Higher Ed

Inside and Outed

The Practical University?

CJ Westerberg, April 6, 2013 4:57 PM


Ed. Note update:   David Brooks writes today in The Practical University:
"Nelson believes that universities will end up effectively telling students: 'Take the following online courses over the summer or over a certain period, and then, when you're done, you will come to campus and that's when our job will begin'"

"Focus on the tasks she (Sheryl Sandberg) describes as being important for anybody who wants to rise in this economy: the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people's minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can't." 

Brooks states that these skills can be learned through seminars, professor role-modeling and student activities.  Unless students are actually doing these things IN CONTEXT of actually building, creating or doing something that they are interested in, listening to a seminar will be meaningless and boring.  It's like learning how to walk by listening to professor outlining the various body movements needed to do so.  Maybe the concept Brooks is looking for is internships.

More on the university:

Stanford University riffs
on the Flipped Class, MOOCs and now JOLTs
Videos Below

by C.J. Westerberg

I recently attended several individual presentations by high schoolers about their college selections and tours and came away thinking how daunting the entire process was - including  the time, anxiety and cost involved.  It became so personal seeing a student point to the requirements of a particular university: the GPA, the range of acceptable SAT scores and then the clincher, the tuition.  Seeing the price tags of $28,000, $32,000 and the $52,000 for the "reach" school and then listening to their hopes of financial assistance while one student shared a story about a friend who was given assistance in year one but who was stuck with the full bill after that and had to withdraw due to debt.

These students were top in the class with high SAT scores but not perfect scores and fretted over that with "I don't understand how my math score was better than my writing score because I'm so much better at writing . . . "  Another student said how his freshman year GPA wasn't good because the school he attended that year was so easy that he didn't do the work and got Cs. Yet after switching to this challenging school, he bumped up to high grades which may sound counter-intuitive but not so if you believe in intrinsic motivation.  

Yet another student presented an on-line game he developed over the two-week Spring break using CodeAcademy and Scratch with the coaching of the school's technology director.  What struck me about about this conversation was how this particular student showed me several examples of the role models who inspired him. One of them was Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey. This student lamented that he was not a good test taker and was not pleased with his first-round SAT scores although he clearly was super-bright, hard-working, initiating the on-line coding courses on his own and taking extra math classes in the summer. Jack Dorsey, he added, was a college drop-out as were many notable uber-successful people.  

Different students with different stories, even while not being dramatically differently socio-economically.  All were obsessed with the SAT or ACT score, even to the point of talking about the format considerations of each - the test as subject. I couldn't help but think how the college entry process was such an anachronism compared to what is going on in the "real world". 
Is the college experience as outdated?

"It's the beginning of a wholesale reorganization of teaching and learning in higher education.
 It will very soon be a very un-ignorable phenomenon. 
This is not some sort of fringe activity of Cambridge and Silicon Valley. 
This is something that will be reorganizing the entire sector."  
- Mitchell Stevens @ the 2:35 mark (video #2)referring to on-line initiatives at Stanford 

Judging from their new video series (below), Stanford University is bullish on re-inventing the university experience, both virtual and on-campus.  What I like about the series is it exhibits educators and thought-leaders with a work-in-progress attitude juxtaposed among the expected go-rah technology pronouncements.  The purpose and role of university learning are actually explored somewhat and the language appeals to a broad audience.

Whether flipped classes, MOOCs or JOLTs are the "answer" to the narrow college track is not really the point. They, too, will morph into some hybrid since they have created other challenges and are in their nascent stage.  Content delivery and lecture are still the emphasis of these initiatives which is limiting on a number of levels (student engagement, completion, etc.).

jolt.stanford.car2.vertical.jpgIntroducing . . . the  Stanford JOLT ! (photo left)

And, yes, the introduction of the acronym JOLT (Just-in-time Online Learning Tool) gave me a giggle since it sounded more like a new car introduction than an ivory Ivy construct.  But that's okay since I don't believe education has to be sterile to be real and don't think marketing education or learning is inherently bad if the product or service delivers on the promise. Universities are already marketing aggressively now anyway, whether in the form of a brochure, football teams, dorm accommodations or low percentage of acceptances.  That's all marketing in one form or another. 

Educationistas have always been big on acronyms and now at least the latter are becoming more memorable rather than Wheel of Fortune word jumbles.

As media icon and theorist Marshall McLuhan said, "Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn't know the first thing about either."
Riffing aside, check out Stanford videos below.  What do you think?

Video #1 - Education Science (3min) 
SMART quote:
" . . .there is a shared understanding that there is a need to have lots of different kinds of voices and lots of different kinds of expertise."

Notable quote paraphrased:
"I am ultimately agnostic about whether the flipped class is something Stanford should do, but I am a believer that a MOOC is something Stanford should do because affording knowledge to the world is  . ."

Video #2 - Intro (3min)
Video #3 -  Overview of Faculty experimentation with the Flipped Class and MOOC (7 Min)

Related articles:
The Plusses & Minuses of Teaching On-line by Dan Ariely

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Indeed, knowledge that one will be judged on some criterion of "creativeness" or "originality" tends to narrow the scope of what one can produce (leading to products that are then judged as relatively conventional); in contrast, the absence of an evaluation seems to liberate creativity.
Howard Gardner, Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School,from Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity as Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi
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