Saturday, August 18, 2012

Being a Mentor

First:   this blog went over 59,000 page views a couple of days ago.   I am always amazed by the number of people who find this site.   My guess is that many of those readers discovered the site because someone else mentioned it to them.   As always -- thanks a million (and a half) to everyone for passing along the information to anyone who is interested in teaching and anyone who is interested in thinking about how to get better as a teacher.

I have made the point previously that I believe a college education would be more valued (rather than being under a full scale attack as it currently is) if more faculty members worked as mentors for the students rather than just teachers.   Several of my blog entries this summer have talked about going beyond the conveyance of information to a relationship where you help the students grow as people (my story about best books and attending the opera, for example).  

Consequently, here is an email that I sent out today to my 73 accounting students for the fall (yeah, accounting students -- not political science students).   To paraphrase the late great singer Ricky Nelson, if all I did was teach accounting concepts to college students, I'd just as soon drive a truck.  

To: Accounting 302 Students

From: JH

I had figured that I would not send out any more emails to you before class starts. I’m always concerned that I will overwhelm you before you even meet me. However, I was reminded of something this morning that I did think was worth mentioning (and I do realize that this will not apply to everyone in my classes).

My younger daughter (age 19) is getting ready to go off to college this fall for the first time. This morning she mailed in her application to get an absentee ballot so that she will be able to vote in the election this November. I was very proud of her for wanting to cast her first ballot (and for thinking ahead to get the absentee ballot before she left the area).

If you are eligible to vote in the upcoming election, I think you should strongly consider doing so. Freedom works best when people vote for their leaders.

I honestly don’t care which party you vote for or which candidate you support. However, I think every citizen should study the issues (not just listen to the opinions of others but actually study the issues) and vote for the person or party that you believe will serve the country best. I believe that is your duty as part of your transition from being a child to being an adult. I first voted in 1972 (I just missed being old enough to vote in 1968) and I’m proud to say that I have voted in every presidential election since that time. I’ve always had an opinion and I always wanted to vote to support my opinion.

I do not know how you get an absentee ballot in your state but I would bet that you can go to and find out very quickly. If you have not done this yet, I would urge you to get on the ball and get it done.

Look forward to seeing you in about 9 days.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Future Is Now?

Not long ago, I friend of mine who teaches English here at the University of Richmond asked me “is it possible that we are all in the buggy whip business and we don’t even know it?”

In other words, has education changed so quickly and so dramatically that many of us are going to get left behind?  (or, have already been left behind?)

It is easy to dismiss that idea (because we want to dismiss that idea). Of course, the times are changing. Everyone can obviously see in the newspapers, television, and Internet that the world of education is evolving. But there will always be room in this world for the kind of college teaching that you and I do. The core of a college education has not really changed much since I was a freshman in 1966. Some version of that model will surely continue on forever. Surely it is sustainable? Surely?

Or maybe not.

A friend of mine here at Richmond sent me a link to two videos at I only watched the first one (I’m in the middle of preparing to do some teaching today and the second one seems similar). But the first one alone presented a rather unbelievable (but fascinating) vision of the near term future of college education: A lot more people being taught a lot more cheaply (and possible taught a lot better).

I personally don’t think the future will roll out like this (especially not so quickly). I just think the actual learning process is more complex than the one portrayed here. But I have always said “any area of the world where there is both a lot of money and a lot of technology will draw in a lot of smart people who want to invent new ways to do things (and get that money).” So, I believe, there will be change and there will be a lot of it. And it will be soon.

For a number of years now, I have been asking the following question at teaching presentations that I make:   "What would happen at your university if Google announced tomorrow that it had hired the entire faculty from Harvard and it was going to start providing a Harvard-level education for an infinite number of people for a flat $10,000 per year?   And, given the amount of money that would bring in, why wouldn't Google do that?"

The best answer that I ever got to that question of what would happen was:   "The president of our school would break down and cry."
Watch that first video and tell me what you think.