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What’s happening to education? October 23, 2012

Posted by Jason in Writing.
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Way back in February, Seth Godin posted a “30,000 word manifesto” describing many of his frustrations with modern (and not-so-modern) education.  Now, he has just released a TED video that expands on it and challenges all of us to break the system.

“What is school for?”

In the video, he mentions eight things that could revolutionize education in the U.S. and around the world, IF we have the courage to change the system.

Not to take anything away from Mr. Godin, but as long as we have the system we do, there is an even more insidious force driving us into mediocrity: grade inflation.  Shown below is an interesting comparison of grade distributions over the years.  There are probably many explanations, but we personally have seen the difference between American and Australian schools.  While Godin’s views of education apply equally all over the world, Australia (or, at least Queensland) has at least managed to keep a lid on grade inflation, at least in the public primary and high schools.

From C's to A's
Created by: MastersDegree.net

Universal University? October 18, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management, Writing.
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What is modern education?

As we experience rapid advances in science and technology, there is increasing social pressure to produce graduates ready for the modern workforce.  Especially in the U.S., a university education has become what the high school diploma was just 20 years ago.  Despite skyrocketing tuition costs, politicians tout university as one way to reverse everything from our lack of competitiveness to the offshoring of technology jobs.

And they are right — to a point.

This article suggests that our emphasis on technical and vocational education has unintended consequences.  Namely, the decline in liberal arts degrees is hollowing out our former ability to have educated debates around facts rather than beliefs.

This is an interesting thought, but this is only part of the problem.  As I’ve written before, there is more to running a technical business than mere technical skills.  And, just as we would like to have politicians that can speak about and understand science, we also expect scientists and other technical professionals to have broader educations as well.  This is, of course, why we have bare minimum liberal arts requirements for various technical degrees (whether this is sufficient…well, that’s another story).

To be sure, universities have been around much longer than our modern concepts of education, technology, and even employment.  Just because we have developed an entire economy out of courses that just happen to have the same description as what has historically been called a “university” doesn’t mean it’s the same animal.  Indeed, there is a place for liberal arts, but the modern university may simply not be the place for them.  Despite sharing the name, what we now call a university isn’t the same as it was.

However, there is no doubt that the value of liberal arts has remained steady over the decades, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.  Philosophy, language, political and social science, art, music – these will always be fundamental expressions of human thought.  To believe they have no place in modern life – whether taught at a university or some other institution – is to ignore the centuries of progress that brought us to where we are now.

American Education? February 28, 2012

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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Seth Godin has just posted what he calls a “30,000 word manifesto” on public education.  I’m sure that it applies to similar systems anywhere, but it is especially pertinent to us Americans.  The problems that he describes are all the more striking when compared with our experiences here in Australia.

With a daughter in high school here, we observe every day the different attitudes toward school, work, university education, and standardized testing.  All of us are the products of an educational system that was founded to produce productive citizens.  But this comes at a price.

I encourage you to take a look at Seth’s short piece, and think about what we expect of our educational system (and, by extension, many of our other American institutions).  He encourages you to comment and discuss this very important issue.  We owe it to ourselves.

A direct link to the PDF version is here.

Read It Again – Camel Guest Post January 22, 2010

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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I admit it.  I have kept almost every textbook from my college years.  There were a scant few that didn’t quite make the cut, but most have stood the tests of time and the occasional borrowing colleague.  On top of those, I am a sucker for a college library book sale, and have acquired just as many more for courses I wish I could have taken.  From philosophy to economics, from engineering to management (but not, alas, multivariable calculus) most have continued to serve me well.  I had the chance to really dig into a few for a recent project, and… MORE…

Fuel the Fire; Don’t Burn Out November 1, 2009

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Last month, we discussed some of the factors affecting the attraction of young people to engineering, math, and science. This perennial issue seems to have as many solutions as there are practicing engineers. Existing programs, such as the West Point Bridge Design contest and the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) ASCEville.com are intended to address youth directly and provide hands-on educational opportunities. But in most cases, such programs depend on the active participation of practicing engineers — many of whom have difficulty finding the time or motivation to volunteer. Are today’s engineers ready to accept the personal responsibility to develop the next generation, or are we ever more dependent on universities to provide the foundations upon which we then may build? And what of the subsequent laments that such schools do not adequately prepare graduates to enter the workforce? (more…)

Engaging the Next Generation September 18, 2009

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Fifteen years. How much can we accomplish in such a short time? As I write this, I just read President Obama’s speech to schoolchildren. His words are likely to be clouded by the bickering that inevitably seems to take center stage these days. However, regardless of your politics, his thoughts reflect many professions’ struggles with how to motivate the next generation(s) and encourage study of subjects that don’t seem to hold quite the value they once did — especially math and science. Engineers are no strangers to this debate, and some have taken proactive steps to preserve the integrity of the profession while encouraging and attracting new entrants. (more…)

Choose to Notice June 21, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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Seth Godin just posted about a game called “Spotto” :

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/06/spotto.html

It is just one of many “I spy” type games in which you are looking for some object (usually while on those boring car rides) and shout out something – “Punch Buggy” or “Slug Bug” being always poplular.  The point is that once we choose to notice something, that thing seems to be everywhere – at least more common than we would have guessed previously. This is one reason to explore the world outside of your professional focus. (more…)

Working With Your Hands May 28, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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I  can’t even begin to lay out the many ways that Matthew Crawford has put into words some of the things that I have observed during my engineering career.  He has written an extremely well-crafted essay based on an upcoming book entitled “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work”.  He makes some excellent comparisons between today’s “knowledge workers” and more blue-collar “dirty jobs” that force us to observe the realities of the machines and tools we use.

It also raises the question (if it even needed any further raising) of how Americans will continue to succeed as a society if we continue sending our children to college regardless of what their real interests are — especially if those interests lead to such jobs as mechanics and technicians.  There are simply too many tasks that cannot be outsourced but that still require a significant level of skill and training (not from college) to undertake.

I encourage you to read through the article, and I personally am looking foward to the book.

Internal Strategy February 4, 2009

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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It is not difficult to find comparisons between engineering and more everyday consumer-oriented businesses. Some of the most common that I have seen distinguish between a firm being like a fast-food restaurant or a car mechanic versus being a collaborative member (or leader) of a multi-disciplinary project team. While perhaps simplistic, it is clear that there are extremes in any industry and that all firms must make the strategic choice to conduct business one way or another. This is a topic I addressed in the past, but I would like to explore a particular aspect of this decision and the implications for the firm’s future. (more…)