Monday, September 25, 2006

They're Raving About It

We’ve taken some time in this blog to discuss the use of gaming in education, as well as working to use alternative strategies to connect with hyper-connected students. We’ve shown some of the unique strategies to reach out to post-modern student interests with viral marketing and more engaging content.

But now comes the Rave! While visiting the good folks at South Texas College (STC), I heard about the results of their new strategy to reach out to younger students. For those who don’t know, STC was formed thanks to the leadership of former Governor Ann Richards and others in an effort to better meet the educational needs of the Rio Grande Valley area—a predominantly Mexican-American community. It has grown from a bold idea in 1992 to a thriving institution of more than 18,000 students today, offering everything from certifications to four-year degrees. It is proof positive that we underestimate the educational needs and capabilities of minority populations all too often. And when tapped, amazing things can happen in terms of supporting human potential and expanding workforce development.

Anyway, about the Rave. I was present for their all-college convocation when they announced the results of this innovative strategy. They held an all-night Rave Registration, allowing students to do everything from admissions to paying for classes—at 3:00 am if they wanted to—with food, fun, music, and lots of college support.

Some folks thought that the student services folks where out of their minds for proposing this, that only a handful of students would even be interested. They ended up with close to 500!!

All night Rave Registrations. Talk about 24/7 student services! I love it.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lighting Candles

Educators coming together around the use of research and analysis to drive decisions. Practitioners and policy makers calling for more openess and transparency in exploring outcomes. Is this a meeting of the Spelling Commission? No. This is the University and College Information Systems Association’s (UCISA) seminar on the rising use of business intelligence in education. UCISA is the UK equivalent of Educause, and it held this futuristic meeting in the hallowed halls of the University of Bristol, just outside London.

After writing about the Power to Know You’re Making a Difference and the Need to Know Situation in Education, it was quite interesting to hear the challenges that US school districts, community colleges, and universities are facing in their efforts to gather and leverage data to drive decisions being echoed by colleagues in the UK. We heard about the “Edinburgh Enlightenment Project,” from the University of Edinburgh. I liked the take of the “Knowing Me, Knowing You” presentation—complete with ABBA soundtrack—from Liverpool John Moores University as well.

One key consensus point from these presentations—the technology is not the tough stuff in insight initiatives. It’s the people, processes, and culture that are most challenging. Moreover, a key element of all three of these issues was emphasized here: power. Those in power have to get it, support it, and be willing to use it, or else intelligence systems will never get off the ground.

The money quote from the seminar was borrowed from Sir Winston Churchill (a former Chancellor of University of Bristol): “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles with it.”

Here’s to lighting candles with the good use of information. Our students deserve it!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Ingredients and Recipes

Reading the President of Iran’s comments about how more than 150 years of academic freedom—or secular education—had poisoned Iranian youth, I’m reminded of a very basic fact: ingredients do not equal the recipe.

For example, the tough lesson we see in practice in the Middle East and South America is that democracy does not ensure freedom. Indeed, democracy without quality education, freedom of the press, and stable civic institutions, is typically just mass manipulation--dashing demagogues dominate the ballot box and drag their societies through all sorts of nonsense. In short, democracy in and of itself is not a recipe for freedom.

Education is not a recipe for freedom either. While I and others wax poetic about the power of education, the truth is that without true academic freedom, freedom of the press, broad access to public education, and more, teaching and learning can be terrible and lethal. Schools and universities can be used to inculcate the worst of values and the most dangerous of thinking—not to mention developing the most terrible of talents (e.g., think about building nuclear devices).

Remember, education literally changes the brain (great book by the way). My worst fear is that millions of young people will live neither well nor free thanks to the “education” provided by some hateful regimes. They will be burdened with patterns of thoughts and constructions of reality so warped, that all of our cogent arguments, good intentions, and peaceful gestures will be hard pressed to make a dent in their version of reality.

We’ve got to tackle this head on. Yes, democracy and education are deeply intertwined. However, they are only ingredients in the larger recipe of free societies; moreover, as the Iranian President makes clear, they can be used quite dangerously in isolation.