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Think Ink to Help Save the Planet

(I’ve been reading through some of my old essays from when I had to write a monthly editorial for our publication. For the most part, they are still relevant, so I thought I’d share a few. This one dates back to 2010.)

How committed are colleges and universities to sustainability and climate change–even at a time when such things as record enrollments combined with budget cuts and furloughs top most people’s list?

The sustainability movement is not only alive and well on campus, but it is also exceeding many expectations.

For example, the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, formed in 2007 to help minimize greenhouse gasses and achieve climate neutrality, continues its work?with impressive results. In an economic downturn, environmental issues typically take a back seat. That clearly isn’t the case with the 677 schools that have signed the commitment.

Also read about the growing movement toward eco-friendly technology, with a collection of tips on how your own institution can help save energy, money, and the environment.

But what caught my eye as we were putting this issue together was a brief news item that came across my desk.

Officials at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay discovered they could save money on printing costs by switching the school’s default e-mail print font from Arial to Century Gothic.

It turns out that Century Gothic uses roughly 30 percent less ink, according to Diane Blohowiak, the university’s director of Computing and Information Technology. The font doesn’t allow quite as many letters per line, but considering that ink is about 60 percent of the cost of a printed page, it’s still a savings, she noted. And with printer ink costing roughly $10,000 a gallon, that simple change could result in real savings for the school.

A simple font switch could, over time, result in real savings.

Just the thought that someone would be able to calculate the savings produced by squeezing more letters out of an ink cartridge boggles the mind (or my mind anyway, which typically runs screaming whenever it hears that math is involved). I applaud the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s efforts at saving money down to the pica level. It’s a simple change that, over time, will make a difference.

But what U W-Green Bay probably didn’t expect was the reaction that the news of the font switch produced from people who you’d think would have more pressing matters with which to occupy their time.

First, there was some dismay from the school itself over how the story was perceived elsewhere.

“We note also that in the Houston Chronicle, it was placed in its ‘News Bizarre’ section. Is saving money and using less ink ‘bizarre?’ ” asked Communications Director Christopher Sampson. “And at the Miami Herald they think that this change is worthy of ‘Weird News.’ Maybe it’s the oxymoron of printing out your e-mails, but c’mon, practically everybody does it at least on occasion. Or maybe they’re getting too much sun in Miami and Houston.”

The topic was also fodder for a prolonged debate by a group of “Type A type types” on the tech-oriented Slashdot blog, who were eager to one-up one another with their opinions of U W-Green Bay’s ink inspiration.

“Who was the genius there that had them using ink jet printers instead of laser?” asked one commenter. “Probably the same genius that thinks this will save them money?”

Said another: “Seriously. If you’re printing e-mails on the school’s inkjet printers, your font is probably not the only change you need to make.”

One commenter chimed in: “In most universities the local IT has no power to change any of this, and has to walk a lot of very fine lines politically. Localized IT has both the responsibility to enforce these edicts, and none of the power to do so.”

Yet another pointed out, with supporting links, that printer ink actually costs more than things like human blood or a barrel of crude oil. (I am not making this up.)

So, if you’re wondering about the commitment of colleges and universities to sustainability, you can rest easy. They’re thinking about it. Trust me, they’re thinking about it.

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A Trump Thesaurus

trump-hairDonald Trump had become well known for his bombastic, insulting behavior long before he decided to run for president. He doesn’t hesitate to call his opponents “losers,” “dopes,””stupid,” “liars,””dummies,” “ugly,” “fat,” “weak”–all things that speak to his shocking lack of self-awareness. His long-running Twitter feuds with …well, anyone who dares to criticize him are the stuff of legend.
He can dish it out, but can he take it? For the last few months I’ve noticed a sharp uptick in the negative descriptions people have for the orange clown who will represent the GOP in the upcoming election. That’s why I started to collect some of the better ones.
While I have plenty of negative things to say about him, this isn’t about me. Here’s a (sadly incomplete) list of the words and phrases other people (mainstream news organizations, international press, politicians, public figures, celebrities, bloggers—you name it) use to describe the horror that is Donald Trump…a Trump Thesaurus, if you will. These are all genuine statements. Some of them border on the poetic. The list will be updated as necessary.

And if you are a Trump supporter (for which you have my pity) who wants to complain about the content of the list, tell it to someone who cares.

  • He’s an asshole — Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter
  • Pompous blowhard Donald Trump has always been an arrogant dick.
  • bombastic billionaire
  • Combover Caligula
  • a demonc messiah in Oompa Loompa’s clothing — Keith Olberman
  • Birther McAssclown
  • billionaire blowhard
  • a class A piece of dog shit
  • Thin-Skin McBaby Hands
  • The Great Trumpkin
  • mangled apricot hell beast
  • the great orange human shitstain
  • a narcissistic, misogynistic, lying, word salad-spewing, oompa loompa-looking man who does not have the intelligence nor the temperament to be president
  • Human Hemorrhoid — John Oliver
  • a smug, stupid, arrogant, preening Pork-Man from one of the minor moons of Jupiter
  • the worst of America stuffed into a nacho cheese casing — Drew Magary
  • “a spoiled brat” and a “human leech who will bleed the country” — Sen. Harry Reid
  • self-described billionaire —The New York Times
  • a congealing buffalo wing cemented to outgrown armpit hair
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder poster child
  • The man is a jerk who can’t control his temper or handle criticism.
  • a man who is erratic, morally rudderless, mercurial and emotionally unstable – and that on his better days
  • a former reality television star with an adversarial relationship with the truth and a fluorescent rodent adorning his head.
  • Cheeto Jesus —Rick Wilson, GOP presidential consultant
  • epic douche canoe —Rick Wilson, GOP presidential consultant
  • a self centered asshole
  • the urine-coloured piglet-man Donald Jaundice Trump
  • fascist flim flam racist liar
  • real-estate mogul-turned-reality-TV-star-turned-national-punchline
  • the overcooked sweetpotato that is Donald Trump
  • a wall-building, immigrant-bashing, Muslim-banning, Putin-loving, tax-hiding, deal-breaking, gold-plated buffoon who rolls each morning in a vat of Cheetos
  • a “shriveled tangerine, covered in golden retriever hair, filled with bile, that I wouldn’t leave alone with the woman I love.”
  • clown
  • a lump of dung
  • Ambulatory septic tank
  • that human cheese puff of hate, insecurity and intimidation
  • a lying narcissistic bigot manbaby
  • a 12-year-old bully on the playground
  • the bigoted gasbag.
  • a huge asshole
  • America’s Problem Child
  • the biggest wussy of all time
  • this teeming boil of a candidate.
  • relentlessly tweeting like a 14-year-old girl
  • wanna be future Misogynist-In-Chief,
  • Captain Combover
  • Presumptive Republican presidential nominee and wig mannequin come to life
  • The tangerine huckster and his trusty running mate, That Thing On His Head
  • the amateur candidate
  • a virtuoso of contempt
  • staggeringly stupid
  • the high priest of strutting bombast
  • the most unqualified sociopath to ever run for President
  • “When he doesn’t know something, he just changes the subject, makes it all about himself. He is completely uneducated about any part of the world.” Andrea Mitchell, NBC News
  • “Donald Trump’s ignorance of government policy, both foreign and domestic, is breathtaking.” Eugene Robinson, Washington Post
  • “He’s deflecting from the fact that he is wholly unqualified to handle the real issues facing America.” Tara Setmayer, CNN
  • “Trump is the most radical and most ignorant major-party presidential candidate in our history.” Max Boot, conservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations
  • the first 6 year old to run for POTUS
  • that ignorant, aggressive, nasty, narcissistic, violence-promoting, bullying, bigoted demagogue
  • this living orange-esque hairball looking bag of dicks
  • a petulant slice of stinking, festive shit-pie
  • a narcissistic, rude, profane, misogynistic, racist carnival barker
  • talking septic tank
  • an insufferable prick
  • petulant whiner
  • Narcissistic big baby
  • Self-centered prick
  • bloated windbag
  • flaming asshole, Obnoxious asshole, total arrogant asshole, and a racist cretin (all spoken by Cher)
  • the walking punchline known as Donald J. Trump.
  • A total whiny asshole that pouts and attacks whenever he doesn’t get his way
  • a dangerously stupid man
  • il Douche
  • a bumbling stumbling clown
  • Short sighted prick
  • a dangerous, narcissistic, amoral egomaniac
  • doughy, tangerine-colored old fart
  • “the spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan” Bill Maher
  • Donald Trump could very well be our first openly asshole president. —The Daily Show
  • he resembles a bloated haggis filled with piss, and his mouth is like that of a blow-up sex doll, permanently composed into a belligerent O, like a worn-out anus.
  • a rich bitch baby who thinks every thing he does or says is right and all the rest of us are wrong
  • This Bloviated Spoiled-Child , Self-Promoting , Arrogant , Ignorant , Self-Centered Bully-in-the-Sandbox that Only Wants-to-Hear HIMSELF SPEAK and Over-Talks ALL Others with His RANTS
  • The television clown and serially bankrupt business mogul sports a peculiar, swirling spun-sugar-colored confection on top of his head. It is clearly an elaborate work of artifice, designed to confound the eye. 
  • The shameless orange-tinged reality star
  • Orange Hitler
  • Tiny-handed Tyrant
  • Hair Trump
  • violence-inciting misogynist
  • Narcissistic Demagogue
  • Stubbyfingers McCombover
  • inompetent,nitwit
  • fucking candy-assed bully prick
  • An ambitious corn dog that escaped from the concession stand at a rural Alabama fairground, stole an unattended wig, hopped a freight train to Atlantic City and never looked back
  • an orange-Crayola Chris Christie
  • the big orange Garfield who hates Mexicans instead of Mondays— Stephen Colbert
  • Orange asshat
  • brain dead, orange motherfu(ker
  • Four-time bankruptcy filer and seething hernia mass
  • He’s a carnival barker selling tickets to the geek biting the head off a chicken, except the geek is punching black protesters.
  • Bone-in ham
  • Sun-dried tomato
  • brassy, fatuous and egomaniac
  • the human embodiment of hot dog filling
  • a large, tangerine-colored mound of pig dung
  • barely passing as a human being
  • A shithead
  • Adult blobfish
  • Deflated football
  • Fart-infused lump of raw meat
  • Melting pig carcass
  • Disgraced racist
  • Talking comb-over
  • Human equivalent of cargo pants that zip away into shorts
  • Cheeto-dusted bloviator
  • Fuzzy meat wad
  • Bag of flour
  • Human turd
  • Not in any way sexist, you bimbos
  • Decomposing ear of corn
  • His own best parody
  • absolutely repugnant
  • the orange prince of American self-publicity.
  • A rich idiot … willing to allow garbage to fall out of his mouth without batting a single golden lash
  • Pond scum
  • Noted troll
  • a poisonous, corrosive man
  • The class clown that everyone wishes would be quiet and let the class learn
  • Melting businessman
  • The person still inexplicably leading the Republican presidential primary
  • Wax museum figure on a very hot day
  • Soggy burlap sack
  • Bag of toxic sludge
  • Your next president and ruler for life
  • A brightly burning trash fire
  • Impoverished urchin
  • Aggressively stupid
  • Great judgment-haver
  • Man-sized sebaceous cyst
  • Enlarged pee-splattered Sno Cone
  • Empty popcorn bag rotting in the sun
  • Man-shaped asbestos insulation board
  • Hair plug swollen with rancid egg whites
  • Inside-out lower intestine
  • Dusty barrel of fermented peepee
  • Usually reasonable burlap sack full of rancid Peeps
  • Degloved zoo penis
  • Presidential candidate and bargain bin full of yellowing Jean-Claude Van Damme movies
  • Hairpiece come to life
  • Normal-looking human man and entirely credible choice as future leader of the free world </snark>
  • Decomposing pumpkin pie inhabited by vicious albino squirrels
  • A dishrag that on closer inspection is alive with maggots
  • The pompous tycoon
  • Lead paint factory explosion
  • Candied yam riddled with moldy spider carcasses
  • Enraged Gak spill
  • The shriveled pinto bean you had to pluck out of your Chipotle burrito basket
  • Human-sized infectious microbe
  • Poorly-trained circus orangutan
  • Chester Cheetah impersonator
  • Lumbering human-like tardigrade
  • A tiny piece of dried cat poop that you found in your rug
  • Hitler Bad Hair
  • He is still a boastful, volatile, misogynistic, race-baiting, willfully and strategically ignorant, exploitative fear-monger who is guided by profit over principle and whose hair-trigger temperament has the world on edge.
  • a furious clown with a painted on scowl Donald Trump is just a carnival barker who got dunked into orange soda every day for the first 50 years of his life
  • demagogue who panders to people’s fears, rather than their strengths.
  • not only racist but homophobic and misogynistic
  • A great representation of how awful America is
  • ridiculous xenophobe
  • vague and vapid
  • embarrassment
  • Idiot
  • Jerk
  • Stupid
  • Dumb
  • Arrogant
  • Crazy
  • Nuts
  • Buffoon
  • Clown
  • Comical
  • Joke
  • Egotistical
  • Narcissist
  • Selfish
  • Frightening
  • Arrogant
  • Racist
  • Stalk of corn
  • Nasty
  • Alarming
  • Disturbing
  • Disgusting
  • Terrifying
  • Scary

(This next section is made up of descriptions used by Chris Hardwick on @midnight)

  • Xenophobic sweet potato and wispy human queef
  • Douchebag infested hair-piece
  • Orangutang and casino miss-manager
  • Presidential candidate and cranky planetoid
  • The orange condom filled with rancid stew
  • The Jersey Shore ventriloquist dummy
  • corn husk doll cursed by a witch
  • America’s No. 1 racist Donald Trump fan Donald Trump
  • feral shouting meatball Donald Trump
  • the angriest pumpkin
  • shrieking buffalo wing that fell into a urinal
  • orange yelling machine
  • jingoistic bullfrog
  • narcissistic human airhorn
  • hotel magnate and bloated jack-o-lantern in a suit
  • dissonant bagpipe powered by farts
  • living Donald Trump caricature Donald Trump
  • tangelo fruit roll-up stretched over cat litter

(This next section is a series of descriptive quotes from the good people of Scotland, who have had a long-simmering dislike of tRump. It was compounded recently when he visited the country to shill for his new hotel and golf course in the midst of the Brexit vote. As usual, he made this globally historic and economically devastating event about himself.)

  • buttplug face
  • toupeed fucktrumpet
  • cockwomble
  • mangled apricot hellbeast
  • witless fucking cocksplat!
  • incompressible jizztrumpet
  • ignorant fuckmuppet
  • weapons-grade plum
  • absolute fucking doughnut
  • sentient enema
  • munchkin handed Creamsicle
  • rotten orange fucknut
  • tiny-fingered, Cheetoh-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon

(This next section was posted by Jezebel as a list of ways the site has described the orange asshat since he announced his candidacy.)

  • Seagull dipped in tikka masala
  • Bursting landfill of municipal solid waste
  • Mountain of rotting whale blubber
  • Sputum-filled Orange Julius
  • Gangrenous gaping wound
  • Racist, sexist block of aged Cheddar
  • Oversized wasp exoskeleton stuffed with old mustard
  • Neo-fascist real estate golem
  • Abandoned roadside ham hock
  • Bewildered, golden-helmeted astronaut who’s just landed on this planet from a
  • distant galaxy
  • Monument to human hubris crafted out of rotting Spam
  • A walking pile of reanimated roadkill
  • Heaving carcass
  • Stately hot dog casing
  • Flatulent leather couch
  • Swollen earthworm gizzard
  • Narcissistic bowl of rotten gazpacho
  • Yellowing hunk of masticated gristle
  • A human/Komodo dragon hybrid
  • Blackening scab artfully hiding in your Raisin Bran
  • “Taco truck”
  • A man who could one day become the first hobgoblin to enter the White House
  • A pair of chapped lips superglued to a hairball
  • Horsehair mattress stuffed with molding copies of Hustler
  • Malignant corn chip
  • Human Kinder Egg whose inner surprise is a tiny pebble of rat shit
  • The sculpture your three-year-old made out of soggy ground-up goldfish snacks
  • A man with the hair of a radioactive skunk
  • Roiling Cheez Whiz mass
  • Cryogenically frozen bog man
  • A glistening, shouting gristle mass with a history of saying terrible and stupid things
  • Screaming giant cheese wedge
  • Republican frontrunner and 250-pound accumulation of rancid beef
  • Day-Glo roadside billboard about jock itch
  • Temperamental gelatinous sponge
  • Sentient hate-balloon
  • A Rumpelstiltskin inflated with a bike pump and filled with bacteria
  • Sun-kissed ass plug
  • Self-tanning enthusiast
  • An enraged, bewigged fetus blown up to nightmarish size
  • Parental pile of burnt organic material
  • Human-shaped wad of Gak
  • Walking irradiated tumor
  • Uncooked chicken breast
  • KKK rally port-a-potty holding tank
  • Neon-tinted hellion
  • A plentiful field of dung piled into the shape of a presidential candidate
  • Malfunctioning wind turbine
  • Seeping fleabag
  • Sloshing styrofoam takeout container filled with three-day-old mac and cheese
  • A sticky, grabby, Cheeto-hued toddler with no sense of adult deportment
  • Figurative rubber, and also literal rubber
  • A carnivorous plant watered with irradiated bat urine
  • Sentient waste disposal plant
  • A disappointment
  • Poorly-drawn fascist
  • Racist teratoma
  • Lamprey eel spray-painted gold
  • A hair that you pluck, causing a cluster of hairs to sprout in its place
  • Sunken, corroding soufflé
  • Nacho cheese golem
  • Undead tangerine
  • A cartoon representation of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in a pharmaceutical ad
  • Fossilized meatball
  • Horking mole-creature suffering from radioactive spray-tan
  • Tattered Craigslist sofa
  • A full-grown Monopoly dog carefully balancing a spongecake atop his head
  • Play-Doh factory explosion
  • A new superfood made of finely-ground clown wigs
  • Unkempt troll doll found floating facedown in a tub of rancid Beluga caviar

Say it Loud, Say It Proud

We were having a discussion the other day about direct marketing and how certain marketers just love them some exclamation marks!!!

It made me recall a freelance job I once had writing ad copy for a company that sold Silver Eagle Half-Dollars as collectors items. I’m sure you’ve seen similar ads. This, I was told, would be a full-pager on the back cover of a Sunday newspaper magazine insert.

The coins were in mint condition and were packaged in a very attractive velvet-lined cherrywood box, perfect for the discriminating coin collector. The company’s owner instructed me to write copy that would impress the reader with the collectible significance of this coin and its .999 percent pure silver composition. They sold for more than $100 each. My father was a coin collector, so I knew that these things had some real value.

I wrote what I thought was a dignified ad, extolling the coin’s mint brilliance and beauty. I had researched the historical significance of the coin and tried to convey to potential customers the importance of having such a magnificent piece among their collections. I even wrote about the beautiful, velvet-lined cherrywood box and how much value it added to the piece, which would no doubt be passed down from generation to generation and become a treasured family heirloom.

By the time I was done I wanted to buy one of the coins for myself.

When I showed it to the owner, he read it carefully, nodded a few times, while muttering a few thoughtful “hmmm” and “ahh” sounds. Then he said, “This is great, but what it needs is more CAPITAL LETTERS and plenty of EXCLAMATION MARKS!!! That’s what catches their eye. Make it LOUDER.”

I was horrified. In my mind, what he was asking for was tantamount to drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

Then I got over myself, shrugged my shoulders, and gave him exactly what he wanted.

A job is a job after all.

What if he really does look like that?

police sketchI found this in my local newspaper a number of years ago. It had been tacked to my office bulletin board for much of that time until it became yellowed, and I figured I should scan it for posterity. It has always been one of my favorite images.
It looks like the Danbury (Conn.) Police have turned to third graders to create their police sketches (and as you can see below, it is the real deal).

Seriously if they ever found this guy, and he looked like this, he’s got more problems to worry about than a purse snatching charge. He’s got to go through life like this.

I’ve often wondered about the conversation that transpired when this sketch was made:

Witness:  His head was shaped roughly like a cinder block.

Sketch Artist: (drawing)  Sooo… kinda like this?

Witness:  Yes! Exactly like that!

Sketch Artist:  What about his hair style? Long? Short?

Witness:  Short, like a nicely manicured lawn.

Sketch Artist:  Okay, what about facial features? Let’s start with the eyes.

Witness:  Really close-set eyes. The kind that could stare right through to my very soul.

Sketch Artist: Like…this?

Witness: Yes! Perfect!

Sketch Artist: And the nose?

Witness:  Kind of long and red and turned up at the end, like a botched plastic surgery job.

Sketch Artist: Ears?

Witness:  Two.

Sketch Artist:  No, I mean what did they look like?

Witness:  Oh, they were pretty shapeless, but they came off his head at almost right angles.

Sketch Artist:  Let’s see…. how does that look?

Witness:  Oh this is so scary!

Sketch Artist:  Let’s work on the mouth…

Witness:  He had large, full plump lips. He may even have been wearing lipstick.

Sketch Artist:  I’d hate to bump into this guy on a dark street.

Witness:  I know, right? Oh–and he had high cheekbones.

Sketch Artist:  Like so?

Witness: Higher… no, still higher…. a little more… perfect!

Sketch Artist: Geez, that is one ugly mug…

Witness:  Draw me now! Draw me now!

newstimes

Moving education beyond the report card

Education professor Cathy Vatterott says that grades have come to reflect student compliance more than student learning and engagement.Once used to reflect successful memorization of facts and figures, the process of grading has transformed into a near meaningless code, often fogged by a variety of factors that have nothing to do with learning.

Cathy Vatterott, a professor of education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, says that over the years,grades have come to reflect student compliance more than student learning and engagement.

In her book Rethinking Grading: Meaningful Assessment for Standards-Based Learning (ASCD, 2015), Vatterott advocates for a standards-based approach to grading that can more accurately demonstrate learning through mastery.

“When you get into standards-based grading, you can collect data that shows that those grades are more realistic,” Vatterott says. “You are actually making them learn things instead of just giving them a grade and moving on.”

It’s pretty clear from what you write that the way we teach and the way we grade are out of sync, with little relation to each other. How did we arrive at this point?

There are two historical forces that brought this on. First is that we have this legacy of behaviorism in schools—this is the way we control kids. That carries over into grading—“Well, if I want people to do something, I reward and punish. And that’s how I change behavior.”

I recently did a webinar on this for ACSD. There were a large number of questions like, “How do we teach responsibility and how do we make work habits count in the grade?” And I said, “They don’t count in the grade. That’s not what we’re trying to do.”

Teachers look at it as though points are their only tool, their only form of control, but they also have this delusion that it works. Guess what? If zeros worked, we wouldn’t have to keep giving them. If penalizing kids with points worked, our problem would be solved, right? We’d do it once and it would never happen again.

The second force is that our curriculum has changed. If you go back historically, our grades were based on rote memory and all our tests were rote memory. I was an honor roll student and I can’t draw a timeline of American History to save my life, because all I did was memorize stuff, spit it out on the test and then forget it.

Now we’ve upped the game. With Common Core and standards-based learning, we’ve said, “Wait a minute. People actually have to be able to think at higher levels.” That’s part of my dilemma with my college students—they’re coming in as sophomores and they can’t think. It’s insane.

We also see it contribute to a number of mental health issues as students go on to college and suddenly they’re not getting an A in everything.

Very true. That’s one reason we have such a high dropout rate at the college level. The students come in thinking, “OK, this is what I need to do to get the grade. Got it.”

But when they get to college, their professors say, “Wait a minute. We’re expecting you to do more on your own. We’re expecting you to perform at higher levels of learning.” And students don’t know how to do that.

I am reeducating my college sophomores and freshmen about what has to happen in order for them to get an A in my class. It’s not about showing up every day and it’s not about sucking up to the teacher. It’s a whole different world.

You write that students—and parents—learn how to game the system, because they know that the grade is the only thing that counts.

There’s a whole reeducation piece that’s got to happen with parents, as well. It’s like, “I know you are concerned about grades and GPA and all that, but do you want your kid to finish college? Do you want them to go forward with the concepts that they need or do you want them to flunk out of freshman chemistry?”

You mentioned the Common Core standards. Why do you think there is so much resistance to that?

First, I believe there’s a huge anti-government movement in this country. People have either been misled by information that’s out there or they have a kneejerk reaction to any government involvement.

Part of it is state’s rights—states don’t want the federal government telling them what to do. I do workshops all over the country. I’ll go to Indiana or Alaska, and they tell me, “Oh, no! We’re not Common Core, but we did come up with our own standards.” Their standards are 95 percent the same as Common Core—but they had to do it themselves.

And then, I think there is a group of people who are so anti-government that they have taken this and blown this all up like it’s some plot.

But people in this country are fed up with standardized tests. They are fed up with the amount of time that it takes away from learning and the absolute hysteria that goes on—especially in low-income school districts.

I also think we haven’t done a good PR job with teachers in Common Core. We’ve not gotten all the classroom teachers to join the church. When I first heard people were against Common Core, I thought, “How can you be against Common Core?” It’s upping the game. It’s upping the standards. And with the mobility rate of people that we have in this country, how can you not want some standardization across states? It has just never made any sense to me.

I hear many classroom teachers bad-mouthing Common Core because they have been told they have to do this. They’ve not gotten adequate staff development. They’ve not had time to adapt their curriculum. This is a huge shift for many classroom teachers because we’re back at the rote learning thing.

Maybe it’s the word “standard.” There’s so much backlash against standardized tests that when you say “standards-based learning” people don’t differentiate.

Right. And, in fact, when I talk to districts, they’ll say, “We’re not going to call it standards-based learning. We’re going to call it learning for achievement” or some other name.

It’s really funny that some schools won’t even talk about Common Core. Even though they are doing Common Core, they won’t use those words and they won’t say that this is standards-based learning. They’ll call it something else, because that word has gotten such a negative connotation.

When do you introduce this change? Is it best in the earliest grades, so teachers and the students go through the system knowing what’s expected of them or can it begin later?

I’ve seen it done both ways. You have to look at your teachers and ask, “Which group of people are most open to trying to this?” Most districts that I’ve seen have started at K2, which is pretty easy to do, because many schools in K2 don’t give grades anyway. That, to me, is the easiest place to start.

I’ve seen a lot of districts that have gotten their entire elementary staff on board, but the middle school and high school are not. In the middle school and high school, I think you find a department that’s interested in looking at it.

So I’ve seen schools where they started with one math teacher. And then that teacher got the whole department on board at his building. And then they got the whole secondary group of math teachers. And now the science teachers are looking at it.

You write about districts that are doing this, but what can those district leaders show politicians and the community to say, “These schools are working, whether it looks like it or not.”?

One of the things that these schools do is run correlations of the grades that teachers give with how students perform on standardized tests. And sometimes that’s the evidence to prompt the change. They can say, “We did this analysis of all these kids in the seventh grade. Here are their math grades and there’s absolutely no correlation between them and the standardized tests.”

When you go into this implementation of standards-based grading, you can then collect data that shows that those grades are more reflective of kids’ standardized tests. And most of the places are seeing that their performance improves on standardized tests because you are actually making them learn things instead of just giving them a grade and moving on. I think that’s where you go for your evidence.

How do you get people on board with this?

Most of the schools that I talked to that were successful in doing this started with a book study. There are a number of books and journal articles that discuss and document this idea.

I love this approach to doing any kind of building-wide or even districtwide change, because it gives teachers the opportunity to read about it, think about it, absorb it at their own pace and then discuss it.

Parents have to be involved, too. That’s another thing that’s changed over the years. Parents expect school change to be a democratic process in which they have some involvement and some voice.

The days of us telling parents what we are going to do are gone in most communities. The parents want to have some input into what’s happening.

Give Me Bugs

I recently saw a great film called I Know That Voice, which I highly, highly, HIGHLY, recommend to anyone who ever watched a cartoon. It’s about the men and women who voice our favorite animated characters. The one person that nearly every person in the film named as an influence was the inimitable Mel Blanc, who was so brilliant at creating signature voices for a variety of characters. It made me remember this post in which I wrote about my love of Looney Tunes cartoons and the characters — all voiced by Mel Blanc.

I’m no fan of Disney characters and I never have been. I know, that’s sacrilege in some parts of the country, but I’m willing to risk it.

(Full disclosure: My wife and I did take our kids to Disney World once when they were young because, well, parents are supposed to do that kind of thing and we bought into that. But our boys were never Disney fans either. In fact, when we were walking through Orlando airport after our flight we came upon the giant statue of Mickey Mouse dressed in Fantasia Wizard robes. My wife pointed and asked my younger son, “Who’s that, Alex?” He stared at it for a while before saying uncertainly, “I think I’ve seen him before…”
I laughed, but other parents around us reacted in shock and horror. Fathers glared at me like I was “some kinda anti-‘Murican,” while mothers covered precious Kaitlyn and Tyler’s ears for fear that they’d overhear this blasphemy. I was never so proud in my life.)

Disney characters and their cartoons/films are too saccharine-cutesy for my taste. In fact, they turn my stomach. Some of it doesn’t even makes sense. I mean what’s the deal with Goofy and Pluto? Goofy is a dog that dresses and talks and acts like a human, yet he owns a dog named Pluto who is… a dog. Huh? Seriously, did they think about this before they did it?

But this post isn’t about my dislike of Disney, it’s about my love for Looney Tunes.

Those are the cartoons I eagerly watched every afternoon after school and on Saturday mornings. They were funny, with a mixture of colorful characters, great story lines, sometimes biting sarcasm, cultural references, and catch phrases that Disney could never hope to approach. (I’ve heard rumors of rogue Disney animators who drew NSFW versions of the characters in, shall we say, compromising positions but I don’t know if there’s any truth to them. It wouldn’t surprise me. It would even score a few points in my book.)

Looney Tunes characters had depth and substance. Even more, they had unique vocal tics and accnets that made them instantly memorable. Here’s what I mean:

Bugs Bunny was wisecracking rabbit with a New York accent (think about that for a second) who was always aware that he was in a cartoon. He mugged for the camera and spoke to the audience. Bugs was Groucho Marx back in his day and, I would argue, a later prototype for Alan Alda’s “Hawkeye Pierce” character on M.A.S.H, and Bill Murray’s …well his whole shtick actually.

Porky Pig is a not-too-bright pig with a severe stutter (again, think about that for a second). He was a well meaning porker who rarely caught a break, but you could never not like him.

Daffy Duck is Bugs’ nemesis, a perpetual second fiddle who believes he is more deserving of the acclaim that his more famous colleague enjoys. (I can’t believe I just wrote that about a cartoon character, but there you go.)

Foghorn Leghorn, a rooster with a deep southern accent, was based on the Senator Claghorn character from the Fred Allen radio show (it’s probably a testament of some sort that the rooster is remembered by more people than the radio character, who was portrayed by Allen’s announcer, Kenny Delmar). He is constantly tormenting the farm dog, but his jokes often backfired, resulting in Foghorn losing his feathers. This lead to one of his more famous catchphrases, “I keep my feathers numbered for just such an emergency.”

Elmer Fudd, one of the very few human characters (Yosemite Sam, and a minor character named Granny are two others) was a hunter, usually chasing Bugs or Daffy. Elmer suffered from a condition called rhotacism–difficulty pronouncing the letter R — “Be vewy vewy quiet. I’m hunting Wabbits.”

Sylvester the Cat is a slobbering lisper — you really don’t want to get too close when he’s talking. He was mainly interested in getting to Tweety Bird, a canary with a grossly enlarged head whose tagline was, “I tawt I taw a puddy tat.”

Pepe Le Pue had to be the horniest skunk in the world, but he couldn’t get laid to save his life. When I think about it now, I’m surprised at the double entendre content of the cartoon. Extra points for Looney Tunes.

There is one thing should be clear to anyone who has had even the slightest exposure to Looney Tunes. That is, so much of what made these characters whole is tied to the peculiarities of their voices. In Elmer Fudd’s case it is rhotacism. In Daffy, Sylvester, and Tweety it’s a lisp. In Porky, it’s a stutter. And Pepe? Well, he’s French, so… you know. (Just kidding, I loves me some French peoples.) You didn’t see that in Disney characters, with the exception of Donald Duck who, in my opinion, was just unintelligible, cranky noise most of the time. Somehow these flaws made the Looney Tune characters more accessible. And the fact that nearly all of them were voiced by the incredible Mel Blanc was a testament to the man’s versatility as a voice artist.

Anyway… you can keep your Disney lightweights, and give me Looney Tunes any day.

My Jackson Pollock experience

Pollock’s “One: November 31, 1950”

 I’ve told this story before and I’m sure it means nothing to anyone but me. It’s about an amazing moment I had in college.

My art class was on a trip to the MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art in case you’ve somehow never heard of this world landmark. That day I could feel a migraine coming. If you’ve ever had a migraine, you know the signs of one coming on, and you dread it. But I couldn’t get out of this trip, so I popped some aspirin and soldiered on.

While I still could, I enjoyed the museum. I love going to museums of all kinds, and I really enjoy art museums. But, try as I might, I couldn’t avoid the migraine. It came on full force, including pale skin and cold sweats. I told my classmates to go without me and I’d see them later on the bus. I sat down in one gallery room of abstract works. One I remember was a large portrait shape rectangle that was painted a solid blue. That’s it. It had a title card, but I don’t recall what it said. Let’s just say in my current condition I really didn’t care.

The room was pretty empty, so I sat down on a bench and stared into nothingness, focusing neither near nor far. After a few moments I became aware of the large landscape rectangle mounted on the wall across from me. As my eyes began to focus, it filled my distorted field of vision. I knew it was a Jackson Pollock work because no one did what he did. What he did, exactly, I have no idea. I always joked that his works looked like painters’ drop cloths. Splatters and swirls and drips. Really? That’s art? So this painting (which I’ve since learned is titled One: Number 31, 1950) gradually absorbed my consciousness. Or my consciousness absorbed the painting. One of those things, or maybe both of them.

My head was pounding, my vision blurred. I wanted nothing else at that moment but to crawl into a dark hole and sleep. I was focused on this damned painting. How long had I stared at it? No idea. But at some point–FLASH! ZAP!–it happened.

I got it.

That sounds odd doesn’t it? But in that moment, I understood what Pollock was doing. I could see the depth and the movement of the painting. I understood its construction. The colorful overlapping paint drips and swirls gave it dimension. I could see into the painting through its many layers. “FLASH! ZAP!” is no exaggeration. Something literally happened in my head–an intense pain and a brief flash. My head “buzzed” for lack of a better term. It was as much a physical experience as a psychological experience. I “felt it” on multiple levels. Like a light bulb flashed in my head. Without putting too fine a point on it, I can only call it a moment of enlightenment.

Coincidentally–or not–my migraine began to lift. I say “or not” because some part of me believes that the “moment of enlightenment” experience triggered a chemical or electrical reaction in my brain that made the headache subside. I have no proof of this, of course, only my personal experience of what happened in conjunction with my Pollock moment.

I eventually got up and headed off to find my classmates. I don’t remember much more of the day, except getting on the bus and riding home, feeling dazed and foggy after the migraine, but overall much improved. The Pollock experience stayed with me during this time.

But then, after I had some rest and felt back to normal, the feeling of enlightenment left me. I found the painting in an art book at the library (pre-internet, so there was no Google images or anything to rely on). It looked, once again, like a painter’s drop cloth. I couldn’t reconnect to the feeling at all. That bothered me–I had a brief transformative moment that I’ve never had before–that I couldn’t get back.

Some years later, my wife and I were browsing in Borders books one evening and I came across a coffee table book of abstract art. The painting was in there, and I showed it to my wife. I tried to explain, not very well I’m afraid, the experience I had that day. I told her about the migraine and the experience of seeing the painting, and feeling a “connection” to it. It sounded as crazy to me then as I’m sure it did to her.

Nearby was a guy who was also browsing. He came over and said, “I couldn’t help overhearing your story. Do you know anything about Jackson Pollock?”  I told him I didn’t. “If you read about his life, it might help you understand why you had that experience,” he said, knowingly. Then he left.

What was it about Pollock’s life that would give me answers? Was he insane? Did the migraine open up, for a brief moment, a window into my own insanity? Is that why I understood him? I think most of us, especially in times of stress, think we might be “losing our minds” when things go out of control. I know a bunch of migraine sufferers who would likely agree that an attack makes them feel they are not in their right minds.

I don’t have the answers. I have not read up on Pollock, as suggested, other than a few superficial encyclopedia entries that didn’t reveal much of anything. Certainly the man had problems. He was said to have a volatile temper that was compounded by alcoholism–two things that don’t apply to me. So what was it? To this day, I don’t know, and it just might be better left unexplored and unexplained.

Trying to answer the unanswerable

Laurie Leshin

Laurie Leshin

A self-described “space nerd,” Laurie Leshin brings an infectious sense of wonderment and discovery to almost everything she does.
Leshin will share that enthusiasm as a keynote speaker at UBTech in Orlando (June 15 to 17), discussing “How innovation is unleashed by asking unanswerable questions.”
As president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (and the first female president in the institution’s 149-year history), she is committed to elevating WPI’s impact in communities worldwide. Before joining WPI, Leshin served as dean of the School of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.
Leshin has also served as the deputy director of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and as a professor of geological sciences at Arizona State University.

I have to start by asking about your Twitter handle, @LaurieofMars.
The science work I participate in when I’m not being a president is largely focused on Mars and its environment and its history—was it once a habitable planet and could it still have life on it? The name is just a bit of fun.
We all work hard and we all care deeply about training the next generation of professionals and explorers, if you will. If you can’t have fun while you are doing it, then what’s the point?

Your UBTech keynote is titled “How innovation is unleashed by asking unanswerable questions.”
Basically it’s about the inspiration and wonder and motivation that comes from trying to discover things that seem unknowable, or trying to solve problems that seem intractable. I think those are inspiring and motivating approaches, especially in the STEM fields.
In 1961, President Kennedy told Congress, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
I think a lot of people today don’t realize that we had absolutely no idea how we were going to do that. We hadn’t even orbited the earth with a human at that point, and the guys at NASA were wondering how we would do this on Kennedy’s timeline.
But the amount of innovation that it unleashed, and the amount of economic prosperity and technological advancement that came from that massive, seemingly impossible task positioned our country for the success that we see today. I have always been inspired by that.

Kennedy’s challenge sparked all kinds of new discoveries. Do you get the sense that could happen today?
Absolutely. But what are the driving questions that might enable us to innovate today’s challenges? Certainly the space program is still an exciting place to think about this and I think the “Are we alone?” question is a really compelling one to ask.
All of us, as kids, looked up at the stars in the night sky and wondered whether some kids on another planet were looking at our sun and asking the same question. I think we are currently living in a time when we can answer that question, yet it is a huge technological challenge—and an inspiring one.
But there are other ones too. Eradicating disease and really understanding how to dramatically increase lifespan. How to harness the energy sources of our world without endangering it. How to unleash the potential of every person on this planet to make it better.
There are some great challenges out there that I see motivating our students, and that’s what drives me.
Freshmen at Worcester Polytechnic Institute participate in something called “The Great Problem Seminar,” where we challenge them to take on today’s problems and find solutions. We’re not talking about just thinking about them, but actually proposing ways to solve them.
I see the impact it has on their motivation to learn the fundamentals of science and engineering that they need. They are doing it from this perspective of, “Wow, there’s this massive problem, but I can get in there and help solve it.” It’s quite exciting to see.

I would imagine that in the process of looking for answers, other unconnected ideas reveal themselves, leading to new discovery.
Yes. There is a serendipitous aspect to virtually all exploration and discovery that is also very motivating.
The best way to make that happen is to ask really big, open-ended questions and let that exploration drive students to define the questions in a way that is self-motivating. They can actually see themselves making an impact in that way.

Give me an example of an unanswerable question that motivates you to go further?
As I mentioned, I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions about life on Mars and that has been a quest for me over the course of my career, but I still don’t have the answer. And I’ve come at this from trying to understand the role of water on Mars and whether there were happy aqueous environments where a bug or a microscopic organism would have survived. I do think we’ve reached the point where we are pretty confident that that answer is yes.
Now the question is, with water and all the raw materials that make up living things, is it enough to make the primordial soup on Mars? We don’t know that yet, so that’s the reason I stay involved with the Curiosity Mars rover team.
It’s the reason I push for samples to be brought back from Mars. I think that’s how we’ll have the best shot at answering those unanswerable questions in the near term. It will have an impact on how we care for our own environment here and on how we think about ourselves as residents of this planet.

How is innovation unleashed?
Innovation is unleashed when talent meets opportunity. When smart, motivated, well-trained people meet and confront challenging concepts, they can think about ways to solve them. That, of course, is what universities are all about, right?
When we talk about innovation, I think about impact. How do we take these great ideas and discoveries and turn them into true, demonstrable change for good in the world? That is an interesting piece of the puzzle as well. I think it’s something a lot of scientific fields—and universities, for that matter—struggle with.
We all say we train our students so they can go out and change the world. But then I ask, did you teach them how to change the world?
I think we are really trying to embrace this concept of not only training them to have the potential to change the world, but also trying to give them the tools that translate their great ideas and innovations to the marketplace or to communities to have the greatest possible impact.
Our students work at about 40 project centers around the world. Every student does basically three major projects during their time at WPI. About two-thirds of them travel with faculty to places like Namibia, New Zealand, Panama, Bangkok, Switzerland and elsewhere to work in real communities on problems that sit at the intersection of technology and society.
They have to think, for example, about how the way a community in Namibia might deal with waste disposal is probably not the same way a community in Washington, D.C., deals with the same issue.
So, as they are thinking about how to make the most impact with the solutions they come up with, they also have to make sure that they are doing so in a way that is compatible and sustainable to the community or location they are in.

What can other university leaders do to create those opportunities?
I like to say—and I can say—it ain’t rocket science to be doing this. Of course it’s the right thing to be doing. That’s not really the question.
But conferences like UBTech present an incredible opportunity to share ideas. I would love to be able to have conversations with other leaders at UBTech about what they are doing and how they are doing it. How can we make sure that, as we are teaching these students, they are really learning how to make the most impact in the world that they can?
At WPI, we do that through project-based learning. We’ve been doing it that way for 40 years. We send students out in the world to actually apply what they are learning to solve problems.
Other universities probably have other ways to do it, and I would love to have those conversations with them.

Higher ed is a tough world, but it’s a world we made

Donald Farish

Donald Farish

People often go to college for the wrong reasons, with assumptions about how it’s going to benefit them, says Donald Farish.
“When it doesn’t come out the way they imagined it would be, then, of course, it’s everybody else’s fault.” Farish, president of Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, will be the inaugural speaker at the new UBThrive program, part of UBTech in Orlando this June. An outspoken proponent of access and affordability, Farish says colleges—and students—need to be more realistic about what to expect.
“Increasingly, prospective college students are asking institutions how they are responding to the challenges facing young professionals who find themselves thrust into a stalled economy with prospects for employment not nearly as rosy as just a few years ago,” he notes. “While we can’t solve the country’s economic challenges, we can equip our graduates to succeed in spite of them.”

Your keynote presentation has this working title: “Why higher education is under attack and what we must do about it.”
Yes. When it comes to criticism, higher education tends to look for how we can make the smallest possible adjustments in our thinking to mollify our critics. I think that’s absolutely wrong in terms of how to respond. It’s a much bigger issue that requires us to rethink what we’re doing.
We’re in danger of waiting too long to respond and then having ourselves be overwhelmed with legislative mandates from Washington or from the states. Then we simply become training factories and give up on the idea that we have any role to play other than helping people get jobs. Everything has been reduced to the question of return on investment.

Shouldn’t you be able to demonstrate that your graduates land good jobs?
The problem is that looking at first-year salaries is a terrible predictor of lifetime earnings, especially with a liberal arts graduate. In the first year many of them are earning very little money, so it looks as if spending all that money on college was a terrible waste.
But 10 years out there’s a very different picture in place. You have to look at career earnings, or earnings at age 40—something other than just that first job. In the great majority of cases, they end up with a job they enjoy and a salary they find adequate for their needs, and earn about as much as graduates in professional programs.
To say it’s all about getting a job is throwing in the towel on all the things liberal arts have always aspired to. Many faculty in the liberal arts are horrified about the idea that we’ve been turned into a jobs training program.

You wrote, “Higher education has been its own worst enemy on this issue, having totally muddied public understanding regarding the actual cost of a college degree.”
I was referring to our pricing policy. There’s list price and net price.
The list price is what everybody can see because it’s there on the website. It’s the number that they keep beating us up over because it has been increasing for the last 20 years at rates much higher than inflation. People look at those numbers and say, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
The way we respond is to say, “No, no. You don’t understand. That list number has nothing to do with our actual numbers. Our actual number is dependent on a highly complex formulation, individually based, and we really can’t tell you what that number is until you apply.”
It’s going to be based partly on need, and partly on merit, and partly on what a different campus can afford to put into its financial aid budget, and partly on how much we redirect full payer’s money to partial payers.

It’s like the airline industry. Everyone pays a different price for their seat, and they’re convinced they’ve paid more than everyone else on the plane.
Right, and almost no one is a full payer anymore. Last year, nationally, almost 87 percent of the students in private schools paid something other than the full price. Once everybody is getting something other than full price, what’s the point of full price if no one is paying it?
But since there are so few full pays, we’ve had to raise the full price to drive any dollars at all back to the students who don’t have as much money. So people see the gross price going up, while what the campus sees is net revenue going down in many instances.

Where did it go wrong?
When colleges began giving merit awards is when they got in trouble. We need to pay attention to what the family has in its pocketbook. We had a recession in 2008 where families took a tremendous hit on their net worth, and many of them have not recovered to this day.
Higher education has raised its sticker prices substantially since 2008. At a time when the worth of individual families was going down, our prices were going up.

Yet people are still willing to pay the high prices.
That is what’s known as the Chivas Regal Syndrome, that somehow your sticker price is indicative of your relative worth, and the more you charge the better you are.
So we have this paradox: “I’m going to an expensive school. It wouldn’t be expensive unless it was good because otherwise no one would go there. But I also want a huge discount off that number so that I can go.”
That’s what a lot of colleges are trying to accomplish, but they end up battling with each other in a shrinking market. The number of high school graduates is going down, and it’s chaos.
I know several schools that woke up on May 1 and said, “Well, the good news is we got all the students we were looking for. The bad news is we blew the lid off the financial aid budget and now we are $9 million in the hole.” People lose their jobs when that happens.
Conversely, the danger is holding back on financial aid and hoping it all works out. Then it becomes, “The good news is we kept our discount rate under control. The bad news is we didn’t make our class. We’re still $9 million in the hole and we could lose our jobs for a different set of reasons.”
But that’s the world that presidents and especially admissions officers find themselves in today. It’s a tough world, but it’s a world we made.

Is there a way to turn it around?
Yes. That’s what we’re trying to do at Roger Williams. We did not wait until we got ourselves into a hole we had to dig our way out of, from the standpoint of enrollments.
We are seeing how long we can go without increasing tuition and without dropping our numbers. It’s tough, because the same number of schools is looking for the same number of students they’ve always had, and the pool itself is getting smaller.

How will you continue to get the number of students you need?
We start by putting ourselves on a path to where we become slightly more affordable every year to a slightly larger population, because we won’t increase our price. Meanwhile, as the economy improves and family incomes rise a bit, we’ll find ourselves on the right side of the action.
We’ll also lock in that price so that people don’t worry about bait and switch. We want to give you a very clear sense of what your financial obligations are going to be over those four years. Other colleges won’t.

What specifically adds value to a student’s education?
We need to link what your kids are studying to the world they are going to enter and make sure they are as well prepared for that world as they can be. And because we happen to have a robust program in the liberal arts coupled with a diverse program of professional majors, we are urging students to major in what they love and minor in something that is practical and supports that.
I was talking to a family whose daughter is graduating as a dance major—her first love. But she double majored in business because, if she doesn’t make it as a performer, that will help her open her own dance studio. She stays doing something that she loves.
We do the same things with engineers. We say, “You are going to get a good job out of college, but if you want to rise in the ranks and become management at some point, think about taking a minor in business or in one of the liberal arts so that you’ve got that balance.”
I don’t think there’s anything that we’re doing that many campuses in this country couldn’t do if they set their mind to it. But if they wait too long, until they’re already in a financial hole, then it becomes difficult. They’ll have lost any investment money that they might have had, because they spent every nickel they had just to keep themselves afloat.

Technology demands a delicate balance in higher ed

Gerry McCartney

Gerry McCartney

Gerry McCartney embraces technology as much as he rejects it.
As CIO of the Purdue University system, as well as vice president for information technology, he knows that bringing technology to teaching requires a delicate balance. While it can simplify some processes, it still can’t replace what he calls “the learning moment.”
Educators, he says, would do well to learn from history and understand that technology is not a panacea for all that ails education.
“If you look back through history, and I’m talking hundreds of years,” he says, “there are patterns in the way markets develop that you should be aware of if you are going to invest in those markets—not because it guarantees that you’ll always be right, but you can avoid at least the more egregious errors if you are aware of them.”
McCartney will be a keynote speaker at UBTech 2015, June 15 to 17 at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando.

You’ve been quoted saying, “Somewhere in our past, there is a belief that IT can actually make things better through change.” What did you mean?
I was recently listening to the CIO of the Hilton hotel chain. He was talking about how the hospitality industry hadn’t change for hundreds of years. If you had a room available, you hung a sign outside saying so. But by the 1970s, they launched centralized reservations where you could call a number and book a room at any Hilton.
In the last 30 years, though, there has been an escalating series of changes. You can book online. You can check in using your smartphone. And when you check in, you download an app that contains your room-key information. You just go up to the door and it detects your device and unlocks itself.
Higher education is just beginning to embrace some of those possibilities. The early stages of any technology adoption are merely automation of existing processes. There’s no reengineering of processes. You use a $1,600 laptop to replace a $100 book by putting a book on the laptop, which is kind of an absurd thing to do.

Maybe technology has changed faster than education can keep up.
Honestly, I don’t think education has changed all that much. I think we’re still in that early stage. There is a sense that we haven’t really begun the reinvention of higher education.
Just to go back to my hotel example—Hilton doing all these things to automate its processes are exact examples of early-stage technology impacts where they simply automate existing processes. They still have a building with the word Hilton on it and they still have a concierge and a check-in person and a restaurant on the ground floor.
What does that mean for higher education? If it’s just a university with a whole pile of technology in it, well, nothing has actually changed.
You can make a reasonable argument that we already automated a lot of the instructional stuff when we allowed textbooks to come on. That happened a long time ago, I know, but somebody else wrote the books.
As a teacher, all I’m doing is regurgitating the material that’s in the book. Someone else created all this information that I’m giving you, not me. I’m just the weather person. I didn’t think up these meteorological reports. I just read them to you.

You still encourage your team to make these technologies available—not just in research, but also in the humanities and social sciences.
Right. And the people we go to—and this is important—aren’t people that necessarily want technology. We approach the faculty and say, “What can we do to help make your teaching even better? Blank check—what would you like us to do?”
But oftentimes what happens is IT people—who don’t teach—think of something and then try to sell it to faculty.
Then there are faculty that just like to fiddle with technology. They are not particularly good at technology, but they kind of like it.
I think these are both bad test cases. I’d rather have the person who is an excellent teacher, and ask them, “Is there anything…?”
And we get crazy ideas from them. That’s really the beauty of it. Then colleagues take a look at the technology and say, “Well, it must be pretty good if Mary is using it, because we know Mary is a great teacher.”
Whereas if Tom is using it and Tom is just widely known to be this guy that’s got to have the latest everything but maybe isn’t a very good teacher, then, frankly, that sways nobody.
But teaching is a hard thing to move because it’s a tradecraft. You learn how to get good at it over a long time. So you are not going to be terribly responsive to people who are going to do it for you or do it better for you—especially if they are not teachers themselves.

What is IT’s place in decision-making? You have a collaborative relationship with your president, but that’s not the case everywhere.
No, it isn’t. And the executives and the IT people can both be at fault. On the executive side, there may be no acknowledgment that there’s any change under way, which would be a problem right from the get-go. And there may be no real awareness of what IT might be able to do.
On the IT side, there’s lots of people who call themselves CIO who would much rather be directors of computing. In other words, they love hardware and stuff. And they are really uncomfortable in this space of trying to imagine what the future might look like and how they might participate in the general business model, not just in the IT part of it.
I was at an event not long ago where they shared some statistics that I thought were fascinating. A large number of CEOs of all shapes and sizes of companies were asked, “Should the CIO be a strategic partner for you?” More than 70 percent said yes, absolutely.
Then they asked them, “Do you think your CIO is a strategic partner?” Only about 20 percent said yes. I thought that was very interesting. I remember going to a CEO event years ago where the CEOs compared CIOs to the air-conditioning guy—like it’s a necessary evil. They say, “I’ve got to have it. Just keep it cheap and keep it reliable.”
The savvier ones now realize that if they don’t have a digital business, they have no business. They are trying to figure out how you make a business work in a digital environment. It’s likely that some whole classes of profession will disappear as a result. But then whole sets of new ones hopefully will emerge. And that’s true in education as well.

They’re waking up to the idea that we have the technology, but we still have to figure out what to do with it.
Right. In the late 70s, Daniel Bell coined the term “information society.” He observed that everybody was going to become an information worker, and the people who couldn’t do that weren’t going to have jobs, because everything else would just be automated.
Now, of course, we have a more sophisticated view of it than that, but in truth it certainly is playing out. You can even fine-tune his statement a bit by saying everyone will have an information job or a personal-service job.

When it comes to technology, do you ever find yourself saying, “Stop. We don’t need to go down this route right now.”
Oh yes, all the time. I was doing it this morning—and then people get very upset with me. People try to use technology to defeat culture. They say, “If we put this system in, we’ll make them all change.” No, that’s not the way it works. All that will happen is we will spend a whole pile of money on this system and no one will use it.
There are ways to implement technology to make change, but you can’t do it with this kind of passive-aggressive approach—“We’ll get people to change without them even noticing it.” Oh, they’ll notice it, believe me.
So, in fact, you have to say no to a lot of things, because people want to automate all kinds of things.
Too often, we use technology as a hammer. We use it to automate things that shouldn’t be automated. We use it very little to experiment and to change things—but when we do, we call those people entrepreneurs.
But not every shot is guaranteed to hit the target. In fact, very few do. But what can we do? How do we, as educators, participate? How do we take a step here?
It’s still something that needs to be discussed and explored at places like UBTech. Otherwise, everybody just says, “Well, that was a load of guff. I just want to know why my Oracle server won’t stay up.”