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Recently, The Atlantic published Derek Newton’s “Higher Education Is Not a Mixtape,” in which he argues that – contrary to many popular arguments and articles – higher education is not going the way of the music industry (i.e. people won’t begin shopping for individual professors instead of for universities the way they now shop for individual songs instead of for entire albums). Along the way, Newton makes some compelling points:
Though many universities have not done a great job of keeping up with technological advancements or at keeping costs down, many of the people making arguments for the tech future of higher ed are also personally and financially invested in the companies and technologies necessary to make this future possible. Moreover, the arguments for increased technology and the “unbundling” of higher ed also seem to be missing a basic truth: Unlike music – which listeners buy because of the artist, not the artist’s record label – students “shop for schools, not professors” knowing that their future career success is often tied, at least initially and in part, to the reputation of their university.
However, a simple (and obvious) response to many of Newton’s arguments is: Yes…for now.
As a more recent graduate of an MA program, I well remember just what “distance learning” and “online learning” courses can look like – and it wasn’t pretty. This gets back to Newton’s concession that many schools and degree programs haven’t done a great job of keeping up with the technological times, so that if they do offer online courses and learning opportunities, many of them aren’t yet all that they could be (which means that many students either elect not to use them or view them as a last resort). But this isn’t something that’s likely to last for much longer, and improved distance learning tech could very well lead to an “unbundling” of universities, to a marketplace for professors and courses over entire schools.
Given the constraints of rising tuition rates coupled with the increased number of non-traditional students (e.g. middle-aged and older adults coming back to school for degrees, training, certifications, and so forth), online learning opportunities and distance courses are likely to only increase in number and quality over the next few years. These increases will undoubtedly change the way people view online opportunities and, in turn, how they shop within the industry of higher education generally.
What’s more, many institutions, like Ft. Worth’s TCU for example, now offer comparatively cheap, non-degree opportunities (both online and in-person) to students (traditional and non-traditional alike) who are interested in auditing particular courses rather than in pursuing a full degree. This trend may be evidence that certain demographics are in fact interested in shopping for higher ed opportunities on a professor or course-basis rather than on a university-basis, similar to the trend of buying a $0.99 song rather than a full album.
In my opinion, Newton throws his best possible argument for the traditional college experience under the bus by only barely mentioning it in his final paragraph:
In the current system, it may not be efficient to maintain fine-arts programs, but most people think it’s important to have them. It has long been part of colleges’ mission to expose students to new ideas and disciplines. On campus, even business students, for example, are typically required to study literature and other topics in the humanities. Some may call that inefficient; others call it essential.
As a liberal arts student myself with three degrees, including English and American Studies, I appreciate better than most the difficulties and benefits of pursuing an education that doesn’t directly lead to an obvious, lucrative career path. And there certainly are difficulties – jokes bashing the putative usefulness or wisdom of liberal arts degrees are classic and many professors within these fields do an amazingly poor job of discussing with students just how many career opportunities are (or will be, could be) available to them. Thus, many students either prematurely cross liberal arts programs off their list or graduate from them without a full appreciation of just how flexible and useful they can truly be.
To me, the bashing or general rejection of liberal arts degrees only shows a lack of creativity on part of all involved. A degree in English, after all, doesn’t limit a person to Writer, Teacher, or Unemployed. As Walt Whitman once wrote, “I am Large. I contain Multitudes.” There is more to a student than their degree just as there is more to a degree than its acronym. Education, like life, will – in large part – be what you make of it. Similarly, there are more jobs out there, more possibilities and opportunities than you can ever account for, because they – like the higher ed industry itself – are always changing. And that’s part of what a liberal arts degree is great for: teaching students how to think (for more on this particular point, see David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech) and how to grow with changing times.
Ultimately, I think the future of higher ed falls somewhere in the middle here, in a combination of distance/online and in-person learning, of professor-shopping and university-shopping. As our student bodies change and grow more diverse, so must our learning opportunities. This isn’t a time to throw away all we’ve built in higher ed, but neither is it a time to try stalling change and growth.
*For those who’re interested, here’s the audio of Wallace’s speech:
Further & Related Readings:
- Marisa & John Bowe (editors), Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs (2009) – ***This book is an amazing resource for getting started thinking about all the different kinds of jobs, careers, and work opportunities out there today
- Derek Newton, “Higher Ed is Not a Mixtape,” The Atlantic (January 2015)
- The Project on Student Debt, “Student Debt and the Class of 2012” (December 2013)
- Martin Smith, “What universities have in common with record labels,” Quartz (July 2014)
- Errol Craig Sull, “Student Engagement in the Online Classroom,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 2013)
- Kelly Field, “Obama Presses for Free Community College and Tax Reform,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 2015)
Thank you, Donalyn (and the whole of Nerdy Book Club), for this terrific post on the reading of sad books (and for your list of sure-fire tear-jerkers!). You put it so well, there’s no reason to try and rewrite it. It does, as you say, all seem “to be in the heart of the beholder”:
“Like…many of my students over the years, I enjoy stories that make me cry—books that take me to heartbreaking places and bring me back again. As much as I love sad books, I often avoid reading them because I fear the overwhelming emotions that such books evoke. I am convinced this is why I didn’t read Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh until I was 45. There’s a dog on the cover—you have to know sadness sits inside, waiting for you. It should come with a Kleenex bookmark.
Last spring, one of my fifth-graders, Heavenly, spent all of recess sitting under a tree finishing the final chapters of Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys. Strolling around the playground, I gave Heavenly a wide berth when I walked near her reading spot. I knew where Heavenly was in the story and I didn’t want to intrude.
When Heavenly finished the book, she found me on the playground. I could see as she walked toward me that her eyes brimmed with tears. Remembering the ending and my own emotional response—and seeing Heavenly’s forlorn face—I began to sniffle a bit, too.
Heavenly wrapped me in a limp hug and cried. While I patted her shoulder, Heavenly and I whispered back and forth about the book’s conclusion and our hopes for the main character, Carley Conners’ future.
“Mrs. Miller, why do you always recommend sad books to me?” Heavenly asked.
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A special thank you to Pauline Harner of Cougar News Blog for posting this article on the value of Enrichment Courses in creative writing and digital literacy and storytelling. Perhaps in today’s world especially, it’s of the utmost importance that we all be able to communicate through a variety of means and perspectives. The ability to express oneself creatively is one of the best gifts we can give to our young students today, a gift that will prepare them to look the difficulties, hardships, and turmoils of the world square in the eye and tackle them head-on while also imagining new, better worlds free of such things.
By Pauline Harner
Cougar News Blog
Cactus Canyon has added some new enrichment classes for the second quarter. One of them is creative writing, which is taught by John Leal. The other teacher is Tammy Howard, who teaches digital storytelling.
Mr. Leal’s class allows students’ creativity to flow. Neither classes use pencil and paper. Creative writing and digital storytelling are similar because they both offer a fun and creative way to help students become better with writing.
Creative writing is basically a class to work on students’ writing skills. Much like the journalism elective, students get to write stories, but in creative writing they write poems as well, and the stories are usually fictional. Creative writing is where students can be themselves and write as much as students possibly can.
“I plan to help students in the enrichment class by offering a safe environment to feel…
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Thank you to St. John’s for this great article on the potential negatives of multitasking. Multitasking is a great villain in many of our working, studying, and learning lives because it drapes itself in a cloak of usefulness, of productivity, when in fact it creates just the opposite: lowered efficiency, less productivity, poorer quality of work, and so on.
NPR has also recently come out with an article related to this issue: “We’re Not Taking Enough Lunch Breaks. Why That’s Bad For Business.” According to “We’re Not Taking…,” the pressure to not only multitask but to constantly be on-hand and on-the-clock is leading us as employees (and likely as students as well) to work longer yet less effective and less creative hours.
But studies have also found that the longer you stay at work, the more important it is to get outside of the office, even if it’s just for a few minutes, because creativity can take a hit when you don’t change environments.”
This might not seem to affect students quite as much given that elementary, middle, and high school students all have mandatory lunch breaks, but if you think your example of constantly being on the clock, of using lunchtime, dinnertime, breakfast time (all the time) as work time isn’t being seen and absorbed by your children, then you’re sorely mistaken.
As parents and teachers, we are the ones who lay the groundwork for our children; we’re the ones creating the rules and norms to be inherited by our young thinkers and students. So, if not for the sake of your own health and creativity, take a break for the sake of your kids’–take a break for the sake of their future, for your own happiness as well as theirs.
With the internet in our pockets these days, multitasking seems to be at an all-time high. I’m a big multitasker myself, especially when I’m at home. After work, I move a million miles a minute: washing dishes, packing breakfast and lunch for the next day, prepping dinner, and picking up around the house – all while checking email each time my phone beeps. I race through these tasks, often dropping food on the floor, and I wonder if doing so many things at once is helping me be any more efficient?
According to countless research studies, it’s true that multitasking decreases your quality of work and slows you down. For example, writing an email and talking on the phone both use the same part of the brain. So, these competing tasks decrease the brain’s efficiency; you would be better off hanging up the phone and then taking the extra time…
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