About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The ideal University

Since my kids are on break from school right now, we borrowed a number of DVD's from the library. One was a movie called "Accepted" which was about a bunch of kids that start their own university when they are all "rejected" from other colleges. This got me to thinking of a lot things surrounding university study in the US.

University is an experience

First of all, this movie supports the idea that in the US "college" or university is a rite of passage into the work world. During the movie, the parents come to check out the college and are pleased when the "Dean" tells them that college is just a preparation for the work world. However, the actual school is one in which there is damage to the dorms, constant partying, and students are allowed to create their own times and curriculums.

This is the paradox I live with on a regular basis. On the one hand, students want to experiment with living without "rules" but on the other hand college is perceived as the gateway to the disciplined, rule based world of work. In fact, college is the first place where students need to learn how to live with others who have each been brought up with different values, lifestyles, and beliefs. There is something called the "Sophmore principle" in which students between their freshman and sophmore year have values that are the furtherest from their parents than at any other time of their life.

What this movie brings out is students that have been conformist their entire life are given the opportunities to live a different life style at the university, whereas students that are "different" are excluded from this experience. Is this really fair? Is this done because those who have lived a conformist life style need the college years to experiment because they will never have this opportunity again?

College Curriculum

One of the most striking concepts this movie presents is the idea that curriculum should be based on what student interests are and that students can teach themselves. The curriculum for the new college is based on students writing up what they would like to study, then organizing themselves to learn. The idea comes when a friend at a neighboring traditional university complains because she is not interested in the courses she has to take for her major, but at the same time, she will not credit for courses she is interested in.

This addresses the issue that many faculty, as well as students, struggle with on a regular basis: having to take courses that central adminstrators require, but many students and faculty do not find necessary. Why should I have students in my class that don't want to be there? If they can demonstrate that they have knowledge of the core competencies needed for the degree, why must they take the course? When I studied in Europe, students took courses that prepared them for their exams. They chose which courses they would need to fill in the gaps in their knowledge that they would then need for the exam. I would like to see a system where students chose their courses based on their strengths and weaknesses, however, with consultation with faculty to help them decide which courses would be the most useful.

Some of the courses offered at the "new" university included skate boarding (in which students learned the laws of physics and engineering), stess reduction (based on the principles of religion, philosophy, and psychology), and understanding women (using concepts from socialogy, women's studies, and biology). The assumption of the movie was that students would be able to teach themselves without any help from faculty. I would contend that faculty who set up the course could still have students teach each other, but point students in the right direction on resources and issues to research/investigate.

University as a place of dialogue

What I found especially interesting was the idea that traditional universities stiffle dialogue and conversations whereas the new university encouraged these conversations. This is something that I do believe has happened in colleges in the US as over the last decade there has been a move to "standardize" education (read cookie cutter approach). This ties back to the first point in that there is pressure from corporate America to crank out cookie cutter workers that will be creative as long as it fits into the mold of the company. Studenst that are allowed to ask questions and discuss issues will turn into employees that question the way things are done, power structures, and even things such as equity in pay.

I would love to see more dialogue and conversation in my classes. However, I am always surprised at how much work it takes to get students to present opposing views. In this movie, students are excited about giving their opinions. Is it because of the atmosphere that has been created in the learning environment or is it because these are students that are basically smart, but have been rejected from the best schools because they don't conform? Should we change the admissions process, identifying smart but creative students that are outside of the mainstream? How would this change our colleges and the students that come out?

Defining a University

Finally, in the conclusion of the movie, the college is brought before the accredidation board. They define a college as having a curriculum, faculty, and facilities. It was interesting that facilities was a requirement as today, many universities don't have facilities (they included having sports facilities, interesting that that was considered important by the movie writers).

So how would you define a university? What makes something a "university"? What curriculum should today's university have? What is the role of the faculty, student and administration in today's university? What should it be?

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