Author Archive

By: Rebecca Frost Davis, Program Officer for the Humanities, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education

I’m seeing networks everywhere these days. There’s the obvious one—the Internet—but, there is also a growing trend in of studying networks, and not just social networks like Facebook , but also in literature, like the network of relationships between characters in Hamlet.  AAC&U has its Network for Academic Renewal, NITLE works with a network of small liberal arts colleges, and our students are facing a world of webs and networks, as I described in a blog post last year.

One of my fellow bloggers, Shyam Sharma, a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Louisville and winner of the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award, describes the “responsibilities of an effective educator of the twenty-first century” and explains what this means for instructors: I help students develop and maintain broad and deep “personal learning networks”—webs of places, resources, and people where they receive and also share knowledge.

Because of the internet and online social networks, we tend to think these networks require digital technology, but learning networks aren’t new. Consider the “Republic of Letters,” now mapped in a new project that visualizes intellectual exchange via a different kind of network technology—mail. We all have our personal learning networks, whether they are supported by water-cooler conversations, conference attendance, journal articles, or twitter.

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By: Rebecca Frost Davis, Program Officer for the Humanities, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education

Wednesday night Ken O’Donnell opened the AAC&U 2012 Annual Meeting by telling us that the road connecting civic and commercial activity is “collected work toward a common purpose.” He backed that up in part by citing the no. 1 answer on the National Association of Colleges and Employers survey of what employers are seeking: “ability to work in a team structure.” I’ve been promoting collaborative projects (usually between different institutions) for almost ten years now, and I routinely work in a distributed team with colleagues at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education. But, after hearing O’Donnell speak, I wondered, how do we teach that skill to students?

This is not an idle query for me; in fact, it’s a homework assignment of sorts. I’m currently part of a working group (collaboration again) that is collectively brainstorming a curriculum for digital humanities pedagogy workshops, and collaboration is one of the topics we see as key. As those who attended the Digital Humanities for Undergraduates panel on Thursday know, collaboration is one of the practices that differentiate the digital humanities from traditional humanities studies.

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By Steven S. Volk, Professor of History, and Director, Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence, Oberlin College

Are we “losing our minds?”  Richard Keeling and Richard Hersh, of Keeling & Associates, argued as much in their panel of the same title.  What they mean, of course, is that by having allowed the petrification of a culture of higher education which stressed everything from rankings and athletics to student life and “throughputs,” but somehow ignored student learning, we are not just “adrift,” but at risk of losing student learning, and all that would come from it.  Where, they ask, is the higher learning in higher education?

Critiques of higher education have stacked up over the past two decades, largely focusing on important issues such as escalating costs or the decline of the full-time professoriate. But Keeling and Hersh point to the value of Richard Arum and Josipa Roska’s Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press, 2011) in providing demographic and research data to sustain the argument that the attributes we value most in higher learning – critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills, among others – are not being achieved at institutions of higher education.

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By: Ken O’Donnell, Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Policy for the Office of the Chancellor of the California State University

Henry Eyring of BYU-Idaho got a lot of attention with last year’s publication of  The Innovative University, an insider’s account of changes to the higher ed business model.  BYUI has pursued online learning and year-round operations to rationalize its costs of instruction, taking some cues from the for-profit sector.

Eyring began by observing that higher ed may be slow to adopt online learning, owing to a rollout that coincided unfortunately with the tech bubble.  He said in the decade or so since, the technologies have gotten stronger while higher ed’s finances have weakened, making alternate delivery more attractive. Read the rest of this entry »

By: Ken O’Donnell, Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Policy for the Office of the Chancellor of the California State University

Sherrill B. Gelmon won this year’s Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award, conferred by Campus Compact. She’s a professor of public health at Portland State University, teaching in PSU’s College of Urban & Public Affairs. She began by pointing out how well that positions her for community engagement work: she and her colleagues are at the heart of downtown Portland, in a university whose motto is “Let Knowledge Serve the City.”

She used both survey data and personal anecdotes to identify faculty motives for engagement, but the real reward kept coming back to joy. Her colleagues report that community engagement makes their work more satisfying, deepens student learning, and adds dimension and relevance to their own teaching and scholarship. For each personal story, Sherrill projected an image that the respondent felt represented joy, some of them really whimsical. Of the comparisons she made, I think my favorite came from her PhD student Katrina, who said the pressures of faculty work reminded her of professional skaters, bringing their arms in and twirling faster and faster. Connections to the community pull the arms back out. Read the rest of this entry »

By: Shyam Sharma, University of Louisville

When I look at the description of events in the schedule of the AAC&U Annual Meeting this year, images of my undergraduate students cross my mind. I begin to think about what use my students from the English 101 class in fall 2007 (my first semester of teaching college writing) made of the “critical thinking skills” that I taught after they left my classroom. I wonder if my students from the advanced writing course that focused on global citizenship last year continued to “pause to look at two more perspectives” before beginning to argue and defend their own positions. The events in the schedule represent big and often abstract ideas emerging from the experience and wisdom of scholars who are intellectual leaders in higher education. But when browsing the themes and descriptions in the schedule, my mind turns toward the students from the past and students I will teach in years to come. Has my teaching helped them become productive citizens in their communities and work? How much am I helping them become the digital and global citizens that they need to be today? What else do I need to do in order to shoulder the responsibilities of an effective educator of the twenty-first century—and what does it mean to be an effective teacher today in light of the changes, challenges, and opportunities that are created or complicated by the forces of economic crises around the world, advancements in information technologies, and the growing interdependence of knowledge (and other) markets around the world? I will be seeking answers to these questions in the many exciting discussions that I look forward to attending at the AAC&U Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

The sessions that I am most interested are concerned with what I call digital-global citizenship. (And, by the way, the schedule that I carry is not in a diary, nor a printout: it is, thanks to AAC&U, a mobile “app.”) For me, integrating technological skills into teaching does not mean just including “cool” new technologies: I help students use new technologies to achieve and enhance the age-old mission of liberal arts education, of critical thinking, finding and synthesizing information, enhancing their civic awareness and developing in democratic engagement. I help students develop and maintain broad and deep “personal learning networks”—webs of places, resources, and people where they receive and also share knowledge. My students use technology to learn, write, solve problems, and develop new ideas, often collaboratively. Their collaboration is facilitated and enriched by technologies like wikis and blogs; they seek to understand the perspectives and practices of apparently universal phenomena in different cultures and societies around the world by using multimedia in their research, critical analysis, composition, and presentation of ideas and practices. Read the rest of this entry »

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