news from Fullerton

DESERT STORMIn a recent article in Harpers, Andrew Cockburn laments weak support for the A-10, an air force jet designed for close maneuvers and precision attack.  Its distinctive feature is the cockpit, through which operators may look before they shoot.

This puts it on the wrong side of technological fashion, which prizes video assist, remote engagement, and planes without pilots.  Cockburn argues that those are all fine but more prone to error – and when you’re laying waste, mistakes are unacceptable.

That hazard of distance reminded me of my job.  In the absence of actual classes and students, everything my colleagues and I do in the system office is secondhand, like relying on a TV screen instead of looking up.

In such a context, our original ideas are usually lame.  We do better when we watch for something promising to emerge on a campus, and then spread it around.  Forgetting that is dangerous, and can result in heavy collateral damage.

IMG_20140207_105805_584I recently took a chance to check in at CSU Fullerton.  I was there to meet with Amir Dabirian, head of IT.  He and institutional researcher Ed Sullivan are trying to get systematic about defining certain high-impact practices, to live up to a campus commitment to get them into more of the required curriculum.

In my office we’ve been working on this for a while, since system-level definitions of high-impact practices could help us evaluate their cost effectiveness, and build them into state curriculum.  At a recent staff meeting to discuss this, we doodled a way of laying out the different practices and offices on one axis, against another showing what we expect them to do for students.

So, toward the end of my breakfast with Amir, he hit me with a chart identical to our latest doodle:

Fullerton HIPs grid

Get it?  We would be tracking not just the sponsoring office (e.g. “service learning”) but also what we expect the practice to bring about (e.g. “investment of time and effort”).  This is policy wonk nirvana.  And one of those rare, gratifying moments when the view through the cockpit matches the monitor.

From there I went to a campus-wide meeting on the outcomes of general education, jointly sponsored by Fullerton’s academic senate and its provost.

peter-nwosu-thumbFullerton’s new Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, Peter Nwosu, kicked off the meeting with remarks that put what could have felt like a forced march into a context of nobility and purpose.

This blog doesn’t do justice to how moving it was.  Many of the attendees asked him for a copy.  My favorite part was his explicit removal of the turf and resource battles that plague most curriculum discussions:

Today’s dialogue is not about funding. It is about what makes our students unique. What gives us institutional uniqueness is the common experience our students acquire through an essential core of knowledge defined by a robust GE Program, a core of knowledge, which prepares our students to navigate a constantly changing and interdependent global knowledge economy.

And then he threw in this quotation from Warren Goldstein, former chair of the History Department at the University of Hartford:

A liberal arts education, even vaguely defined and “core”-less, is the only intellectual antidote to the overwhelming flood of information and genuine technological change we are experiencing.”

However, “A liberal arts education that works teaches students to read and to reason; to learn something about the range of human expression and experience; to consider the great literature and contending ideas of Western and world civilization; to recognize and construct arguments; and to have a sense of humility about the lives and minds that have gone before. It also makes possible a kind of citizenship without which democracy crumbles.

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