Blog posts tagged in Presidents Blog

During the late Fall, I devoted a number of blogs to the ideas generated through a series in The Chronicle of Higher Education that suggested ways to reinvent college.  I shared and commented on some of the ideas proposed by writers for The Chronicle, and shared some of my own ideas as well.

As I described then, readers were invited to formally propose their own ideas … and a winner was chosen in late December.  There were a number of finalists identified:

      Costco University – Faculty own the institution, and administrators work for the faculty.

      Let's Go Monk! The 21st-Century Monastery, Reinvented – Move higher ed back 800 years and everyone is a monk.

      The Mobile University – College is not a specific place, but every student has four mentors.

      Reinvention Poem – Multiple ideas put to rhyme.

But the best idea, according to The Chronicle, was described as “The College of the Global Village.”  Here’s the concept: “With an emphasis on experiential learning through a multidisciplinary investigation of varied meanings and practices of the good life; an immersion into the experience of new languages, including those of literature, the visual and performing arts, and the STEM disciplines; and the acquisition of an additional spoken and written language through living and learning in a culture where that language is primary, it is the objective of the College of the Global Village, through disciplined engagement, to strive to refocus learning on depth of experience rather than breadth of knowledge.”

Specifically, students would participate during the first year in “four immersive blocks of study,” each block lasting eight weeks. Blocks would include the arts and the humanities or a STEM discipline, Science and Ecology, “the great books,” and language immersion. Emphasis would be on research and writing.

During the second and third years, students would participate in eight additional learning blocks, which are multidisciplinary in their approach.  Examples would include blocks like, "A Guided Inquiry into the Role of Museums and Concert Halls in Civil Society" and "The Transformation of the World from Nation-States to Global Networks.”

The final year provides the opportunity for a “guided internship.”  Students would also participate in “a weekly integrative seminar” in which they would share their various learning experiences.

I must admit that none of these final proposals, including the winning entry, are especially impressive to me.  While both the “Global Village” and the “Mobile University” ideas address current issues in pedagogy, neither seems particularly innovative.  In fact, many of these ideas are already being used in various ways and date back to the educational philosophies of Maria Montessori and John Dewey.

While we can always improve the educational experience … and should … these ideas provide little new thinking regarding access and affordability.  Hopefully, the higher ed community will be even more creative in these areas.  And we can do it in prose and without a visit to the monastery.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

 

This will be my last blog entry for 2012.  I plan to take the next two weeks off from writing, but will return in January 2013.  I want to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a special holiday season.  I hope that we will all have a wonderful and peace-filled 2013.

I also want to thank you for taking the time to read this blog and to engage in both reflection and dialogue about the issues that are raised.  People regularly ask me the same questions about this blog.  Here are some answers: 

Question: Who writes your blog?

Answer: I write the blog each and every week by myself.  From time to time, people suggest topics.  But in the end, I choose           topics that relate to higher education and society, and topics that I believe will be of interest to you, as well as to me.  I do have people who help with the editing process.  But for better or worse, the blog is all mine.

Question: Why do you write a weekly blog?

Answer: I write it for you … but I also write it for me.  For you, I hope the blog provides information, as well as ideas that are thought-provoking.  I am amazed at how many people regularly read the blog and take the time to respond either by e-mail or in person.  But I also write the blog for me.  The commitment to write a weekly blog requires me to take time every week to read, reflect and write.  Like all of us, schedules become ever-demanding.  As a member of the academic community, I value my own scholarship, research and writing.  The blog helps me to be true to my profession.

Question: Do readers respond to your blog?

        Answer: I receive many responses each week.  For some reason, very few people want their comments posted on the website. More typically, I receive e-mails, phone calls or direct comments from people at the events and meetings I attend on and off campus. Responses to the blog fall into three general categories.  There are some people who seem to agree with almost everything I write and regularly express appreciation and support.  Thank you!  There is a second group who assess each blog entry individually.  These readers sometimes agree, sometimes disagree, but almost always add ideas or information to the conversation.  Thank you as well! Finally, there are readers who only contact me when they disagree with what I write.  While sometimes painful, these responses are particularly valuable when their criticism includes a different perspective or analysis.  I value and appreciate the intellectual dialogue and learn a great deal from these readers!

Finally, let me share a few somewhat random thoughts about higher education.  The challenges for the future are enormous.  I have written repeatedly about the issues of access, affordability, quality improvement, assessment, integrity, performance, global competitiveness, etc.  At times it is at best ironic and at worst extremely frustrating that the very storehouses of so much intellectual capital and ability are so resistant to and slow to respond to the necessary changes of the future.  Higher education needs a radical transformation.  There is some evidence of innovative curriculum models, but still too little willingness to examine ways to collaborate and create economic efficiencies.  And these changes need to come from within higher ed, not from Washington, DC or external groups.  I hope that in 2013, we, the higher education community, will show more evidence and increased progress in reforming higher ed to meet the needs of our current and future generations of students.

And to understand why this is so important, one needs only to spend some time with today’s students.  In the past two weeks, I have concluded my Fall semester conversations with every freshman, and joined our students at multiple celebrations (Kwanzaa, Christmas Concert, Christmas Dinner).  These experiences provide graphic and palpable evidence of the potential, the hopes, and the dreams of these women and men.  And the key to all of this is a great education.

Long ago I stopped making New Year’s resolutions.  Rather, the transition to a new year is an opportunity to reaffirm some long standing values and commitments.  For me, providing quality higher education for first generation college students and students/families of limited means is a noble cause.  I hope to do it better in 2013.  And I thank you for your continued interest in and support of higher education.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

As the president of a sectarian college and a former Theology professor, I am interested in observing how people define religiousness.  On a college campus, for example, it is fairly common for students to see “being religious” as a synonym for being involved in service or in helping others in the community.  They do not necessarily relate religion with formal worship or explicit moral/ethical positions.

Last week, a book entitled, God Is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America, was released.  Written by Frank Newport, the editor-in-chief of Gallup, this book reflects the findings from a large public opinion survey.  Gallup has conducted an annual survey on the topic of religion since 2008.  This book reflects the analysis of over 1 million Gallup interviews over the past four years.

While I await the arrival of the book, I have read several excerpts and the results of the recently released 2012 Gallup poll on religion.  This past year’s poll reflects data from 326,761 telephone interviews with adults, 18 years or older, in every state.  The results are very interesting:

  •  69% of adults self-report that they are very (40%) or moderately (29%) religious
  • Being religious is defined as agreeing that religion is part of a person’s daily life and regular attendance at a church, synagogue or mosque
  •  Religiousness increases with age … least religious at age 23 and most religious at age 80
  • Women are significantly more religious than men regardless of age, race or ethnic group
  • Blacks are the most religious race or ethnic group
  • Mormons are the most religious group, Jews are the least
  • Religiousness is highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast
  • The higher the education level and income, the lower the religiousness
  • Republicans are more religious than Democrats or independents
  • 77% of Americans identify themselves as Christians

One of Newport’s contentions in his book is that the importance of religion will remain high or even increase in the future if only because of the rise in the population of people over 65.  But as I read these data and portions of Newport’s study, the question that remained for me was, what does being religious really mean?

One could argue that attending religious services regularly is a good sign of religiousness.  It is interesting to note, however, that the self-report of those interviewed every year by Gallup does not correlate with the church attendance figures released by almost every religious denomination and group.  Most religious groups report declining attendance in services and programs.

Does Gallup’s second criterion, “religion is involved in a person’s daily life,” mean that religion is more evident in the way people act and think?  Do you see evidence of this in the world today?  While we often see random acts of kindness and charity, we also see regular and ongoing evidence of illegal and immoral behavior.

Even more concerning is the way in which religion divides us more often than unites us.  Specific church teachings of any religion can be used as weapons against the common beliefs of all religions related to peace, justice and charity.  One would hope that the 69% of Americans who self-report the importance of religion would find common ground for advancing human rights and a moral/ethical society that serves the Common Good.

During this special time of the year for Christians and Jews, I will continue to look for signs of religiousness… in myself and in others.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Last week I had the opportunity to meet with two interesting groups. The first was a meeting with recent graduates of AMC. These young professionals completed their degrees at the College in the past five years, all are currently employed, and some are pursuing graduate degrees. Most of their questions were about the changes at their alma mater. Most of my questions were about how AMC had prepared them for their current careers.

To a person, they believed that AMC had prepared them well. What was interesting, however, was that they had a more difficult time describing the aspects of their education that most highly correlated with their professional success. They spoke of personal attention, great professors, a supporting environment, but little about any specific knowledge or skills that helped them to land and keep their first positions.

Later in the week, I was in a meeting with several representatives from major businesses in the area. I asked them what they value most about new employees and their responses were clear, concise and consistent. They were less concerned about knowledge and more interested in attributes. They looked for people who could think and write well, possessed a strong work ethic, and were willing and able to learn.

Their responses were consistent with the research. Study after study reveals the priorities of employers to focus on skills and abilities more than knowledge and facts. Just a few days ago, for example, CACEE (The Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers) released a study that included the responses of 450 major companies throughout their country.   CACEE is a national non-profit partnership of employer recruiters and career services professionals. Their mission is to provide professional networking and development opportunities, information, advice, and other services to employers and career service professionals. Their reports reflect good research, are well written and certainly relevant to graduates and employers around the world.

Consistent with the results from prior years, the five most important skills for graduates and new employees are:

  •   Teamwork skills (works well with others)
  •   Problem solving skills
  •                Communication skills (verbal)
  •                 Analytical skills
  •                 Strong work ethic

The reasons that these are the most valued characteristics for employees are fairly obvious. Employers recognize that the knowledge base of their industry will change. The information explosion in the world has brought new knowledge, new techniques, new strategies, new challenges and new opportunities. In few cases is any business or industry doing things the same way today as they did a decade ago. Employers know that the knowledge and techniques can and will be taught as employees are retrained and constantly engage in professional development.

But the innate skills and characteristics of team work, problem solving, communication, analysis, and a strong work ethic are immutable to the success of every business and industry. The values of these skills never change.

So whether they realize it or not, our graduates experience an education at AMC that develops and emphasizes these skills. Our graduates may not realize it. They may not be able to articulate it. But they certainly benefit from it. And that’s good for AMC and good for the employers who hire our graduates.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

 

If you have never heard the term MOOC, you are like a vast majority of people. If you know a little bit about MOOCs … you are like most people, who pay attention to higher education. And if you think you are an expert on MOOCs, especially what the future will hold, you may be the only person with this ability to prognosticate!

MOOC refers to Massive Open Online Courses. These are courses that are available to anyone who has an internet connection. Currently, you can take a MOOC for free. Currently, few of these courses provide credit.

The concept of MOOC really began over a decade ago when MIT began its OpenCourseware program. The idea then and now is to provide knowledge and information to the widest possible audience. Many institutions have joined this effort and the number of courses has grown exponentially. MIT, Harvard and the University of California Berkeley have formed a collaborative called edX, which offers free online courses.

In the past two years, MOOCs have become part of a more organized educational initiative. A company called Coursera was formed in 2011 by two Stanford University professors and now includes 33 well-known universities that offer online courses for free. Companies called Udacity and Udemy have joined the field.

The growth of MOOCs has been applauded by some for the very essence of increased and easy opportunity for learning. But the following logical questions have arisen:

     1) What is the quality control of these courses?

     2) How can students earn credits?

     3) How long can MOOCs be offered for free?

     4) What is the impact on more traditional college and university curricula?

The issue of quality control is receiving much attention and is also the subject of widespread debate. Some point to the current online programs that are regularly assessed and lauded for their quality. But MOOCs typically lack the structure of other online courses and rarely include the central role of the instructor. Those concerned see the current iteration of MOOCs as self-guided learning, valuable but hardly comparable to formal education.

The issue of MOOCs becoming credit bearing is beginning to take shape. For example, a company called StraighterLine is charging students a modest fee to take courses and has partnered with 30 institutions willing to accept these courses for credit. The American Council for Education (ACE) recently announced that it will begin to research the appropriateness of Coursera courses earning credit. Of course, in the end, the decision to accept credit rests with the home institution, and it is unclear how and when most institutions will embrace MOOCs.

Most colleges engaged in offering OpenCourseware and MOOCs see this as a way to demonstrate social responsibility and to create an identity. But if these courses are made more robust in terms of accountability and assessment, and if these courses begin to bear credit, there will certainly be a fee. What is interesting, however, is that the cost of development and delivery of MOOCs is a fraction of other courses and curriculum, so the fees should be modest.

Clearly, there is both curiosity and concern about MOOCs from much of the higher education community. If and when students can complete degrees, certificates and badges through MOOCs, there will likely be some impact on enrollment at traditional institutions. Less selective and smaller institutions may feel the impact first.

This educational phenomenon cannot be ignored. Colleges need to study this emerging trend and determine how to embrace this form of learning. And decisions will need to be made quickly. After all, there is a MOOC coming to every computer soon!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)