Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Comments to comments from St Peter

I've gotten a bit behind, and have just caught up on reading some of the blogs whose names (and links; try them) you see to the left there. I've some comments to a couple of Peter Saint-Andre's entries, on "one small voice", and I thought I'd make those comments here.

You Have to Be There

In his item You Have to Be There: The presentation as performance art, Peter talks about trying a rapid-fire presentation style, and enjoying it:

Ever since I saw Dick Hardt give his Identity 2.0 talk at OSCON 2005, I've been itching to try it out. It requires more preparation and practice to get the timing right, and the slides don't make much sense to someone who wasn't there, but rapid-fire presenting really grabs the audience [...] The rapid-fire style also deeply engages the presenter, because you're not just speaking, you're performing.
I absolutely agree. It's not something that suits all presentations (nor all presenters), but when it's right, it works well. I've used a variation of it without planning to, once when I followed a presenter who was competent in the material, but a very dull presence. It was after 16:00, I noted the glazed looks from the audience through much of my predecessor's talk, and I knew I had to grab them back and keep them awake. I think I did, I got lots of positive comments at the reception later... and it was more fun for me, though a bit of a challenge to do it off the cuff and with my normal slides.

Startup U?

In Startup U?: On the lack entrepreneurship in higher education, Peter suggests "educational entrepreneurship":

Where are the small, innovative schools? [...] They would innovate — lots of hands-on learning, internships, practicums, guest lecturers, peer learning, blogging, debate, etc. Think flat organization, not the traditional hierarchy.
Here I agree with the principle, but I'm not at all sure how to implement it. Suppose you're going to buy a car, and you think, "I could buy a car from one of the big companies. I know what they're like, I can make my decision of reliability, features, and price. Or I could buy a car from that new, innovative company over there. They have interesting new ideas for car design, and it looks exciting. But I don't know what the reliability is, or how the design will work out in the long term." Ultimately, though, you might decide to buy that innovative car, because, after all, you'll get a new car in a few years anyway, and so whether you like it or not, it's transient.

Now suppose you're going to buy a college degree, and you think, "I could get my degree at Stanford, or MIT [or pick a leading college or university in the field you're looking for], and I know what they're like. Or I could try that new St Peter's College out there in Colorado. It'll certainly be an exciting way to get my education; it looks great! But who will hire me when I finish? Will that Stanford degree serve me better when I'm looking for jobs?"

And that's where the degree is different. It's a lifetime investment, so we have to make sure we cover everything we need from it — and what we need is learning and a place in the job market. Whether we like it or not, companies do look at where you came from, who your advisor is, and so on, and you are far more likely to get a top-flight engineering job with a degree from MIT than with one from University of Puget Sound, good though that latter institution might be. This is the part I don't know how to change.

On the other hand, Stanford and MIT have not existed since the Big Bang; they were founded, and they established their reputations — perhaps in easier times, but they did so. St Peter's College could do so too. I certainly believe in the concept, knowing that not everyone learns in the same way, and that innovative teaching methods are valuable. And actually, as I've written this paragraph, I think I've understood how to solve the problem from the last one. I think the key is to get the right names to found it. If such a school were started by some of the recognized leaders in its target field, it would catch the attention of the employers, and it might have the chance it'd need to prove itself.

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