Reflections of An Adult Educator

Mark Federman is posting an interesting series of reflections as part of a PhD seminar on “The Political Economy of Adult Education.” The reflections are in response to a paper written by Ian Baptiste and Tom Hearney titled The Political Construction of Adult Education. The paper provides a fascinating dialogue in which Baptiste and Heaney respond to a series of questions about the nature of the adult education. Baptist is Professor in Charge of the Adult Education Program at Penn State and Heaney is head of the adult education doctoral program at National Louis University.

The questions are far reaching:

  1. Do you refer to yourself as “an adult educator”?
  2. What are the distinctive practices, institutions, organizations, purposes and predecessors of the enterprise you call adult education?
  3. Increasingly “adult learning” is being substituted for “adult education.” What do you make of this substitution?
  4. If can be reasonably argued that the enterprise you described above will continue, whether or not the label “adult education” remains. Provide a rationale for continued use of the label or propose a more desirable alternative.

There’s lots in both the original paper and in Federman’s reflections that bear on some of the questions that we are addressing in various ways in this class.

Recources for Autodidacts: Free College Education?

Technophilia: Get a free college education online – Lifehacker

This is a large collection of links to free on-line courses, syllabi and other learning resources.

The web has made it easier than ever before to get a free education, and you’d join the ranks of great thinkers in history who were also self-taught, like Joseph Conrad, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Paul Allen, Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway. You, too, can be an autodidact; the breadth of free educational materials available online is absolutely astonishing.

This is an interesting compilation of on-line resources for self-education, but, Charlotte’s recent comment got me thinking about how many resources are actually getting harder to get access to as public library budgets are cut and university libraries move more materials onto electronic networks that require logins. She had a recent conversation with a librarian who claimed that the web has not democratized access to scholarly literature to the extent most people believe.

… but, in fact, has segregated it within elite communities more than ever. In the past, an unaffiliated person could probably walk into a medical or law library and use its resources for free more easily than one today can gain entry to either a bricks-and-mortor academic library without the right ID card or to its online data bases without a legit username and password.

I’m totally spoiled by having on-line access to most of the library databases and many of the full-text journals that I need. In preparing for my course I checked out and read about 30 books, but found myself almost always avoiding journals unless they were available on line or if I had copies of the articles in my files.

Moderating Webinar Presentations: New Role for the 21st Century

David Warlick: A Tough Day

I never was a big fan of most integrated “webinar style” distance education tools like Elluminate Live or Tegrity, but part of the reason may have been that they require such extraordinarily strong moderators to be successful. My most recent experience was as a guest speaker with a group 50 K-12 administrators and technical specialists, and I’m closer now to being a believer. It’s amazing how many different activities are taking place simultaneously in one of these sessions:

  1. Live video of the featured speaker.
  2. Each of the 50 people has a microphone and can raise their hand to speak.
  3. Online white board and application sharing with private screens and public screens
  4. File Transfer
  5. Both moderated and public chat
  6. The session is being archived.
  7. Pollls, Quizes, Emoticons

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach was the moderator of my session, and I was amazed at her ability to juggle all those inputs–bringing people in the conversation, troubleshooting microphone volume problems,giving direction to the other moderators. Dave Warlick participated in the fireside chat for the K12Online conference, and he shared my amazement.

I personally applaud, once again, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who served masterfully as the session moderator. She was the perfect host. I can’t help but picture her with wires coming out of her ears, and light flashing on her forehead, because she was managing an enormous number of people, and handling the heading and air conditioning at the same time — and our voices, our applause, EVERYTHING ! Outstanding Job!

Twenty-first century education is going to need specialists who can design and manage the complexity of this kind of learning activity. These teaching tools have amazing capabilities, but very few of us brought up in traditional settings have the knowledge or the skills to make the most of them. If you haven’t done this kind of activity before, check out the archive to get a sense of the complexity.

Q&A with head of U. of Phoenix

Q&A with head of U. of Phoenix

The University of Phoenix is usually portrayed as the devil by most traditional higher education providers, but the new president seems like a pretty normal guy. With 300,000 and 250,000 graduates, Phoenix is largest accredited private university in the country.

I was surprised at how inexpensive the typical undergraduate degree was; I would have guessed that it was more in line with Syracuse–also a private, accredited university–with tuition and fees of $29,965 annually.

‘Students come to us at different parts in their career, plus our tuition varies by geographical region. But if you’re looking for a homogenized number, probably between $30,000 and $40,000.

With graduation rates of around 60%, Phoenix compares with many large open-enrollment state universities. Students leave for the reasons we would expect:

Pepicello: The two largest reasons they give us are, No. 1, financial and No. 2, life gets in the way. For adult students, obviously that makes sense.

Pepicello is quite candid about why the Unviversity of Phoenix was founded.

The mission of, say, Harvard is to serve a certain sector of the population and their mission is not to grow. And that’s true of higher education in general. The reason the University of Phoenix exists at all is that is that all of those various (universities) and their missions did not provide access to a large number of students who are capable and wanted access to higher education. And that’s our mission.

In general, I’m not a big believer in the “education should be more like business” mythology; in fact, I think that’s the worst thing institutions could be doing. However, I do think that those of us in traditional professional schools should pay attention to some of these new competitors and not just write them off as being part of some evil empire. There are some lessons to be learned there.

Malcolm Knowles Biography

Malcolm Knowles

This is a fascinating biography of Malcolm Knowles, full of personal details that add valuable context to understanding of andragogy as a theory and set of guidelines for practice. Several biographies alluded to his background in Scouting, but this was the first I remember reading about the specifics of his winning a trip to the International Jamboree:

His campaign for the scouting prize had not been hit or miss. He had developed a technique that would help him compete effectively. He drew a large chart with a separate square for each day of the nine month contest. In these squares he systematically planned out the activities he would perform during the year to win the badges. Finding a technique that worked for him, he was convinced it could work for others. “My mother trained me to be systematical,” the sixteen-year-old Malcolm told readers of Boys Life, the scouting magazine, as he shared with them the self-directing technology that won him the trip. “Make your chart this way, fellows, and you will see how easily you can get your ‘fifty.'” He laboriously and mechanistically delineated how to do it. “My original chart, “he told the scouts, “was made out of beaverboard, two by three feet. I had it nailed at the foot of my bed, where it was the first thing I saw upon waking.”

The article also contains some interesting background on Knowles’ experience at Boston University.

His graduate program prospered. Student numbers proliferated. The fact that Knowles, with the help of a tiny adult education faculty, was supervising an extraordinarily large number of dissertations and theses, however, did not set well with many Boston University academics who questioned the granting of degrees for self-directed, or as they might have termed it, undirected learning. Knowles was carving out a national image for Boston University in adult education. Soon, though, a new administration dedicated to a traditional view of graduate work and scholarship questioned whether the reputation Knowles was building was the one that the administration favored for the university.

In the midst of his triumph, his beachhead in academe came under withering fire in 1972 from higher ground, the top administration at Boston University. The new president, John Silber, was unimpressed with andragogy. It seemed to him that too few professors were supervising too many dissertations, that the graduate program in adult education was structured more for students to learn from each other than from the professors, and that democratic process was more valued than intellectual discipline.

The article is posted on the site of the Adult Education program at National-Louis University. The program is unusual, if not unique, among US doctoral programs because of its clearly articulated philosophy of practice:

The ACE Doctoral Program, offered within the College of Arts and Sciences, provides a forum for critical reflection on adult education practice. The future of our economy, and of democracy itself, rests on an informed and critical populace. Weekend and residential sessions, together with web-based support provide the resources for educators of adults–teachers, organizers, trainers and “grass-roots” activists who, through their work, seek to contribute to the emergence of a productive society grounded in equity and justice.

Will Richardson on Becoming a Life-Long Learner

The New Face of Learning

Will Richardson’s article in Edutopia, the publication of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is an excellent summary of his experience with the evolution of the web from a read-only word of static pages to a web filled with blogs, wikis and podcasts. The read/write web was the major catalyst to his own fullfillment as a life-long learner.

In this new interactive Web world, I have become a nomadic learner; I graze on knowledge. I find what I need when I need it. There is no linear curriculum to my learning, no formal structure other than the tools I use to connect to the people and sources that point me to what I need to know and learn, the same tools I use to then give back what I have discovered. I have become, at long last, that lifelong learner my teachers always hoped I would become. Unfortunately, it’s about thirty years too late for them to see it.

My ability to easily consume other people’s ideas, share my own in return, and communicate with other educators around the world has led me to dozens of smart, passionate teachers from whom I learn every day. It’s also led me to technologies and techniques that leverage this newfound network in ways that look nothing like what’s happening in traditional classrooms.

This is the world of lifelong learning that adult educators have been longing for at least since the publication of Allen Tough’s 1971 book The Adult’s Learning Projects. (Available as a free download). In 2001, Tough wrote:

I see the Worldwide web as the most exciting development in adult education in the last 30 years. As educators we need to take the web very seriously….

An understatement perhaps?

A Guide for the Stubborn Intelligence

Ron Gross’s book The Independent Scholars Handbook is one of the my favorite adult education works of all time. The book, which was first published in 1982 and then re-released in 1993, contains the stories of individuals from every background whose lives contained a serious commitment to research, investigation, theory building and other intellectual enterprises. In addition, the book provides a resource guide with specific suggestions on how to move from “Messy Beginnings” to the finished product of research–whatever your field of endeavor.

One of my favorite stories in the book comes when the author, beginning his career as the “lowest of the low” in the world of New York publishing, comes face to face with editorial giant Max Schuster…

Continue reading “A Guide for the Stubborn Intelligence”