Ending College As We Know It?

Obvious hyperbole, but interesting on so many levels. There could be some heavy nuggets of truth here and I am right in the middle of these conversations on my own campus. There is little doubt that things are being disrupted … the question I ask is to what degree? Penn State has positioned itself well in the quality online education space for a decade now — specializing in programs and degrees. What does it mean for our institution to embrace all new forms of thinking in the online space?

Today, the largest university system in the world, the California State University system, announced a pilot for $150 lower-division online courses at one of its campuses — a move that spells the end of higher education as we know it. Lower-division courses are the financial backbone of many part-time faculty and departments especially the humanities. As someone who has taught large courses at a University of California, I can assure readers that my job could have easily been automated. Most of college–the expansive campuses and large lecture halls–will crumble into ghost towns as budget-strapped schools herd students online.

via How California’s Online Education Pilot Will End College As We Know It | TechCrunch.

Taking a Break

I’ve been quiet here for the last week trying to collect thoughts after writing so much last month. I think I’ll be a little quiet for the next several days as well. I’m not giving up on writing, just need to find my voice again. Before I sign off to enjoy Spring Break, I wanted to mention something … I dropped a friend of the family’s son off at school today for them and walked him to his pre-K classroom. It is the same private school my daughter went to prior to moving on to first grade this year at the public school. As I was walking down the hall I saw the quilt her class made last year as a culminating project. I was stopped in my tracks — I was just in awe of what it means.

It was filled with color, life, and inspiration. I recall hearing her talk about the quilt nearly every day last year and didn’t quite understand why it was such a big deal. Even at her graduation when they showed it off it didn’t quite hit me. Seeing this living example of my daughter’s contribution to the intellectual, emotional, and perhaps spiritual embodiment of her school in the hall today made me both very sad and very happy. It is, in every single way, in stark contrast to the representation of her contribution in the public school system — the “adequate sign.” I can’t tell you how it made me feel to know she made something tangible that the current students point to as a model for how they learn to contribute, share, and participate in the process of learning. Really an amazing thing to see.


And with that, I’ll talk to you when the mood strikes!


The picture below can be snapped in public schools across the Commonwealth of PA. I’m guessing the teachers, administration, and students earned it given the requirements of the State standards … on some level I wonder how they feel about it when they walk by? What I am discouraged about as a parent and educator is that this and the other ones like it bearing several other years hangs proudly in the school’s entryway … D’Arcy noted on my Flickr posting that it might as well be one of the signs you see in factories that proudly tell us that there have been no injuries in the last X days.

The first things I thought when I saw it were (a) it looks like the PA Department of Transportation made it, (b) how disappointing it was that they would hang it, and (c) this is the representation of our children’s contribution to the school.

Is it possible, given all the creative and intellectual contributions our children make, the Commonwealth of PA couldn’t have chosen something other than “Adequate” to describe the progress. Why have I seemed angry? This is a big part of the reason.

ad•e•quate, satisfactory or acceptable in quality or quantity.

I filed this under WTF at Flickr

I filed this under WTF at Flickr?

Making Connections

This is a rambling mess, but I’m not apologizing. You’ve been warned.

I’ve been thinking about the Twitter panel from Friday at the IST Grad Symposium and have come to see a couple of camps … one group looks at Twitter and says real connections don’t happen, that it is a waste of time, and an ego echo chamber. There is another group that sees it as full of opportunities to make real connections because it is simply a platform. There’s yet another who is like the first group, but they do participate. Seeing these three camps may be a generalization and I can deal with anyone disagreeing with me. I don’t really care too much which camp people fall into and I think I’ve arrived at a place where I’m not going to justify the technology. I’m just done with that argument — if you want to play, play. If you don’t, don’t.

What I am interested in is having opportunities to talk about the affordances and how they relate to problems of practice. I see challenges across the board in our classrooms and what I don’t see enough are people working to talk about them constructively. I hear a lot of people complain and never work to come together to do anything about them … I see way too many students sitting by themselves in classrooms not engaged, too many faculty teaching from PowerPoint, and too many administrators not pushing for reform. I’m not saying Twitter has anything to do with any of it, but don’t you think it is about time we start to really come together, make some connections, and radically do something about it all?

I can talk to the World in the blink of an eye and I know there are lots of smart people out there toiling away at what they do who are waking up to how bad it all really is. The big change here is that we can hear each other and we can change things if we want by coming together. And you know what, at the end of the day it may not be about changing the system at all, it may be about a new environment where connections happen and knowledge is shared openly. Maybe learning communities can happen without the corporate bullshit that much of our educational system is built on — I watch my first grader come home every night with nothing but worksheets from some curriculum book and I see students on campus doing nothing but reading from textbooks and taking electronic tests built from a publisher’s test bank. What kind of education is that? Why the hell do we let it happen?

I’m done with it. I’ve decided that I will work to make change happen and I’m inviting other people … anyone with a connection that wants to start a revolution knows where to find me.


Last week I went to beautiful Bedford Springs, PA to speak to Superintendents from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit … it was both intimidating and exciting. I am always a little nervous speaking to K-12 educators because I always make the mistake of thinking our worlds are so different. It was exciting because I always end up finding out how similar our problems and issues really are. This was no different. I went in thinking I was out of my element and left with a new found appreciation and confidence in my understanding of our shared issues.

I shared a mix of stories and statistics that described how social computing is being used (typically outside of formal learning environments) to create new and engaging online conversations. I was surprised that this group didn’t come at me with the typical doom and gloom questions — they instead were (for the most part) eager to embrace what was happening in the “real world” and engaged me in a pragmatic discussion over what to do. One of the things that was funny was that many of my answers seemed so basic, yet created so much more thinking. I was particularly struck by a question over how teachers should use social environments … as I answered I heard myself talking about how critical it is for teachers to understand how the environments work. If you are going to use youtube for teaching, understand how related movies are chosen, know when to embed a video instead of using the youtube page, and make sure you can navigate the environment. Talking about facebook felt similar … we stressed how important it is to know how the privacy features work, how to really use the environment, and again, just know how to move around. Not earth shattering ideas, but ones that surprised me how much they resonated.

This was a smart group of K-12 administrators who are striving to do great things for their teachers and the students in their districts. They, in general, were very open to new ways of thinking and wanted me to assure them that the teachers we are producing at PSU are prepared to deliver the kinds of educational experiences that will ultimately make students successful in higher education and beyond. We spent a lot of time talking about how important it is for new teachers to foster feelings of creativity — even in the face of strict state standards and the constraints of the no child left behind initiative. I was a little worried about the emphasis on new teachers and not just teachers, but in general I was heartened to hear it and felt like our schools were in good hands.

I contrast this with the experiences I am having with my daughter’s public school education. I hear very little mention of innovative practice and I am certainly not seeing the ability to be flexible in the delivery of curriculum. I am not pointing fingers at teachers I am just seeing a system that wants so badly to be agile and effective, yet is trapped by red tape and outmoded methods. I don’t see anyone openly discussing learning styles, embracing digital literacy, digital story telling, or portfolio thinking. I mentioned reflective practice to a teacher in my daughter’s school and got a very strange look, as if she were saying, “why do that?” I want so much for my daughter to love school — she is still only in first grade … and I want her curiosity and creativity to be promoted, not stunted. Unfortunately what I see is a path that has been walked on for decades being the only direction, that change in thinking isn’t going to be tolerated, and that a push to the middle is the only option. So, with all the hope and promise of administrative leadership comes the realities of the trenches and I once again realize just how different my environment is than theirs. I am disheartened.