free for everyone, what are the students who decide to pay to be there really wanting? They want the Collegiate Experience. Without lectures what is the collegiate experience? It is going to a place where experts of the field congregate. It is mentorship and networking. It is access to lab equipment and primary resources. It is peer discussions and study groups. It is RSOs and football games. It is the cafeteria and the local hangouts. It is living with strangers and making new friends. It is leaving home and growing up. It is the whole student.

I'm sorry I got a bit carried away there. What does this emphasis on experience mean? Well in my ideal future, there will no longer be lecture halls full of 50+ students. Faculty will be leading smaller classes where the group spends more time working with the content than they do trying to absorb it. Learning communities will have a surge of popularity, and faculty involvement outside the classroom will be expected.

Eventually everything will level out. One of the perks of American Higher Education is it's diversity. There will be colleges with huge lecture halls and there will be colleges that offer the experience emphasis. What might change for good is which one is considered mainstream.

Monday, September 25, 2006

We're getting better?

Here is the Arkansas report card from Measuring Up the National Report Card on Higher Education.

Preparation D+ (Improvement)*
Participation C (Improvement)
Affordability F (Minimal Improvement)
Completion C (Improvement)
Benefits C (Improvement)

“Arkansas’ underperformance in educating its young population could limit the state’s access to a competitive workforce and weaken its economy over time. The proportion of 9th graders graduating in four years has declined since the early 1990s. Moreover, relatively few students who do graduate are adequately prepared to succeed in college compared with leading states. In addition, Arkansas trails other states in providing college-level education and training opportunities for working-age adults. Since the early 1990s, four-year colleges and universities in Arkansas have become less affordable for students and their families. If these trends are not addressed, they could undermine the state’s ability to compete successfully in a global economy.”

According to the 2006 report we are improving, but here are the grades from 2004:

Preparation C
Participation C-
Affordability F
Completion C
Benefits D+

*Improvement indicates change over time

Good News for Good Will Hunting

According to this article, The Next Level of Open Source Yale is going to start video tapping course lectures and making them publicly available online. They are not the first to do it, in fact MIT has been offering it since 2001. They offer syllabi, reading references, lecture notes, and even assignment and project descriptions. There is no reason why a self-motivated, self-teacher couldn't couldn't take full classes online. If this trend continues, what kind of changes will happen in higher education?

What will this transparency will mean. What will happen when someone compares Fundamentals of Physics offered at UCA to Fundamentals of Physics at Yale? Will UCA instructors be expected to make their course comparable to Yale's? What if UCA is better, would Yale be tarnished? What if a student doesn't like their professor? Can they find a different professor online and opt to take that course instead?

What does this mean for my resume? Right now I fill the special training section of my resume with UCA course titles that are relevant to the job I'm applying for. Can I put OCW (OpenCourseWare) courses on there as well? Will my potential employer see me as self-motivated or will they think that it's irrelevant since there is no way to determine that I understood and processed the information I took in? What if my employer starts expecting it? As a college student I'm suppose to be self-motivated and self-teaching. Per class I'm suppose to spend two to three hours working outside of the classroom. Supposedly I'm already good at taking online courses because the majority of my college experience was happening on my own. That means I have little excuse for not self teaching during breaks. Along those same lines, are students who can't afford college expected to self-teach online? Will a day come where retail management positions require OCW business courses?

The most obvious questions, what will happen to my classes? If everyone can receive the same education, why should I pay for it? Am I still paying for the education, or am I paying for the test? Can they charge that much for a grade? Will the lecture become part of the homework? Will I have the right to demand that my in class experience goes above and beyond what everyone else gets for free? Will college become more about the experience and less about the investment?

This last question is one of the most exciting to me. When the first colleges were founded in Colonial America, they didn't always make the most economic sense. In that agricultural society, there was little reason to let your son leave the farm to learn Greek and Latin. Colleges were providing an experience that was intended to create good citizens and good leaders. Unfortunately, as colleges became more accessible, they also became an investment. We've reached a point where we know exactly how much more a person will earn in their lifetime based on each degree they have. It could probably be argued, that now the experience has very little to do with the courses. If these Open Source Courses take off, we could have education available to all, and the experience available to many.

Friday, September 22, 2006

I’ve been blogged!

To step away from the ‘my life in Higher Ed’ theme and focus a bit more on just the ‘my life’ theme, I’ve been blogged. You may have visited the Rathbone Images link on my sidebar and seen some beautiful pictures of mainly of weddings. Well now, some beautiful pictures from my wedding are there.

My husband (Mike) and I got married in Seattle and Rathbone Images did our photography. They are an incredibly wonderful couple who were just great to have participating. A few weeks after the wedding, they gave me a sneak peek at our pictures and they instantly became two of my favorite people and one of my favorite businesses. I am one of the luckiest women in the world because my wedding exceeded all of my expectations. Keri at Bliss Events made it better than what I had envisioned perfect to be, and Bob and Priscilla captured that. Everyone who sees our pictures understands just how amazing the day was. I’ve lost count of how many people have cried, or struggled not to, while looking at the pictures they put up for us online.

They are amazing people and someday when we move back to Seattle, I’ll have to see about making them our friends instead of our photographers.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Things Taken for Granted

"We are an Equal Opportunity Employer, and there fore do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender, age or disability."

I admit I've completely taken these words for granted. This phrase has been grouped in with Miranda Rights, the surgeon general's warning, and flight attendants' instructions on how to use my seat cushion as a flotation device. I hear it all the time, but I've stopped listening to it, and I've started assuming too much.

I've never thought about where it comes from. If I had thought about it I probably would have just assumed that there is a law or policy somewhere that organizations just copy into their handbooks and manuals. While that is often the case, things can get hazy as we transition between federal employees through state institutions to private businesses. For more information check out the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws, but that is not exactly what I want to talk about right now. The reason that I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't know where it came from is because to follow through with that, I didn't think about who updates it. While I was taking this phrase for granted, I happily assumed that it was updated in a timely fashion all across the country. I was startled yesterday to find out that I was very wrong.

Yesterday this article, Inside Higher Ed Article found it's way to my inbox. On Friday Missouri State University added sexual orientation to the list of barred biases. In other words, as of Friday it is no long acceptable to discriminate against students or employees based on their sexual orientation. I was disappointed in Missouri when I heard this. In my head they should have updated back when everybody else did. I'm not certain when that actually happened, but I know that major corporations are offering benefits for same sex partners so certainly that's already been revised. Ok you can look now. Go back to the quote at the top... that's right it's not their either, but I assumed it would be. That wording was taken from my university's staff handbook and matches the information on the FEEO website. (To UCA's credit our student handbook does have a policy protecting students from discrimination.)

Missouri State University has received a considerable amount of attention and a lot of flack on the topic because of how clearly biased the former president was, but I'm not certain how I should feel. I want to be embarrassed that it took them so long, and I want to scold the board for not setting their president straight. I want to be angry that even after that president left it was a 5-3 vote. Then I look at the numbers they rank with. According to the article, "Missouri State joins hundreds of colleges — 562 according to the latest study by the Human Rights Campaign — that bar bias based on sexual orientation." That seems good but it's the most disturbing point of the entire article. I found out in class a couple weeks ago that in 2003 there were about 4,500 accredited institutions awarding degrees. I am sad that of 4,500, only 562 are barring sexual orientation discrimination.

Something else to think about...

(Brought to my attention by the enviably articulate Michael Herring)

To continue on with the assumptions I was so naively making, I thought this was just about protecting people from discrimination. As it turns out, refusing to let people discriminate is in its self a form of discrimination: Christians Sue for Right Not to Tolerate Policies. This issue of this article is that religious views are being discriminated against if people are forced to accept everyone. Is it unfair to force a Christian student organization to accept homosexual members? or is it unfair to tell homosexual students that they can't be in Christian organizations?

Friday, September 15, 2006

High Tech vs High Touch

Academic Errands as a Freshman

I skipped lunch and my afternoon class in order to make time for an afternoon of errands. I left straight from class to work so I could wait in line and get my paycheck as they were being signed. I took it right to the bank and waited in line to cash it and pull out the majority of my savings because on Academic Errands Day I'm always a big spender. Cash in hand I was ready to head back to campus. For my convince my campus sets up almost everyone that I need to pay in a big room so I can take care of it all at once. I stood in line to pick up my ID. I stood in line to pay my fees. I stood in line to buy my parking permit. I know you can see the pattern already but it doesn't end there. I headed to the bookstore. I stood in line to get help finding my books, and then I got to stand in a longer line while I held all of my books and supplies so I could pay for them. I finished up earlier then I expected so I headed over to the advising center to declare my major. Fortunately I didn't have to stand in line there; they had a place for me to sit and wait my turn. Afterward I was understandably famished so I headed to the cafeteria where they have a fantastic assortment of lines.

My intent isn't to complain. Everyone I encountered was pleasant and helpful. Everyone politely asked, “May I help whoever’s next?” instead of just yelling out, “NEXT!” but a cattle call is still a cattle call even if your cowboy is smiling. Since then, I’ve set my paycheck to direct deposit, I can transfer funds online, and I can withdrawal money from the student center, but few of those types of convinces have been sprouting up on campus. As I start seeing behind the scenes of higher education, I’m hearing more and more about the high-tech vs. high-touch debate. As a student I’m troubled that there is a debate at all. I want my university to be accessible to me when I need it. It is not a matter of high-touch at all. Rather, it is a matter of convince, and I'm not concerned with the number of pleasant faces in the process. I want to get it done efficiently, and more often than not I want to get it done in the middle of the night while I'm up doing homework and thinking about it. I'm speaking only for myself of course, but I believe I would make more appointments with faculty and advisors if I could hop online and make the appointment instead of working into my schedule a time between 9 and 4 to reach them just to make the appointment. Student's value ease, efficiency, and a quick turn around. We would rather not play phone tag when we know we can get something accomplished asynchronously via e-mail. We are not shunning human interaction; we are streamlining busy work.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Death of Denotation?

Last week one of my professors off-handedly mentioned that he had been told denotation may no longer exist. Despite his casual attitude, the comment has stuck with me. For those of you who need a refresher, denotation is the literal twin of connotation. Denotation is the written, documented, and defined meanings assigned to words where as connotation is the implied or alternate meanings that are wrapped up not only in the word but also the body language, the situation, the context, and the tone.

What are the implications of doing away with denotation? Well, it might have a bigger impact than Pluto's demotion. I think I should be happy. With out denotation, it should be much easier to embrace language as the living vibrant creature that it is. When we take a moment to think about it, we all know that language isn't static, but so often we forget to remember that definitions change and dictionaries are out of date. If grammar students are no longer taught that Merriam and Webster are the authorities of their language and rather that each individual is responsible for making meaning, shouldn't we become better communicators? If I can no longer assume that my listener is using my definitions, won't I work harder and be more careful to be sure that my ideas are articulated?

I'm not predicting some cosmic fiasco where definitions will be banished and our language will become garble. Our language is too vital and ingrained to undergo an upheaval like that. Rather our understanding will evolve into what Korzybski called for. In the back of our minds will be the constant reminder that language is never stagnant and we'll start turning to the Oxford English Dictionary instead of Roget's. We'll become accustomed to putting statements into context and searching deeper for the 'right' meaning.

So if I truly believe all of that, why do I feel apprehensive about letting denotation die? Well it's not just the experiences that I've had walking around a foreign country with a translation dictionary. I believe that sometimes words shouldn't be allowed to change. No matter how society tries to belittle the word 'theory,' scientists should stand their ground and refuse to let them have their way with it. Laws should be rewritten as the society changes not retranslated. Even for everyday language purposes there needs to be an neutral ground where sender and receiver can go to find a way to understand one another.