Posts Tagged ‘college’

Unreason and me(dia)

February 18, 2008

This video is the latest YouTube example of what Susan Jacoby writes about in her new book, The Age of American Unreason. The question is, are Americans hostile to knowledge?

What do you think I am? A clique chic geek? How should I know?!!!

Learning is the Teacher’s responsibility

February 1, 2008

This ought to ruffle some feathers….

Reflecting on the technology and boredom issues in the classroom, raised in Michael Wesch’s “A Vision of Today’s Student” (see previous post), I am not going to blame the student, even though they’re an easy target; nor the university system, where the economics pressure inexperienced teachers into the classroom; nor the fat, overindulged American society as a whole; I’m going to side with those who put the ultimate responsibility for daily engagement with students on the individual teacher.

Bruce Wilkinson, in his 7 Laws of the Learner, says the responsibility to communicate rests with the teacher, and lists a lot of excellent tips on how teachers can do that more effectively… even when students don’t seem interested. Though specifically directed to a religious audience I think the principles apply in secular settings as well.

Here are his 7 maxims with my own comments:

Maxim 1: Teachers are responsible to cause students to learn.

Here’s Bruce’s diagram to show that, yes, students must take responsibility for listening, but teachers have the power to unlock and motivate that action through their content and delivery and, most importantly in my view, their personal authentic passion for the material. Note that the “cause to learn” function is separate and distinct from the “Words” and content. Presenting the content is not teaching. Teaching is the process of figuring out how to establish the necessary motivation, attention, and human connection to bridge the synapse between the two parties, teacher and student.

7 Laws illustration

Maxim 2: (restated) Teachers are accountable for their influence.

For me this attitude was epitomized by Chauncey Veatch, the keynote speaker at the NACAC national conference last fall in Austin. His address was the most moving speech I have ever heard… and he spoke of how he entered teaching as more of a calling and obligation than a career. His description of the impoverished Latino community whose lives he has transformed was absolutely inspiring. You can read a similar address here.

Maxim 3: Teachers are responsible because they control subject, style, and speaker.

Mimi Chenfeld, one of my favorite people who happens to have lightened my life as a folk dance teacher a number of years ago, calls it “Teaching in the Key of Life.”

Maxim 4: Teachers should judge their success by the success of their students

Rafe Esquith, another legendary teacher who I heard at a CASE keynote a few years ago, points to the success of his students as the success of his students. That’s what he focuses on, and that’s what he wants to be judged by. In There are no Shortcuts my takeaway was the long-term impact on the kids who he prods, cajoles, and leads to excellence.

Maxim 5: Teachers impact more by their character and commitment than by their communication.

In addition to my personal observations of Veatch, Chenfeld, and Esquith, this concept reminds me of an interview I once did for Ohio Wesleyan. Philip Meek, a nationally-respected publisher, spoke to me about a prof way back in 1958 or so who had come to class and said (paraphrasing) “I always prepare at least 2 hours before class, and for a variety of reasons I could not do that today… you are dismissed.” Phil said, “That taught me more about commitment to excellence and character than anything else that ever happened to me.”

Maxim 6: Teachers exist to serve the students.

Just a few weeks ago I was interviewing Dick Lucier, an emeritus economics prof from Denison, and he said:

“Teaching is so damn time-intensive and labor-intensive… and I never found a shortcut that would work.” And then he goes on for 4 minutes, tossing off nuggets about valuing students and coming prepared and keeping the subject fresh in his own mind.

What a privilege I have had, working for schools like Denison, Ohio Wesleyan, and Cedarville, all of which prize great teaching and keep the classes small so that committed profs can get to know their students. It makes me wish I had pursued a doctorate and become a prof at a small liberal arts college myself….

Maxim 7: Teachers who practice the Laws of the Learner Teacher can become master teachers.

Well, I guess that one’s pretty obvious. Value the students, and the students will value the teacher.

Vision of students – video reply

January 31, 2008

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Michael Wesch’s video on the state of student learning in Web2.0 America has been augmented by a remix that adds the racial dimension. Michael responds that they considered including racial statistics to the original but felt it was too emotional of an issue and would “draw attention away from some of the other points we were trying to make” … such as technology, boredom, and learning in an environment where only 18% of the profs know your name and Facebook is more compelling than the instructor. I’ve included both videos for your enjoyment.

What I find most interesting is the way in which video is increasingly becoming the medium of communication. Yes, it does have the ability to transmit serious ideas, just as your car can be used to bring home the groceries…. at least once in a while. 🙂

The remix:

The original in case you haven’t seen it:

And here’s a link to a better version of the original in case you want to use it in class:

WMV   Quicktime

One idea that is intended to be prominent because of its placement at the beginning and the end, but is actually not well developed, is the idea that the chalk board was a major technological development in 1841 but is still in heavy use today. Hmmm…. not unlike cave walls, huh? Still relevant after all those years…. because it’s low-tech, convenient, and strips away everything but the presenter and his content.

So what is Wesch and his class saying? That classrooms need to use more video or web technology to better communicate with our rich, distracted students? Based on the MacLuhan quote at the beginning, it would seem that’s the point.

Having sat in an auditorium full of 3000 people who stop breathing in order to hang on every word and gesture of Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain Tonight, I would say the problem is not technology. It may be the quality of the instructor, and it may be the listening skills and inner motivation of the students.

Harder and harder to impress

October 31, 2007

In his book, Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins of MIT writes, “…the American viewing public is becoming harder and harder to impress.” (I always love it when I find authors who state the obvious in such a dead-pan tone). In this context Henry is speaking about the American Idol phenomenon, and my embellishment of his argument is that stories, personalities, surprises are the magnet that can get people involved enough in a media event to not only watch it passively, but engage in other points of contact such as music purchases, websites, related products, concerts, etc. Dr. Jenkins describes the approach of one consultant, Initiative Media, in attempting to measure a new category of viewership called “expression”. Expression as Jenkins retells it means not only time spent watching a program, but degree of loyalty, affinity for the program and its sponsors, and cultural or social expressions of that affinity. This could mean wearing a T-shirt, posting a message on a website, creating a parody of a commercial, or recommending the show or a product to a friend.

Applying this principle to the college admissions market, I would say that savvy college admissions officers have been pursuing “expression” techniques for years, though they still might not have a way to measure it. College wearables, athletic events, concerts, sib weekends, websites and microsites, email campaigns, etc. are all long-standing ingredients of the admissions marketing soup aimed at “expression”… multiple points of involvement as opposed to merely college-initiated contact.

And yes, it’s harder and harder to impress them, either with a viewbook/brochure or a video/DVD. The key is DO NOT TRY to impress. Forget making it ideal. Just make it real, self-effacing, humorous, modest, blunt, edgy, unfinished, ongoing, serial, engaging, open-ended, fresh….honest in the eyes of a skeptic.

“Exploration of identity”

October 31, 2007

NPR took on the college admissions imbroglio in an excellent 7-part series last February. (Sorry but I just discovered it!!!) One of the things I enjoyed in reviewing their work relates to a great interview of Beverly Daniel Tatum, the President of Spelman College in Atlanta. When asked if the 10 to 15% of black students who attend HBCUs are involved in “self-segregation”, Dr. Tatum replies with elegance and aplomb. She says in part,

“If we think about the college years as a time when you are really exploring who you are, what you hope to be, how you want to define yourself — AND if you are from a group that has been historically marginalized and under-valued — having the opportunity to attend a school where … you are at the center of the educational experience, where your educational development, your leadership development, is at the core of the mission of the institution, is a very empowering experience which is hard to find in the context of a society that still advantages those who are white, disadvantages those who are not. I think recognizing that important exploration of identity, and recognizing who you are, who you can be in the world, at a particular moment in your development as a young adult, is really critical. Certainly when we think about the opportunity for young people to get to know each other across racial lines it is very important to create places where that can happen. It is important in K-12 to provide schools that are racially integrated. But just as women’s colleges are still important because of the confidence that they provide for women … in the same way I think we can point to historically black colleges as creating an important opportunity during a critical period in one’s life.”

She goes on to relate both advantages and disadvantages in her personal experience (and that of her children) in predominantly white institutions, and the benefits she sees among Spelman students and her own children in an environment she describes as “affirming their identity.”

Let me state the obvious by saying that “exploration of identity” is the most important part of the coming-of-age years, regardless of race, geography, sex, or even socio-economic level. As a middle-aged white guy who went to an all-white high school (except for 3 blacks who voluntarily rode the city bus to get away from a very real segregation in Columbus, Ohio caused by “white flight”), I have always felt deprived of a first-hand sense of black identity, and how that relates to the privileged majority experiences I grew up immersed in. Looking back to my earlier years, I remember being shocked by President Kennedy’s assassination, but crying, angry and raging, when Dr. King was shot. (I was 15) My identity came from the subgroups I associated with, including rocket makers, chess players, musicians, and nerds. A black chess player or musician I could deal with easily. What has never been obvious to me was how to relate to segregated clumps of blacks. When I tried to enter lunch-room discussions with the 3 at my school, I was awkward in my attempts to show that to me race didn’t matter, and that I appreciated their struggles and accepted responsibility for the systematic ethnic tyranny my forbears had inflicted. Of course, those big-picture issues weren’t issues at all; rather, there simply was no easy connection of shared culture. It was more like a language barrier… as if I had grown up speaking French, and treated other non-native French speakers with a hint of disdain… and so they found it easier to hang with their friends. So while I continued to live in unintentional isolation from the black community, I raised my kids on Roots and dinner conversation about Denmark Vesey.

In recent years, having read John Wesley’s tract on slavery, and then Randall Robinson’s articulation of the destruction of African identity, I felt better able to understand… but unable to really communicate because the fact is that I’m still living in a segregated society.

That’s why I appreciate what Dr. Tatum verbalized. There is a black identity, an African-American identity, and it continues to be necessary and distinct because of the “constant under-valuing”, as she put it, of black personhood, black aspirations, and black pain. If blacks had remained in Africa, their identity today would not be racial but more familial or tribal, the way whites in America form Italian or Jewish or Irish identities. But since the historical fact is that whites from multiple tribes, religions and cultures conspired together to subjugate, transport, and dehumanize blacks from multiple tribes, religions and cultures, and then exterminated their languages, their religions, their cultures, and even their individual identities, we should not feel surprised that the black soul, as Robinson puts it is “immortal, [and] has lost sight of the trail of his long story.” It needs some time to reawaken.

And Beverly Tatum’s message on NPR was, that’s what the HBCUs can help do, even today, 125 years after “reconstruction”. Dr. Tatum helped me understand that while integration is important for healthy cultural diversity during the period of attitude formation (K-12), there comes a time when many black young people are better off exploring their identity… in an environment where the dominant mood does not explain away and negate their need to remember, to console, to encourage, and to gather internal strength for a life-long marathon of struggle as an under-valued minority. As Robinson quoted Ralph Ellison at the beginning of his book, “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” Let the exploration of identity continue!

dim white kids

October 29, 2007

Peter Schmidt of the Chronicle of Higher Education bemoans the privilege of wealth which allows full-pay students with alumni or political connections to get into elite colleges without elite credentials. He cites research by the Educational Testing Service which claims 15 percent of freshmen enrolled at US top-tier colleges are “white teens who failed to meet their institutions’ minimum admission standards.” While I’m sympathetic to the egalitarian idealism Peter advocates… and amazed by the evidence he cites in the 2nd half of his article … I also suspect that the economics of college tuition discounting make it likely that a percentage of full-pay students are necessary to keep the wheels turning and the grants flowing for need-based “scholarships”.

Welcome. Let the Ztories begin!

October 27, 2007

Welcome to the new Ztories branding blog by Ork the Caveman on WordPress.com. My goal is to spark creative thought on the best practices for college communication. And the communication challenges are daunting — distinct audiences who inhabit entirely different worlds: Millennials for admissions, alumni from Silent Generation to Gen X for advancement. In a time when the stakes have never been higher and for the first time in history, the supremacy of American higher education is being questioned. I welcome your comments and look forward to vigorous dialog, sharing of media, and lots of laughs.