Interview with DeMillo on “Abelard to Apple” on how faculty need to change
I enjoyed the interview with Rich DeMillo in Inside HigherEd (linked below). I had a meeting with Rich on Friday, soon after his book hit Amazon, and we commiserated on the challenges on trying to change undergraduate education. One of the failing of Georgia Computes was getting more faculty to attend workshops on how to change their curriculum and teaching practices in order to encourage broader participation in computing. We got a lot of faculty in the first few years, then fewer and fewer, and this last year: Our grand total statewide was three faculty who attended any GaComputes workshop. As one faculty member (not at Georgia Tech) told our external evaluator, “In any department, only about 20% of the faculty care about undergraduate education. You got them all.” Rich told me about his efforts to change education practices, where he gets lots of interest from research scientists and staff, but no tenure-track faculty. That matters, because the tenure-track faculty own the curriculum, and are the ones who stick around the longest. Change their practices, and you change things for long time. But if you can’t get their attention, it’s hard to get more than short-term change.
I just got my copy of From Abelard to Apple yesterday, and I’m looking forward to reading it!
People have asked me about the title of my book, Abelard to Apple. Peter Abelard was an 11th-century French monk who is today mainly known for his disastrous love affair with Heloise. Less well known was his influence on the course of Western universities. He was maybe the first true professor. I use Abelard as a metaphor for the ideal of university teaching. He was a charismatic, compelling figure whose ideas provoked debate and thought and who was able to draw and engage students in large numbers. “Apple” refers to Apple’s iTunes U, a technology platform for the most gifted teachers to reach and engage with students in huge numbers.
There is a message in the journey that higher education took from Peter Abelard to Apple Computer: professors who do not provide value, who are excessively, inwardly focused on the concerns of their profession, who confuse lecturing with teaching, who confuse scholarship with winning sponsored research grants, are usually swept to the margins.