August 2010 Archives

Upcoming events from the Schreyer Institute

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We have a lot of great events in the coming months here at the Institute. Our New Instructor Orientation is currently underway, as well as two interactive workshops designed for Teaching Assistants. You can check out some of our events in the August newsletter

Throughout the summer I occasionally posted tidbits of data regarding the use of technology for teaching and learning, specifically blogs and wikis.  We're almost done with the first draft of the report and hope to release that shortly.  Also look for a workshop session towards the end of the Fall semester, where we will walkthrough some of the results and show examples of different pedagogies instructors are leveraging with these emerging tools.

Bill Gates on Higher Education

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Microsft founder Bill Gates recently spoke on the topic of higher education in an interview.  Bill believes that the web, not a single university, will provide the best education in the future. 

"Five years from now on the web for free you'll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university,"

Bill doesn't come out and say it directly, but he hints at a world where 'learners' can get everything they need in terms of an education from the web, without enrolling in a university (even an online university).  I'm not sure I buy into this, but I do think we can find ways, via technology, to link students from PSU with, say, students from Michigan, other Big Ten schools, Ivy leagues schools and even universities around the world.  We already support exchange student programs, why not work out a way to support students that want to take a specific course PSU does not offer, but another university in the Big Ten does?  Penn State is already doing something similar to this with the elearning cooperative, helping students at all PSU campuses interact within a course supported by technology. 

The second issue that jumped to mind after reading a highlight of Bill's interview is the role of the instructor.  In the last 5-7 years, I believe the instructor (in certain contexts and courses) is better suited to act more as a facilitator than the traditional 'fountain of knowledge.'  The idea that the student's mind is an empty glass and the instructor is the individual responsible for filling it feels dated.  In some courses, this model is necessary.  But in other courses, acting as a facilitator, encouraging and motivating students to be responsible for their own learning, feels like a much more powerful method to engage students. Following Bill's logic, a student simply learning on the web has no facilitator, no knowledge expert to address questions or encourage the student to explore different knowledge areas.  The instructor will always be a key figure in higher education, although the skillsets required to be a great instructor might be changing...

Sir Ken Robinson and Higher Education

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Today, we held a noontime round table to watch a short video from "Conversations from Penn State" with Sir Ken Robinson on creativity and education.  Some of you may have seen his TED talk on education reform, and this video covered similar territory.  We had a handful of Schreyer people in attendance, as well as faculty and advisers.  A few interesting topics were discussed after the video, one being discovery majors.  Our Division of Undergraduate Studies does a fantastic job helping students identify good majors, but we were discussing more the idea of faculty and advisers encouraging students to go outside of a discipline track if they aren't happy, and try and discover majors on their own.  For instance, even within a College, a student might not be encouraged to enroll in courses that are somewhat tangential to her own major.  But, by doing so the student might discover she is much more excited and engaged in the tangential subject. 

Coincidentally, when I came back to my desk after listening to Sir Ken and talking about education reform, I had a chance to finally read an interview titled "What's Wrong With the American University System", an interview with Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, authors of Higher Education?  The interview, and likely the book, paint a bleak picture of higher education across America, specifically in the area of undergraduate teaching.  The authors specifically address tenure at one point in the interview, claiming that it doesn't preserve academic freedom, something they claim it was intended to do.  From the article:

They [faculty] have to do things in the accepted way that their elders and superiors require. They can't be controversial and all the rest. So tenure is, in fact, the enemy of spontaneity, the enemy of intellectual freedom. We've seen this again and again. And even people who get tenure really don't change. They keep on following the disciplinary mode they've been trained to follow.

I do find some interesting and curious aspects of the tenure process here at PSU, but is it as bleak as the authors describe in this quote?

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