It’s About Time: Intellectual Technology and General Education

The first session of this fall’s Educational Technology Planning course met last night after losing a week to Irene. The course is an elective in the Educational Planning, Policy and Leadership program at the School of Education and is made up of a students in masters and doctoral programs in K-12 and higher education administration. The goal is to look at technology decisions through the lens of the leaders who will be responsible for selecting and managing large-scale education technology projects–chief information officers or chief technology officers. It’s a difficult course, since it requires students to integrate a considerable amount of technical information into a personal vision of how information technologies might impact education in the near to intermediate future.

The course is generally built around an authentic learning project for an outside client. This year presented an unusual opportunity since William and Mary is undergoing its first review of general education requirements since the invention of the World Wide Web. Michael Lewis, one of the co-chairs of the Curriculum Review Committee, is a mathematician/computer scientist who has been involved with a number of IT initiatives in the past, and we had talked about the possibility of the class looking at the role of “intellectual technologies” in general education. Obviously, I think that computers and communications technology have transformed society in ways that pose a whole host of technical, pedagogical, ethical, social and economic questions that need to be addressed much differently than we would have addressed them in 1990. For me the broad question might be framed this way:

How much does a citizen need to know about information (educational, intellectual) technology to be considered well-educated in the 21st century?

The project that I suggested to the class was writing a carefully developed white paper where we offer some perspectives, ideas, and thoughts about that question. We have 16 students in the class, 12 weeks of class time, and an incredibly broad range of backgrounds and experiences. Michael came and met with the class to provide an overview of the committee’s work to date and provided some history on general education at WM, and left us to determine if this was the project that we wanted to take on.

The discussion was spirited, but I’m not sure if it was effective or not. My fear is that I really didn’t allow the group the freedom to decide if these was the project that wanted to work on or not. I had put a fair amount of effort into developing a structure that I thought would allow us to get organized relatively quickly, but that structure didn’t seem to work for a fair number of folks in the class. The biggest concern didn’t appear to me to be the importance or substance of the project, but rather if there was enough time to complete it. (At least that’s what I heard.) My own sense was that it was a tight deadline, but we had the time and the tools to make a real contribution to the discussion at the College if we put our minds to it.

We decided–or maybe they acquiesced to my expectation–to give it a week working within the format that I had proposed and see where it goes. We’ll see where it goes.

The Rules of Engagement: Socializing College Students for the New Century

Tomorrow’s Professor Blog: 844. The Rules of Engagement: Socializing College Students for the New Century

One of the few listservs that I still subscribe to is the Tomorrows-Professor Mailing List, The TP Mailing List seeks to “foster a diverse, world-wide teaching and learning ecology” and goes out to over 25,000 subscribers at over 600 institutions and organizations in over 108 countries around the world. To date there have been over 750 postings by author and engineering professor Rick Ries.

The pieces posted are often thought provoking, like the one entitled Death to the Syllabus. I taught my last course without a syllabus–using a prospectus instead that I think avoided some of the baggage that has become intertwined with the syllabus in far too many courses:

It is time to declare war on the traditional course syllabus. If there is one single artifact that pinpoints the degradation of liberal education, it is the rule-infested, punitive, controlling syllabus that is handed out to students on the first day of class.

The most recent post to capture my attention probably won’t find its way into my practice anytime soon. Extracted from the subscription only National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, the thrust of the article is that students are becoming ruder and more inappropriate in their behavior and that many arrive at college with no understanding of the basic standards of classroom civility, etiquette, and socialization that make a class run smoothly. Professor Neil Williams from East Connecticut State has developed an elaborate set of classroom Rules of Engagement to ensure that students live up to those standards. The rules include greeting the professor by name when arriving and leaving class, taking personal responsibility for errors in personal and academic judgement and my personal favorite:

When you yawn, cover it completely with an entire hand. When the event has passed, mouth the words ‘Pardon me’ or ‘Excuse me.’ An open-mouthed or uncovered yawn is about as insensitive, rude, and inappropriate as it gets. There is almost no instance in which a yawn arrives without some sort of internal biological warning, and all that is being asked is for students to cover their mouths out of respect for the person who is forced to look at them and their dental history.

According to Williams, the rules work as long as everything is done with a smile. When the rules work, the students can become better people, better citizens, and eminently more employable or acceptable to graduate school. What more could a teacher ask for?