In the morning I attended a policy panel entitled, "In the Crosshairs: A Look at For-Profit Providers of Higher Education." Panelists included Dr. William Pepicello of the University of Phoenix, Jeff Sandefer of the Acton School of Business & Acton Academy, and Dr. Lynn W. Tatum of Baylor University.
I found this session particularly enlightening, and was disabused of some prejudices against the University of Phoenix. Contrary to some narratives, UOPX is more regulated than any other university. Not only must they answer to the federal Department of Education, but state agencies in 36 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. UOPX is also required to be far more transparent than traditional institutions of higher learning, and openly invite all to scrutinize their Academic Annual Report online. Dr. Tatum was less enthusiastic, and presented the viewpoint of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP,) and expressed concern over the for-profit model for faculty accountability. Jeff Sandefer dismissed AAUP as being essentially the "professors union," and suggested the argument was very much about money and AAUP's protection of the status quo against innovators like UOPX.
The second panel I attended was "The Classroom of the Future: Improving Learning Through Technology." Panelists included Utah State Senator Howard Stephenson, President and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) Susan Patrick, and Director of Government Relations for TCEA Jennifer Bergland.
This panel gave me the most concern. All three panelists were positively giddy about embracing technology in K-12 education, but didn't really touch on the drawbacks. They used some of those old progressivist buzzwords that decry teachers as authorities, and one speaker even showed a photo of a baby in a crib using an iPhone and uttered that phrase I find so troubling: "The next generation is different." I would suggest that the next generation uses different tools and methods of communication, but are still the same human souls that were born 100, 1,000 or 4,000 years ago. Embedded in those statements about how children today are 'different,' is the potential for dismissing anything and everything that is actually true for human souls at all times and in all places.
For the record, I'm not exactly a Neo-Luddite; I have spearheaded efforts to bring numerous organizations into the technology age, and in our home we have kindles, iPhones, an iPad, laptops, and one desktop. My 12-year old can crank out a highly professional PowerPoint in about 20 minutes, but that same child checks out the maximum 15 books allowed from the local public library each week and reads them. In our home we have embraced technology as a tool, but acknowledge the dangers and drawbacks of an overemphasis (sleep disruption, physical and emotional health, etc.).
Technology in education? Sure, as long as we emphasize solid content, recognize the inherent flaws, and keep it in its place as yet another tool, but not one that will replace real knowledge and advanced thinking.
The last event was a closing luncheon featuring Newt Gingrich, who was introduced by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, the latter sounding much more conservative these days. Gingrich also jumped on the technology in education bandwagon (suggesting that Texas invite the folks at World of Warcraft to come up with quality educational games,) and even stating that computers are making students better writers. Of course this prompted one of my fellow bloggers to tweet: "newtginrich iz sayin puters mk kdz wrt btr. I iz skptical.
Gingrich did boldly propose that the current political climate could bring about a dramatically better American government, and encouraged all to engage the 311 million Americans who want a better life. We on the Right must listen to their concerns and show them the better value of Conservatism.
I was very pleased to see that all four members of Williamson County's legislative representation, Senator Charles Schwertner, Representative Larry Gonzales, Representative Tony Dale, and Rep Marsha Farney, attended some part of the orientation. They have a tough five months ahead of them, and my prayers are with them.