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Posts Tagged ‘university

One local newspaper tweeted:

Here is an excerpt of the article:

…as recently as 2000, 45 per cent of the resident workforce had below secondary school education, and only 12 per cent had university education. Today, those with less than secondary school education has fallen below 30 per cent, and the proportion of university degree holders has more than doubled to nearly 30 per cent.

This is my reaction: Having a degree does not make you educated.

Another paper tweeted:

Here is an excerpt of the article:

The test, sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, evaluated pupils’ reading and comprehension skills, such as connecting pieces of information, and making inferences from texts. Pupils were given two reading passages – narrative fiction as well as information-based texts such as news articles – and had to answer multiple-choice and written-response questions.

This is my reaction: Being able to decipher or make inferences from text on any medium does not make you sufficiently literate.

I dislike noise that prevents me from concentrating and thinking. Given that I do a fair amount of my work on the move in public transport or in cafes, I face a lot of noise.

Even libraries are not immune from interference because the quiet space makes even page flips, periodic sniffling, or inconsiderate talking seem loud.

So I invested in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 25, almost two years ago.


Video source

This pair of headphones is expensive, but I did not realise that I would have to pay an additional SGD49 so far each year to maintain them. This is not some insurance or other fee. This is the cost of replacement Bose ear cups.

The ear cups do not seem to be made for Singapore’s humidity. The photo shows what one of my old pairs looks like. I have not made them look worse. The photo shows the literal wear and tear from just putting the headphones on and off repeatedly.

Wear and tear of a pair of Bose QC25 ear cups.

I suppose that the company assumed that someone who bought the headphones would only wear them in a plane or in an air-conditioned office.

I already have two pairs of ear cups that have similar damage and my current third pair has just started showing the typical signs of wear and tear.

My receipts remind me that in October 2015 and May 2016, I visited a brick-and-mortar store in town to get replacements. This year I wised up. I read an article about Alibaba’s 11/11 online specials and searched Lazada’s offerings (Alibaba bought Lazada earlier in 2016).

I found the same ear cups from Lazada for a lot less. At the time of my purchase, I paid SGD8.60 for a replacement pair. My wallet felt relief from the savings and I felt stupid for paying so much in the past.

As is my habit, I wondered if there was a lesson for those of us in schooling and education.

I learnt my lesson. But can the same be said of schools or universities that keep buying and maintaining hardware and software that they underutilise or not use at all? I am thinking about “special” rooms or labs, “interactive” white boards, LMS which are neither about learning nor managing, and more.

In my case, I found something I needed for less by responding to timely information. But schools and other educational institutions spend so much more on the unnecessary. They listen uncritically to vendors and companies that do not process educational research or speak with authority.

So they spend foolishly like I used to. I have learnt my lesson. Have they?

[Full disclosure: I have not been paid by Bose or Lazada to mention them.]

While at a university campus recently, I decided to get lunch from a canteen food stall that I had not visited in about two years. The tenants were no longer there, but there was a replacement.

I decided to try their fish and chips. That is all I got: Some overcooked breaded fish and a few potato wedges. I guess I expected too much given what the previous tenant offered.

I asked if they could give me some coleslaw. The server looked offended, plonked a teaspoonful on my plate, and mumbled, “Normally we don’t give!”


Video source

This clip of Oliver asking for more came immediately came to my mind.

I quickly forgot the clip as the food not only cost more, it also tasted terrible.

It was not just me. A group of undergraduate students sat at my table and one who opted for another dish from the same stall complained about the cost, the taste, and the unpleasant service.

As I returned my plate and cutlery, I remembered what the server said: “Normally we don’t give!” Normally, I would expect better service and food.

However, what is “normal” can change. When new management takes over, they can prioritise quantity instead of quality. When they do, they go for the biggest bang for their buck. It makes the most sense on paper and it can be profitable. If the tenant gets bad reviews, they leave, and someone else runs through the revolving door to take their place.

While I ruminate on the food experience, this is really about university education. I was on campus to conduct a series of workshops to change the teaching mindsets, expectations, and behaviours of future faculty.

By sheer coincidence, one future professor/lecturer gave a blunt assessment when I asked the group what they would build on from the previous sessions:

Teaching methods at {university name removed} are TERRIBLE!! Lecturers have no interesting [sic] in eliciting an emotional response from the students.

Perhaps this was that person’s way of saying “Normally we don’t give… a damn about teaching.”

Not everyone is as candid. However, just about anyone with a current experience as a university student can probably relate.

There are a few very good university educators who stay up to date with technology and the latest developments in pedagogy. However, this is not norm.

This is why I like being part of a small group of educators that is trying to change what is normal. If we cannot change existing faculty who are too set in their ways, we will work with future faculty who are more in touch with learner expectations. When they become professors in their own right whether here or elsewhere, they might bring their new insights with them.

There is no guarantee that all will change for the better. Whatever changes that happen will also take at least a generation of instructors to turn over. However, we play the long game and we hedge our bets.

If we do nothing, nothing will happen. If we do something, something might.

When Bloomberg posted an article titled Singapore wants kids to skip university: Good luck with that, it was click bait.

How could you not want to find out what Singapore was up to and wonder if such a socio-economic experiment could work?

It has worked elsewhere (i.e., Germany), so the question is not why (we have gone past that thanks to forecasting) and have moved on to how (albeit a bit late).

Bloomberg cited Pasi Sahlberg, who was in Singapore recently for a leadership conference.

“There is a clear international trend in the developed world to make vocational education a true choice for more young people,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The larger trend among developed countries is a glut in degree holders (too many graduates, not enough jobs) and/or poor fit (universities were not providing what industries needed).

If the USA is any indication, thought leaders are fond of pointing out that we might see the first generation of kids that will not be as well-employed or as financially well off as their parents.

The question is not “Can the non-degree strategy work?” but “How can we make it work?”.

Some changes to the system have already taken root.

Right here in Singapore, I learnt over closed conversations what initially seemed to be a surprising statistic. A top school here revealed that about 60% of its graduating cohort was entering polytechnics by choice instead of by circumstance.

Skills Future was launched this year as was an earn-and-learn programme. The civil service will provide equal opportunities for non-degree and degree holders alike [example].

We are not going to abandon the pursuit of degrees, but the charm offensive of promoting vocational and non-degree jobs has gone beyond rhetoric to implementation.

So far these designs and implementations are the domain of systems designers like politicians and economists. What can parents and teachers do?

Most parents are unlikely to let up on wanting degrees for their kids regardless of whether their offspring need degrees. Parental concern is what they are familiar with: A degree commands a higher starting salary. The thing to realize is that a degree no longer guarantees a job, much less a career.

The other thing to realize is that parental concerns are not their childrens’ concerns. Not immature children, but adults who grow up with more opportunities than their parents and look forward to finding themselves, social enterprise, or doing good for larger causes. And finding realistic answers to the question “Is money really that important?”

The expectations and pressures of the employee today and tomorrow are different from those of yesterday.

Teachers need to take heed and learn to operate outside their bubbles. There are no more single-trajectory careers and no more iron rice bowls.

Curricula are less important than nurturing flexible, adaptable thinkers. Assessment that ultimately leads to a strong degree printed on fancy paper is less important than a portfolio of experiences.

I shared these two images I created with #eduality recently as messages to teachers.

Teachers are in a unique position to shape the mindset of the next generation. But teachers sometimes view the world through the distorted lens that is their classroom bubble.

Teachers cannot afford to teach the way they were taught. If they persist, they do their students a disservice and they sabotage the plans of a nation needing to go forward.

 
During my vacation in Vietnam, I managed to read parts of the Innovating Pedagogy 2014 report by the Open University UK.

The report cited an author who wrote:

There must be an ‘industrial revolution’ in education, in which educational science and the ingenuity of educational technology combine to modernize the grossly inefficient and clumsy procedures of conventional education. Work in the schools of the future will be marvelously though simply organized, so as to adjust almost automatically to individual differences and the characteristics of the learning process. There will be many laborsaving schemes and devices, and even machines – not at all for the mechanizing of education, but for the freeing of teacher and pupil from educational drudgery and incompetence.

The quote sounds current, but it was written by Sidney Pressey in 1933. That is just over 90 years ago. He was pushing for technology-enabled change then just as we are now.

The pushes for change will persist because of the inertia of governors and the governed. But as technologies evolve to become more powerful, connected, and intuitive, I hope that pull factors drive change instead.

The messaging then changes from “This is why and how you must change!” to “We want this change. What is stopping us?”

As I was reading this article, Watering the Roots of Knowledge Through Collaborative Learning, I marvelled at how one university was daring enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

 
They realized that not only was the bathwater dirty, it was the baby that was messing it up.

The bathwater in this case was the traditional university system while the baby was 19th century mindset.

The author began by outlining the three things he thought was wrong with higher education (and I paraphrase):

  1. We think talking is teaching which leads to learning
  2. We do not allow students to talk and learn by socializing
  3. We measure students by numbers and letters and consider everything else cheating

So the Quest University Canada took these measures:

  • Attempt to mirror society
  • Promote cross disciplinary work
  • Promote serial learning over parallel learning
  • Focus on depth over breadth
  • Enable collaboration over isolation
  • Emphasize process over products

I asked myself what it would be like to teach in such a place. I asked myself how I might help create such a place.

That was my response when I read the Straits Times article Varsities making more lectures available online (click image below for archived copy).

They are still just lectures. They may be very efficient, but they are not very effective. They are an industrial age model trying to hobble on a catwalk that belongs to information age models.

In theory, the lectures might be useful to someone without the means to get a university education. But the walled garden prevents access. In the age of open access, this strategy of offering lectures online but building a fence around them is already outdated.

Institutes of higher learning (IHLs) need to make money, but they need not do this with lectures.

Ask anyone who has a university education what they remember or value the most and they are unlikely to mention lectures (the exceptions being the one or two really good or really awful ones).

No, IHLs offer the campus or university experience and this typically happens outside lecture halls. More often this happens in canteens, field trips, meals with faculty and areas for play.

Lectures are typically for the dissemination of information. The rest of the university experience develops the creative and critical capacity of an individual. If anything is to be put online, it should be the equivalent or even better experiences that develop creativity and critical thinking.


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