Guest contributor: Alison Pase, VP, Internal Communications, Cengage Learning.
Last week, I shot a cranky e-mail to colleagues about five education stories that make the rounds every September…yet say nothing enlightening, helpful, or new. As we shift media seasons from “Back to School” to “Halloween already?,” those same friends suggested I get this off my chest and get engaged. Here are my five picks for groaner education topics:
- The value of a liberal arts degree – Education has value, period. Liberal arts degrees do teach people to think. Students also learn to think critically from career and skills education, internships, jobs, and volunteer activities. The value of the degree is not for any of us to decide – it’s up to each individual student. Students vote with their feet (and their tuition dollars). We could instead be talking about ensuring student access to a degree of choice.
- The high cost of college textbooks – Students deserve better than second-rate tools; quality matters in all aspects of education. Today digital options have remade the landscape – with choices expanded far beyond “new and used” to include rental, purchasing by chapter, and bookstore and online sales. One consumer magazine that prefers not to be named pointed to Cengage Learning and wrote, “Always include the publishers in your search for textbooks. Sometimes they may offer better deals and prices…” Really did! Read their article on saving money when purchasing college textbooks. Educational publishing once merited price rebukes. We listened. Let’s now address the barriers impacting U.S. college education.
- The legitimacy of high-stakes testing – Test-taking is a skill. Should we assess student learning? Yes. Should we tie anyone’s entire future to one indicator? No. This requires focus groups, faculty committees, school boards and national education experts? Ask any parent. Ask any student. Or try basically anyone you know. Most of us didn’t ace every test we took, and we’re doing ok. Tests matter, but not that much.
- The importance of the latest technology in the classroom – Computer labs, high-speed internet, tablets, and educational software do provide enhanced learning opportunities. But engaged instructors who embrace technology as part of their curriculum design are vastly more critical. It’s the curiosity and spark of the teacher in using technology that changes students’ lives. Technology is a tool, not an end itself. Laserdisc, anyone?
- Anything that quotes only a Student PIRG – Student PIRGs, to their huge credit, provide quality first-job training for a lot of college students and recent grads. I support many broader PIRG positions. But the current Student PIRG initiatives in higher education miss big education issues to focus narrowly on student loans, federal subsidies, and of course, the cost of college textbooks. Student PIRGs, help! You can offer an important service: Shift the platform to educating students about the cost of a degree and what that means for their goals and future, question university business models that drive ever-upward tuition and fees, and teach parents about new learning paths and education options for their kids. Let’s partner.
Most of us work at Cengage Learning because we care about students and education. Many want to have a broader impact on education than is possible in a single classroom or through a single news story. Our offices are brimming with teachers, librarians, parents, and passionate lifelong learners. Together with you: Let’s elevate the dialogue.
Psstt…Joe, Susan…I’ll stop complaining now. I really, really mean it. Until next September?