Wednesday, October 18, 2006

President Miller on creating a new paradigm

Ran across a pdf last week and thought it might make good discussion fodder, especially given that Pres. Miller speaks to the CORe GA tonight (for the uninitiated, that's Olin's student government. And a very excellent job they do, too).

President Miller's testimony for the Secretary of Education's commission on the future of Higher Education. (Will try to keep this link correct - I might be moving the file soon.)

Some points that stood out for me:

"Students are more capable than expected. Perhaps the most important conclusion we reached in our experimentation with bright engineering students is that they are far more capable of independent learning in truly challenging situations than we expected... [during Partner Year] we asked five students who had recently graduated from high school (but had never taken a college course) to design, build, and demonstrate a pulse oximeter (a medical instrument for measuring the oxygen content and pulse rate of a patient’s blood) within five weeks. We expected to learn something by watching them get stuck on the electronics or the fabrication challenges, but instead they didn’t fail as expected... we suspect that students are frequently under-estimated as partners in the educational process in other institutions."

Just how big a deal it is to not have tenure. As a student with no family ties to academia, when I heard four years ago that Olin had no tenure, my reaction was "well, that's nice." But apparently it's a huge deal. Apparently, tenure is what junior professors devote their lives to working towards. It's why they don't sleep, barely eat, work weekends and late nights... I'm now even more impressed by the magnitude of the sacrifice our faculty made to teach us here.


"Continuous improvement and innovation requires attitude shift and continuous assessment."
Yes, and I'm worried about this. In the worst-case scenario, we've burnt out our older community members by asking for too much feedback and using it in a suboptimal manner (inevitable when you're new to the continuous improvement game - the continual improvement process itself needs continual improvement), which leads to the jaded older members not teaching the bewildered yet eager newer members how to give good feedback and effectively implement change. This is one of the things I really want to change somehow; CAST, ARB, and Ann Schaffner are trying to figure something out. (Ideas very, very welcome.)

President Miller also brings up the point that we were all self-selected to come to Olin, that putting together special people yields extraordinary results - and that we all probably would have done well in other places, but when you place a lot of us in close proximity, some sort of astounding nucleation takes place and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Anyhow, I've got class right now, so I'll leave off - but I'd love to hear what people think of this paper (or better yet, what Pres. Miller says tonight at the GA. 7pm in the Crescent Room - come on, folks!)

1 comment:

David Klempner said...

This is much like the advice I've been giving a lot recently. If there's one thing I've learned after four years in an enginnering program, its that the knowledge you get from classes is less "useful" than most students think.

That is, if you want to do something, then do it. Don't wait until you build up prerequisite knowledge from classes, because that knowledge doesn't help much.

In fact, the things that actually hurt you aren't the things you don't know, but the things you don't know you don't know. (ie, that you're completely unaware of). A corollary of that is that you're better off knowing that you don't know a few things than just knowing one or two. Finding out something you're aware of is not too hard, nowadays.