Tag Archives: books

review: diy u … viewing the end of college as we know it?

When a faculty reading circle announced the selection and discussion of Anya Kamenetz’s DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, I was more than a bit intrigued. I’d read great things about the book and here was an excuse to check it out … as well as see what colleagues think.

Reaction? Wow. So much food for thought! I didn’t totally agree with everything within the pages, but a few major themes and threads emerged that I’ve pondered quite a bit. They include:

The separation of content from delivery in education. Just as iTunes decoupled individual songs from the traditional album distribution model and Hulu divorces shows from networks and the usual delivery method, the Internet has placed countless opportunities for learning at our fingertips either free or at marginal cost. These range from the sophisticated (MIT’s free broadcasting of classes online) to the homegrown (semi-instructional YouTube videos), but all represent a challenge to the traditional authoritarian delivery system. The regular college experience remains popular, but is knowledge now more of a buyers’ than sellers’ market?

The opportunities of technology. Instead of seeing technology is a threat to education, should we look at it as a tremendous opportunity? Twitter and Facebook have revolutionized my ability to create/maintain friendships and share/gain information, YouTube and Skype have redefined video communication and cloud computing kicked collaboration wide open. As educators, we shouldn’t fear the power of these tools; we should figure out how they can help us deliver an enhanced academic experience.

Is the traditional college experience for everyone? At the risk of sounding cliche, I value my college years as much (or more?) for what I learned outside the classroom. It was a key developmental milestone for me — from shy country boy to socialized (read: slightly less shy) scholar with the confidence to find my own path. Anyone who wants that experience should have a chance, but does everyone want (or need) four years of college? What about shorter specialized programs that fill vital needs? And as someone pointed out in our discussion, our non-traditional students don’t gain the residential college experience, yet they still thrive from pursuing their educations.

The trouble with rankings. How many people complain about the US News rankings, yet put out a news release on their listing? The book raises serious points to ponder. Like how raising tuition (i.e. higher expenditures per student) helps a college’s rating. Or that chasing a certain academic profile could mean shutting out promising students from disadvantaged backgrounds who need education most. We all believe in acaedmic quality, but how do we weigh pursuing high rankings and fruitful access at the same time? (And Malcolm Gladwell checked in this week with his problems with US News ratings.)

The faculty discussion was fascinating as well. Some blasted some of its more controversial suggestions and offerings. Others very much agreed with the challenges and opportunities Kamenetz laid out. I just appreciated the conversation taking place at all, which in itself demonstrates that DIY U is a remarkable read.

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top 2010 takeaway: be an information omnivore.

I learn a lot every year, but like to reflect on the biggest thing I took away from the previous 12 months. For 2010, that lesson would be the importance of being an information omnivore.

An information omnivore (in my definition) is someone who reads and consumes information from a wide variety of sources … books to microblogs, speakers to cultural events. Books remain a primary source of knowledge for me (coming from a family of librarians), and perhaps no book influenced my job as much as Susan Weinschenk’s Neuro Web Design – which helped set goals and tactics during our sitewide redesign. I’m currently reading Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web, which is sparking more ideas. And Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food not only influenced my diet, but served up insights for the workplace.

Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook are excellent sustenance for information omnivores, dishing out a smorgasbord of articles and blog entries of interest, influence and ideas. I was blessed to make it to several conferences where I learned so much from some outstanding speakers, as well as from an awesome network of friends throughout higher ed. I think that every person I encounter — from world-famous speakers to my own students — have something to teach me if I’m smart enough to listen.

But my trumpeting of information omnivores also reflects a troubling trend: In an ideologically polarized time, more people seem to prefer less variety in their news and information diet. I’m not just talking about regular Fox News watchers, but those who choose to fill up on (depending on view) right-wing or left-wing blogs … they choose not to be informed but to have information that backs up their worldview, which they can defend in chatrooms, troll-filled online article comment sections or anywhere anyone deign have another opinion. It’s like we’re reverting to earlier days when any city of decent size had different papers for each political party. (And I can’t help but wonder, for example, what the publishers of the old Oswego Daily Palladium and Oswego Times, who savaged each other on the editorial pages, would think to know their bully pulpits merged into the Oswego Palladium-Times.)

At a time where more knowledge is at our fingertips than ever before, let’s explore it and open our minds to every avenue. Become an information omnivore — read, listen and let the treasures of learning enrich you.

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