Kevin Blissett: Out of the Cave

Leadership, Classroom 2.0, Curriculum, China

The Chinese Educational Robot Factory

20090415_397679_01Is the Chinese educational system as high-stress as one might think? You’d better believe it. Wan Lixin provides a startling view of the extreme competition inherent in the system and suggests that a return–at least in part–to the moral education of the past may be the solution. From the article, here is a taste of what most Chinese students apparently endure:

The student’s nightmare began when he was a fifth grader, when his father began to keep track of his academic ranking in the class.

Ranked only within the top 10, he was frequently subjected to ridicule by parents and relatives.

“If you fail to enter a key university, you had better kill yourself, and I would not drop a single tear …” he quoted his father as threatening.

Like nearly all students of his age, he was put on a quasi-military regimen.

A college can provide a brief respite from pressure, but soon the specter of employment expectations will begin to loom.

This approach to education is not limited to China, but is evident throughout most Asian countries. I think it’s clear that the effects of such an approach to education are having and will have deleterious effects in the long run; the question is whether Asian nations believe the trade-off is worth it.

Cartoon by Zhou Tao


April 15, 2009 Posted by | teaching quality, university | Leave a comment

So You Think You’re Multitasking…



Generation M students–those saturated in technological media–may appear to be multitasking geniuses as they IM, SMS, listen to their iPods, and say hi to mom all at the same time, but research is indicating that focusing on several tasks simultaneously is probably reducing the results in each of the tasks and creating “antsy” minds in need of downtime.  And the issues associated with this multitasking lifestyle don’t apply solely to Gen-M’s; they are also applicable to professionals who juggle multiple tasks every day in the workplace.

A Time magazine article by Claudia Wallis speaks to this topic and reveals that true “multitasking” may be a fiction, that it instead appears to be quickly toggling on and off activities upon which we are actually focusing individually. While having many different activities going on at the same time may have some benefits, studies are showing that meaningful interactions within the family and the classroom are being deleteriously affected. Wallis cites anthropologist Elinor Ochs, director of UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families, who explains:

“We saw that when the working parent comes through the door, the other spouse and the kids are so absorbed by what they’re doing that they don’t give the arriving parent the time of day,” says Ochs. The returning parent, generally the father, was greeted only about a third of the time, usually with a perfunctory “Hi.” “About half the time the kids ignored him or didn’t stop what they were doing, multitasking and monitoring their various electronic gadgets,” she says. “We also saw how difficult it was for parents to penetrate the child’s universe. We have so many videotapes of parents actually backing away, retreating from kids who are absorbed by whatever they’re doing.”

Gen M’s multitasking habits have social and psychological implications as well. If you’re IMing four friends while watching That ’70s Show, it’s not the same as sitting on the couch with your buddies or your sisters and watching the show together. Or sharing a family meal across a table. Thousands of years of evolution created human physical communication–facial expressions, body language–that puts broadband to shame in its ability to convey meaning and create bonds. What happens, wonders UCLA’s Ochs, as we replace side-by-side and eye-to-eye human connections with quick, disembodied e-exchanges? Those are critical issues not just for social scientists but for parents and teachers trying to understand–and do right by–Generation M.

As a result of all of these activities constantly “requiring” attention, multitaskers seem to have difficulty focusing on one task deeply and following it to its conclusion; consequently, tasks which are completed are often done so superficially. This would seem to indicate that students, leaders, and project managers should focus intently on the task at hand, complete it, and then proceed to the next task versus taking  bites out of multiple assignments over time. 

Take a look at the rest of this insightful article.

Photo by Farai

April 11, 2009 Posted by | multitasking, technology, time management, university | Leave a comment


sat2_bigIt’s a bit unnerving to me that I have to begin preparing my Year 11 (U.S. Grade 10) students for their Pre-Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) at this early stage of their lives. But if I do not, I potentially put my learners behind the 8-ball.

I realize that universities need some tangible, standardized measure of student potential–and I don’t have a better solution–but it just seems to me that there should be another way out there for gauging student promise.  (And the fact is that, given the vast differences in how schools assign final grades, looking at transcripts is inconclusive.) That said, unless most universities are on board with such a solution, the exercise appears to be fruitless, which is why we still have standardized college entrance tests.

“In the meantime, students, open your prep manuals.”

April 2, 2009 Posted by | SAT, university | Leave a comment

Not Forgetting Arts and Letters in the Race for Information

In his article, “Pleasure, Beauty, Wonder,” John M. Eger, communications and public policy professor at the University of San Diego, intones a familiar refrain in today’s discussion over how to educate students: Is the beauty in our world and in education being lost in the race for information?

Eger points out the following statistics to illustrate the task assigned to educators:

  • The top 10 jobs for today’s students don’t even exist yet.
  • Adults will change jobs 10 times by the time they reach age 42.
  • Some reports indicate that the amount of data and information has doubled every year in this century.

Clearly, getting a handle on all of this information and determining which is relevant is a major task for the 21st century workforce. However, there is another dynamic working here: In this high volume information age, the arts seem to be taking a back seat to more technologically oriented studies. Eger believes that this is a mistake, and I agree.

Correct use of all of this information is essential. Character, ethics, and a grounding in the humanities are crucial components to properly processing all of the data out there. Eger continues:

Addressing an education conference in late 2006, Dana GioiaRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, then the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said that we need “a system that grounds all students in pleasure, beauty, and wonder.” He added: “If we are going to compete productively with the rest of the world, it’s going to be in terms of creativity and innovation.”

Eger appears to be in favor of an integrated inquiry based approach to education. I have no problem with that notion so long as there is a proper amount of hard content to contextualize it. Students are never even going to scratch the surface of all of the facts out there, but they do need enough of a grounding and context to make sense of them. Moreover, they need a foundation in non-tech disciplines in order to correctly process and apply the knowledge.

April 1, 2009 Posted by | skills, technology, university | Leave a comment

BYU 2nd to Harvard Among Students Accepted

byu_logoOf course, I have to give a shout-out to my alma mater on this story. It appears that, of applicants who are accepted to universities across the U.S., Brigham Young University is rated second only to Harvard as a percentage of those students who actually arrive on campus the first day.

Here’s one thing Harvard and BYU have in common – of all universities in the nation, both have the highest yields of students that choose to attend out of those who are accepted.

A recent study by U.S. News and World Report named Harvard as the most popular university in the nation according to this measure (79 percent yield), with BYU coming in close second with 77 percent.

The study was based on statistics from the fall 2007 entering class and was the second year U.S. News and World Report has conducted the study. Last year, BYU tied with Harvard at the highest national yield of 79 percent.

Go Cougs!

March 31, 2009 Posted by | university | Leave a comment

College Admissions in a Down Economy

harvardYou would think that the poor world economy might lower the number of applicants to universities around the U.S. Well, think again. Jacques Steinberg and Tamar Lewin report that getting admitted to a top university may be as hard as or harder than ever.


Representatives of HarvardStanfordDartmouthYale, and Brown, among other highly selective institutions, said in telephone and e-mail exchanges in recent days that applications for the Class of 2013 had jumped sharply when compared to the previous year’s class. As a result, the percentage of applicants who will receive good news from the eight colleges of the Ivy League (and a few other top schools that send out decision letters this week) is expected to hover at – or near – record lows. 



March 30, 2009 Posted by | university | Leave a comment