Reflections on Kentucky Higher Ed: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

All, Education, Rants, Teaching, Technology

academic siloMy spring has been filled with interdisciplinary activities including the Commonwealth Commitment Summit, Kentucky Student Success Summit, and Kentucky Innovations Conference with one more coming up this weekend – THATCamp Kentucky. Participating and presenting at these events has been an interesting experience and I strongly suggest that more academics get out of their silos from time to time. Yes, we learn from our disciplinary peers but there is much to be learned and shared across disciplines as well and we seem to forget that all too easily in the crushing round of teaching-scholarship-service.

One unforeseen benefit of my interdisciplinary spring has been getting to know other colleagues from my own institution. For much of my time at Morehead State University I have primarily interacted with the members of my home department – English. However, when I started leading the Morehead Writing Project I began interacting more with some members of the College of Education, but still many of my fellow faculty and staff members remained strangers. This year, especially this spring, has changed all that and I happily discovered that I work with some smart, interesting, and fun people who really care about our students – something I cannot say about some of my English colleagues. I am excited to collaborate and learn from/with these folks in the future. I have also learned that MSU has much to be proud of – including our Professional Learning Communities where faculty and staff learn and research specific topics of interest. The very existence of our PLCs and the autonomy they are given to pursue the shared interests of a small group of professionals is apparently unique in our region. I have also learned that Kentucky has much to be proud of – including our willingness and ability to innovate and experiment at both the local and state level.

connectNot everything I have learned has been so positive. Academics are really, really bad at having conversations. We know academics can talk and talk and talk, but can we listen, can we have a dialogue? If my experience this spring is any indication we have yet to learn this skill. I know this is a problem at disciplinary conferences where the primary purpose of most is to prove their worth and importance. Even roundtables and panels are rarely conversations, and most of our time is spent attending sessions where someone reads to us from pages they wrote in advance and there is frequently little to no time for questions let alone an honest dialogue. I had hoped this was a national conference problem, but it appears to be an academic epidemic that pervades every level. Perhaps I have been spoiled by my work with the National Writing Project where we celebrate dialogue, collaboration, and real communication, but I hope we can do better and I know that I am not alone. This is one reason that I’m participating in two different unconferences this week – Hybrid Pedagogy’s Virtual Unconference and an Online Conference in connection with Computers and Writing. Neither is intended to be the kind of event that celebrates the “sage on a stage” mode of conference presentation and appears to seek the type of collaboration and conversation that I crave. I’m also hopeful that this week of great virtual conversations will be followed by some great dialogue at THATCamp Kentucky. So while the conference scene continues to be grim regarding listening and talking, I believe that there is hope for a better tomorrow if we can just find/create better ways to connect.

Slide4Perhaps the ugliest truth that I learned this semester is in regard to the innovation that is truly necessary to create a new model of education, invent new methods of teaching, and harness the power of technology to support new forms of learning. I suppose I’ve been living/learning in a silo of my own as my virtual Personal Learning Network includes some really innovative people constantly seeking still more innovation. As a result, I thought there was a larger movement afoot, so I was greatly disappointed by the supposed “innovations” shared by Kentucky’s educators. Far too many people are using old technology or only limited technology but even worse than that far too many people are using technology to push the same old tired pedagogy and ideas. Using Prezi to support your lecture does not make you an innovator. Neither does using clickers instead of quizzes. I know, thanks to my PLN, that there are innovators out there and I count on them to continue to push and challenge my own pedagogy and the ways I use technology to support and challenge my students. That lack of challenge to our students was perhaps the greatest disappointment of all. Technology can open so many opportunities for our students to investigate, to create, to challenge their own thinking as well as ours, but not if we react as the Lilliputians did to Gulliver. We can use technology to reinvent ourselves, our classrooms, and our institutions or we can use it to simply delay the inevitable – our choice. Thinking about new ways to use technology is not enough. We need to think of new ways to challenge our students and ourselves. We need a radical revision of our pedagogy, our classrooms, and our institutions – and we need it yesterday.

Slide1While I believe that our education system – from K-12 through higher education – needs to change, I also believe that the right change is possible without a bloody revolution. I believe strongly in the power of good people collaborating for change. I believe in the power of technology to help effect that change. I believe we can reinvent education and create something amazing if we can abandon our silos. But then I am just a Pollyanna in black robes.