Friday, May 20, 2016

A Memory of Paul West

The big event in State College this week was the 55th annual book sale by the Penn State chapter of the American Association of University Women.  It has been an annual event for our family since the 1970s, when the sale was held in the HUB ballroom on campus. Even when we lived in Maryland, we came back for the sale, which has since moved to the Snider Agricultural Arena on the edge of campus, past the football stadium.
            This year, my prized find was My Mother’s Music, Paul West’s memoir of growing up in England.  Paul was my mentor as I worked on my baccalaureate and master’s in English in the late sixties and early seventies.  He introduced me to the magical realism of Garcia-Marquez and Cortazar, Malcolm Lowry’s mix of autobiography and symbolism, and other modern writers who helped me understand what the magic of writing fiction was all about.
In My Mother’s Music, Paul tells of life with his mother in the 1930s and during World War II.  Trained as a classical pianist, Mildred West had given up pursuing a musical career in favor of marriage and raising two children in Derbyshire, giving piano lessons and playing for her own satisfaction.  But as he describes it, Mildred gave Paul a gift by equating words to music.  He writes, “I was finally forgiven for not having made my boyhood’s music with her, not at the piano anyway; but we certainly succumbed together to the music of words.”
Paul attributes his own very personal style to his mother’s idea of “all art aspiring to the condition of music.”   His distinctive style made him a star in his own right.  Paul became known internationally for his playful use of language to build a world that resonated with layers of meaning when seen simultaneously from different perspectives.  As he wrote in the memoir, “A lost analogy is two universes wounded.”
Paul and his wife Diane Ackerman, herself a Penn State grad who has become internationally respected nature writer (most recently, The Human Age), eventually left Penn State for Ithaca, New York.  A few years back he suffered a stroke.  She wrote about it in 100 Names for Love, a powerful memoir of their life together and his recovery of the creative process after the stroke.  Paul died this past October.  I will miss him, but am glad to have his words—his own music—to keep me company.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Leading the e-Learning Transformation of Higher Education

No one knows for certain when, exactly, online learning first appeared in higher education.  The best we can say is that the field has entered its third decade.  Early innovations at places like the University of Maryland University College and the Penn State World Campus are now well-established, and many institutions—from public universities to small private colleges—are adopting online learning as one way to serve an increasingly diverse student population.    

The experience of the Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning (IELOL) over almost a decade has demonstrated that a new generation now taking its place in the leadership roles at our institutions.  Two years ago, a group of first-generation leaders—most of whom had served as faculty in IELOL—joined forces with Stylus Publishing to develop a book, Leading the e-Learning Transformation of Higher Education,   that describes the scope of skills needed by new leaders as they take command of this increasingly important field.  I was proud to be one of that authoring team, along with the late Bruce Chaloux; Meg Benke, professor of education at Empire State College and co-director of IELOL who has served as Acting President and Provost at ESC; my old Penn State colleague Larry Ragan who leads the Center for Online Innovation in Learning at Penn State and is the longstanding co-director of IELOL; Ray Schroeder who just recently was accepted into the USDLA’s Hall of Fame;  Wayne Smutz, another Penn State colleague who is now Dean of Continuing Education at UCLA;  and Karen Swan,  distinguished professor of educational leadership at the University of Illinois-Springfield.   

As we look ahead to a new academic cycle, I want to encourage colleagues who are new to leadership in the field—or who have that role as a career target—to take a look at what this great team of pioneers has to say about helping institutions achieve the full potential of online learning.