I have been at my new university for about a month trying to assess a constant flow of data about how and why everything is as it is. My overall observation is that it is good, but that has a lot to do with the fact that my world renown science and technology university does not worry about the same challenges facing much of the rest of higher education today. What we deliver is highly valued in our technological world even if we are using a century’s old pedagogical approach.
We do have modern pedagogical teaching and learning success stories here at S&T, but we also have excellent traditional course delivery of science and engineering classes that do not need to be adjusted. So why do we also find ourselves pressured to offer more blended and online courses? Because unfortunately most of us fit into a much larger higher education structure that will be pushed and pulled by many reactions, some of which are “knee jerk” in nature. But that is OK, we must all ultimately be responsible for our own response.
I mention these early observations in my new job as sort of a preview to what I believe will be an amazing journey that I will share will my talented faculty and highly motivated EdTech team as we adapt to the changing world of higher education. Our greatest challenge may be to understand that even though change is not required it is also not bad. If our typical highly motivated STEM students are coming to us from a different culture then maybe changing our pedagogy a bit to compliment their learning preferences could be a way to make our end product even better. The challenge that brought me to S&T was not to save them but to have an opportunity to improve them. On the world stage today I see the real challenge for the United States is not just to produce more STEM graduates but to produce the Best STEM graduates. So maybe I get a chance to help change the world.
We held our faculty “Kick-off the Year” conference yesterday and I would say it was a great success considering it was the first time in many years that we did not hold the conference down at the coast. The focus of the conference was about incorporating various aspects of technology in support of teaching. We had a great keynote speaker in Bill Rankin from Abilene Christian University. His talk “Flights of Discovery: Transformation in Third-Age Education” sufficiently conveyed that we need to change our way of dealing with this Data driven era, “But How”. Plenty of good examples about how students are learning more with real world experience and less in old world classroom lectures. But how might we change this? I pitched the services that my IT department provides for our faculty but we don’t come close to offering the resources that they really need. This video touches on the less obvious.
I listened to our faculty ask great questions about how they might engage or inspire their students. Sure the use of technology could help, especially shifting to a more blended learning approach, but that is not the total answer. My take-away was that we can only do the best we can under the current structure. And by structure I mean classes delivered in a weekly schedule over a semester type period of time. Sure it would be great if our Social Sciences courses could hold class in a homeless shelter in downtown Portland, but that doesn’t work in this structure. So then I contemplated different structures like courses meet for a week at a time a few times through the semester, but that does not work. When you have many students all trying to piece together a schedule that accommodates all their needs and the needs of all the other students and faculty we end up with what we have. What would it take to really shake this up? I’m not sure but I think it may involve tearing down that structure. Maybe redefine what a class is altogether. Yikes, a bit scary but you know, it may be worth exploring.