Kindergarten Comes to America

In 1873, the St. Louis, Missouri, school board authorized the first public kindergarten in the United States. We take the idea of kindergarten and pre-school education for granted today, but the concept was not only foreign but radical then.

Friedrich Froebel had developed what he called a “kindergarten” (garden of children) in Germany in which teachers acted as the “gardeners.” Teachers would provide the environment and the resources to nourish the minds of the children and stand back and let them grow.

I consider this an early effort in learning space design. The classrooms were bright and colorful with "stations" around the room for different activities. Some schools also provided easy access to outdoor play areas. The classroom had kid-sized tables and benches - an idea that seems so logical but had not been used earlier. 

Of course, the kindergarten concept included more than just the physical space, but the learning space was considered a far more important part of the learning process than it was in the other grades.

In the U.S., Susan Blow was the driving force behind the kindergarten movement. She visited Germany after the American Civil War and was impressed by Froebel’s kindergartens. The idea that children were learning language, math, and science concepts through play was a radical idea.

When she returned home, she made a study of the kindergarten concept. She wrote that “If we can make children love intellectual effort, we shall prolong habits of study beyond school years.” Her father was able to get the St. Louis school superintendent to open an experimental kindergarten. He agreed and sent Susan Blow to New York to study for a year.

Susan offered to direct the kindergarten for free if the school board would provide her with classroom space and a teacher.  She ended up being the director for eleven years, at her own expense. She retired in 1884 when the St. Louis schools had 9,000 kindergartners. She died in 1916 at which point the success of the kindergarten experiment had led it to be introduced in more than 400 American cities.

kindergarten
   The colorful "chaos" of a kindergarten and preschool classroom - Image via Flickr

The Books We Teach

      

In 2015, Columbia University’s Open Syllabus Project wanted to learn what books are being taught. Using data from over one million syllabi from university websites worldwide, they came up with a list of books that have been most frequently taught over the past decade. Since the, they have added another 5 million syllabi.

Would you be surprised that the top titles on the list did not change significantly? I am not surprised. Actually, I would not be surprised to discover that our reading lists haven't changed in the past 50 or, in some cases, maybe even 100 years.

This is not a list of just American colleges. "Classics" such as The Republic and the Communist Manifesto. There are not many titles on the list that I couldn't have found on my reading list as an undergrad almost 50 years ago.  

open syllabus

You can see interactive visualizations of the data at https://galaxy.opensyllabus.org/

The “traditional Western canon" dominates the top 100. Plato’s Republic is at #2 and The Communist Manifesto is at #3, and #5 is Frankenstein. Then, there comes Aristotle’s Ethics, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Sophocles’ Oedipus, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” These titles have remained pretty stables over the years.

Who holds the top position? It is the slender writing guide Elements of Style.  

The top 50 is heavily male-dominated. However, some novelists make the list, including Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, Anne Moody, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Alice Walker.

The most-taught books tend to fall into either philosophy, literature, textbook, or guidebook. The entire list includes 165,000 texts, so there is variety. And nothing every book is "classic" since there are newer titles in areas like gender studies, media studies, digital culture, and environmental studies.

This is different from the list of the most influential academic books compiled a few years ago, although there are some shared titles. The Prince and The Republic are on this list too. It makes sense that books considered to be "influential" would make the syllabus list. But this list was made by academic booksellers, librarians, and publishers. On this list, the top spot went to Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

Here are some from that list of 20. 

  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  • The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
  • The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
  • The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
  • Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Should we interpret these results as meaning that faculty are stuck teaching the same things over and over? If so, why? Because they are "classics"? Because the faculty are a bit lazy about preparing new material? Because it is what is expected by their department or academia?  That data doesn't answer these questions. 

Welcome to the Microcampus

workspace

A college "campus" is a rather general term these days. I'm working on designing courses for a "virtual campus" which is an extension of the idea of a campus without borders that emerged with online learning. There are small schools that may lack a robust campus library, student union, or residence halls, but what if the campus has no classrooms? Is it a campus?

I recall reading about students studying at a remote institution but they were "hosted" by a local learning center. Stephen Downes wrote about a Triad Model where the triad was composed of the student, the instructor, and the facilitator. The facilitator helped bridge the distance between instructor and student. Ideally, this online learning situation would include a community online but also offline (on site) with peers and instructors. I saw this idea re-emerge with MOOCs where students used a distant course but met at a site for that community support.

Neither of these models of learning really gained widespread use in any fully robust form that I am aware of. There is a newer version using the term "micro-campus"

A micro-campus will offer support and coaching. If offers access to tools, from high quality printers, even a 3D printer or others that students can't afford. It can provide meeting space and project rooms. In a non-academic setting, this sounds like co-working spaces

An article on The Chronicle (subscription required, unfortunately) talks about the University of Phoenix, the University of Washington, and the Georgia Institute of Technology using experimental, storefront-sized “micro-campuses.” I'm sure they looked at places like WeWork for ideas, also some not very academic setting such as Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores. The college micro-campuses might be located at the ground-level space of an apartment building. They are meant to be where students are located and in the community.

The examples of University of Washington’s Othello Commons in Seattle is 2300 square-feet at the base of an eight-story apartment building, A “Foundations of Databases” course meets there one night a week to help local residents develop basic IT skills.

Georgia Tech's distributed-campus "atrium” in midtown Atlanta (near the main campus) was still a work in progress when the article was written but feels very Amazon, including an app to interact with the space.

Are these true "learning spaces" or extension sites, satellite campuses or is the micro-campus really a new kind of space?

What Is on the Horizon in Higher Education

horizonThe annual EDUCAUSE Horizon Report for Higher Education is always interesting to read. The report for 2019 is online now. It is 44 pages, so it would be a full lunchtime read, but as a cheater's guide or preview I offer the two parts that I always look at first.  

One is the section on "Key Trends Accelerating Higher Education Technology Adoption."  If you look back at past reports you will see that some trends come back for several years. That is partly intentional as the report predicts ones that should be considered "Short-Term" meaning in the next one or two years, as well as ones for 3-5 years and long-term trends that are probably 5+ years away.

Of course, there are also trends and tech developments that are almost perennial. We always seem to be rethinking online learning, learning spaces and assessment. And some tech, such as blockchain and rethinking degrees, have been "on the horizon" for a chunk of years and still don't seem to be really making a big difference.

In the short-term, the report lists "Redesigning Learning Spaces" and "Blended Learning Designs."

For Mid-Term Adoption in the next 3-5 years, they list "Advancing Cultures of Innovation" and a "Growing Focus on Measuring Learning." I think the latter should be moved up as a perennial topic.

In the 5+ years category is the rather broad "Rethinking How Institutions Work" and the returning "Modularized and Disaggregated Degrees."

The other section I always jump to is called "Important Developments in Technology for Higher Education." Again, there are predicted "Time-to-Adoption Horizons" given for each. 

The report also considers the challenges in adopting any of these technologies or trends. For example, one that I have been challenged by since I started in higher education tech in 2000 is what they term "The Evolving Roles of Faculty with Ed Tech Strategies."

The report says about that (and I generally agree) that:

"At institutions of any type or size, involving faculty in the selection and implementation of educational technologies can be difficult. Whether an institution is implementing a new courseware platform for the purpose of personalizing learning or building a completely new program by applying a pedagogical approach such as competency-based learning, such efforts face a range of challenges. Identifying learning outcomes and engagement strategies before identifying educational technology solutions creates an advantage by establishing faculty buy-in at the earliest stages of a strategic initiative.

The role of full-time faculty and adjuncts alike includes being key stakeholders in the adoption and scaling of digital solutions; as such, faculty need to be included in the evaluation, planning, and implementation of any teaching and learning initiative. Institutions that address the needs of all faculty through flexible strategic planning and multimodal faculty support are better situated to overcome the barriers to adoption that can impede scale.

...in order for faculty to fully engage in educational technology, training and professional development should be provided to facilitate incorporation of technology... adjunct faculty also need to be considered in professional development...workshops that include both faculty and students could enable learning for both groups of stakeholders."

But I do always bristle when the business of education overrides pedagogy, such as the statement that "frameworks for tech implementation and prioritizing tech that offers high ROI should be a guiding principle for institutional tech adoption for faculty use."