News From the Front Lines

I received an email with this title over the weekend from Barbara Durham.  She was updating me on how her first in-class sessions in our new reduced seat time format went.  I got a similar note from Cameron Ford a few days earlier.

Mike Tyson once famously said that everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.  These were our first forays into having 200 students all in a room doing a group activity, but the early returns are promising.  Both Barbara and Cameron reported very similar experiences with noisy rooms filled with mostly engaged students who had done what they were supposed to have done in preparation for the class activity.  Those who had failed to prepare for the class activity stood out, got the message that they were slackers and paid the price. Cameron recorded the video below to give us a sense of how it felt.  Barbara described her room as electric.


Now for the punch in the mouth part, both faculty mentioned the need to soundproof the room and that some students clearly had not watched the videos they had assigned prior to coming to class.  Barbara estimated the number that hadn’t completed the work necessary to do the in-class activity to be around 25 percent, but she went on to note that many students didn’t watch lecture capture videos or keep up in class under the old format either.

While the bureaucrats call our new approach reduced seat time, that doesn’t really capture the goals or benefits we seek.  Given the video and the feedback from Barbara and Cameron, I’m inclined to call it “crowd learning.”  That term has come to mean: learning by interacting with each other and is certainly consistent with our culture of engagement.  Anybody got something better to call it?

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Things Change

One of my favorite stories was told to me by John Thomas. John worked in our DeVos Sports Business Management program a few years ago. Before he came to work for us, he had spent some time working in the NBA central office for David Stern. John tells the story of how he worked months on a project for the commissioner. He put his heart and soul into the project, and when it came time to present his work, David Stern stopped him and said, “I’m sorry, John, but we’re not going to do it.” John looked incredulous and a little heart broken as he asked, “Why?” His boss said, “Because things change.”

Last week things changed for lots of people. This week as we return to school, some things will change, too. Some faculty will adjust their class requirements; some will change assignments and/or exam times. Not every faculty member will make the same adjustment. The changing circumstances didn’t impact every class in the same way.

Some students will, no doubt, have hoped for a different outcome just like John Thomas did. They will think it unfair, impractical or impossible. But honestly, there is only one thing to do when conditions change–change with them. Do the best you can to adapt and win under the new rules.

Charge on, Knights!

Honest Work

Like many of my students, I was the first person in my family to go to college. One of my grandfathers worked in an iron mine, the other in a foundry.  My father painted houses.  My mother kept the books for an oil delivery company.  For people who suffered through the Great Depression and World War II, they were happy to have honest work.  They did their jobs with enormous pride and a sense of accomplishment. Labor Day was a big day in my house.  Management my family joked, got the other 364.  (As Dean, I live by this.)

Sometimes I think that my industry goes out of its way to disparage honest work.  We don’t do it directly of course. We are far too civilized for that.  Instead we portray a college education as the gateway to a “better future,” earning the degree holder higher wages and fewer bouts of unemployment than people without the degree. Although it’s never really said, the inference is that honest work is inferior.  Life without college is by definition a lesser future.

I beg to differ. Honest work done with your hands and heart, isn’t inferior work, its different work. For some people, it’s the right work.  Even today, the U.S. has about 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 or more per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree.  People in certain vocational fields are also slightly more likely to be employed than college degree holders.  There is a lot of variance around all of these means mind you, but honest work isn’t dead and the people who hold these jobs aren’t lesser folks–they are my parents.  They put me where I am today.

Don’t misunderstand me: I am a big believer in the transformative power of higher education. I’ve seen it change many lives for the better and it’s what made me what I am today. But while we take a break from classes this Labor Day let’s not deceive ourselves into believing we hold the only key to people’s chance at a better future. In today’s world, it’s monopolists who are the dying breed, not honest work.