September 7, 2009

Boldly going forward cause we can't find reverse!

I've been rolled under, savaged, and spit out in pieces by the start of school again. As H. L. Mencken said "Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." So perhaps it isn't that surprising that the items that have caught my eye as I have skimmed through engineering education literature have had to do with broad scale reform of the entire educational enterprise.

The first article was from High Ed Morning and looked at the top ways students cheat. The article is very unscientific, but does look at the cheating modalities enabled by that newest fashion accessory, the cell phone. The article discusses how Simon Fraser University gives a new F grade for cheating (we have the same here at OSU) but concludes with the statement "Will a different kind of failing grade matter to students? Or do we need another solution?"

The Chronical of Higher Education in an article titled "The Canon of College Majors Persists Amid Calls for Change" looks at calls for radical changes to college curricula. This article focuses on changes in the content of majors and ways to more rapidly introduce new content into traditional disciplines. While several current efforts are briefly discussed, the Chronicle's take on reform is that the traditional system of curricula and departments won't change any time soon although majors are constantly updating themselves. I personally find the viewpoint taken by the Chronicle somewhat limited in that the article retains the assumption of a traditional degree program when discussing radical change.

The last article is from the website Fastcompany and focuses on "education 2.0 architects". Despite the trendy internet lingo phrasing and annoying ads on the site, it is a good article that summarizes briefly many of the challenges facing the higher education system in the 21st century. One of the better discussions is that "the edupunks are on the march..." highlighting the fact that lots of technological education is cropping up completely outside the college mainstream.

The article surveys some of the new ventures that are strategizing on how to begin "the endgame" for traditional universities. The include Flat World Knowledge and Peer2Peer University. One of the more interesting discussions is about Western Governors University where the program is assessment rather than course focused and faculty really do serve as mentors rather than lecturers. The article concludes by saying "The transformation of education may happen faster than we realize. However futuristic it may seem, what we're living through is an echo of the university's earliest history. Universitas doesn't mean campus, or class, or a particular body of knowledge; it means the guild, the group of people united in scholarship... Today, we've gone from scarcity of knowledge to unimaginable abundance. It's only natural that these new, rapidly evolving information technologies would convene new communities of scholars, both inside and outside existing institutions."

I agree. It is time for traditional institutions to begin to be nervous about the barbarians at the gates. Not because the barbarians are unmotivated, entitled, and materialistic kids who will sack the dignity of the institution, but because the barbarians may simply bypass the halls of academia. As the barbarians go so do the roads, trade, innovation, and development.

Note- a few days after I published this post an article in the New York Times points out that colleges are failing in the core mission.