Yesterday morning I watched Senator Barack Obama give the throw-his-hat-in the-ring speech, as he declared himself a candidate for the presidency. He delivered it outside, with no hat and no gloves in temperatures that hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit. That in itself was impressive. He speaks in a cadence that demonstrates he is a master of oratory, probably our best speaker in public life, at least since Mario Cuomo. (Cuomo also spoke in cadence, was a Democrat darling for a while, but ultimately did not even run for the presidency.) And he framed the message quite well, we can do it
He wrapped himself in
Any sensible approach to energy independence would have a healthy dose of conservation built in. The best way to promote conservation and fuel efficiency is to raise the price of the inputs to be conserved, i.e., a gas tax. Tom Friedman has been calling for this for some time. In his latest column on this point, he goes even further and asks for a guaranteed minimum price on gasoline of $3.50 per gallon to get the incentives right. Obama talked about issues being linked. He’s right on that. He talked about giving a timetable for withdrawal from
If we had such a tax, some of the revenues could be used to fund basic research on developing cost-effective renewable sources of energy. My campus, along with UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley Lab received an enormous grant from BP to do basic research on bio-fuels as sustainable renewable energy sources. Basic research of this sort sounds like the right idea for the future. Yet it’s not an idea that will have much impact on markets now. The ideas are too new. There is much hope, but not much proven.
Obama is obviously a very smart guy. But it’s his character that will be tested most by this campaign, not his intelligence. If Obama can woo ADM and others in agri-business toward taking a broader view on sustainable bio-fuels he will show he’s the leader we all want him to be. He’s poised to do this as the Senator from
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On Friday I attended the annual Active Learning Retreat on campus. The featured speaker, Marcia Baxter Magolda from Miami University, gave a good and interesting talk, about the developmental immaturity of most of our students, how they don’t understand their own role in learning, how they accept information doled out by the professor as the gospel rather than questioning what they see and here and bringing their own distillation of that into a sense of the world that they themselves have created. Magolda talked about a somewhat later stage in student development, where while they feel entitled to their own opinions, all other opinions seem equally valid. Only after enduring this stage for some time do the student’s move on to the more mature phase that most of us faculty want to see in them, and frequently this appears to happen not in college at all but only after the students have moved into the workplace. Magolda termed this last phase as self-authorship. Students need to actively make meaning in a way disciplined by logic and experience and their own world view. That certainly seemed correct to me.
But there were many other things that were said (and unsaid) where I struggled through this presentation and the message delivered in it. My own experience as a student is contrary to Magolda’s story in several respects. I was doing what she calls self-authorship in ninth grade, and quite possibly earlier. But in the main I was doing that along paths that others had already crossed. It would be my own journey, but I had the comfort of knowing that I was not the first pioneer and after I had made my little sojourn I could compare my conclusions with what others had found before me. Surely that is the right way to proceed in making independent learners, before opening them up to complex problems which are fundamentally novel. Certainly they need to develop a sense of independent judgment in an environment where they can test whether that judgment has delivered a sound verdict. Yet none of this was in the presentation at all. In that I was disappointed.
Also, I was surprised that there was little or no discussion about getting students to write. If we want students to be self-authors, one might guess that the path to that would be through having the students write. But self-authorship, which in the sense the sense it was used was meant more metaphorically, one writes to the empty slate in one’s own head, was to be understood as an attitude toward learning, and not as an particular method to induce that attitude. I wish there had been more discussion of student writing and, then, especially of writing online, where some of the student thinking can be made overt to the professor and to the other students. But these ideas didn’t enter the discussion and technology hardly was brought into the conversation, except as evidence that the students are distracted from their learning via cell phones and iPods. Technology was cast as a culprit, a modern way for the students to go truant, a temptress calling the students away from the serious work of the classroom.
It seems more and more evident to me that those who think of their business as learning, such as Magolda and the folks who work for Center for Teaching Excellence that sponsored the retreat, view technology in this pernicious way. So they are not likely to look to technology for answers to their problems. But by avoiding this solution, they are missing one of the best opportunities to address the issues. It seems equally evident to me that we in the Learning Technology field don’t know how to reach out to these people in way that will engage them. We are not making the right arguments; perhaps we’re not making any arguments at all. This is tragic. It’s also farce. There are not enough resources going around to support instruction. That we have in essence two independent approaches, each under funded, makes no sense.
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After the retreat concluded I bought a coffee and started to read some of Magolda’s articles that were included in the binder we got when registering, sitting in an open area in the
We talked for about 10 or 15 minutes or so, and covered a range of subjects. I asked him whether his education at
The rhetoric at