This summer I attended Faculty Academy(‘s sweet 16). I went in not knowing what to expect, exactly. I knew the basics–people would arrive, we would all wear name tags and smile at each other, I would help out as directed. I even knew a fair amount about the presentations; earlier in the year, I helped fill out an Excel sheet, grabbing key words from presentation summaries. Yet as the days grew closer, as my fellow DTLT student aides and I assisted an increasing frantic Martha Burtis, I felt further away from understanding the major concepts that lay at the heart of the conference. I stayed up late the night before, anxious, excited.
Most certainly, the part of the event I was looking least forward to was waking up early. Sure, laugh if you will, but it is a god-awful thing to get up at 6:30 to arrive even close to on time at 8:00 AM. I know most people have it worse (my mom starts her routine at 4:45 during the work week), but a college student is allowed to complain a little; I am well aware, as I approach graduation, these glory days won’t last for much longer.
I arrived with a latte in my hand (thanks to my friend, Joe Calpin) to a lovely breakfast spread and a handful of very excited people. Faculty Academy! Faculty Academy! Joe is a huge FA enthusiast, and it was contagious.
People began arriving, most recognizable to me as UMW faculty. As we all settled in for the welcome and opening speeches, I prepared my Android for some serious Tweeting. It was the job of the student aides to manage the Twitter feed (umwfa11), though Joe manned the camera for the major talks.
Michael Wesch, an Anthropology professor from Kansas State University, was our Keynote Speaker and opened the conference with a real bang. The presentation, called “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-Able: New Learning Environments for New Media Environments”, inspired me personally, and I felt a real boost of energy from all the attendees. It was an awesome start, made me excited for the whole business of learning technologies. Since Andy Rush recorded the event, you can view it here: http://justin.tv/umwnewmedia/b/285641586 I’m going to be reviewing it again, myself (and probably take notes… :P).
I viewed many of the presentations: The student aides decided to split ourselves up among all the rooms during the concurrent sessions so there would be Twitter coverage for everyone. I’ll have to go back over the whole list and individually cover the ones I thought particularly interesting (I’m already thinking “Dirtying Young Minds”, that was great). For now, I want to cover the main events.
Tom Woodward was one of our two plenary presenters, and his appearance was decidedly notable because he hails from the K-12 system. This is the presentation that got me thinking the most, I believe (see it here: http://justin.tv/umwnewmedia/b/285655759). I’ve never been pleased with our public education system, and I did not have the most enjoyable experience there, either. Even as I went through all of it, I felt there was far too much emphasis on test-taking. To my teachers, scores defined me more than personal actions. I was aware that it was not what I was capable of as a person, but what numbers I was capable of achieving that would matter to colleges.
Although I did not know this, a common complaint among higher-learning educators is the kind of student they receive. Freshman seem to find it difficult to think critically, act independently to problem solve, and write well. I’ve noticed the first two among my peers (only after I escaped them myself), and originally blamed them on laziness. Now, I’m not so sure. I think partial responsibility lies with the system we use to educate our young people.
If that system is not producing the type of scholars we want, how do we change it? This is a problem that the rest of Faculty Academy addresses. Educator are all there to improve techniques, to share how the methods they’ve used to expand student minds beyond narrow thinking. Seeing these efforts is a privilege for me. I get an insider’s view at how higher-ed functions, not to mention feel the excitement over ways technology is being implemented in this setting.
As someone also considering a future in academia, I found the experience enlightening, even as it raised more questions for me. I want to find a job in academia, but faced with tough competition for employment as a professor, I keep my eyes open to other opportunities. The most fundamental question plagues me, however–why teach? My generation desires a job that not only pays the bills, but is in some way fulfilling. And if not in higher-ed, then where? K-12 seems overly restrictive for how I would prefer to teach. I think I’ll leave the exploration of those questions to another post.
Faculty Academy was a great experience. I actually feel sad that many of my peers don’t get to attend (though, to be honest, they probably wouldn’t be interested–a shame in itself).
I’m already looking forward to next year’s FA, and even have my sights set on seeing if I can attend more tech ed conferences in the meantime.