Critical thinking for a better world!

I was grousing quite a bit in my last post about the possible future of the education system in the U.S., but it also made me energized to come back and try, even in some small way, to make a positive contribution and have my voice heard. Everyone can have an impact!

As this is a blog on General Education, I should not venture too far from my wheelhouse — and I found a perfect article to take me back there. This nice little write-up from the Hays Free Press touts the importance of both critical thinking and using your library; who knew?! It even gives a shout out to Opposing Viewspoints, one of my favorite databases. Here, you can find succinct, thoughtfully written viewpoints from both sides of the spectrum on a number of issues. As the author says, thought, it’s not free so here is yet another vital reason that we need our libraries!

It’s encouraging to read that there are still those who appreciate what your library can do for you and how working to think critically can make you a better person. The article presents a simple but profound message.

The state of higher education in 2017

Good evening!

I can’t believe I’ve let almost a year go by since updating this blog. I love writing, and I never intended to wait this long to post, but I figured it was time to get started again. Since the election, my mind has been refocused on the importance of education, facts and teaching our students that yes, there are proper places to find good, reliable information so they can be informed, thoughtful citizens.

While I’ve been incredibly sad and discouraged by the election results, I’m also more fired up than I’ve ever been. I’m incredibly worried about the state of education as a whole, not just as the university level. There are so many important, current topics that I don’t know where to begin — the possible (and I think probable) confirmation of Besty DeVos as Secretary of Education, the whole “alternative facts” saga and Trump’s general disregard and disrespect for the scientific community. As I begin to post more over the coming weeks, I would like to talk about these in more depth.

The news is not necessarily good from a General Education perspective. It has not taken long for the attack on information literacy to begin, as I hear more and more arguments about how any news source is valid these days. The High Plains Daily Leader and Times published a strange op-ed on how there is apparently no way to actually teach a student what sources are valid. It is no wonder, then, that the concept of alternative facts don’t bother a certain segment of the population.

As academics, we must be willing to face these issues and acknowledge them, even if we don’t enjoy the topic. We are doing out students a great disservice otherwise.

Two + two = awesome!

Two plus two and four plus one agreements are great ways get students into programs; the cost is much cheaper for the student, and the institutions should hopefully gain more enrollments as part of the agreement.

But there still exists this frustrating and unfortunate bias against liberal arts courses. These courses truly do provide an important foundation for any program, be it business, STEM, etc. The ability to communicate thoughtfully should never be taken for granted, and many of my Gen Ed courses provide just this kind of information.

As a Gen Ed chair, I would love all of the students at my institution to take these courses with us. But I also very much appreciate and value a good two + two program; students can “get these classes out of the way,” often at a lower cost. It also gives them some time to think about their future majors while they are in community college.

Reading some of comments in this great Inside Higher Ed article, you’d think that Liberal Arts courses are the great shame of American education. I should know better, of course –I never find myself in a good mood after a few minutes in the comments section. But it just surprises me that some people find it this hard to see the value in these courses. I suppose I’m lucky in that I have so many of my students tell me how important these classes were to them, so I can take that as a very happy sign that students are having a great experience!

Finding the value in “bad writing”

The Chronicle published a great little blog post today about finding the value in bad writing. I’d love to try this in some of my courses; does anyone have any experience with this?

I can see this going beyond a creative writing or journalism course. If you incorporated some writing exercises into a lit course, for example, you could show how difficult it can be to really create a thoughtful story!

Here is the article from the Chronicle:


Inventive changes coming to Boston University’s General Education Program

It looks possible that there are some very interesting changes coming to the BU Gen Ed program. I’m not aware of how many schools, if any, have implemented these kinds of changes in their Gen Ed curriculum, but I’d love to learn more. This seems like a great way for a large institution to help students make theoretical and practical connections.

If approved, BU will have its Gen Ed program be University-wide as opposed to being specific by college. This would certainly require a lot of thought and preliminary discussion, but it could be very successful. At the small business school where I work, it’s easy to have all the students use the same Gen Ed curriculum — but I wonder what the response will be from students at a university of this size?

The comments seem, as usual, to range from optimism to frustration. General Education programs seem to make few people happy in the moment, but that’s OK; the benefits to the overall learning of the student is well worth it down the road! If anyone has any experience with this type of program, please share!

Recent news about General Education

So I’ve become one of those bloggers! I was doing really well, making sure I posted thoughtful content regularly, and then I disappeared. My apologies! Like just gets in the way sometimes, but I’m more committed than ever to write about and share any news I find interesting about the world of General Education.

On that note, I read two great items this week. First, a student at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington wrote a very encouraging letter to her school paper about the importance of General Education. I was fairly surprised to see that. Each term I look at these letters that are published online, and like clockwork, I see the ones that come in about how Gen Ed requirements are a waste of time and money. This letter made for a very refreshing change. This student understands that, when done thoughtfully, Gen Ed courses can open your mind to new ideas and give you important new experiences. She even went as far as to proclaim that we may be pleasantly surprised by what we find. Huzzah! I’m very grateful to her for her honest and thoughtful appraisal.

A few days later, I came across the proposed Gen Ed changes at both Harvard and Duke Universities. These sound like very intriguing ideas, and ones that should be explored. As much as I support a “traditional” approach to Gen Ed, any way that we can get students to embrace these courses helps a great deal. Ideas like pass-fail and mentorship may not work for each institution, but they are worth looking into.

I’d love to know if anyone from any other institution has tried these ideas, and if so, what have the results been. Thank you all!



Assessment and general education requirements

Good afternoon readers,

A recent article on Inside Higher Ed discusses the “watering down of general education requirements” for engineers.  This insightful read brings up a number of interesting points, with the most important, at least in my mind, of what assessment can do to a General Education program.

At first glance, this article seems to simply address the concern of requiring less courses for Engineering majors. But what the author is really getting at is how assessment can sometimes harm students in the long-run.

I believe in the need for a well-designed and thoughtful assessment program in higher education to try and measure how and what our students are learning. But if we make these tools so specific and directed, it feels impossible to measure skills like critical thinking, lifelong learning and other “soft skills.” As Gen Ed Chair, I see these skills as invaluable to my institution’s business students, and I’m sure the same can be said for the majority of other programs and disciplines out there.

I’d be curious to read other thoughts on this idea. I hope everyone has a fun and safe Fourth of July weekend!

Here is the article from Inside Higher Ed:

LGBT Students and Financial Aid

Though this blog generally focuses on academic issues related to online learning or general education, I thought I would veer off topic for a bit and discuss an issue that does not get much coverage — the lack of information available for homeless or at risk LGBT youth regarding financial aid.

For any student, applying for any type of financial aid can be a daunting and frustrating process, and it’s not always easy to find the necessary help and information. This is particularly difficult for homeless LGBT students. Disowned from their parents and often confused and afraid, these students need as much help as they can get to complete this often overwhelming task.

My friend Joe Gentile wrote a phenomenal piece a few years back for the Huffington Post, and you can find the link below. In the article, he describes in more detail how a homeless student can start finding resources; there are many good avenues available to these students — we need to make sure this information is public and easily accessible.

That is the point, of course. These students have enough on their minds without needing to hunt down people to explain the process to them. It’s up to us in higher education to make this population not only aware of the resources, but make them feel comfortable and safe enough to reach out of help.

For anyone interested, please take a look at Joe’s article, it gives some very helpful information:

Changes at the Boston Public Library

Good evening,

Though the focus of this blog is on General Education and online learning, I had to make a few points about the current situation over at the Boston Public Library. One of my favorite places to visit, and a jewel of the city, the BPL is currently undergoing a bit of an administrative and public relations crisis. For those unfamiliar, a quick update: a number of historically important (and very expensive) art pieces have gone missing, including works by Rembrandt and Durer. There has also been charges of misplaced priorities and a loss of focus of keeping the central library a researched – centered library.

The people of Boston love their library, hence why this has made so much news the past week or so. I choose to address this here because, as a former librarian, I am very invested in what libraries can do for our communities. It goes without saying that a strong General Education program cannot survive without exceptional library services. My institution has an incredibly robust online library with a phenomenal librarian, and we are beyond lucky to have him. But the BPL is able to provide extra resources that we don’t have. In addition, with its focus on rare collections and research services, a student may find resources that he never knew existed. In short, it combines the need to have practical information but also allows students to dig deeper and study theory.

We have to make sure we are protecting this resource and that is being run properly. Without getting into politics, there is no way that now former BPL President Amy Ryan could have done all of this herself. While she bears responsibility for much of this, the city and Board of Trustees need to step up and make sure that the library is being financed properly and that proper oversight is provided. The city depends on the BPL; NECB depends on the BPL — it’s too important to be taken for granted.