A modern relic

One-room school building in Jefferson, Colorado
Image via Wikipedia

These stories have nothing to do with higher ed, but I thought they were interesting. We often think of the one-room schoolhouse with a few kids as a relic of a bygone era. But in some parts of Wyoming, they’re just a fact of life. Distances to the nearest school in a town can be many, many miles and with the way winter works in these parts, busing can be a long, treacherous and sometimes implausible trip.

The whole concept is an interesting one to me.

Here’s an excerpt:

In minutes, the school goes from completely empty to full capacity, perfect attendance. All five students here.

With Douglas 36 miles southwest, Dry Creek is the closest school to the families who send their children here. It’s one of four rural schools in Converse County, and parents said home-schooling would likely be the only option if they didn’t have Kilpatrick and Dry Creek.

While some question the efficiency and cost of small Wyoming schools, parents said this school of five students, one teacher and one paraprofessional serves a real purpose for this rural community.

Sherrill Kilpatrick began teaching in rural Wyoming schools in 1983. Her largest class was 17 students, taught by two teachers. Once, she had nine students in eight different grades, which made lesson planning particularly challenging.

Over the years, numbers have fluctuated as parents choose either to home-school or send their kids to Douglas. Kilpatrick’s smallest class was two students big, when Maggie Pellatz was in kindergarten.

Here’s a related one with Wyoming politicians debating the efficiency of such school arrangements.

Three year bachelor’s degrees the wave of the future?

City of Cambridge
Image via Wikipedia


The four-year bachelor’s degree has been the model in the United States since the first universities began operating before the American Revolution. Four-year degrees were designed in large part to provide a broad-based education that teaches young people to analyze and think critically, considered vital preparation to participate in the civic life of American democracy.

The three-year degree is the common model at the University of Cambridge and Oxford University in England, and some U.S. schools have begun experimenting with the idea. To cram four years of study into three, some will require summer work, others will shave course lengths and some might cut the number of credit hours required.

So is it going to happen in more places or not? I don’t think cramming a four-year degree into three is the answer, nor is the plan that most who want to graduate early already employ (summer classes, community college credit, etc.) and so, I think this will take a bit of creativity.

I’m not sure that most places could afford to do it, though I can see industrious schools with a broad base using this as a way to tout their programs and show they’re in touch with the needs of the community (namely, less tuition or whatever) and yet, I think it might end up being adjudged by some to be lesser if it somehow manages to require less credits than a four-year degree and that’s the reason the idea seems DOA.

The Case For Working With Your Hands

I’m surprised there haven’t been more articles questioning the rationale (and expense) of college educations in an era where so many white collar jobs are being sliced and diced.  To that end, Matthew B. Crawford’s piece in today’s New York Times Magazine seems right on time:

This seems to be a moment when the useful arts have an especially compelling economic rationale. A car mechanics’ trade association reports that repair shops have seen their business jump significantly in the current recession: people aren’t buying new cars; they are fixing the ones they have.

The current downturn is likely to pass eventually. But there are also systemic changes in the economy, arising from information technology, that have the surprising effect of making the manual trades — plumbing, electrical work, car repair — more attractive as careers.

The Princeton economist Alan Blinder argues that the crucial distinction in the emerging labor market is not between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person or on site. The latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing to distant countries. As Blinder puts it, “You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.” Nor can the Indians fix your car. Because they are in India.

So what I ask, is how do colleges and universities that are not among the elite make themselves (and their fees) relevant in a world that might continue to revolt around the idea that allowing people who have to yet to start their lives in earnest ought to take out five-figure debt loads under the presumption that it will eventually pay off for them?

My college education was invaluable. In retrospect, I would’ve taken more seriously the idea that graduating without a debt load could really improve your quality of life post-graduation. But save for that? I don’t regret it one bit, given that I have a pretty good idea of what life would’ve been life without it. Are too many kids who don’t need to go school right after school being steered towards college? Possibly.

I think it’s less about “we shouldn’t steer every kid to college,” as much as we need to expose young people to the possibilities that exist from a young age. The world is a big place and there are lots of interesting things you can do. I think a lot of people can get constrained believing there’s a linear path towards the success their parents want for them and that pursuing it is the only way to get anywhere in life and I think a bit of living proves that to be false.

As more people are charged with finding ways to market their institutions, what are you doing to reflect the changing tide that might be hostile to your product? This isn’t the first time I’ve brought up this subject before, because it’s one that I believe that higher education leadership are going to have to be mindful over the next decade, as today’s graduates (and their debt loads) become the parents of the kids we’ll be wooing tomorrow.

What I’m trying to accomplish

I texted to a friend earlier:  I was just thinking that people’s lack of vision is hilariously disappointing. So many people go about life assuming that it’ll pretty much always be the same.

The goal of this blog, is not really to be contrarian for the sake of it. Instead, my goal is to get you to think. I started a blog in part because I wanted to network, learn some things and branch out in higher ed. But I also did it because I didn’t read anything like it when I got started. If I did, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post, because edustir wouldn’t exist.

I want to push the evenlope beyond the conventional. We should never be satisfied with the status quo, even if we built it ourselves. We should be tinkering, building, fixing and taking uncommon approaches to the problems we face in our institutions, offices, businesses and projects. 

I used to think innovation happened at a certain point or in a certain organization. But as I’ve lived a bit, I’ve come to realize that progress comes from leaders who create conditions for excellence. It’s not a characteristic that everyone shares and I think this revelation came as something of a disappointment to me, as I entered the working world some years ago. 

Ultimately, I’m just trying to nudge you from where you sit or make you sit upright and give your own view of things. If my posts seem skeptical or not quite 100% firm, it’s because I’m not always articulating firm positions all of the time. But if I waited before posting, there’d be little in the way of content here.

People in education should be more apt to tinker and innovate and yet, we’re often the ones who are more willing to accept the status quo than anyone else. I tend to think that’s a waste and so, I’m going to try keep the ideas flowing. 

Thanks for participating.

College a la carte?

I'm a Master of Education Technology (well may...
Image by catspyjamasnz via Flickr

I was reading Foreign Policy earlier today and ran across an article entitled “Personalized Education” as part of their “next big things” feature.

Throughout most of history, only the wealthy have been able to afford an education geared to the individual learner. For the rest of us, education has remained a mass affair, with standard curricula, pedagogy, and assessments.

The financial crisis will likely change this state of affairs. With the global quest for long-term competitiveness assuming new urgency, education is on everyone’s front burner. Societies are looking for ways to make quantum leaps in the speed and efficiency of learning. So long as we insist on teaching all students the same subjects in the same way, progress will be incremental. But now for the first time it is possible to individualize education—to teach each person what he or she needs and wants to know in ways that are most comfortable and most efficient, producing a qualitative spurt in educational effectiveness.

In fact, we already have the technology to do so. Well-programmed computers—whether in the form of personal computers or hand-held devices—are becoming the vehicles of choice. They will offer many ways to master materials. Students (or their teachers, parents, or coaches) will choose the optimal ways of presenting the materials. Appropriate tools for assessment will be implemented. And best of all, computers are infinitely patient and flexible. If a promising approach does not work the first time, it can be repeated, and if it continues to fail, other options will be readily available.

Just how will this happen? Where, when, and by whom?

I don’t really have any doubts this could happen, as the technology already exist. The only thing really stopping it is accreditation. But would a WikiDegree really be about getting a job? Or is it about demonstrating a level of knowledge you’ve acquired through self-study? How would such a virtual institution operate? Could it be a school comprised of faculty from other places? Adjuncts who are looking to prove their worth on a larger scale?

Would it even give bachelor’s degrees at all? How about a diploma?
I could see all sorts of scenarios where this could work. Whether it’s professors offering courses on their own, around the world attracted talented and motivated students who want to learn from them — as they use it to burnish their personal brands in the post Web 2.0 world — and people who have a lot of acquired knowledge and use such a platform to share it with others.

I think the real question for something like this, is whether credentials would cease to be important. Whether Notre Dame de Open Source would be the sort of place that would “hire” faculty who didn’t have even a bachelor’s degree, but years of “field experience.” I think that’d be a credibility problem and yet, Wikipedia hums along fine without peer review in the traditional sense.

So will McUniversity be online soon and change the way we view the distribution of education? Or will the university stay pretty much intact as society evolves around the new tools that will continue to change the way we communicate and interact with each other?

Boise State football uses social media to its advantage

Image by Fokket via Flickr

Joe Favorito’s blog alerted me to a good story on how Boise State University is using social media tools to build brand awareness of its football team. For those who live under a rock, Boise State didn’t start playing major college football until about a decade ago, but is now one of the most well-known non-major college football programs in the country.

Why? Largely because of their David v. Goliath matchup in which they slayed a heavily favored program, in a storybook ending:

Three of the most improbable sets of plays in college football history. Millions of people who’d never heard of the school or cared much about them, immediately had the Cinderella program etched into their mind and by using social media, the program can continue to build on that. Not bad…

Why list faculty email addresses?

Professor Tom gives Topsyhis pupil a lesson.
Image via Wikipedia

Why do we put faculty email addresses on department web pages? Do we are ask their permission? Often times, we don’t. We just assume they should be there. But what if they don’t respond? Then what happened?

I think it’d be good to reconsider how we filter information and stream it out to audiences, especially on departmental pages, because depending on the institution and the person, it can be a lot to ask someone to ferret out emails from individual students, coupled with all of the regular mail they’re already responding to.

Should they want to? Sure, but it becomes an impractical task depending on the popularity of the program. It can be unwieldy at different times during the year to expect responses. Why not direct those emails to a departmental staff member?

I think, as always, it depends on the institution. What’s your take?

Less selling, more relationships

The Used Car Salesman
Image by TexasEagle via Flickr

When did the process of marketing higher education become more about the ‘sale’ than about actually cultivating relationships with students?

Smaller schools don’t have a choice but to engage in these personal relationships and it’s an advantage they use to pick off achievers who might look elsewhere if they felt comfortable or welcomed.

I was reading a blog post that effectively said, “Yes, the prospective student wants to hear from a real student, but not everyone’s comfortable buying a $150,000 product from a 20 year old. (Like parents.)”

When did the college search process become akin to shopping for a new car? I’ve been guilty of using this language about salesmanship, but it’s usually just reflective of the transition. It’s just serves to further legitimizing the shift from some holistic form of admission to an “enrollment management” mentality that places bean counting over projecting an authentic message of “our mission is more than about dollars and cents.”

Higher education isn’t the only field afflicted by this, as much of what dominates the health care discussion these days is an ability to pay, rather than focusing on getting people better.

But back to higher ed. I’m tired of hearing about new forms of “marketing” that we can “use” to reach students. I recognize that you have to make sure that your message is being heard. You need to ensure that the people you’re trying to reach can hear you or else, you’re wasting time and valuable resources for naught. But there’s a big difference between helping a young person choose  a good school and pushing them to buy a used Miata with too many miles and no warranty.

In our ever constant desire to push the boundaries and to “reach” more of our audience –parents, students and alumni — that we don’t encroach on their right to ignore us. Not every message will be heard, not every campaign will resonate. The best thing we can do is use experience to figure out what might reach our audiences, target them effective and then do the follow-on work to discover whether our appeals really worked or not.

But the language of sales would be best left behind. College isn’t a Cadillac.