The questions we need to ask especially “why”

This semester many of us are engaged with a national initiative entitled Connected Courses. At Virginia Tech, we developed our own active co-learning group of faculty and graduate students to interface with each other and ConnectedCourses. And the dialogue ensued.

The first unit (of six) challenged us to engage with “why we need a why” and participants were asked to reflect specifically on “why we teach”.   Michael Wesch and his colleagues (Randy Bass, Cathy Davidson) shared some of their teaching experiences, introduced purpose driven not just content driven courses, and challenged us to contemplate “why we need a why“.  They asked us to share “why I teach”.

As I pondered “why I teach”, my thoughts quickly moved toward questions of “why” beyond teaching as related to the future of higher education and the future professoriate. We are often taught about the 7 questions – the who, what, when, where, how, why and why not. As one who is focused more on process, I especially appreciate the why, the how and the why not.

In the graduate course I teach, GRAD 5104 Preparing the Future Professoriate, we have been discussing the roles and responsibilities of faculty (teaching, research, service and more) and the changing nature of higher education. As the students consider their future as faculty, they must ask themselves which university they will choose and why, the roles and responsibilities they will embrace and why, the pedagogical strategies to utilize and why, the possibilities for change and why not, and how they will engage with colleagues, students, and community.  Inasmuch as the path forward for higher education requires dynamic mostly non-linear processes and will offer some exciting opportunities, the faculty and the future faculty must innovate, create, and lead change.  The questions they ask and answer especially the “why” will inform the future.



Community, Connections and Networks

Building academic community for graduate students has been a goal of the Virginia Tech Graduate School since at least 2002.  Universities traditionally have fostered a sense of community for the undergraduate experience but often left the graduate student experience in the hands of the department, the “lab”/team, or the faculty member.  In my role as Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education, I have encouraged the VT Graduate School to embrace community as an integral part of graduate education.  In 2003, we developed an initiative called Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) with a focus on preparing the future professoriate (PFP).  Since then the VT Graduate School has continued to expand and enhance the graduate student experience through building academic community especially through the Graduate Life Center which provides a physical “space and place” for graduate education. Now, that space and place for graduate education must naturally go beyond physical space to the digital world.

As the connectivity and interactivity of the web expands, so must the initiatives and opportunities for higher education to share community, networks and connections.  The Connected Courses initiative provides the platform for a “collaborative community of faculty” to explore networked learning, open access and the values of the “open web”.  We determined that Connected Courses could also provide a wonderful opportunity to bring the faculty and the future faculty together in conversation about active co-learning at VT. To expand our efforts in transforming graduate education, graduate students must be in the conversation about embracing change and to foster futurisktic thinking (web 2.0, social media).

The dialogue begins.  Please join us.