University mission statements

Some background before discussing mission statements….

Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) is a university-wide initiative offered by the Graduate School at Virginia Tech. Through the implementation of unique programs and opportunities, TGE pushes the boundaries of traditional disciplinary academic education and aims to significantly change how graduate students prepare to become the next generation of scientists, educators, scholars, engineers, artists, and career professionals.  One of these programs is the Future Professoriate graduate certificate.

Every semester for the past 15+ years, I’ve taught a graduate course entitled Preparing the Future Professoriate which is one of the required courses to earn the certificate. The purpose of the class is to provide graduate students the opportunity to learn about universities and especially the roles and responsibilities of faculty members.  Each semester 55+ master’s and doctoral students from our 8 different colleges (e.g., Engineering, Science, Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Business, Architecture and Urban Studies, Natural Resources and Environment, Agriculture and Life Sciences) enroll in the class.

One of the early assignments for the class is to find, share and blog about mission statements from two college or universities, U.S. or international. Over the years, I have found this assignment and the discussion that follows to be important in raising awareness about the various types of colleges and universities around the world and their different and yet sometimes similar mission statements. As a result, I have continued to reflect upon the purposes for mission statements, similarity in the words included in the mission statements, the audiences for mission statements, and changes that have occurred over time.  And in the past few years, I have used digital polling software (e.g. Mentimeter for interactive presentations) to share the results with the class for discussion.

The first question I ask for each to share three to four words that they found in the mission statements.  And the second question was for them to identify the type of institution they selected.  I was curious about the words contained in the mission statements and I wanted to learn how they would characterize the university they selected.

Below I’ve included word clouds from the mission statements as shared by the graduate students in the class for the past three semesters. (Please note that this is not intended as a scientific analysis but more of an observation). As you can see, there are some words like research, community, knowledge, service and more that seem to be found in many of the mission statements. Teaching (learning), diversity (access), and global also appear in many mission statements. None of these words are surprising.  But what is surprising is that the word “student” (students) doesn’t appear as often as one would think.  Student or learner (and teaching/learning) seems to be implied rather than directly mentioned. In the figures below, private universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges were in the mix.  If we were to sort by higher education institution type (e.g.private universities, liberal arts colleges, HBCUs, and community colleges) the key words in the mission statements would reflect more about the specific mission of the institution.

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the word clouds for the mission statements, the second question was about the type of college or university selected by these students.  Two examples of the word clouds are shown below.  As you can see, public research universities were common among the universities selected – not surprising because VT is a public research university and perhaps is the most familiar and of interest to the graduate students.   I found it interesting that “PWI” was used as a popular description for many of the entries but likely this was related to the recent in class conversation about PWI (predominately white institution), HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and MSI (Minority serving institutions) institutions.

 

 

 

In January 2018, I was pleased to read a blog by Julian David Cortes-Sanchez entitled “What do universities want to be? A content analysis of mission and vision statements worldwide”.  Although this isn’t the only analysis completed on mission statements, I found his findings pertinent to the mission statement assignment for my graduate course.  Cortes-Sanchez did an analysis of mission and vision statements and found that the most frequently used terms were research, university, world, knowledge and education. These are very similar to the words identified through the class assignment; not surprisingly.  The terms of global or world seem to be newer addition to mission statements as universities strive for a more global presence.

Although there are some very similar words used in mission statements, close attention to the words used can provide a greater understanding of the unique mission of the institutions of higher education.

 

Word choice and unintended messages: Career critical skills, not ‘soft skills’

Although there are so many things to comment about word choice and the unintended messages in higher education (e.g., demographics, inclusion, micro-aggression and more), I will focus my musings on concept of negation (‘non-‘) in our word choice especially the pervasive use of “soft” in our everyday language within and about academia.

Negation is defined by Merriam-Webster as “something considered the opposite of something regarded as positive”.  Unfortunately, we hear words used to describe  ‘something’ and ‘non-something’ frequently when referring to those things that are often considered dominant and therefore perceived as having more value in higher education.  The word choice usually results in creating or reinforcing dichotomies.  A few examples come to mind – English-speaking, non-English speaking; resident, non-resident alien; research university, non-research university; academic, non-academic.  I can understand the use of ‘non’ as a matter of convenience and fewer words but its use does send messages that I hope we might not intend.  And sometimes it seems understandable to make a point such as the use of sexist vs non-sexist language but I still find the word choice somewhat problematic. Why don’t we choose words with the same goal in mind but are more affirming and inclusive? Like ‘inclusive language’ that is more than non-sexist.

Examples of negation and the concept of something and ‘non’ something have been identified in other ways as well.  For years, those of us in higher education and associated with higher education have heard and used the language around academic discourse as the ‘hard’ sciences and the soft sciences.  Also common is the reference to the soft skills or non-cognitive skills when discussing skills desired to complement education in (cognitive) disciplinary knowledge and understanding including interdisciplinary content.

To counter the perception that some academic disciplines (e.g., STEM+ in particular) deserve the adjective of ‘hard’ (a positive in terms of the importance and value given to the word ‘hard’), I have used the phrasing of hard science as stated by others and then change ‘soft sciences’ to ‘hard-to-do science’ that includes and acknowledges the value of and the challenges associated with research in the social sciences, arts and humanities.

Similar discourse exists around the word choice of soft skills and non-cognitive skills. Examples of these skills include leadership, teamwork, communication, problem solving and problem posing, ethical and professional behaviors, work ethic, interpersonal relationship, collaboration, adaptability, innovation and creativity and more.  Although I realize that there is an entire literature on the value and importance non-cognitive skills, the terminology still seems inappropriate and misleading. It sets up a binary that certain skills are cognitive and other are not. I would argue vehemently that these skills involve a great deal of cognition and are not easily developed or honed successfully but need to be.  The word choice of soft skills also implies that these skills are easy to learn and to implement. And indeed, they are not.

Leadership, teamwork, communication, problem solving and problem posing, ethical and professional behaviors, work ethic, interpersonal relationship, collaboration, adaptability, innovation and creativity are skills which are desired by future employers and required for success in the workplace.  As such, opportunities to develop and programs to utilize these skills have been incorporated into graduate education recently. The Council of Graduate Schools is leading this effort nationally and the Virginia Tech Graduate School provides many opportunities for graduate students to better prepare themselves for the careers that they will likely pursue.

Given their importance, let’s call these Career Critical Skills.  Words (and actions) do make a difference!

VT-shaped individual: graduate student focus

Shortly after his arrival at VT, President Timothy Sands established an initiative entitled Beyond Boundaries and challenged the university to envision the future for Virginia Tech informed by four concepts: VT-shaped discovery, communities of discovery, nexus of discovery, and continuous innovation.  The key messages associated with Beyond Boundaries include the following (adapted from www.beyondboundaries.vt.edu):

  • purpose driven and person centered approach
  • disciplinary depth and interdisciplinary capacities
  • flexible curricular design and research addressing complex needs of communities and society
  • land grant mission of outreach and application of knowledge with commitment to service through “Ut Prosim”
  • inclusive and diverse communities

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 12.14.01 PMIn keeping to the conceptual framework and key messages, the VT shaped student was born. As shown in the figure, the “T” represents the disciplinary depth (3) as well as transdisciplinary knowledge (1).  The “V” represents the informal communal learning (2) and the guided experiential learning (4).  The graphic lends itself nicely to the VT symbol that has come to represent Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

While much of the internal conversation has already focused on the undergraduate student, the concept applies to graduate (and professional) students. Specifically, “the challenges of the future require the capacity to work in interdisciplinary teams, engage in critical and creative thinking, collaborate with diverse people, communicate effectively, and conduct oneself with a deep sense of ethics.”  And indeed these “requirements” are key elements of the Graduate School’s initiative entitled Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) developed in 2003.

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As is shown in the figure and articulated on the website, the transformative graduate education (TGE) initiative “pushes the boundaries of traditional disciplinary academic education and provides the philosophical underpinnings for a truly innovative graduate education experience.”  TGE is framed by four cornerstones (pillars): knowledge, scholarly inquiry, leadership, and social responsibility.  Our efforts and activities are grounded within the fundamental principles of interdisciplinarity, inclusion and diversity, ethics, innovation (technology) and global perspectives.

Beyond the myriad of courses and programs offered, let me Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 10.51.00 AMhighlight a few examples of the ways in which the TGE initiatives contributes to the preparation of the VT-shaped graduate student as described above.

To address the “deep sense of ethics”, all graduate students must demonstrate understanding of academic integrity and satisfy an scholarly integrity and ethics requirement officially recorded on their graduate plan of study.  For more information, see ethical pursuits in academe and ethics requirement.

In order to help graduate students “communicate effectively”, the Graduate School offers a variety of approaches:  two graduate courses – Communication Science (2 cr) and Citizen Scholar Engagement (3 cr) and recognition as a Citizen Scholar.  In addition, the Graduate School also offers a course entitled Inclusion and Diversity in a Global Society (3 cr) and actively promotes an affirming and welcoming graduate community and the Office of Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives (ORDI).

The “T” educated individual stresses both disciplinary depth and interdisciplinary breadth and the VT Graduate School has actively engaged in developing initiatives and opportunities to foster interdisciplinary programs and interdisciplinary thinking.  Among these are the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs (IGEPs), the development of the individualized interdisciplinary PhD program (iPhD) and support for the Interdisciplinary Honor Society (IDR) established by VT graduate students.  These are fine opportunities but it is time to extend beyond boundaries even more.

For many years, I have advocated for interdisciplinary thinking and proposed the “pi” metaphor for interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary graduate education.  Picture5In this graphic, disciplinary depth in more than one academic area is stressed and strong connections across the disciplines are emphasized depicting transdisciplinarity.  I would argue that expanding beyond the “T” to the Pi (π)-educated can be seen as a valuable approach in the preparation of graduate students to become the adaptive innovators needed for the 21st century workforce.

By adopting this philosophical approach in alignment with the VT Beyond Boundaries initiative, the goal of a VT-shaped graduate student can be realized not only through the opportunities to become Pi (π)-educated but also for graduate students to gain valuable knowledge, skills and abilities through the programs offered via the Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative.

 

Interdisciplinary thinking

Klein bookThe higher education community has long discussed, debated and defined (and redefined) interdisciplinary education and research.  Published in 1990, Julie Thompson Klein wrote the first comprehensive overview of interdisciplinarity. Since then, many books have been written, articles published, and conferences held.  In the early 21st century, two prominent federal funding agencies (NSF, NIH) would articulate the importance of interdisciplinary research (and graduate education) through the publication of Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research (2004, National Academies Press) and NIH Roadmap Interdisciplinary Research initiatives (2005, National Institutes of Health).

With increased attention about interdisciplinary research including the notion of “grand challenges“, the development and implementation of interdisciplinary programs followed.  Leading the discussions at the graduate level was the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) that offered sessions during its annual meetings and summer workshops.  Having been a participant in these conversations, the focus was primarily on content knowledge and research methodologies cutting across disciplines and the development of graduate degree programs.  Examples of good practices exist (e.g., Penn State, University of California-Davis, University of Central Florida, University of Minnesota, University of Washington, Virginia Tech).  At Virginia Tech, we have also established a blog site as a means of sharing research across interdisciplinary degree programs as well.  And all the while, very little discussion has occurred around interdisciplinary thinking and its relationship to graduate education until CGS President Suzanne Ortega invited Vice Provost Frances Leslie (UC Irvine) and me to facilitate such a discussion.  A great discussion occurred; the results of which will be shared in a different forum.  What follows here are my reflections and musings about interdisciplinary thinking in preparation for and after that session.

I have previously blogged about interdisciplinary thinking and different metaphors for graduate education.  I proposed the symbol of “pi” as metaphor for interdisciplinary (transdisciplinary as well) imagesand preparing graduate students to become adaptive innovators.  My musings about interdisciplinary thinking continue and have been informed by Simeon Dreyfuss article entitled “Something essential about interdisciplinary thinking” published in 2011 in Issues in Integrative Studies (29, 67-83)

So how do I understand interdisciplinary thinking?  Interdisciplinary thinking (I-thinking) must extend beyond the sharing of content and methodology from different disciplinary perspectives.  I-thinking must reach beyond common courses, shared research projects, case studies and joint publications. I-thinking most likely involves team science especially collaboration and clear, direct communication.

I-thinking should involve problem solving as well as problem defining and problem posing.  Yes, it involves what is known as critical thinking skills however these are defined. It is about asking questions and “sitting with” the question before jumping to solutions or answers quickly.  I-thinking takes time and requires perseverance.

Interdisciplinary thinking is about different ways of knowing and knowing differently and knowing in relationship to other even dissimilar views. It is about differing modalities of thinking and learning which requires acceptance of and tolerance for ambiguity and dissonance and perhaps confusion at times.  Creativity and innovation are key components and outcomes of interdisciplinary thinking.

Interdisciplinary thinking is a non-linear process and doesn’t embrace dualities but seeks intersections and connections.  I-thinking is about acknowledging the notion of a “baggy idea of truth, understanding the multiplicity of truth and the ongoing search for evolving truth.  It involves looking for and seeing the “unobvious” – to see things in ways which might not be obvious.

Interdisciplinary thinking is not only integrative but much more.  Beyond analysis and synthesis across disciplines, interdisciplinary thinking must be iterative and emergent.

Dreyfuss (2011) wrote that the difference between disciplinary and interdisciplinary thinking is “a manifestation of how deeply one is wed to particular historical institutionalizations of knowledge” (p. 80). In order to prepare the graduate students for the future, graduate deans must encourage programs and provide opportunities to push beyond the historical institutionalization of knowledge and disciplinary boundaries into interdisciplinary thinking.  The abilities and skills associated with interdisciplinary thinking will serve all graduate students well in discipline-based or interdisciplinary programs.

So, the question now is how.

Blogging in graduate education

Blogging has a role in 21st century higher education including graduate education.

Although blogging and blogs have been around for more years, Gardner Campbell (currently Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success at Virginia Commonwealth University) was on the Virginia Tech faculty and passionately advocated for the use of blogs for the undergraduate students in the VT Residential Honor’s College. In August 2011, he wrote that blogging could “catalyze learning” through the framework of “narrate, curate, and share”.  His efforts inspired me as Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education to establish my own blog and to incorporate blogging in Graduate School administrative activities and more importantly as an integral part of the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative. (Note: currently we are also engaged in other types of social media [e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LInkedIn] but the focus here is blogging).

For the past several years, blogging-as-pedagogy2blogging has become an integral part of several graduate courses offered within the Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative including GRAD 5104 Preparing the Future Professoriate, GRAD 5114 Contemporary Pedagogy (GEDI), GRAD 5214 Diversity and Inclusion in a Global Society and GRAD 5014 Ethics and Scholarly Integrity.  Embracing “blogging as pedagogy” in these courses, graduate students are encouraged to “reflect, read, write and share” with their colleagues on topics related to not only preparing the future professoriate but current issues facing higher education.  Although some expressed initial hesitancy to blog and were new to blogging, most of the graduate students became actively engaged with blogging.  Many commented that they enjoyed learning a new skill and found it valuable.  Indeed, blogging is an important aspect of modern learning.

Beyond its use in graduate courses, blogging was introduced to the faculty and graduate students associated with interdisciplinary graduate education at VT specifically through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education program (IGEPs).  Each IGEP has created a blog that feeds into the “mother blog” hosted on the website which provides the shared space for cross IGEP discussion.  Another example is the use of blogs with the Global Perspectives Program organized through the VT Graduate School.  The “grandmother blog” for the Global Perspectives program gathers and shares blog posts from several “mother blogs” including GPP Switzerland, GPP Chile, GPP alumni, and from the graduate deans experience.  This provides but one example of how individual blogs can feed into a common space for collective reflection on global perspectives and engage colleagues around the world.

Blogs are but one form of communication in today’s academic world.  In sharing and disseminating our scholarship, we have typically used publications (articles, books, exhibits and more) and presentations. Technology used in our connected world allows for other ways of sharing today.  Blogs use a different voice and often reach different audiences in different ways but represent a valuable tool for scholars and practitioners.  Graduate students as the future faculty and career professionals need to gain these skills as part of their graduate degree and preparation for the 21st century workforce.

“I”, “T”, and “Pi” as metaphors for graduate education

In my role as Vice President and Dean for Graduate School at Virginia Tech, I have thought a lot about transforming graduate education in general and more specifically about preparation in an academic area as well as preparation for career(s) after degree completion.  The graduate dean should think about these things and create opportunities and programs for graduate students to enhance their preparation for success in the career options they can pursue following degree completion. Academic area mentioned above does not mean simply discipline or department but rather encompassing departments, programs and includes multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary areas of study.  And careers refer to academic and careers outside academe and the fact that graduates should expect a lifetime of career changes.

Many of us in higher education often make reference to the “I” educated or the “T” educated individuals. The “I” has been used to refer to depth in the discipline and the “T” offering breadth beyond the depth within the discipline. Breadth can be understood in terms of going beyond one’s discipline moving toward multi or interdisciplinary thinking.  Breadth can also be interpreted as moving toward a more holistic education that of a well rounded person.  Although applicable to graduate education, this breadth has been associated more commonly within the undergraduate experience; education in a discipline plus educational opportunities beyond one’s major(s).

I have reflected on the “I” and the “T” in the context of and advocating for interdisciplinary graduate education.  In a blog post entitled “interdisciplinary thinking, Pi and adaptive innovators”, I introduced the Pi symbol as a visual representation of interdisciplinary thinking and adaptive innovators.

Pi is primarily understood as a mathematical constant or a Greek letter.  Much has been written about Pi in those contexts but I use it here as a symbol of and metaphor for interdisciplinarity.   As shown above, the symbol Pi includes three lines: two vertical lines and one line across the top of the two vertical lines.  Beyond the straight line, each of these lines has an additional feature at one end.

I find the visual compelling in its simplicity.  Interdisciplinary thinking and education requires depth in one of more disciplines of study and the ability to integrate across the disciplines.  There must be a firm foundation (wider base) grounded in the knowledge within a discipline and a strong connection (anchor, hook) into the academic field(s) of study.  The horizontal line provides the link between the academic pillars.  Specifically, this line represents the link that facilitates meaningful connections between (among) the academic areas of study, integrates knowledge and understanding across the disciplines and extends beyond the pillars of the disciplines to situate knowledge and understanding in the societal context.

Societal context is important.  Academic leaders need to acknowledge and confirm the underlying principle and purpose of higher education “to educate” but we must also be mindful of the need to implement programs that incorporate the knowledge, skills and abilities for success in the work place. Reports from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) support and encourage interdisciplinary graduate education. Two additional reports from Educational Testing Services (ETS) and Council of Graduate Schools (CGS)  articulate clearly the responsibility of Graduate Schools to prepare graduates for the professoriate and careers outside academe.report pathreportcover

 

 

 

 

In our ongoing efforts to transform graduate education (and higher education), academic leaders should continue to support “I” and “T” education and we must definitely encourage more “Pi”-educated individuals.  The universities for the 21st century need scholars who have the depth, breadth, and integrated interdisciplinary perspectives to address the complex problems facing us in 21st century.

“Unruly Paradox”

Many words are used to describe the changing context for higher education in the 21st century – ‘change’ being one but more recently ‘disruption’, ‘innovation’, ‘global’ and ‘learning revolution’ are code for what is or should be happening in higher education.  But the use of ‘unruly paradox’ to describe the university was new to me until recently.

It was actually more than a decade ago when Ben Johnson (then Chair of the Board of Trustees for Emory University) coined the term “unruly paradox” in making reference to “the unrelenting swell and heave of change” which is a constant in the university.  ben_johnson520In 2000, Johnson articulated that “a great university is a thing of unruly paradox.  It is a place of tranquil reflection and a testing place and indeed a battleground of outrageous ideas”  He continued that a university “requires stability, yet is a catalyst for change. It teaches respect for boundaries, yet encourages pushing those boundaries. It is a place of self-conscious egalitarianism, yet a place of studied rank. It trains for the sacred, as well as the secular. It gleans from the past, to prepare for the future…”

How do we prepare for the future?  What will the universities look like in 10 years? How have they changed in the past 5 years?  As an ‘unruly paradox’, the university must manage the tensions of history, boundaries, and stability and the pushing of limits, outrageous ideas and being a catalyst for change.

Higher education more broadly defined must also accept the responsibility for change and adaptation. The pace of change is astonishing and doesn’t appear to be slowing down?  For example, when the class of 2014 entered in 2010, the iPad had been only recently introduced and four years later (for their commencement) there are four generations of iPads plus the iPad Air. The impact of technology and social media is significant not only in the “classroom” but throughout the university.

In addition to technology, there are many other factors that could be discussed here.  A critical factor I wish to highlight here revolves around access: access to higher education especially defining the student/learner, discussion of delivery modes and locations for learning as well as access to education, research, knowledge through open educational resources and open access publishing.

Other factors are brought to light by Drew Faust, President of Harvard University. In a recent interview with Bloomberg about the future and financing of higher education, she identified three major forces facing higher education: digital revolution especially its impact on learning and teaching, global context and expectations, and the breaking down of traditional disciplines boundaries. She briefly discussed MOOCs and other digital learning modalities as helping us understand more about learning and processing of information and that they must inform our teaching. Embracing a global perspective has become even more important and defining the global context and expectations more challenging. Yes, disciplines are evolving and transcending boundaries (albeit somewhat slowly at times) and moving toward the interfaces between and among disciplines and into interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary programs.

Change is challenge and a condition of an ‘unruly paradox’. Ultimately, change will impact the organizational structure as well as the functionality of higher education. Change is also an opportunity. One of our opportunities in preparing for the future is to embrace innovation and creativity within higher education and prepare not only ourselves but especially the students/learners to develop the “habits of mind to adapt to change”.  These habits will last a lifetime.

 

Academic duty

Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus of Stanford University wrote about the responsibilities of faculty in his book entitled Academic Duty (1997).  Kennedy wrote that “academic freedom” was well known but less so “academic duty” due to the “relatively uncodified” (p. vii) understanding of faculty work. He argued that faculty work included the following duties: to teach, to mentor, to serve the university, to discover, to publish, to tell the truth, to reach beyond the walls, and to change. Today, we would likely propose that the work of faculty has expanded to include additional roles including grant writing, fundraising, public relations, global perspective, civility, and building inclusive communities to name a few.

As I reflect on these duties, I think we could agree that many of the academic duties (e.g., to teach, to discover, to publish, to serve, to mentor) are well known and accepted among the responsibilities of faculty.  The degree to which these and other duties are evident in the lives of the faculty do vary some depending upon the type of university and type of faculty position but they are what we can expect when hired as a tenure track faculty member.  But they do represent the core of faculty work.

Two of the duties deserve additional comment – “to tell the truth” and “to change”. The academic duty of “to tell the truth” has become increasingly more important especially in the context of almost daily reports of research misconduct, plagiarism, and other examples of lapses in professional and scholarly ethics in higher education.  The availability of entities such as the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and official ethics guidelines and training programs through National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have brought greater attention to and scrutiny of scholars and their scholarly work and sometimes professional and even personal lives.  Online academic news sources especially the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, World University News regularly provide news and updates on cases of academic misconduct and of course, social media including twitter (e.g., ORI twitter) helps disseminate information.  Professional codes of conduct and ethical guidelines exist in many academic disciplines and are often incorporated into the professional development of the future faculty.

“To change” is the second academic duty to be highlighted here.  It has been said that universities are slow to change and those of us who have been in higher education for some time would likely agree.  But I would argue that universities and therefore faculty have a responsibility to change, to grow and to challenge ourselves to continue to be meaningful and relevant today and for the future.  Universities are social institutions and therefore have a responsibility to society, including a global society.  Higher education has been challenged by the technological advancements and the rapid rate of change. One need only to consider the development of the internet and the surprising speed of the transition from Web 1.0 to 2.0 and the most recent development of the MOOC and its impact upon higher education. Institutions of higher learning have yet to realize the full extent of these developments. If we are open to it, MOOCs will help us understand more about learners and learning and they can challenge us to think differently about how we provide opportunities for acquiring and disseminate knowledge.  These are but two examples about how we must engage with change and prepare the faculty (and future faculty) to change and to be changed.

 

Graduate education and web 2.0

I’ve been thinking a lot about the World Wide Web and social media and their impact and utility in graduate schools.  Conceptually I have understood the functionality associated with Web 1.0 and 2.0 and have sought to utilize these phases for enhanced digital interaction and communication.  What follows are some of my initial musings.

As a 21st century institution, the VT graduate school has undergone a transition from the traditional role as an administrative office to ‘a place and space for graduate education.’  Throughout the last century, graduate schools (not unlike other institutions) tended to operate as “top down” offices providing information (policy, procedures) through “static” means (catalogs, manuals) to “users” (constituencies, especially students) as the receivers of information.  Words similar to these have been used to describe the early days of the World Wide Web (1.0) – users could only view (receive) information and not contribute to the “webpages”, users (constituencies) as consumers of content not active participants, and the information wasn’t dynamic.  Although available since 1993, the use of web technology by graduate schools began in earnest mostly in the 21st century and reflected the Web 1.0 approach of delivery to consumers.  We took what we did and delivered it electronically.

The onset of Web 2.0 in 2002 and the availability of interactive tools and social media ultimately challenged graduate schools (as well as universities and national associations) to examine our operations and to embrace the change which was well underway.  Web 2.0 allows for uses beyond the static delivery of content.  It allows users to generate, interact and collaborate in virtual community.  Web 2.0 tools include wikis, blogs, and numerous social networking sites.  The VT Graduate School was one of the first in the nation to move to Web 2.0 conceptually and to build interactive tools (e.g., on-line catalog, featured graduate student, upcoming examinations) and to embrace social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook), all of which are inter-connected on the Graduate School website.   These examples and the development of the virtual GLC (vGLC) are still works in progress and ones that draw upon the greater interactivity of Web 2.0.

Today graduate schools must actively encourage sharing of information, the creation on content, and collaboration among the constituencies.  Although there is some “content to be delivered” the message and tools of Web 2.0 challenges graduate schools to think differently about what we do and how we do it and I’m not just referring to the administrative functions but the whole of the graduate education.  Using web technologies, graduate schools (2.0+) must rethink graduate education, embrace change and redefine “space and place” to include the brick and mortar of the physical space as well as the digital space and build graduate community.

 

 

Communicating scholarly endeavors

James Duderstadt, President Emeritus of University of Michigan, is reshaping higher education.  He has written and spoken about a university as a social institution with social responsibility as described in his book entitled A University for the 21st Century published by the University of Michigan Press in 2000.

Social responsibility is especially important for a land grant university like Virginia Tech. One of the ways in which a univerity can exercise its social responsibility is through sharing the research and scholarly endeavors of the faculty and the students, especially graduate students.  The “open access” movement is a possibility for sharing university’s research but I’ll save that discussion for another blog.  Instead, I wish to reflect about the ways in which a research land grant university like Virginia Tech can meet its responsibility to share the results of research.

As faculty and graduate students we have historically been educated and trained to communicate our research/scholarship to those within our discipline primarily.  We learn how to prepare powerpoint or keynote presentations.  We prepare posters and practice our 15 minute research presentations.  We practice reading and sharing our scholarly endeavors through other media.  But we have not typically been provided with opportunites to learn and therefore we are not as skilled in communicating our scholarship to others outside our discipline and especially not to the public in general.

Enter actor Alan Alda and “communicating science”.   On the occasion of the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in 2010, attendees had the opportunity to learn about and experience the Communicating Science initiative offered through the center at Stony Brook University.  Many of us were in agreement that the initiative is a powerful program that helps “scientists” and scholars to develop communication skills.

Realizing the importance of this work, Virginia Tech has embraced “communicating science” and initiated a program here.  Within the context of the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative of the VT Graduate School, Professor Patty Raun from the Theatre Department has offered sessions within GRAD 5104 Preparing the Future Professoriate graduate course and has established a new graduate course on Communicating Science.  Through this program and others we will engage VT graduate students with the social responsibility of the university to communicate science.