Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Meaning of a College Education

Today's reading: A college degree is worth less if you are raised poor. 

My friend Debra, a sociologist dedicated to "doing the work" of social good, would often talk with me about what was broken and what was beautiful in a college education. In this knowledge age where industry jobs are disappearing, the American dream now includes the expectation that college is available to all. Which means higher education is being asked to rethink what we do and who we do it to. 

Many campuses must now change their mission from one of exclusion to something greater where every American who wants to go to college can find a way. The challenge is not to simply expand and admit, but to CHANGE (ouch) and adapt ourselves to the needs of the post-traditional / new traditional learner. 

Debra and I used to talk about what that might look like and what it would take not just to teach history and math and science and lit...but to teach that "je ne sais crois" that allow first generation and socio-economically disadvantaged students to demonstrate what used to present as old-school educated.

The topic, fraught with land mines, was really about class and culture. Which college never taught us. Wealthy students came to college with the trappings of class: how they spoke, ate, dressed, their manners, their confidence with peers and deference to those above them by age, expertise, power.

Coming from an inner city lower middle class, but having traveled all around the world, earned a PhD, lived in France and spent most of my life working at universities, I asked my very-privileged class friend if I had adapted and passed? "Sometimes," she replied. 

Wait, I live a life of privilege and still sometimes I don't pass? WTF?? Debra would say using that acronym is an example of 'where one comes from'. But it's my choice: an acronym I'll use on this blog with you, dear reader, but not in the Board room, classroom, stiff social settings I'm now often and unhappily placed. They are settings still outside my class and comfort zone but I know how to put on class airs to please, to disappear, to pass. Sometimes. 

So what about our students that are now $30,000 in debt for a bachelor's degree? Who have not traveled and tried? Who never realized that their instructors did not dare approach the difficult topic of how to behave in a way that will make student debt a return on investment? 

Not our job, we lofty historians, mathematicians, scientists, scholars. It is a hard topic, easily shunted aside as impolitic as we do what we've always done. But sometime soon when the longitudinal studies show us that we took the money and didn't deliver what the new traditionals needed? When we read that they are no longer young, in debt and not getting out? Will we still be saying "not our job?"

If so, I hope we have the class to show shame and remorse. So, a start at conversation from the Brookings Institution and how next to "do the work" -
A college degree is worth less if you are raised poor. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Engagement Insights: Looking at the NSSE Data

As many at UW Tacoma know, we are / have been / will continue to be swept up in change. It's inevitable as society changes to digital; as our students now better represent the whole rather than the privileged few; as our campus leadership changes; as our faculty think about unionizing to counter the increasing hires of PT and FT lecturers, as globalization and technology change everything around us. 

Many realize we must now change our teaching to keep up and to be responsive to the students spending so much money to be here, but find they can't stay here. SO: we now have a Lower Division Task Force to examine why we lose ~50% of our first year cohorts before graduation day. To figure it out, we can't look to story or blame or if only wishes for days gone by. 

Instead, we're gathering artifacts that might provide new ways of educating lower division students. Here's one people might want to ponder: the National Survey of Student Engagement's latest report on the students' perceived experience of undergraduate education.

Some reveals: they want to be challenged with relevant, engaging work; they want more creative work; they feel more engaged and challenged with online experiences. Financial stress was common among undergraduates, particularly among first-generation, women, Black, and Hispanic students. 

Here's hoping the Task Force considers the voice of students in defining change, and rewarding the faculty willing to embrace change for the good of our students. We can yank graduation rates higher than 50-some per cent. If we're willing to change, to be uniquely UW Tacoma, to be the campus that responds to student need with thoughtful, innovative, data-driven solutions. 

If not us, who? If now now...2016 so bright, we should be wearing shades. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Let's Talk New Horizons

New Media Consortium
Every year, as if in mini-birthday celebration, I anticipate the New Media Consortium's Horizon Report. Even years when it's off, hijacked from relevancy by the futurists that often pack the democratic and process-oriented panel choosing the issues, it's a great read on the emerging technologies that will affect higher education in 1, 2-3, and 5 years.

Well, it's out and it's deeper, more thoughtful and more balanced than ever before. READ IT!

What I love about this year's report is that they took on more than technology. That crystal ball approach to bright shiny objects often seemed to ignore the reality of adaptation for those working in the trenches, in the classroom, in technology. Consultants living in the cloud can wax eloquent on how the "internet of things" will transform teaching and learning, but my campus struggles to keep bulbs lit in projectors and markers available on the white boards. Our idea of transformative practice is in finding the deep affordance in new features of the LMS, not MakerSpaces in my math course.

Why does the most referenced research in higher education always talk about students as if they all study at the Ivies, when the mass of students now work, are in debt, go to public colleges and most often, community colleges? Where are the waves of transformative technologies for them? It seems NMC tried this year, and instead of focusing solely on shiny objects out of our reach (5,10, 20 years out), they address the challenges the rest of us have long been facing - solvable, difficult and wicked challenges. 

Well worth the read. Now if they'd stop putting 12-year-olds in lipstick on the cover, as if that is the current face of the nation now going to college, I'd give them an A for effort. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Banning Devices from the Classroom

A Surprising Post from Me (and Clay Shirky). 

I love technology: my desktop, laptop, tablet, iPad, smart phone. GPS Wi-Fi Bluetooth. Apps, software and the internet of things. Devices and software that know me, inform, nudge, update and adjust. 

I Google this and Google that, especially the new functions that support instruction and learning in higher education (Apps, Scholar, Drive). They make me a better teacher and my students more prepared digital citizens, critical thinkers, consensus-based team members. Love it all. 

But I'll be the first to admit that I have an advanced "monkey mind" when my devices beep, bing and buzz. I am easily distracted from hard, deep thinking by the lure of the next info-moment. I can disconnect from the present due to the lure of what I'm missing out there. I have learned to set boundaries and close my email, silence my devices, be here now when attempting to do good, hard work.

Mindfulness matters. I know this about myself and I have the age, wisdom, commitment to my work to do that. (Most of the time.) My students do not, for a diverse variety of reasons. One reason is that "learning" is not their career passion. Another is that my course may not be as exciting to them as it is to me. Maybe they don't have practice in disengaging from the digital. So they come to class with monkey mind. 

I've been aware of this for years, and adapting my teaching for years as a way of integrating their own technology into the curriculum. But while some are Googling the topic, answering my polls, collaborating on the shared notes -- others are checking Facebook and texting in their laps and our course is the less for their moment-to-moment absence. 

We can stop the monkey madness. Here's Clay's take on doing so: ban laptops, tablets and cell phones from the classroom. I concur.

Image CC BY-ND from https://neurocapability.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/technology_1350331040_460x4601.jpg

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I Heard the News Today, Oh Boy

That Beatles song keeps playing in my head as I read news about education, debt, public policy and the general modern-day miseducation of America.

In Seattle, 100 or so K-12 teachers known as the Badass Teachers Association - aka (crazy as) BATS - marched on the Gates Foundation last month. They decided Bill Gates is personally responsible for holding them responsible for student performance on tests. They're mad as BATS, free for the summer, and want  Bill (who has little say in proposals funded, but a public name and lots of money) to butt out in funding innovation proposals. (We don't need no stinkin' innovation.) They pooled money from somewhere to bring in keynote rabble-rouser Anthony Cody ("we hate STEM") from California as there doesn't seem to be enough rabble in the PNW. Bless their hearts for effort.

At the same time, in Tacoma, my colleague - the brilliant and thoughtful Ingrid Walker - led a discussion at the Grand Cinema after the viewing of The Ivory Tower. The documentary, and discussion, brought out a calmer, more diverse and less rabbly crowd. While focusing on hard topics explored in the film (cost, value, disruption, the new loss of trust by society in HE), the audience seemed aware that answers will only come out of very good, hard questions. But also that change is already in the wind, and it's bringing on a storm.

Part of the storm, I believe, comes from people who don't want to think deeply and simply to blame. They ask questions that have the power of a slammed door: Who stole my lovely past? Who moved my cheese? Who let these low-brow, underachieving, non-elite, in-debt learners into college? Why can't we go back to the way it was before technology? What the hell is a MOOC really? Oh, and why doesn't Sal Khan just shut up about the value of personalized learning?

Interesting questions, all. Won't get us anywhere. The reality is that we have left behind a golden past in the industrial age. A past where lock-step schooling was good enough to prepare poor kids for good, dull factory jobs. It paid the bills, bought small homes, and even sent (some, maybe) of their children to college. That doesn't work anymore and everyone from BATS to Bill Gates knows that. Despite/pace Diane Ravitch's empire and its claim all is hunky-dory, we have to do better. We have to change, to prepare for a knowledge age, to create affordable and achievable education for all, and educators have to stop whining about how it will inconvenience us to do it.

Just do it. Just "do the work" as my friend, sociologist Debra Friedman repeatedly said. I hear her voice in my head all the time. Especially when reading the news today, Oh Boy. Do the work.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Who Gets to Graduate?

Rich kids. That's the bottom line. If you come out of a 2-parent family, went to a decent school, got mid-range SATs, then you'll be fine. But smart kids that come from disadvantaged backgrounds? Well, not so much. 

Multitudes now enter our higher education system, take out financial aid, and then wander away disheartened, distressed, and disappointed in themselves. Why, you ask? That's a hard question, and the ways of talking about it are legion, but I'm going to make it easy: higher education mostly doesn't care. We want learners to learn the way we learned; we want to blame them for lack of "persistence," faulty "self-motivation," and poor "self-discipline." Those students who don't have grit? Well, they didn't really belong here. 

I was in a webinar/short course, hosted by Dr. Patricia McGee and presented by EDUCAUSE/ ELI, when my heart cracked. Patricia presented research by Stanford-Bowers (2000) on retention factors in online experiences as perceived by three groups in a Delphi-modeled consensus exercise. Bottom line: we think it's the learner's fault and the learner thinks it is about flexible, engaging, relevant, responsive course experiences. Koyaanisqatsi; life out of balance. 

Provided by Dr. Patricia McGee, based on work of Stanford-Bowers, 2008

It doesn't have to be that way. Instead of asking a new generation of Americans going to college to be different, to create their own safety nets, to suffer - we could change change. We could care more. They're trying it at UT Austin, learning to care, learning to change who gets to graduate with surprising results. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Code of Life, she says. We're Cyborgs, she says.

A short essay in the New York Times has been on my desk for months, yellowing at the edges, waiting to be noticed. It's there as a reminder that I've been meaning to say to my higher education friends "Hey, there's something important here, and we should talk about it." So here it is, The Code of Life, where Juliet Waters shares how simple coding has changed the way she looks at the world. Some of the issues she addresses resonate with how we live, teach, navigate the digital world.

"The biggest surprise has been the recovery of the feeling that my mind is once again my own. The “always-on” agenda of mobile technology, now visible to me in the very design of the devices, could not manipulate me as easily. Where my devices were interrupting my work or my life in these ways, I’ve had an easier time filtering and controlling them," she says.

I address this notion of owning your space all the time when explaining digital literacy. I teach meta-control of digital objects to my students. I yell responsibility from the rafters regarding core curriculum for the 21st century. I often address how the next generation is assumed to (ALL, universally) have a high technical understanding. They don't. They have gadgets, and use them in singular ways. They ARE a little more fearless with new gadgets than the previous generation. Young people are increasingly visual and love to take pictures, often selfies, but few of my students blog or tweet or reflect on who they are presenting as their digital self. 

Waters addresses the power that a deeper understanding allows, even the simple power of being able to look behind the curtain of html. She also delves a bit into the hysteria of those who aren't interested in new literacies - especially the kings of text who resent giving up their supremacy - and how little they understand of the world most of us now inhabit, plugged into our smartphones, ipads, ipods, tablets, kindles...often all at once. We are all cyborgs now, as Amber ase so eloquently tells us, but we do NOT need to be slaves of our machine culture or the people watching us from the analog world. We are free.