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Turn and Face the Strange

Richard Bland College, where I teach, is trying new things. I’ll pause so readers can catch their breath. I know “new things” don’t happen often enough in higher education but—and this opinion may be just a little biased—RBC is on track to becoming one of the most innovative two-year institutions in the nation because of our focus on student learning and because of our commitment to innovation.

There’s a problem, though. Some people here don’t want to change for no other reason, it seems, than that they just don’t want to change. A few weeks ago, at a meeting, a colleague presented an idea that our college may try out in the near future, if the idea survives the shared-governance vetting system. I won’t say what the idea is, but I will say that it has to do with something online, that there’s a kind of tutoring involved, and that there’s a cost associated with it. This idea was nearly squashed by many faculty members the moment it showed its little face. From what I could tell, the faculty squashers didn’t know much about the idea, they didn’t do any research on its effectiveness or any kind of cost analysis, and they barely listened to the poor colleague who was presenting the idea.

As I sat there listening to the unreasonable comments based on what seemed like unfounded assumptions, I began to write down some of my own thoughts in a letter that I never intend to send or read aloud (instead, I’ll just publish a vague form of it here).

Dear Some People in the Room:

Higher education has changed over time and, at some point, we will have to make some changes of our own. Students are different now than they were 50, 20, 10 years ago. They use computers now. They seek help in the early morning hours, when only third-shift workers and other teenagers are awake. They sometimes prefer interacting online to interacting face to face. And it seems clear that, when asking for help, they would rather ask an anonymous/pseudonymous person or a computer program than their professors, parents, or advisers.

Yes, some of our job is to rebuild and encourage the face-to-face interactions and the asking of questions. But we have to be pliable enough to let students get help in other ways, too. Not cheating, but honest help if they want it. Shouldn’t we be grateful that they want actual help and that they are looking for it somewhere? If we’re able, shouldn’t we open a window of opportunity that was once closed?

Sincerely,

The Guy Who Should Speak Up More in Meetings

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