About Wenona Partridge

This blog is devoted to collecting resources, notes, reflections and dialogues that take place in the context of EDADM 892: Trends and Issues in Educational Administration. I am an Instructional Design Assistant at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Saskatchewan. I am currently enrolled as a graduate student in the department of Curriculum Studies and I completed a Masters of Arts in philosophy last year. My interests include reflecting on the purpose of higher education and the impact of austerity economics on access to education.

To Be, or Not to Be (an Academic)

Now that I am (finally) nearing the end of my MA in Philosophy, I face the student’s dilemma: What now –  work or more school? Work is certainly an appealing option, since being a broke student sucks. However, meaningful work is hard to find. Pursuing a PhD is worth it intrinsically, and can (actually) open doors to meaningful work. Either way, the future is uncertain, and uncertainty is anxiety inducing.

I blogged last year about the value of acquiring ‘professional skills’ while studying, since current grad students face either fierce competition in a shrinking academic job market or a world outside the academy that might not understand what a student with an advanced humanities degree can offer. The dilemma has been framed in several problematic ways: The humanities are in crisis, grad students are not trained for anything other than a career as tenured faculty and Canada has failed to generate a knowledge economy because resource extraction is just so much easier. I think that the situation is complex and I will not try to fill out all its angles in one blog post. However, I will try to introduce some ideas about how to respond to the pressing question of ‘what now?’

Luckily for all of us who will be coming out of MA or PhD programs now, the ‘crisis’ is not new and many other talented, intelligent and resourceful graduates have done much of the work of answering ‘what now,’ if a tenure-track faculty position is simply not even open, anywhere.  Much of the resources, blogs, articles and even conferences devoted to what has become commonly known as ‘alt-ac’ come from the US, but I could relate to and find useful much of the content on the following sites and I hope you can, too.

So, here is my ‘what now?’, alt-ac primer for those of you who want, if nothing else, to find some optimism out there in MA and PhD land:

Marginal Revolution University Joins the Online Education Arena

Marginal Revolution University (MRU) is named after a successful blog called ‘Marginal Revolution’ that is updated daily by George Mason University development economics professors Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok. Cowen and Tabarrok founded MRU. The blog’s title should give most readers a pretty good idea about what sort of commitments Cowen and Tabarrok bring with them to the courses they offer for free online. During the late 19th century, a ‘marginal revolution’ in economics brought an end to the prevailing labour theory of value, which was supplanted by the use of mathematical calculations of marginal cost and utility to explain economic phenomena. Setting the author’s commitments aside is not difficult, since MRU offers interesting courses that are, from my perspective as an amateur, accessible, informative and not excessively biased by the founders’ obvious fiscal conservatism. That said, I would not want to draw my knowledge of economics solely from MRU.

The key terms that describe MRU’s approach to education are; learn, teach and share. MRU encourages others to use its content and to submit content for use on its site. The logo was crowd sourced and, claims an introductory video on the site, was “inspired by the idea of a bee hive and you can take this part of the logo (a part of the hive that appears to be joining from the outside) as showing how additional knowledge is always being added onto the pile.” MRU wants its courses to reflect the founder’s approach to education as about learning, teaching and sharing and the same introductory video claims that, ‘at’ MRU, “Not all knowledge is equally certain (uncertain), knowledge is always changing, and (the material that is presented is) not the final word.”

What an MRU course is:

  • Videos, accompanied by a discussion forum, a detailed course outline, a twitter feed featuring leading economic thinkers who post about the topic covered by a course, and information about the instructors responsible for a course’s content.
  • Not for credit, although users may obtain an MRU certificate if they register and successfully complete the final exam.
  • Open for use by courses offered at other institutions. MRU even has a tutorial about how to use their content to flip your classroom.
  • Open to user-generated content. MRU encourages the user to create her own content, which can be added to the site. Tutorial videos that show the user how to create videos using PowerPoint are available.
  • Completely free of charge and open to the public. All videos and quizzes are open to the public even if you have not registered to ‘take’ a course.

What MRU courses are not:

  • Not a MOOC. MRU calls its courses ‘flexible learning modules’, although they can be made part of a MOOC and the courses are listed on the site mooc-list.com
  • For credit, at all. Your only reward will be glory.

TLt 2013 Brings Ideas Together

The University of Saskatchewan and the Gwenna Moss Centre hosted this year’s Teaching and Learning with Technology conference on May 1 and 2. The theme was “Making IT Mainstream: Everybody’s doing IT,” focusing on “the mainstream integration of learning technologies at both the level of the institution and individual instructor; what is working and what is not, and how all of this will continue to effect higher education.”

Two pre-conference events were held on the first day; Evaluating the Integration of Technology: Understanding the Purpose and Process of Evaluation Research with Valerie Irvine, Brad Wuetherick and Stan Yu, and IDing our Future: A Meeting of the Minds of Instructional Designers, for instructional designers. Four concurrent sessions took place, with each session focusing on a four different topics and each topic featuring up to three different presenters. The diversity of presenters and topics ensured that a broad range of issues were addressed.

The conference attracted two experts in the field to speak at the opening and second plenaries. In the opening plenary, George Veletsianos shared “six research-based stories describing the integration and use of social media in higher education.”  The second plenary, titled The 21st Century University: Implications and Benefits of Access through Connections and Openness, was delivered by Valerie Irvine. The plenaries delved into interesting problems about the use of social media (Veletsianos plenary), the problem of “artificial authority” (Irvine plenary) and ubiquitous content in education, and the importance of open access to content (Irvine plenary). The conference wrapped up with a closing panel presentation.

Below are video recordings of each of the plenary talks.

George Veletsianos

Valerie Irvine

Canadian Student Blogs About Finland

If you are curious about the student experience of higher education in Finland, which has been a hot topic in the news lately, I highly recommend you read this blog. It is written by Irene Smith, a Canadian and former undergraduate Peer Mentor from the U of S, who is currently studying at the University of Turku in Finland. Her blog posts cover topics as diverse as hierarchies in education and the integration of undergraduate and graduate degrees, and they all deal directly with the contrast between higher education in Canada and her experience of university in Finland.

Finland is currently regarded as a world leader in education, according to a global report, The Learning Curve, published by Pearson in 2012. Irene reflects on the reasons behind Finland’s top place in this report and others in blog posts about the cost of education, the requirements for entrance to university and the way her classes are assessed.  Education in Finland is free, students must pass a matriculation exam to gain entrance to a university, and many of Irene’s classes do not dish out regular assignments and exams, but require an end-of-term learning diary instead. I do not feel unsatisfied with my Canadian education, but I am a bit envious about Finland’s free universities and I am interested in finding out whether a single learning diary would lead to deeper learning than regular exams and assignments. I will be following Irene’s blog to learn more about her adventures in Finnish higher education as the term progresses.

Philosophy for Children: Experiential Learning at the U of S

Philosophy in the Community of Saskatoon

Philosophy as a discipline is often thought of as an individual pursuit. However, it is my view that philosophy has always been about connecting with others, as shown by Philosophy in the Community, which has been offering public lectures off-campus for eight years. Philosophy can engage diverse audiences, even children.

Philosophy for Children

As a method of teaching, philosophy can be a tool to facilitate not only the development of communities of inquiry in primary and secondary schools, but also critical, caring and creative thinking skills among students of all ages. Philosophy for Children (P4C) programs have been growing in popularity all over the world since Matthew Lipman founded the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children at Montclair State University.

The Department of Philosophy, in collaboration with the University Learning Centre and the Saskatoon Public School Division, developed a new experiential learning course to be piloted in Term 2 of this academic year. In this course, university students will work with a grade 5/6 class at Hugh Cairns School to lead philosophical discussions about everything from fairness to the nature of reality. The course is called Philosophy in Education: An Introduction to Philosophy for Children and the course number is Phil 398.

Why do philosophy?

Philosophy means “love of wisdom” and involves searching for wisdom by asking progressively deeper questions. People of all ages ask philosophical questions about the nature of Knowledge, Mind, and Existence. However, when children ask those persistent “why?” questions, it’s tempting for adults to dismiss them. This is why introducing P4C is helpful to the development of critical thinking skills in students: it gives children the space to offer and ask for reasons to support their ideas with their peers.

How can kids do philosophy?

Philosophical problems are introduced to children through picture books, thought experiments, or questions they develop, and can begin to explore in a community of inquiry. In a P4C classroom, students develop a set of group norms that help them discuss each other’s ideas respectfully and help facilitators allow children to explore freely, rather than leading them to a pre-determined conclusion.

Dr. Sarah Goering, Program Director of the Northwest Center for Philosophy for Children, spoke at the U of S in September this year and you can view her talk here. Dr. Goering also gave the following TEDx talk about P4C in 2011.

Connecting with People and Skills as a Graduate Student

People go to grad school for a variety of reasons, including the desire to learn more about something they fell in love with as an undergrad. Regardless of their reasons for being there, most grad students must consider how they will pay the rent when their funding dries up and they graduate from an MA or PhD program in a climate of high economic uncertainty.

In disciplines like my own, philosophy, the opportunities to be employed full time as a philosopher are limited. This does not make the degree worthless, but it does mean it is wise for a student to stockpile a cache of skills and experience that will show she can apply her academic training broadly when she begins looking for work. The trade-off, however, is less time devoted to studying.

One job I held as an undergrad turned into a full-time, managerial position when I graduated. It was not directly related to my degree, but a degree was required. The experience I gained, in conjunction with my education, continued to help me land fairly good jobs after I left. I don’t know that I would have had as fortunate a start with only a degree, or with only work experience. The combination has, in my case, allowed me to both deepen my knowledge of a discipline I love, and maintain financial independence at fairly rewarding work places. The sacrifice has been time away from studying, and money earned going straight back to tuition.

This was my individual solution to a structural problem that appears, in our current socio-economic climate, intractable. School is expensive, and a degree does not a guarantee a job. However, advancement and rewarding work are hard to find without a degree. The benefits of a higher education, although evident to those who wish to advance, and essential to maintaining a civil and democratic society, are easily buried beneath anxieties about becoming employed at all.

In 2007, the Tri-Agency (CHIR, NSERC, and SSHRC) outlined nine focus areas, to address the need for graduate students to become professionally skilled. The Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) statement followed one year later, identifying four similar priorities. The statements’ cover skills like communication and critical thinking, project and research management, teaching and leadership, and ethics and integrity. The U of S responded by offering a graduate course, GSR984. The course was part of a 3 year pilot project, started in 2008, called “Beyond Disciplinary Excellence: Enhanced Disciplinary Skills for Global Citizens.” The pilot program follows the principles set out by the Tri-Council and CAGS statements.

I took this course in 2009, during my first year of grad studies. The interdisciplinary enrollment of the class helped me learn to talk about my interests in plain language, and allowed me to meet faculty and professionals from various fields. The skills I acquired from my studies were called on in different situations than I would normally encounter in a classroom. From my experience, both in the working world and as a grad student, this is exactly what an institutional response to professional skills can best offer: a chance for students to translate the skills they already have while acquiring skills they don’t yet have.

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