Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Articles for June 24, 2015

Adults, Computers and Problem Solving (OECD)
This report is especially interesting because it looked at how well adults accomplished "problem-solving tasks that require the use of computer applications, such as e-mail, spreadsheets, word-processing applications and websites..." Specifically, the report found that "...literacy proficiency and age have the strongest independent relationships to proficiency in problem solving in technology-rich environments..." (p. 54).  Of course, these skills apply to several career clusters, but the technical fields are especially susceptible to advances in technology and use a lot of specialized computer programs. Students who have trouble creating an e-mail or using Microsoft Word are not going to have an easy time working with image editing software, repair databases, or even just managing all the files that result from several drafts and separate pages typical of a technical field. This is not to mention those fields that need to create and/or repair technologies, like in a car, machine, or network, or the fact that many technical fields now conduct hiring processes electronically. 

The report offers an interpretation about the relationship between literacy proficiency and problem solving proficiency: "the relationship between literacy proficiency and proficiency in problem solving reflects a relationship between general cognitive proficiency and problem solving using ICT, rather than a relationship specific to literacy proficiency," (p. 54). In doing my master's research, I found that many of the skills needed to be a successful machinist, electrician, designer, networker, or auto technician mirrored what is needed to be a successful reader. Why? Because they are similar skills, just set into a different context and specifically chosen for the task within that context. Being able to use context clues and syntax is incredibly important for successful reading, just as it is in writing computer code. 

If we incorporate literacy skill instruction into our technical programs, we can equip technical students with a transferable set of tools that will make them better problem solvers in any situation. Teaching students to "think like an electrician" and emphasizing the thinking processes--reading,  kinesthetic, or otherwise--allows teaching and learning to move toward a deeper, more critical level. This is vital if we are to give our students what they will need to compete in a global market, keep up with the increasing demands of the workplace, and take full advantage of technological advancements. 

Senate Committee Taking Closer Look at Education Accreditation Process (
This discussion about accreditation is a little more objective than the article from the Washington Post that covered the same topic earlier this week. As the article states, the reason for the attention on accreditation lately is that the hearing to reauthorize the Higher Education Act has led the HELP Committee to start talking about if accreditation should be about regulation or assessment. This article also refers to another contentious dimension surrounding this issue: "how difficult it can be for accrediting agencies to effect change at the institutions they monitor, due to 'contrary legal action.'" Specifically, it referred to the legal battle between the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges and the City College of San Francisco, and quotes hearing witness Dr. Albert C. Gray, who is president and CEO of the organization that gave accreditation to the recently collapsed Corinthian system of for-profit colleges. 

The contrast between the two situations reflects what is so complicated about this issue. On the one hand, City College of San Francisco is suing ACCJC over, among other things, not giving the college due process and conflict of interest. Colleges need to have the ability to keep accrediting bodies in check in a legal sense to maintain a fair balance of power. On the other hand, accrediting bodies need to have enough teeth and recognition to keep college systems like Corinthian in check. Dr. Gray claims that "'Corinthian collapsed...because of financial pressure, not because of non-compliance with any regulation." This is perhaps even more important; without much power, it's easy for accrediting bodies to shift the blame. 

If academics believe that accreditation should be done from within higher education, then we can't make the same assumptions about each other that we often, sadly, make about our students. We can't be so shortsighted to believe that everyone is involved for the same right reason, with the same right intention, and defines words like "fair" and "appropriate" similarly. The senators on the HELP Committee seem to have accepted the reality that neither Congress nor the Department of Education will be able to monitor quality as an alternative. We need a similar reality check in higher education, too. 

Why 'Vocation' Isn't a Dirty Word (
This is an interview of the author of the new book The Purposeful Graduate: Why Colleges Must Talk to Students About Vocation, Tim Clydesdale. The book promotes the idea of talking to students about not just getting jobs, but making meaning lives for themselves. He builds his base off of his own research, and although the samples are from mostly 4-year, residential, religiously-affiliated universities, much of this applies to my 2-year technical private non-profit institution. 

All of this is in the context of the conversation around the value of college. " to prepare leaders for tomorrow's professions, not applicants for this month's job openings." In my setting, many students begin their education with the sole purpose of getting a job or getting a better job. I see a lot of students who start out by dipping their toes into that student identity just enough to learn just enough to what they think will get them a job. What I also see, though, is a lot of students who change that vision, embrace themselves as professionals making meaningful work in society, and realize the true value of college is much more than an increased paycheck. It takes a couple of semesters before these students make that change, and, for some, that's too late. For some, that process has done too much damage to their GPA, too much debt has been incurred, too much trust has been lost. 

In my view, we would be wise to treat and talk about the technical industries as the professions they are, instead of the jobs they used to be. there is a lot of calls for quick, specific training programs that get students in, out, and in a job. Those programs are great for students who might already have this kind of identity established. Viewing all technical education this way, though, cheapens their respective roles in our economy and the power of a college experience on building character. Clydesdale offers a first step: " this conversation...there are a goodly number of faculty and staff who would be happy to participate in this conversation, to share their own stories." The instructors in our classrooms hold their industries so close to their hearts that they want to help others experience it, and we should recognize and respect those fields the same as we do medicine, education, law, etc. We can start by incorporating this idea into the fabric of technical education. The technical fields are advancing at such a rate and in such a way that technical students need to view themselves as taking on a professional vocation, not simply receiving job training. 

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