Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Paracosm of Higher Education

David Brooks may not be everyone's favorite op-ed columnist, especially when he takes on higher education, but this week he's writing about the tremendous power of the particular. He speaks to politicians wishing to be everyman - or every voter's man - and makes the claim that it doesn't work.  Look to the particular, even if it means losing a few votes. At least the ones who relate to the choices you make will be there for you.

Brooks talks about the pull of paracosms. I had to look it up, and found it's "a fantasy world invented by children; can have a definite geography and language and history; fairyland, fantasy world, phantasy." Brooks plays with the definition in talking about the New Jersey that Bruce Springstein created in his music. A world now more real to us fans than anything we'd recognize as the "real" New Jersey.

People love their paracosms, whether they be Hogwarts or Thunder Road. My colleagues in higher education, they love the lovely, mythical, magical place we invented and share in our minds and conversations. The quiet, reflective, slow, thoughtful places where a few, privileged students sit at the feet of the wise and tweedy and listen in rapture. I love that paracosm. I'm old enough to remember that place. I believe it still exists, not just in our minds, but at places like Harvard and even at University of Washington Seattle, where the wealthy and very smart are educated.

If you're not wealthy or very smart, you may cling to the paracosm but you can't live there. It's a fantasy. The reality is much duller, tougher, more expensive (from your perspective and income bracket) and not very flexible to your work schedule. But, and here's the crux of this post, even if we can't live in a fantasy world, we CAN shape the real world to be a place where we are happy and our needs are met. It would just mean that the reality of our learners come closer to matching the desperately held paracosm held in the minds and hearts of higher education. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tegrity on the march

Across higher education, my colleagues are telling me that their campuses are embracing site licenses for Tegrity, the lecture capture software. What could be more valuable in maintaining a status quo when all around us is changing than lecture capture? Students beg us to stop lecturing, start embracing the digital age and we twist their words into weapons. Use technology to ward off change and keep our "sage on the stage" culture alive for another 400 years. It won't work, but it doesn't stop us from trying.

Here at University of Washington, we just purchased a site license for all faculty to use Tegrity to record their lectures. Prepare for an onslaught of talking at students. But don't blame Tegrity. Technology does not define use or pedagogy, pace Donald Norman and his brilliant work on the ways use is embedded in design
We do NOT have to record our lectures in an age when all evidence suggests that being talked at is not how the majority of students learn best.

What if we used the license not to lecture, but to engage and encourage participation. Well, Tegrity put on a users' conference in Seattle recently - local, allowing a number of creative instructors and academic technology staff and designers from UW to attend - and guess what? There were some great ideas on re-imagining the use cases for internet-posted event delivery and recording. 

Take a look: Tegrity User Conference recordings (Seattle, April 2012). 

And just imagine: office hours that students can attend from anywhere, Khan Academy-like bits of micro-explanations. Thoughtful reflections, summaries, new practices. Check it out and imagine!

PS: As always, the UW Bothell folks are thinking about use cases, research, possibility. Check out their Tegrity page too.