Are we preparing students for the world they will face in 2014 or 1984?

There was an article recently in Inside Higher Ed that ruffled my feathers.  Having been a faculty member myself I realize some of the difficulties in teaching and therefore give my academic brethren wide latitude especially when it comes to using, or not using, technology. But the story of a faculty member banning email between her and her students, except to schedule a physical meeting, seemed rather shortsighted to me.  Here is the post I made on Inside Higher Ed:

I have visited Salem College, nice place, as it was in the same town (Winston-Salem, NC) when I worked at Wake Forest University.

I disagree with the professor’s position and agree with DF’s comment regarding a lost “Teachable Moment Opportunity.”

I think the professor’s focus is too narrow. Too focused on only her domain area.

According to Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, the result of a college is experience is not only producing students with domain expertise (e.g., accounting) but also critical thinking, written and oral communication, qualitative and quantitative skills and, I would add, some degree of socialization.

I agree with the professor that students can, and do, abuse email. But if they do not learn how to appropriately use it in college they may abuse it when they graduate and are employed.

Written communication in 2014 is not just writing papers. Rather, it is knowing how to communicate using the tools available today (e.g., Outlook, Skype, IM, Yammer).

According to the article, “Years ago, she tried to take a stand against smartphones, tablets and laptops in the classroom.” Well, if she is training her students for the work environment of 35 years about (pre-1980, pre-PC) that would be fine. But today technology is an integral part of almost all work environments and professions.

Many surveys (samples below) of employers show their dissatisfaction with what colleges are producing and what skills are needed to be successful in today’s workplace. I realize that the mission of colleges and universities is much broader than vocational education. But, the traditional outcomes of a university education (e.g., communication, critical thinking, etc.) must be viewed through the lens of the affordances and constraints offered by technology which graduates will be using in their future workplaces.

  • 60% of employers: “Applicants lack communication and interpersonal skills” Workforce
    Solutions Group – Nov ’13
  • 44% of employers “Communication, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration biggest skill gap”
    Adecco – Oct ’13
  • Top New Hires priorities: “Team player, problem solver, plan, organize, prioritize”
    Nat’l Association. Colleges & Employers – Sep ’13

Solving education problems with technology — do we have the right perspective?

Over the past two years we all have heard a great deal about the promise of MOOCs, as well as technology in general, and how they were going to transform education. This has not happened and there are now many articles coming out (good example here from The Atlantic) that again (this happens about every five – eight years) are denigrating the value of technology in education.  While appearing negative, this growing trend may actually have an opening for Microsoft’s intelligent way of integrating technology into education (much of it through professional development offerings).

Concerning the quote from below,

Software might be good at categorizing and organizing knowledge, but it’s not so good at synthesizing and applying knowledge in the creative, and often highly contextualized and personalized, ways that educators and educational leaders have to employ every day.

In our Microsoft Technology Enriched Instruction (TEI) workshop, as well as much of our other professional development offerings, we do use software to categorize and organize knowledge (e.g., OneNote) but we also provide affordances for contextualizing and personalizing it through educators such as using Yammer or the web apps to support social and collaboration.  Educators continue to provide the content, both the static—articles, text books, as well as the dynamic — in class discussions, which results in personalization. This is where one of the frameworks we use in TEI, TPACK, comes in. It provides guidance on helping educators find the appropriate “fit” between their selection of technology and pedagogy aligned to the content they are teaching.

So I agree with the basic arguments of the article that 1.) MOOCs were way over sold, and 2.) traditional universities (or schools) are not going away because of MOOCs or technology.  I would add a third of my own – technology is, and always has been, a tool that provides new affordances.   The right question is not how it can be used to replace all that has come before it but rather, how it can be used to augment, enhance and extend the “traditional” practices that still work. This is where our PD offerings come in.  Not to transform education and make educators or their institutions less relevant.  But rather, to help educators solve some of the most vexing problems facing the industry with capabilities provided by technology.

Permit-less parking technology

While my primary enthusiasm is on how technology can be effectively applied to teaching and learning, occasionally I run across an administrative problem\solution that sparks my interest. What could be seemingly mundane but of interest to almost everyone on campus than … parking!

I recently saw on the EDUCAUSE CIO Listserv a request for information on “permit-less” parking solutions. Given that Microsoft had adopted such a solution about a year ago I thought I would find out what we use and how it works. After all, we do consider our corporate headquarters here in Redmond, Washington as our “campus” with over 100 separate buildings (over 700 globally) that contain over 60K parking spaces for our Puget Sound area employees. In fact, one of our parking decks has over 8,000 parking spaces and, if lined up end-to-end, would be 8/10ths of a mile long.

I spent some time with Don Rufo who is in charge of our Campus Operations to find out the solution we use. I found out that we gave up years of hanging permits on our campus for a variety of reasons. First, they cost Microsoft about $25K every other year to administer. Second, we believed that having a Microsoft parking permit on employee cars made them a potential target for theft. Thieves might assume that such a car contained valuables such as laptops or Surface computers. Third, hanging permits, or the lack-thereof, did not give us the ability to easily identify suspicious vehicles.

After about a year of research and a proof-of-concept Microsoft purchased a solution from IRSA. We purchased their License Plate Recognition (LPR) program. Microsoft employees go to a simple website where we register all the cars we might bring to campus. Microsoft has outfitted a number of its security vehicle with IRSA cameras that scan the license plates of vehicles parted in our lots. It analyzes in real-time the plates and compares them to the database of registered employee license plates. We also have a list of license plates in the database for persons of interest (POI). The results show up on a PC in the security vehicle and identify if the plate is registered or not. If the plate is from a POI, it immediately notifies security personnel in the vehicle and back at our Global Security office.

To date the new permit-less parking program appears to be a great success. Employees like the ease of registration and not having to worry about something hanging from their mirrors.