Whilst very early days and not a lot of content yet it strikes me as a fair effort to find one route to engage. How diligent the Ministers will be in recording their conversations and the issues raised will be interesting to note.
Listening to Students is the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills’ new blog for students. It will give students, and those with an interest in the student experience, an opportunity to read and see what students are saying to Ministers at these university visits.
A really interesting and hard-hitting review article from the New York Review of Books of a set of recent publications on US higher education. Two fundamental questions here: what is higher education actually for? And who is it for?
As Harvard’s former dean Harry Lewis sums up the matter:
Universities affect horror when students attend college in the hope of becoming financially successful, but they offer students neither a coherent view of the point of college education nor any guidance on how they might discover for themselves some larger purpose in life.
It is certainly a good thing that fresh attention is being paid in books such as Bowen’s, Golden’s, and Michaels’s to the question of whom education is for. But there remains the fundamental question of what it is for and what it should consist of. One way to bring these questions together would be to ask how well our colleges reflect our best democratic traditions, in which individuals are not assessed by any group affiliation but are treated, regardless of their origins, as independent beings capable of responsible freedom. Opening wider the admissions doors is a necessary step toward furthering that end, but it is by no means a sufficient one. Colleges will fulfill their responsibilities only when they confront the question of what students should learn—a question that most administrators, compilers of rank lists, and authors of books on higher education prefer to avoid.
According to the Chronicle 240 students at Northwest Missouri State University recently swapped their printed textbooks for Sonys e-book readers, which came loaded with assigned texts. But the students quickly discovered that the gadgets have limitations.
Students were initially fascinated with their readers, said Dean L. Hubbard, the university’s president, but they soon became frustrated with the devices’ limited interactivity capabilities — which made it impossible to highlight passages, cut and paste text, or participate in interactive quizzes.
This semester the university will continue to experiment with electronic textbooks, but it will deliver them primarily through laptops, rather than dedicated e-book devices. (The institutions requires students to have laptops.) About 500 students will try out electronic textbooks, and an additional 3,000 students will have access to them. Laptops provide more interactivity than the Sony Readers, Mr. Hubbard said, because they let students participate in interactive quizzes and allow professors to add material to textbooks as needed.
Interesting experiment this – whilst it does seem that e-book readers aren’t quite there yet, surely it can’t be too long before they do offer greater interactivity though.
The giveaway seems to have had an impact on the way students relate to each other and they are now obsessed with their devices:
The university’s unusual effort to give every freshman an iPhone or iPod Touch has been a huge success, officials say, and they recently decided to continue the project in the fall. But the devices are altering campus life at the 4,800-student college—and students say that not all of the shifts are positive.
“It has changed how people interact with one another on a day-to-day basis,” said Daniel Paul Watkins, a senior who is president of the student government. “Now walking around campus, nine out of 10 students either have their iPod headphones in or they’re texting or they’re talking on the phone,” he said. Sure, that’s happening at colleges across the country, but Mr. Watkins, who bought his iPhone, believes it is even more pronounced at a campus that has pushed the latest cellphones. “The West Texas charm of ‘Hey, howdy, everybody knows your name,’ has shifted inward—everyone’s enthralled by their device.”
The other concern is that iPhones simply make it easier to cheat:
“Since the iPhones were introduced, I honestly think that academic integrity has gone down,” said Mr. Watkins. “I’ve seen people cheat, and I’ve heard people talk about how easy it is to cheat.”
The Grauniad, in December, ran this lovely Notebook item in which I was honoured to have my name misspelled:
We know universities are cash-strapped, but isn’t it going too far to suggest they generate money by building alumni cemeteries, golf courses and breweries? Dr Paul Geatrix, Nottingham University’s registrar, claims he was “joking” when he proposed such things in a presentation to university lawyers, which was made last year but has just emerged on the internet. “I was being intentionally provocative,” he told Notebook. “Although, the University of Virginia does have a cemetery for alumni.” The message in his last slide is clear: “We all need the money £££££££.”
In hindsight I wish I had referred also to the generally under-exploited options offered to universities running a dairy herd. California Polytechnic University, for example, home of the largest dairy school in the USA, makes a tidy sum each year from selling festive cheeses.