Alumni of Occidental in Education Panel on the Future of Education

On February 7th, I attended a panel on the future of K-12 education and the role of the liberal arts, particularly of Occidental, in creating that future. Since I’m teaching a course about the crisis in higher education from the perspective of threats to the liberal arts approach to knowledge, I wanted to share the highlights of that meeting with students and other interested folks.

Watch the full video, shot by Jay Yip, Instructional Technologist, Occidental College

The panel was sponsored by ALOED, an Occidental Alumni Association that provides, according to their website, networking opportunities, speakers, and discussion groups around education. ALOED has been an advocate for a strong Education Department at Occidental. It even provides the projector set up in my classroom in the Education department.

The panelists were drawn from a range of local educational institutions and included:

Ana Tam (Oxy class of ’86), Teacher Specialist at Horace Mann Elementary, Glendale
Dr. Richard Sheehan, Superintendent of Glendale Unified School District
Dr. Holly Willis, Research Assistant Professor and Director of Academic Programs in the Institute for Multimedia Literacy at USC
Larry Rosenstock, Founding Principal and CEO of High Tech High, San Diego

Tam, acting as moderator, quieted the hum and wail of microphone feedback, and asked Willis to speak first.

Willis discussed media literacy as a central goal for the future of education, which she defined as learning how to access, assess and reflect upon media information. The media literacy approach she discussed was active, suggesting that students can and should be making their own works rather than gathering information. She argued that media does not “dumb down” the curriculum to pander to students because students are not really digital natives, particularly when it comes to using media and information for critical or scholarly purposes. At Oxy, she encouraged the inclusion of students in the ongoing reinvention of scholarly communication and pointed to the existing infrastructure for programming housed in the Center for Digital Learning and Research.

Read more about the IML at USC.

Rosenstock followed, echoing the importance of critical making and engagement with emergent technologies. As the founder of the charter High Tech High, his comments also focused on some of the persistent problem in the institution of education (particularly the contradiction between social advancement and enduring class and racial inequalities, and the move toward standardized testing as the sole determinant of achievement). While critical of the part of the charter movement designed to “compete” with public schools, Rosenstock emphasized the latitude charters have for doing things differently, such as allowing for more collaboration, attention to alternative perspectives, and development of learning through student curiosity. Occidental’s role in this is that it is an “incubator for people who go out to change the world,” operating from a Jeffersonian approach of “creating the public” rather than “educating the public.”

Read more about High Tech High

Sheehan agreed with Rosenstock about the fact that public schools are perhaps the least changed institution, citing the fact that we still take summer breaks for harvest, despite no longer having an agricultural economy. He pointed, however, to the work the public school system is doing to prepare leaders for the 21st century through his participation in a Business Roundtable where he sought input from major local companies about what they seek in potential employees and his efforts to prepare students for jobs within a globally competitive economy. Most importantly, he believes that public schools need to start taking math literacy as seriously as we do reading literacy. While Glendale has a number of media arts and making opportunities for students, Sheehan pointed out that technology itself does not improve the curriculum. He believes that teachers coming from Oxy who excel at critical thinking.

Read more about Glendale Unified School District

Tam closed the panel session with a focus on Oxy’s education program, stating the that broad liberal arts curriculum of the CORE coupled with a teaching credential can help ensure quality teachers regardless of the technologies they use. Occidental inspires caring and passionate teachers devoted to the public good who also can gain experience in classroom management and lesson design. As a small liberal arts institution it also teaches through example of its commitment to student learning.

The brief discussion that followed raised questions about how create partnerships with local industries, setting up charter schools, and developing core media literacies.

Read the rest of the questions at ALOED’s blog.