Sunday, January 25, 2009

Another voice for a new university alternative

You cannot begin to imagine my surprise this morning when I read John Koster's guest commentary in the Everett Herald suggesting that there was a better way to meet the educational needs of the tri-county area without building a brand new university facility. Koster, the District 1 Representative on the County Council, acknowledges that there will be no funding available for a new university in the short term and perhaps not for quite some time. He is spot on when he expresses concern that our preoccupation with a new university keeps us from focusing on the more pressing needs of students today.

Koster points out that our existing educational infrastructure with advanced information and communications technology (ICT) can deliver a cost effective solution to place-bound students without saddling the taxpayers with excessive levels of debt. He takes a refreshingly broad view of the "educational system" suggesting that resources of local high schools could be used for proctoring tests or lab work. He goes on to challenge us to think about a new paradigm, saying:
Sometimes we do things the way we do simply because that's the way we've always done them. Instead of burdening our tax-weary citizens with building an incredibly expensive traditional school, let's "experience the power" of online technology and recognize what every young person with an iPod, cell phone or Blackberry already knows: An astonishing new world lies at our fingertips, full of opportunities and efficiencies for those who want to learn at the speed of light via the click of a mouse.
Unfortunately, paradigm shifts don't come easily. It is very unlikely that the leaders fighting for the campus have ever encountered any online learning. Their mental model is likely to be of early distance education from 20 years ago, at best. Perhaps they envision the digital equivalent of correspondence school, where the chief determinant of graduation is your check clearing. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Koster has sufficient political clout to make sure this alternative view get heard throughout the county. Or maybe he'll encounter the same deafening silence that my letters to the editor and blog posts have received.

You may want to read (or reread) my blog post on the Bachelor's of Applied Science in Information Technology and Administrative Management (BAS-ITAM) to see one example of a hybrid program. This program allows students with a two-year Associate's degree in computing and one-year work experience to earn a Bachelor's through Central Washington University at Edmonds Community College by attending both online and onsite classes in Edmonds, Everett and Des Moines.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Snow Day 2.0

Aggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggh! Please tell me we aren't discussing how to make up snow days, again. Please tell me the anti-teacher crowd isn't using the snow day issue to extract a pound of flesh from instructors, again.

With planning and proper application of technology there is no reason for missed days due to snow. Education should not be dependent on one's presence in the classroom. I mean seriously, home school kids learn at home everyday for decades, why can't your kids do it for 3 days every other year? The answer, of course, is that that they can. Unfortunately, we have codified "days in class" as an absolutely essential deliverable from schools. (Pop Quiz: What other state institution uses "time served" as the primary measure of success?)

As a taxpayer and hiring manager, I am far more concerned with student achievement than I am with student attendance. Days in class reinforces an incorrect notation of education as a place-bound, time-constrained process; the academic equivalent of the auto assembly line. In the modern workplace, at least for technology and information workers, what you get done is far more important than when and where you do that work. (In this context, when refers to your working hours, not whether you deliver on time. That still matters a lot.)

Make-up days are sensible if every moment in class is packed with critical information. But are they really? Let's say you have a daughter at Jackson High and class is canceled 3 times in January. That means she'll have 3 more hours of history class in June. What exactly do you think she is going to learn in that 3 hours that will make a difference in her life, career or education? What, did you think teacher was going to forget to mention that the North won the war?

One of the key underlying themes to this blog is that significant reform to the educational system requires participation from those of us outside the process as well those on the inside. If we want to stop the whole snow day thing, then it is going to be up to those of us outside the process to ask our political leaders and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to change the law first. When the law is changed, then and only then, can local school districts and teachers create plans for Learn From Home days; the educational equivalent of Work From Home.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Self-funded University - Take 2

Well the reaction to the proposal to pay for our own university and my blog post are pouring in. There are too many to count, assuming you haven't learn to count to 3. But hey, it's just the future of post-secondary education in our community. It's not like there is a barista in Maltby making coffee in her underwear. [Seriously, compare the number of letters to the editor in the Everett Herald discussing barista attaire vs the university. Some days it's easier to believe in the wisdom of crowds than others.]

Two of the three comments are skeptical of the idea of a local entity building a State facility, one from an anonymous commenter in a previous post and one via Facebook from Kevin. Very legitimate questions about the nature of funding. If Snohomish County funds the university construction how would it transfer to the state, or would it? Would the State fund the operations of the school or not? Would the State subsidize the tuition of students as they do at the other universities or would Snohomish county (or would there be no subsidy so that costs were comparable to other private institutions)? Here is what Kevin had to say:
Interesting idea. Not sure it takes into account the notion of distributing state funding (such as there is) to meet needs across the state or why one county should try to shoulder that budget burden on its own when others clearly don't have to. As a trend it would likely lead to more education resources showing up in wealthy counties (those who can afford to, do, those who can't, don't) and fewer in poor counties?
Kevin is intimately familiar with the funding process in post-secondary education and I take his comments seriously. My response brings me back to the same basic concept - the State doesn't need to build a brand new university complex from the ground up to meet the State's education needs. Further, the citizens of Kitsap County, Vancouver and the Tri-Cities would argue that the State's needs could be better met by spending a $1 billion in construction in their jurisdication. The commute from Poulsbo to Bellingham is longer than from Marysville.

If, as is often stated by proponents for the Snohomish county location, a new university will be a significant economic benefit then the citizens receiving that benefit should have some skin in the game. And let's face it, a world-class polytechnic university focused on graduate and post-graduate studies in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) isn't going to meet the educational needs of most of our citizen's. It's meant to encourage new businesses and job growth in high-tech fields and the student population will be largely from out of the area (probably out of the country).

The other comment I saw was a letter to the editor in the Herald by Douglas Russell. His comments went directly to the heart of my "put up or shut up" commnet in the original post. Mr. Russell "put up", suggesting that he is more than willing to pay for the educational and economic benefit we would receive from a university, for his children and for his community.
The idea is that I can have a four-year college in my back yard, with a curriculum decided on by the community, based on the needs of the community, employing hundreds of faculty and staff, enrolling hundreds and hundreds of local students, and all I need to do is go to a store and hand the cashier an extra 10 cents the next time I drop $50 on purchases. I've got a dime right here, sign me up.
I am far more impressed by Mr. Russell's commitment of his limited time and money than anything Haugen, Dunshee and Sells have said in the last two years.

Yet, even in his letter we see the disconnect that our civic and political leaders have cultivated throughout this process. Mr Russell asks our leaders "Educate us. Show us how this will work, how we can bring jobs and families back to our community and how we can make a difference in the lives of our children". The sole focus of our leaders, however, has been on construction sites and construction dollars. They have demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they would rather have no university than to have it in the "wrong" city. Further, Mr. Russell is excited about a "curriculum decided on by the community" and not sending his kids off to the U District. Unfortunately, this is planned to be a polytechnic university, so unless all his kids will be studying STEM they may well be living in the U District. Mr. Russell deserves an answer from our leaders. We all do.

So good residents of Snohomish county, what do you think? Willing to pay extra for a local university? If not, why should residents of Bremerton, Richland and Vancouver pay for a university in our county? Should it be another broad-curriculum school or a highly-focused technical school? Should it meet the broad educational needs of our county's citizens or should it's primary purpose be to encourage economic growth and development?

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Links and Resources: January 1st, 2009

Over the last year I have occassionally posted a set to links to other web resources without much commentary, which I titled "Links and Resources: xxxx". In the beginning of December I phased out this type of post in favor of using In that post I introduced social bookmarking, encouraged you to add my bookmarked pages to your RSS feed reader and added a linkroll listing of these links to the left-hand column of this blog.

I had a few extra links laying around so I thought I would give you one last Links and Resources post.
This next group of links comes from the Edmonds Community College Newsvine feed. Newsvine is something of a cross between a blog and social bookmarking. You can add your own content to your column or you can seed it with other content (add links). In addition to their own feed, EdCC appears to contribute to a Newsvine Group titled The Academe. Let me recommend that you give both a look and again, much thanks to EdCC communications for hunting down these next three links
  • This Puget Sound Business Journal article highlights the problem of manufacturering jobs going unfilled, even as the economy turns sour. Article highlights EdCC challenge in filling some of the specialized vocational-technical programs aimed at this employment gap.
  • Local post-secondary education faces many challenges. Five college presidents sit down and discuss the challenges on this episode of KUOW's Weekday.
  • The Enterprise newspapers don't think the right place to start cutting the state budget is at the community colleges in this op-ed piece.
And, as has been the tradition, I end with something fun. Do you find those workplace posters with sayings and pictures of rowing shells inspirational? Me neither. So you'll like this selection of demotivational posters from

Oh, and for Paul at the Last Great Road Trip, when I say this is the last links post, I mean it is the conclusion not the ultimate.

Stimulus Spending

So what's your "elevator pitch" to President-elect Obama on stimulus spending for education? What do you say when then the President-elect steps into elevator with you, presses the button for the 47th floor and asks "how would you spend $40 billion on education so that it boosts employment immediately and enhances education in the long run"?

The Edmonds Community College (EdCC) newsfeed and twitter feed highlighted an op-ed from USA Today that said don't forget the critically important role that CC's play in the education of our society. Their concern stems from a set of 2-page ads by a group of major universities calling on the incoming administration to spend 5% of the stimulus package on education and "shovel-ready" projects at the universities. USA Today is right to call for that money to be shared more equitably with the CC's.

A quick search of the web turned up an Inside Higher Ed article on the topic including separate statements from the American Council on Education and a coalition of universities, plus some rather strong contrarian views that higher-ed doesn't deserve the money without strings attached (like the car companies). And to round out the spend-fest, this USA Today article discusses the stimulus spending that might go to K-12 education.

So here are the 5 points I'll make on the elevator with Barack:
  • Fiber optics are the new concrete. Our fascination with buildings and roads is a decidedly 20th century preoccupation. We need to spend less (not $0, however) on buildings and more on broadband, data centers, learning management systems and business intelligence.
  • World class K-12 education is the foundation. Money should first be spent on K-12, then community college and finally on 4-year universities. Sorry, but the number of people not getting a great high school education is far more concerning to me than people not getting to go to college right after high school. Bill Gates received a great high school education and part of a great college education - take a lesson.
  • Create computer-ready jobs too. Why are we preoccupied with creating construction jobs all of a sudden. How about an IT Corp that paid for unemployed IT professionals to work in school IT departments for 2 years? Or perhaps a Online Ed Corp, where unemployed educators would not teach, but focus entirely on the migration of existing in-class curriculum to an effective online format?
  • Education for the educators. You can't just throw computers at teachers and say "here, do something useful with them". The internet and collaborative tools make the situation even worse. Teachers need to rethink everything to turn a good on-site class into a good online class. We need to spend money revamping teacher education and we need to send existing teachers back through the system (they can become part of the Online Ed Corp mentioned above).
  • Learning starts when education ends. In a world where continuous personal and professional education will be the norm, we need to stop focusing on degrees and start focusing on learning. We need to pay attention to libraries and librarians (see this ALA statement on stimulus spending). I'd like to see a few tens of million go to turning Suzzallo into the physical hub of Washington's virtual Library of Alexandria.
Oh, this is my floor. Nice talking to you.

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