Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Sno Poly Fighting Ailerons

Saturday's Everett Herald featured a story by political writer Jerry Cornfield on the possiblity of Snohomish County funding its own University. Sen. Steve Hobbs is introducing legislation to create a higher education investment district to fund the creation of the 4-year Polytechnic university. Funding would come from bonds that would be repaid with the proceeds from a .02% sales tax increase in areas participating in the investment district. Newly elected Rep. Mike Hope is sponsoring a companion bill in the House.

I am no fan of the proposed university - it funnels money from education to construction - but I really like this proposal because it gives the citizens a chance to indicate how important the college is to them. Hobbs is quoted as saying "Now this says to the community 'if you really want it, here is an opportunity and if you don't want it, we'll move on.' " Let me summarize:
Snohomish County, put up or shut up.
Let's face it, up to now we have had no skin in the game. All the benefits come to us and all the costs are paid by someone else. What a deal! But that's not how life should work. When we break the feedback loop, when benefits aren't balanced against costs, we create a situation where really poor decisions are made (like when people who make mortgages are insulated from the negative effects of the loans going bad).

Under the Hobbs proposal residents of Snohomish county can vote to raise their own sales tax and commit the money to paying off $400 million in bonds. That is what I call putting your money where your mouth is. In addition, the proposal seems to put a stake in the ground and definatively state that this will be a polytechnic university. No waffling, no leaving open the possibility of an art history degree. Knowing it will be a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focused school will also help voters decide if the proposed university will fill their needs for post-secondary education.

If my fellow citizens voted to tax themselves to build a polytechnic university I would get behind the effort. I might even go for a Master's in Computer Science (Mrs. AdvisoryBored's MS is making my BA feel inferior). Still there is plenty in the article to make me doubt the university will ever come to fruition:
  • Aaron Reardon heaps blame on the state for not doing it's job to build a college, but it was us that couldn't choose a site. If the three musketeers (stooges?) - Haugen, Sells, Dunshee - couldn't come to some agreement over the course of 18-months and with the help of a mediator, why do you think they will put their bickering aside now?
  • Mike Sells doesn't think the idea will get much "traction", but it deserves a hearing. A hearing in front of the committee where he is Vice-Chairman. If it doesn't get much traction it will because Sells doesn't want it to get much traction.
  • It is questionable if this school will be able to meet any significant portion of the demand for post-secondary education by our county's citizens. While half of the slots might be allocated to local students, there is a very really possibility that local students won't be interested in or prepared for STEM-focused programs. Backers have consistently described these as "high demand programs", but they refused to acknowledge that students have not been enrolling in these programs for years. Everyone needs to understand up front that this school's population may largely be young men from other parts of this country or world.
In the meantime, let's look towards Central, Western, EdCC and EvCC (including University Center) to keep delivering the goods.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Attention shoppers

It wasn't the last minute Christmas shopping that reminded me of the old Kmart blue light special, it was a blog post by Frank Kenny on his proposal for a social networking class. Frank is president/CEO of the North Mason County Chamber of Commerce and a big believer in social networking/web 2.0 in business, particularly for the small business sector. I've been following Frank on Twitter and that's where he asked for a little feedback on his proposed class. His idea is to introduce his membership to Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging.

I really like what he is proposing because I agree that social networking offers a lot of value to small business owners if they become familiar with the tools and learn to adapt them to their needs. I kinda went over board and ended up adding a post-length comment (see here and scroll down to the comments). Instead of reprinting my comments here I'll let you switch over to his site. I'll wait -- "someone left the cake out in the rain and we'll never get that recipe .. "-- oh, you're back.

Given that Frank and others like him are pushing the information revolution into small businesses everywhere, perhaps we need to consider a few things in our education environment:
  • if web 2.0 is on the radar of small businesses in Belfair then it had better on the radar of your business courses. Integrating web 2.0 into your business classes is at least as valuable as teaching it in stand alone technology classes, and probably more valuable.
  • don't shy away from teaching web 2.0 in the classes because younger students "grew up with the technology". As I have discussed before, a student's ability to use the tools in a personal setting is irrelevant. When they start working they will be judged on their ability to accomplish something with them in a business context (increase revenue, cut costs, build brand recognition).
  • in a small business and in a slowing economy, the creative application of technology to improve business can come from many places within the organization. Most small businesses aren't going to be looking for a director of internet marketing after completing Frank's class, but they will be more open to the use of the tools when an employee suggests it (perhaps one of your students). The person who recommends Twitter for announcing the blue light special on bananas probably won't be the store owner and maybe not even the produce manager. It's more likely to be stock boy (girl) and it's going to look great on their resume.
So what do you think? Does your HR program have students thinking about YouTube as a training vehicle? Do your purchasing classes include LinkedIn as a resource for vendor references?

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Connections yes, funding no

Today's Everett Herald had an interesting editorial piece on education. To summarize: there are a lot of good, high-skilled, high-wage jobs out there, but students aren't aware and aren't preparing for them. The solution is a $900 million fund for grants to help draw the connections.

Okay, I'm buying the part about good jobs. I agree that students aren't recognizing the full range of career opportunities. The drop-out rate is way too high, yes I'm with you. So we need a new federal program to make grants. Oppps, you lost me on that last one.

Is it possible that students don't see these as an option because we - parents, teachers, counselors, business leaders, politicians and editorial writers - have spent the last 30 years devaluing these careers? I've done it myself. I've joked about avoiding jobs where your name is sewn on your shirt. Never mind that for the last 20 years I've been sporting a badge that tracks my every moment and features a picture that makes my driver's license photo look like Annie Leibovitz was working the camera at the DMV.

A month ago I walked into the Mariner High counseling center for our first advisory committee of the year. What I saw were big banners with the registration dates for the major public and private 4-year colleges in the area. That's all I remember seeing. There may have been information on community colleges and apprenticeship programs, but I sure don't remember them. If it made that big of an impression on a 50-year old, imagine the message a 15-year old receives.

I have heard on several occassions, from teachers in different districts, that counseling students to options other than a 4-year degree directly following high school is not done. The expectation is that college is the one true way to succeed in life. Society sees it that way, why shouldn't counselors. You've heard administrators proudly claim that "xx% of our graduates are accepted to 4 year colleges"? Okay, again why are students not looking at the full range of career options? Is it possible that students are listening to what we are saying, even if we aren't listening to ourselves?

So yes, we do need to feature these career paths. Yes, we do need to counsel students about their options. Yes, we do need to celebrate the opportunity Sno-Isle Skills center and our community colleges offer. We don't need a federal program and grants to do it. We've put up a wall to block student's view and now we want a federal grant to install a window. It's our wall and we should remove it ourselves.

For related discussions, see my 2+2+2 = Bachelor of Applied Science and Review Rep. Loomis Wrap Newsletter posts.

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Santa arrives on a Viking ship

Christmas came early this year for fans of post-secondary education when Western Washington University announced two new bachelor's degree and one new master's degree to be offered at Everett Community College's (EvCC) University Center. If that weren't enough, the Herald's Editorial Board, in this Sunday's editorial, finally seems to acknowledge the value that University Center can bring to the county. I wished I had thought of that (oh wait, I did).

It's a nice change of pace from the news on post-secondary education we received this summer and into the fall. Our political leaders just embarrassed themselves arguing over the location, demonstrating to all that construction dollars, not education is their primary goal. Then a mediator was assigned to help break the impasse, but without much luck. Then the economy and the State's tax revenue tanked. As a result, expect staff cuts, program elimination, enrollment reduction and cost increases at every single public university and college in the State. The topping on the sundae is Sen. Shin's being replaced on the Higher Ed committee by a member from Gig Harbor. Did you know they want a UW branch campus out on the peninsula? Seems they're like the second biggest county in the State without a university and it would bring technology jobs and yada, yada, yada.

Look, I'm not suggesting that we don't need more educational opportunity in the tri-county region, far from it. I am, however, suggesting that a new university focused on advanced science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees won't help most people, and my quite possibly make the situation worse. Here are the questions I am asking when I read about the proposed university:
  • Has anyone stated for a fact exactly what type of university this will be? Will it be WWU or UW or MIT? Isn't that a more important decision than where it should be located?
  • How will it help lower high school and/or college drop out rates?
  • How will it help lower the cost of education, consistent identified as the biggest barrier to students attaining their goals?
  • How will it help prepare high school students for, and encourage them to enter, STEM programs in college?
  • How will it help students who need more learning opportunities, but who do not thrive in an academic environment?
  • How will it help address the need for continuing education required to advance in a career or switch careers through a person's working life (it isn't called the Information Age for nothing)?
All I know is that no matter what the problem is, a UW branch campus will fix it. It's like educational cod liver oil. So, until the proposal starts answering these questions I am completely opposed to this construction initiative. More thoughts are available on my archived No Sno U blog and I keep a list of Delicious links tagged UWBranch that you can view.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lights, camera, education

The Everett Herald's twitter feed carried a post for an article about YouTube as a teaching tool, which appeared in the Money section today. The profiled student, a college junior, was struggling with trigonometry and searched YouTube for videos on the topic. She was able to view and review these videos until she finally understood the topic. The video was from the Khan Academy Channel. The article says that the Khan Academy is the work of Salman Khan, a hedge-fund manager and math geek. The videos grew out his tutoring of his nephew. Other friends and family wanted tutoring, so instead of repeating the lessons over and over again he committed them to video and posted them.

As a teaching tool, the value comes from the fact that the videos are short, simple and on topic. Additionally, the videos are available when the student is ready to learn (what in industry is being referred to as just-in-time training). This brings to mind the wonderful Common Craft Show videos that I have featured here in previous posts.

Well, Mrs. AdvisoryBored just couldn't control her sense of curiosity and was off searching for systems analysis and database design videos. There were plenty of long-winded, talking-head lectures, but some other more interesting ones too. Take for instance the CareerRx channel which features a series of "A Day in the Life" videos that give viewers insight into what different jobs are like (see the computer systems analyst and the computer software engineer).

Are you leveraging YouTube to help educate students? Yeah, yeah, I know you can't get to YouTube at school because if you do then blah, blah, blah. Let's forget that argument for the moment and deal with what you can do. If you are a math teacher can you review the Khan Academy videos and, if you like them, recommend them to students and parents for homework support? How about an IT instructor and Word mail-merge videos? Can you do your own videos as Liz Davis has done (she supports teachers, not students, but same concept)? Can you ask advisory board members to review and/or recommend videos that they think accurately represent the work of their profession?

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's del.icio.us

You may have noticed a new feature in the left-hand navigation column right under the site labels called Recent Bookmarks. I use a social bookmarking tool called del.icio.us to bookmark online resources that I find interesting and want to comment on. Delicious offers a LinkRoll feature that lets me list my 5 most recent bookmarked entries, plus commentary, on my blog.

If you find these links particularly intersting, you can go to my del.icio.us site to see all the links or to browse via tag name. If you would like an updated list of new bookmarks you can subscribe to its RSS feed. Yes, you can use RSS feeds for something other than blogs.

I plan on writing more about social bookmarking in the near future, but for now I would really encourage people to investigate social bookmarking as learning and professional development tool. A couple of quick reasons why I like social bookmarking:
  • My bookmarks are stored online, so I can get to them for anywhere (any browser on any machine)
  • I can give bookmarked items tags, keywords that help me organize and categorize the list
  • I can find other resources tagged by other people on the same topic, allowing me to learn from their knowledge quests (consistent with the connectivism learning theory)
  • I can create a network of fellow bookmarkers so that I can share bookmarks with them without emailing links all over the place
Let me leave you with another of the fine Common Craft videos, Social Bookmarking in Plain English.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

But wait, there's more

I don't have children so, as a result, I have missed out on the whole joy/terror (circle one) of homework, except tonight. Due to a strange set of circumstances that included a week-long illness and a broken computer, my nephew Sam was over at my house doing research on China. I set him up in the home office with all the essentials: Word, FireFox, Google and iTunes (well not all the essentials, he's too young for beer or coffee). After awhile he tracked me down and asked "how many feet is 5,000 kilometers".

Since starting the Advisory Bored my life has morphed into a series of bloggable events. This is one of those moments. Since he had Google up, he had the answer right in front of him. Yes, Google is a search tool, but wait, there's more.

Google's has a number of search features that allows it to interrupt your input into the search box and return to you the answer as a search result. It will look-up words, convert amounts to different units of measure, give you local info and even do math. Try any of these in a search box:
  • 233 feet in furlongs (unit coversions)
  • define: connectivism (definitions from online dictionaries)
  • time stockholm (local time)
  • weather oslo (local weather)
  • 83 usd in kronor (money conversions)
  • 1000*(1+.05)^10 (math)
If you are more of an "on the go" type person you can use Google SMS to search and perform many of the same features via text messaging. If you text "sea airport" to 466453 (it spells Google on many phones, but not my Blackberry), you'll get a text message back give you status information about SeaTac airport.

One of my personal favorites is Google Alerts. Here's how it works. You put in your search keywords, the type of search, the frequency of the search and the method of providing you the results (either email or RSS feed) and you are set. Google will run the search at the frequency you defined and notify you of any **new** entries to the result set. For example, a student in a current events class might want to add "obama cabinent appointment" into a comprehensive search run once a day and delivered via email so she is prepared with the newest information in time for class.

One of the really big problems of the information age to date is that the tools haven't kept pace with the information. As a result we are overwhelmed with data, so much so that it hides the information. Google search tools, like those mentioned here, can help students, teachers, parents and business people take back control. Let me leave you with this short video clip from Google on how to get the most from your search tools.

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