Wednesday, October 6, 2010

GeneralEd.Org: General Ed Reinvented

Think of all the minutes you spent in undergraduate classes. Add the homework and study time. Add the travel time. Now be honest with yourself: Do you believe you derived sufficient useful learning to justify all that time and money? Might that time and money have been better spent?

Perhaps these statistics will startle you into realizing how little most people gain from their undergraduate classes:
  • A study supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors scored below "proficient" levels on a test that required them to understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. The students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.
  • The Spellings Report, released by a federal commission on higher education, found that: "Over the past decade, literacy among college graduates has actually declined...Employers report repeatedly that many new graduates they hire are not prepared to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills needed in today's workplaces."

Perhaps Saturday Night Live's Father Guido Sarducci was only half joking when he proposed a five-minute bachelor's degree: It would teach only what students remembered a year after they graduated.

If you're like many people, you say, "Perhaps I didn't learn enough of enduring value from my $100K and 4-6 years of classes but I needed the bachelor's degree to get a job or get into graduate school." True, today, more than ever, employers are demanding a degree.

But there has to be a better bachelors degree, a way you can learn more of greater value at less less cost. That shouldn't be too difficult. After all, colleges continue to teach virtually as they did 2,000 years ago minus the toga and plus Powerpoint: a sage on the stage plus discussion.

Here, I propose a better way--a much superior kind of online bachelor degree. I call it Utopia U. Of course, online degree programs are already available but as you will see below, Utopia U promises to indeed be clearly superior.

I would gladly give away the concept to entities willing to run with it but if I'm forced to proceed myself, I will try to get it funded by tuition fees and housing it on Google.com, and/or with grants from the U.S. Office of Education (where it might be called U.S. U) one or more universities or foundations (e.g., Gates or Kauffman,) and/or investments from corporations, for example, Apple or Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

Central to each course are these features:
  • The core screening criterion for course content: Is that content central to the life well-led? The primary focus of each course will be to maximize the probability that the students will incorporate each course's core skills and knowledge into the way they function professionally and personally.
  • Most courses should make heavy use of of immersive simulations plus lecturettes with options to click on links to explanatory text, video, etc.Each instructor would develop the course in collaboration with a top instructional designer and a specially selected computer programmer.
  • The instructors, selected from within and outside academia, will be selected on: demonstrated ability to explain complicated concepts so average students understand them fully, motivate students to love learning, and be transformational: help students grow in important ways beyond learning the course material. I will likely reach out to winners of state and national professor of the year awards.
  • There will be student-to-student online interaction: discussions about lecturettes, group immersive projects, forums to address problems (as on most website help sections), etc.
  • Iris or fingerprint recognition technology and open-book exams will reduce cheating to levels below that at traditional universities.
All of the following courses are required and there are no electives.

All students will graduate with a Bachelor of Professional Studies. For a version of this document that includs the courses and modules, click HERE.

As I mentioned, my preference is to give the idea of Utopia U away to a person or entity motivated to run with it. I'd be pleased to serve as a consultant. Anyone interested? Contact me at mnemko@comcast.net or 510-655-2777.

23 comments:

AIL said...

I'm torn between thinking parenting should be taught to thinking it's a waist of tuition money. Not everyone wants to have children, but those who have them probably would need the class.

Basil Fawlty said...

Would be "three ancient arts of discourse" (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) covered by critical thinking and communication?

Or should they be separate subjects?

What about computer literacy?

John G said...

Looks good to me. Would epistemology be under critical thinking?

Anonymous said...

Nice, significantly better than learning about long dead people, obscure books, or mathematical equations nobody uses. I wonder, though, how long will attaining this degree take? Probably no more than a year or two.

Marty Nemko said...

Even people who didn't want children would benefit. They'd be better aunts, uncles, teachers, and friends to parents.

Marty Nemko said...

Re epistemology, the core screening criterion for content: is it among the BA's worth of content most central to the life well-led. I'd suspect that elements of epistemology would be borderline.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you, Basil. I've now incorporated your thoughts.

Marty Nemko said...

Re length, for it to be accredited and to expect a designer-label college to award the degree (Both are critical for its acceptance by students and employers), a Utopia U degree must be the same amount of work as a traditional bachelor's degree. Because it's asynchronous and thus are no scheduling problems, students on average may finish more quickly.

K-Man said...

Marty, good luck getting the Gates Foundation to fund this project. I doubt it will, and I don't think I'd bother to approach them anyway.

You see, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds university scholarships for the "underprivileged". But no whites need apply. Check the foundation's website if you don't believe me. This kind of racism has no place in the 20th Century. If someone wants to create scholarships, they should be merit- or class-based.

As a gifted student from a working-class family who could not afford to send me to college, I saw a lot of reverse discrimination in the '80s against whites applying for financial aid. I left university (engineering major, supposedly a field in which the US had critical shortages) after the first year because everything fell through. Now Gates has joined the crowd offering such discriminatory aid, and his foundation has been doing this for 10 years without his groupies or the leftist media raising questions.

Everyone has the misconception that Bill Gates started and grew Microsoft and raised the money for the company all by himself in a rags-to-riches story. Not true. His father is incredibly wealthy in his own right and provided significant support for the venture. Bill Jr. never had to rely that much on outside investors when Microsoft was young.

He apparently thinks, however, that all whites are better off than minorities or have rich relatives they can turn to for funding university, business startups, etc. And that's where your idea comes in. You aren't a person of color, so the odds seem slim that his foundation would choose to support your venture—unless, perhaps, you forbade whites from participation...

windwaterwine said...

Grow it. Then 'open source' it in some variations. For posh unis part of the deal is networking, so 'international and multicultural poshing' (networking) might be added.

Marty Nemko said...

Love the idea of open-sourcing it. I'll think on how that might best be done. Maybe a joint venture with Wikipedia? Thank you, windwaterwine!

Anonymous said...

While I don't agree with you on all your work, you are certainly spot-on with the Utopia U. model. My kids are already in college but I would sign in a heartbeat to finish up my degree!

Anonymous said...

I would hesitate to call Republican and Democrat political philosophies. More like clubs filled with like-minded members who enjoy enriching themselves at our expense.

Anonymous said...

For computer literacy, do include the Linux operating system. Most of your students will already be using Windows. Personally, I can't afford a Mac or iPhone, and won't use Windows because of its security flaws, licensing restrictions, and the criminal business practices of Microsoft.

Linux is free, secure and Open Source, and a perfect platform for developers. Software that must be purchased for Windows comes free with Linux, making it a good choice for students.

Anonymous said...

Marty,

With credit to the Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense! I teach as an adjunct (not my day job) at a local small private college and my wife works in Student Affairs at a nearby large public insitutuion (not her calling - strategic tuition discount for pre med daughter). She is amazed at the dollars expended in a wasteful manner on reporting, status symbols, travel and conferences, etc. and I am amazed at the number of students wandering through an educational system designed to take their money, leave them with massive student loan debt and get them out the door with barely more intellectual skills then those they had when they arrived.

Other than our government, is there worse value for dollars expended than our college educational system?

Anonymous said...

Marty - this is brilliant! Thank you! I'm going to "enroll" in some self study in some of these areas.

Jonathan said...

Suggestions? Sound educational principles and sound curriculum. Reform the teaching profession.

Get the progressives out of education, and all their wacky, Benjamin Bloom, Rousseau-esque nonsense. The entire philosophical foundation of Western education is severly broken. It needs a bottom-up overhaul.

Children need teachers. Not "facilitators." Children need directed learning. Not aimless, non-descript, disorganized twaddle. The epidemic of sexual misconduct in our schools is symptomatic of a larger breakdown in relationship roles and authority.

Lastly, the public schools exist for the benefit of government workers, not kids. Get rid of the DoE, restore schools to local control and cut off the federal gravy.

Debra said...

Great idea! i wish my liberal arts eduction (which I loved) also included communication skills and practical job/workplace skills.

I recommend adding a course called Basic Manners (including driving etiquette) and Customer Service.

Then add a course called History Lab. Students take field trips to historically significant places, such as Fort Sumter, Pearl Harbor, a slave-owning plantation in the South, Vietnam, Ellis Island, Johannesberg, Rome, Jerusalem, Haiti, Auschwitz, etc. Then students submit a short paper on what they learned there and how the experience affected them.

James said...

I'm still surprised by how many people haven't videoconferenced using Skype or equivalent. It would be no problem to set up virtual office hours with a TA or discussion leader in this format.

Marty Nemko said...

Indeed, Western Governors Universities uses webcams not just for tutoring and advising but for moniitoring exams!

I remain undecided as to whether to attempt to make Utopia U faculty-free (like many certification courses) or with mentors, tutors, etc like Western Governors.

Maria Lopez said...

Two problems I see is that a lot of the knowledge could be stale in time. Instead of a computer literacy class taught by the university I'd require students to pass one of more vendor certifications in some technology. II strongly feel that computer literacy classes are useless to most people with internet access.

The science course mentioned seems to omit the basics and be all about science policy. If you want to teach that I'd teach about the incentives scientists work under and the general place of science in our society without pretending to teach science content.

If you want to teach science content you need Statistics, Chemistry, and astronomy or paleontology at the very least to really get science content.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you for your comments, Maria. Alas, they don't seem correct. Feel free to respond.
I worry that vendor certiifications are too detailed and/or too vendor-specific to make it a general ed requirement. The things that I want taught about computers is general education is largely or completely independent of the latest teechnology let alone vendor-specific. After a few years, the course content is obsolete, I'd revise the course.

Re the science policy pressures scientists are under, that no doubt would and should be mentioned by the instructor, but that's a good example of an area where colleges have replaced the teaching of critical skills (e.g., critical thinking) with lots of time spent creating activists--which doesn't require college level thinking. Besides, the media does a lovely job of that.

With regard to the teaching of statistics, etc., it's in the curriculum--in the quantitative reasoning course.. Some basic statistics (probability yes, analysis of variance is should not be a requirement for undergraduates. What's key is to imbue them with the ability and desire to think with regard to risk-reward and to do so accurately. That is key.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you for your comments, Maria. Alas, they don't seem correct. Feel free to respond.
I worry that vendor certiifications are too detailed and/or too vendor-specific to make it a general ed requirement. The things that I want taught about computers is general education is largely or completely independent of the latest teechnology let alone vendor-specific. After a few years, the course content is obsolete, I'd revise the course.

Re the science policy pressures scientists are under, that no doubt would and should be mentioned by the instructor, but that's a good example of an area where colleges have replaced the teaching of critical skills (e.g., critical thinking) with lots of time spent creating activists--which doesn't require college level thinking. Besides, the media does a lovely job of that.

With regard to the teaching of statistics, etc., it's in the curriculum--in the quantitative reasoning course.. Some basic statistics (probability yes, analysis of variance is should not be a requirement for undergraduates. What's key is to imbue them with the ability and desire to think with regard to risk-reward and to do so accurately. That is key.

 

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