Friday, February 27, 2015

History & Political Science Students Win Awards @ Model Arab League

Pictured from left: Kelly Ranttila, Joey Barretta, James Coyne and Andrew Dailey 

 Last week, nine students from Ashland University, most of them History & Political Science majors, participated in this year's Ohio Model Arab League at Miami University. In this simulation of an Arab League summit meeting students represent an Arab country and seek to further their country's interests by passing suitable council resolutions.
This year, Andrew Dailey and James Coyne, representing Lebanon in the Joint Defense Council, won an outstanding delegation award while Kelly Ranttila and Joey Barretta won an honorable mention for their representation of Lebanon in the Palestinian Affairs council.
This was the third time an Ashland University delegation participated in the Model Arab League and the most successful so far.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Liberal Arts Training Improves STEM Majors?

Skeptics wouldn't take it seriously if we were to suggest that Leonardo da Vinci is evidence that STEM majors can benefit from liberal arts training, but how about Steve Jobs: 
When introducing the iPad 2, Jobs, who dropped out of college but continued to audit calligraphy classes, declared: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.” (Indeed, one of Apple’s scientists, Steve Perlman, was inspired to invent the QuickTime multimedia program by an episode of “Star Trek.”)
Or Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, who 
credits her degree in philosophy and medieval history in helping her be the first woman to lead a high-tech Fortune 20 corporation. “If you go into a setting and everybody thinks alike, it’s easy,” she has said. “But you will probably get the wrong answer.”
Those quotes come from this article in the Washington Post by Loretta Jackson-Hayes.  See also "V is for Victorious," a story about Bing Chen in the UPenn Arts & Sciences Magazine, Fall/Winter 2014 (page 36).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

College’s Priceless Value

In College's Priceless Value (NYT, February 11, 2015), Frank Bruni beautifully explains what higher education has to do with liberal arts and Shakespeare, by showing how three simple words, “Stay a little," from King Lear transformed his way of perceiving the world. Along the way, he makes these nice observations, which are pertinent to the debate over the liberal arts:

But it’s impossible to put a dollar value on a nimble, adaptable intellect, which isn’t the fruit of any specific course of study and may be the best tool for an economy and a job market that change unpredictably.
And it’s dangerous to forget that in a democracy, college isn’t just about making better engineers but about making better citizens, ones whose eyes have been opened to the sweep of history and the spectrum of civilizations.

Here's the whole article:
What’s the most transformative educational experience you’ve had?
I was asked this question recently, and for a few seconds it stumped me, mainly because I’ve never viewed learning as a collection of eureka moments. It’s a continuum, a lifelong awakening to the complexity of the world.

But then something did come to mind, not a discrete lesson but a moving image, complete with soundtrack. I saw a woman named Anne Hall swooning and swaying as she stood at the front of a classroom in Chapel Hill, N.C., and explained the rawness and majesty of emotion in “King Lear.”

I heard three words: “Stay a little.” They’re Lear’s plea to Cordelia, the truest of his three daughters, as she slips away. When Hall recited them aloud, it wasn’t just her voice that trembled. It was all of her.

She taught a course on Shakespeare’s tragedies: “Lear,” “Macbeth,” “Othello.” It was by far my favorite class at the University of North Carolina, which I attended in the mid-1980s, though I couldn’t and can’t think of any bluntly practical application for it, not unless you’re bound for a career on the stage or in academia.

More Evidence for the Value of a Liberal Education

This story by Paul Fain at "Inside Higher Ed" reports on several studies of unemployment and job-training.  Fain finds that people with bachelor's degrees now have "a rock-bottom unemployment rate of 2.8 percent" as compared to an "overall unemployment rate [of] 5.7 percent."  The bachelor's degree remains a good investment. Fain also found that College graduates receive a lot more on the job training, not because they have much more to learn than high school or community college graduates, but because "four-year-college graduates tend to get jobs that are specialized, complex and change over time ... particularly in STEM fields. Wherever the earnings are the strongest, that's where the training occurs... The more educated the workforce, the more training in the job."  In other words, employers in our knowledge economy need people who can learn new things all the time, and the people who can do that advance the quickest in their careers. Fain mentions the STEM fields, but learning how to learn and learning to love of learning are central parts of a liberal education rightly pursued.  Because of the knowledge-economy, the liberal arts are more practical today than they have ever been.

Dr. Moser Wins Fashion Contest!

Has anyone else noticed that Dr. Moser hath become a nattier dresser of late?   Here he is in his finest threads, as the winner of the January 2015 “Civilized Fashion” photo contest.  For the details of his attire, see here. Who is this gentleman’s haberdasher? 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Congratulations to Professor Michael Schwarz

Ashland University announced today that Professor Schwarz was granted tenure and promotion to Associate Professor. That is great news for him, for the Department, and for the University.  Congratulations Dr. Schwarz!

The MOOC Fraud

Remember MOOCs?  They are not so much in the news now, but there was a time when they looked like the great hope for education. Somehow, I missed this essay from December 2013 by Jakub Grygiel. It is probably the hardest hitting short critique I have seen of the idea of MOOC education, and more generally, of online education - not the kind we do here at AU in the MAHG, where students and instructors are present at the same time and converse with one another, but the more common "asynchronous" form that is closer to an electronic correspondence course. "Online education," Grygiel writes, "is to education what pornography is to marriage. It destroys stable relationships, vitiates the ability to argue and reason, splits people apart and ultimately leaves no intellectual offspring. It is, in short, liable to be thoughtless, asocial and sterile.... Thinking, like marital love, takes time and patience."
Here is the whole essay: 
The MOOC FraudYou can’t consume an education; you can only earn it.

The current infatuation with the application of new technologies to education, in essence, replacing teachers in carne e ossa with pixels and bytes and arguably turning students into consumers of data rather than seekers of knowledge, has all the features of a revolution. Much like the ideological fanatics who led the communist revolutions of the past century, the cheerleaders of online education promise free or low-cost access to intellectual utopia for all. As Nathan Harden argued in these pages (January/February 2013), technology is indeed a great equalizer, but mainly in the sense of being a leveler, leaving a path of destruction wherever it passes. Harden and others, invoking Schumpeter, would call that destruction creative. I doubt it. Tacitus is rather the source to invoke: They create a desolation and call it education.

“Online education” is to education what pornography is to marriage. It destroys stable relationships, vitiates the ability to argue and reason, splits people apart and ultimately leaves no intellectual offspring. It is, in short, liable to be thoughtless, asocial and sterile.

Thinking, like marital love, takes time and patience. Online sources are marvelous if you want to learn how to install a garbage disposal or to satisfy the urge to watch old episodes of Firing Line; they ease access to snippets of information and can scratch every itch of curiosity. As a fact-checking source they will, if used with care, save you time better spent on, say, reading. And the democratization of access to higher learning will surely allow some people otherwise unable to tap into treasuries of human knowledge to get a taste for it, and who knows how many hearts and minds that might elevate to society’s general benefit? Still, you will never approximate a good plumber or William F. Buckley simply by staring at a screen. Coursera, edX or Udacity may be able to open data feeds at the click of a mouse, but they cannot teach a person how to think or argue or appreciate. For that, you have to look up from the screen.

All Expenses-paid Trip to NYC to study American History?

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has a great opportunity for College juniors and seniors: an all expenses-paid weekend in New York City, June 3-7, 2015.  It is a weekend of special presentations, tours, and meetings with eminent scholars.  You must have "demonstrated academic and extracurricular excellence" in your study of American History as well as "a commitment to public service and community involvement."  Many of you History and Political Science majors should qualify for this.  You can find more details and the application process here: Gilder Lehrman History Scholar Award.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mentor Award Winners in History and Political Science

Congratulations to Rene Paddags in Political Science and Emily Hess in History, both of whom were awarded Ashland University Academic Mentor Awards last week. Outstanding!  The student who wrote the nominating letter for Dr. Hess says that "I have gained so much confidence in myself because of her.  She has instilled in me the ability to have faith in my writing, my future, and my character.  Dr. Hess is my advisor, but she has helped me develop as a student and as a person.... [Without her] I would not be who I am today." Of Dr. Paddags, the nominating student wrote that he "keeps me level-headed ... He is also passionate, funny and deeply knowledgeable in such a variety of subjects that  an encyclopedia would be put to shame.... He values his student's opinions and is thrilled to listen to what they have to say about the topics that they share an interest in...As my thesis advisor and professor, Dr. Paddags has pushed me to think more critically.... [and} allowed me to become a better writer and an overall better learner."