What If….

So I’ve been complaining to anyone who’ll listen about the plight of higher education, I guess I should offer a vision of what I want things to look like in the higher ed of my world. And yes, the trains run on time in my reality too.

1. Courses should be inquiry based, with curriculum flexible enough to accommodate such a move.  As long as the core concepts are met, then everything else should be based on the curiosity of the student. If there’s a lot of core concepts to cover, then split the course into two. What if that extends indefinitely? Well it can’t – it’s my reality. Oh all right, be critical. Is there a way that a core concept gets wrapped into other tasks? Creativity comes in handy here… the point is get the students interested in doing something and you’ve won. They’ll learn, you’ll learn and be amazed with whatever they do. I can guarantee it. But the teacher in the equation has to be able to motivate, and pique that curiosity.

2. Mandatory courses like maths and communications should be folded into each course – so there’s no more “irrelevant” courses. Sure, we all know that a good communication course is worth it’s weight in gold. Of course, we recognize that after working with someone who couldn’t communicate their way out of a wet paper bag. Some of these basic, soft skills can be taught online with profs acting as tutors. Or better still, make sure the students have those skill before setting foot in a classroom.

3. Speaking of classrooms, keep them. Don’t for one minute think that you can do away with them. Students, faculty, hell, people love places to congregate and talk with others about whatever excites them. And sometimes that’s not the subject you’re teaching in class. Oh well. Those social connections are crucial.

4. Be kind to faculty who do a good job, work hard and devote a lot of effort and work to make things good for the student. It’s not always about pay, sometimes it’s as simple as recognition. This is so easy to do, and rarely is it done. Why? Why have I seen several people who were great teachers leave the profession? Because they can’t make ends meet or they have a sense that it will never get better for them as there’s so many people in front of them in the seniority list. Or, even worse, they see the politics in the way and have no real hold out for hope.

5. Tie tuition costs to cost of living and subsidize the rest through governments of all levels. It’s a shame that we’re running higher education into the ground with the idea that we’re churning out a commodity rather than empowering people. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d say of course they don’t want you to think, just to make better widgets on the line… but that’s too cynical for even me. At least I hope….

Relevance of Being Irrelevant

I was reading this posting about Being Online or Being Irrelevant, and while I do agree with the idea of being online, I  see the other side of the coin as well. There are some brilliant lecturers, for whom being online would make them irrelevant. They just don’t adapt well to an online existence. They either don’t adapt or can’t adapt. We should allow for these people to be relevant.

Also, in the first paragraph, the question is posed “What does photography do to our concept of art?”, which immediately begs the question, “What does e-learning do to our concept of learning?” On one side of the argument will stand the sentiment that e-learning does nothing to our concept of learning, because no matter where learning occurs, it’s still learning. The other side of the argument is that it changes almost everything. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle, acknowledging that e-learning has an effect on learning, much as learning in a classroom is different than learning in a workshop. I don’t have answers, just more questions.


I was thinking the other day, always a dangerous idea, about the redefining roles of the “teacher” (or instructor or professor, to me these are all people who do a similar job, just in a different manner sometimes). If the ownership of knowledge is becoming a way of the past, what happens to the really good teachers who have a narrative that typically resonates with the students? Are those narratives disappearing? Chances are, no, those narratives are changing, but not disappearing. Maybe the narrative is what one pays for in the future of education. Maybe that’s where education makes it’s money in the future – by making the teacher the celebrity to be consumed based on how popular/interesting/insightful they are. Make the information free but keep the interpretation and way it’s delivered behind the wall. Maybe.

A Question Posed…

I was thinking on the walk home last night about how I could change my Searching The Internet Effectively course so that it might have more impact. Currently it’s a fairly straight forward deal – lecture for one hour, then give students class time to complete an exercise which I will help them with over the next two hours.  Most students choose to leave after the lecture and complete the work at home, or another place. The last question on the last exercise asks students to factor in everything they know at this point, and search for something that is related to searching and outline this in a word document with evaluations of the websites they’ve found – sort of an annotated bibliography. Then there’s an exam, which is mandatory.

This course is far too straight forward for my tastes. I think I’d like to keep the weekly worksheets as an exercise, but make the markable stuff in a wiki. I was thinking each student wiki account would also allow the student to journal their searching terms, perhaps on an account info page that the student would cut and paste search terms into so that I was sure of the technical aspect of searching was covered.

Anyone out there mark contributions to a wiki other than this one? How would such a beast exist? I’d break it down to deal with content (is it a good website?), form (how it was discovered),  editing (did they revisit and revise content?)… Frankly I’m a pessimist, and what happens if the students reject this sort of (in my institution anyway) radical idea?