Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ensuring Quality in Cross-Border Inter-Institutional Collaborations

On June 20, 2011, I had the honor of keynoting a Policy Forum sponsored by the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).  Since its founding in the 1930s (when distance education focused on correspondence study), ICDE has been the single global organization of institutions and individuals involved in open and distance education using a wide range of technologies.   Its membership is truly international.   The policy forum focused on ICDE's role in ensuring quality as institutions collaborate to deliver distance education programs and resources across national borders.

The Policy Forum preceded the ICDE Standing Council of Presidents meeting, which focused on the role of distance education in the new economy.

It was great to be a part of this global dialog, which provided a look over the horizon at the future of higher education in a globalized information society.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

From the Typewriter to the Cloud: The Impact of Technology on Writing

One of this year’s finds at the annual AAUW book sale at Penn State was “The Writer’s Chapbook,” a collection of reflections about writing by top authors, drawn from their interviews in “The Paris Review.”   Reading it the other day, I stumbled over several authors commenting on the impact of the typewriter on writing. 

The biographer Leon Edel talked about Henry James, who must have been one of the early adopters of this new technology.  Here’s what he said:  “He began dictating directly to the typewriter.  It’s a case of the medium being the message and with dictation he ran into longer sentences, and parenthetical remarks, and when he revised what he had dictated he tended to add further flourishes.  In the old days, when he wrote in longhand he was much briefer and crisper, but now he luxuriated in fine phrases and he was exquisitely baroque.”

Conrad Aiken, noting that he never used a carbon copy “because that made me self-conscious,” wrote, “I can remember discussing the effect of the typewriter on our work with Tom Eliot because he was moving to the typewriter about the time I was.  And I remember our agreeing that it made for a slight change of style in the prose-that you tended to use more periodic sentences, a little shorter, and a rather choppier style—and that one must be careful about that . . . But that was a passing phase only.  We both soon discovered that we were just as free to let the style throw itself into the air as we had been writing manually.”

I suspect it is too bad that Henry James dictated rather than take to the keyboard himself. 

These couple of examples also made me wonder:  how has word processing changed style over the past two decades?  One imagines that the ability for infinite self-correction should free the imagination and allow writers to be more spontaneous, on one hand, and more precise on the other hand.  Then, add the Internet as a publishing environment.  I have to think that the ability to immediately publish one’s thoughts would lead to shorter pieces more focused on the immediacy of insight rather than on long, complexly woven pieces—a tendency reinforced by the limitations on length imposed by Twitter.  However, there is also the inevitable temptation to constantly revisit and revise—to not let good enough alone in this environment.  This suggests the need for a new artistic ethos:  that the writer, having written, must move on.   But it also raises a question about the relationship between writer and reader and how readers engage with the writer in the creative process.   In this new environment, is writing about the finished product or does the reader gain artistic insight in the process itself?

Worth exploring more.  Any thoughts?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

If 60 Is the New 18 . . . --Higher Education for the "New" Adult

In the May 15, 2011 issue of Newsweek, Susan Cheever wrote, “If 50 is the new 30, 60-ish is in many ways a new kind of 18.  We are coming of old age in a way that parallels our first coming of age.  As we head for 60 we know that statistically we are old.  But we don’t feel old, and we may even be more physically active than we were at 18 when we had never heard of Core Fusion or Bikram Yoga.”   She adds, “We joke about being carded when we ask for the senior rate. Our desire to obey the rules can fall away. Life is suddenly very short and very precious. We are coming to the end of this wonderful ride. Now is the time! If we are not going to speak out and act out at 60, when will we?”

Cheever was writing about the marital woes of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  However, her comment raises a different question for those of us interested in the intersection of education and society:  How do our educational institutions prepare people to be productive citizens, professionals, and individuals when, for most, life will extend well beyond the traditional “three score and ten”?  

Just as our educational system itself was designed for an agricultural and industrial society, it also assumes that the goal is to prepare young people for a single career.   Now, a generation into the Information Revolution, as we adapt our institutions to the needs of this new society, we also need to figure out how best to prepare our citizenry for a live that has a much longer—and more active—third act, one that (as Jeremy Rifkin suggested in The End of Work) could allow mature adults who are past their parenting roles to engage in new ways with their community and the broader society. 

 Certainly, this could be one aspect of revitalizing the general education curriculum:  helping undergraduate students develop a sense of themselves as citizens of both a civil and a professional community.  And, certainly, this could be a sub-goal of a new societal expectation—a nonmilitary kind of Selective Service (perhaps integrating Vista, Peace Corps, and related services)—that young people would complete a year of public service before they enter the adult workforce—to prepare them, as they enter the workforce, to think about what role they might play in society after their working years are over. 

While those ideas may be dramatic enough—difficult enough to get our institutions and our state and federal governments to envision and implement—we should ask:  What else can we do to prepare adults for an active, service-oriented third act?  If Rifkin’s ideas come to pass, employers may well want to work with colleges/universities to prepare their mid-career staff for an effective transition to public service in order to make headroom for younger employees.   We may even want to envision a new kind of degree or certificate that helps adults prepare for the transition. 

It will take time for a very different view of higher education’s role in society to catch hold. It is worth thinking about now.  What do you think?