Cheyney University Blog

Thinking ahead to prepare a broader base of intellectual talent for a competitive global economy?

June 15, 2009

How do we “think ahead” in higher education to prepare a broader base of intellectual talent for a competitive global economy? Recently, it was my honor to represent Cheyney University, present remarks, and share thoughts with the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Association of University Women at their annual meeting in Bryn Mawr, PA.

My remarks went something like this:

Over thirty years ago, I entered higher education confident that I could design appropriate instruction to assist students as they learned various concepts. At that time, I could not have imagined what education would become in the early 21st century. I remember that my instructional tools at that time included a textbook, chalk, a grade book, paper syllabus, and the knowledge I had gained from earning a master’s degree.

My early days in higher education were filled with the joy of joining a learning community committed to helping others learn. I taught English Literature and Language (English 101) at a YMCA community college in Chicago, and I still remember enjoying a sense of community with my fellow faculty members (when I look back I realized they were mostly former hippies). We spent an enormous amount of time discussing the books we were reading, discussing our instructional strategies, writing poetry, and learning how to teach together.

I also remember thinking that I could not believe that I was being paid so much ($10,000) to have so much fun. I remember how we liked to use technology in our classrooms, but back then, multimedia presentations usually included using a projector for our overheads and a carousel with 35 mm slides. I told someone recently about getting to work early to use the mimeograph machine, and they just stared at me blankly—unable to comprehend. Even though my schedule required that I be there only three days each week, I remember spending most of my time at the college because I enjoyed interacting with the both my fellow faculty and the students.

It has been a few years since I taught my instructional design and evaluation course. But I recall as I was uploading my interactive syllabus with multiple links onto the server so that students could customize their learning experiences according to their interests, knowledge base, and pace of learning, I reflected on how instructional tools had changed. Office hours now could be 24/ 7 with emails, text messages, video conferencing, and instant messaging. I remember my students loved the multiple links and customized learning tools that I included on my syllabus, and they asked for more links and practice quizzes. Students also enjoyed the threaded conversations, and they sent emails to me at all different times of the day and night—when they were studying and wanted to discuss the topics. Now, I wonder where Twitter, MySpace, and the other tools that have yet to be invented, will take us.

As many of you know, there is now a Website called MERLOT, an acronym which stands for Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching. MERLOT expands the faculty person’s instructional tools and the student’s resources for thinking about concepts. MERLOT allows faculty, students, and administrators to search through the impressive collection of learning tools for specific disciplines and interests. Participants (visitors can browse as well) can review or study a subject matter by interacting with animations, case studies, drill and practice lessons, quizzes, tutorials, and simulations. Faculty have a repertoire of learning tools to choose from that have been reviewed by others, and once they have used the learning materials, they can comment on their usefulness. Also on MERLOT, there are various communities of learners sharing their experiences with learning tools and tips about teaching—like I once did in the English department in Chicago.

Without a doubt, there has been much change in higher education in the last thirty years. There are numerous ways now to provide instruction and to attain academic degrees. Neither faculty nor students have to go to a campus for either. With the growth of the online universities like University of Phoenix, and the expansion of many traditional institutions into online instruction, sustaining and growing a thriving educational institution in a changing world means the institutions of higher education much be competitive and respond to perceived societal needs. Even though it started in 1976 when I first began teaching, the University of Phoenix now has over 300,000 students. It has both on-campus and online instruction and degree program. According to its data, the university is the largest private university in the nation and offers instruction worldwide. The motto of the University of Phoenix is “thinking ahead.”

With this change in how education can be delivered and received also comes a degree of tension in higher education and competition among institutions that seek to attract the same students. Even before the deep recession in which we find ourselves today, sustaining a thriving and competitive educational institution in a world that evolves by the nano-second requires that we question our assumptions about teaching and learning and the role of institutions of higher education. Many higher education institutions have endeavored to become more engaged in their communities. Some institutions have responded to this need for speed by creating research and development units with faculty or staff whose primarily responsibilities are to secure grants, create products, and to stay on the cutting edge of knowledge.

As we know, the base unit for organizational change in higher education, and in any institution, is the employee. In higher education, there are a variety of employees including faculty and staff who are entrusted with conveying, sharing, producing, organizing, and publicizing new knowledge. Decision-making in higher education is often viewed as collegial, and faculty meetings are characterized by discussion, vetting ideas, and reaching consensus. This process leads to thoroughness, but it does not always lend itself to speed.

Thus, I often wonder how we can maintain our collegial environment and respond quickly to the societal needs sometimes thrust upon us. I also often wonder how we can use our intellectual capital and the evolving technological tools to improve the learning environment for our current students and to broaden our base of students and lifelong learners.

Last week I was in North Carolina visiting my daughter, who is going into her third year of college at UNC Chapel Hill. Even though I have taught thousands of students and studied instructional design and evaluation, my daughter has been one of my most intense subjects to study. This summer my daughter is taking another calculus course, so that she might spend her spring semester in Spain. As she has done since middle-school, she is sitting in the kitchen with her computer screen open. When I look at the screen, I think of an air traffic controller’s screen. There is an array of information moving across her screen—updates from CNN, emails, instant messaging dialogues, music, web browsers and RSS feeds on subjects of interest. While monitoring her screen for news updates, she realized she was having difficulty with a calculus problem. In less than three minutes, she asked for help from her big brother in Chicago, a classmate of hers working in Florida, a friend visiting relatives in Oklahoma, and her mom—who was standing next to her. She then compared the answers from those who helped her and decided what combination of answers she would use. I congratulated her on her ability to delegate and make appropriate decisions, and of course I thought she would probably make a good CEO.

Depending on who you ask, you will receive a different answer about the rate at which information and knowledge evolve daily. However, most of us can be convinced that the pace of sharing and discussing information in the world is moving faster and faster, and a lot of the teaching and learning in institutions of higher education does not match its pace.

In the 2009 Measuring Up- Report Card on Higher Education, the authors state that the future competitiveness of the United States in the global economy and in higher education is dependent on expanding our educated citizenry. There are other countries that have more talented people than we have people. Without a doubt, some phenomenal things happen in institutions of higher education in America— Professors discover cures for a variety of diseases; new products are invented; new concepts explained, discussed, and examined; and data are collected to support thousands of hypotheses as professors collaborate world-wide to push the boundaries of new knowledge.

Yet, even with these remarkable occurrences in higher education, it would be difficult to not notice that there is a revolution in social learning that is being bolstered by numerous social learning technologies. This leaves me with several questions: Should we change some of our fundamental assumptions about how teaching and learning should occur? How can we employ instructional technologies to individualize the learning more? Will employing more technological tools allow us to increase the number of students who learn and to vary the pace at which students learn?

John Seely Brown (2004) who once served as the chief scientist of Xerox, and who is now has a title called “The Chief of Confusion,” affirms that storytelling is the single most effective way to communicate a change in an organization. Through stories, people visualize events, understand concepts and engage both their hearts and minds. Vision and mission statements people will read, walk out of a room, and two days later cannot remember. But tell them a story and they will not only remember, they will repeat it to others.

What do you think? What are your stories?

Michelle Howard-Vital, Ph.D.
President, Cheyney University


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it is one of the greatest university where every student of the world wish to study.and its syllabus is excellent and campus also
SamRocky 10:14AM 10/13/09



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