Has the pandemic created opportunities to reform the education process?
By Desiree L. DePriest, Ph.D., Purdue University Global
"On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."
-- Stewart Brand, report/transcript from the conference in the May 1985 *Whole Earth Review*, p. 49. (Clark, 2012)
Universities throughout America have been thrust into a position of rapid conversion due to a novel virus. Educators are also in a state of flux through layoffs and furloughs, pay freezes, and transitioning to online, virtual environments. In a time of great anxiety, there is an opportunity for administrators, educators, and students to completely reform the education process. Where to start is the integral question.
First, online, virtual options were not a choice but a necessity. Society does not understand enough about the virus and that which is known affects mortality. Universities do not want to be entangled in making students sick or to create super spreader environments where infected students transmit the virus to their vulnerable family and friends. Universities do not want to be enmeshed in litigation for negligence or worse. Last but not least, tuition and fees are essential to keep a university and its working population open and solvent. Complete shutdown is not an option. All these things are important and have to be dealt with but reforming the education process is distinct from traditional fiduciary concerns. Reforming the education process requires new and courageous ideas.
Figure 1: Social Media Apps (by geralt on Pixabay)
Aside from the obvious changes, more subtle changes are occurring which involve new integrations of declarative and arguably influential ways humans learn. Social networks have essentially become their own natural phenomena. Machine language has codified persuasive and predictive analytics based on human habits tracked through the Web. Similar to a genetic code, it propagates widely from one user to another, spreading misinformation and disinformation which is generally deviated or variable subject-matter that creates divisions. The repetition is a powerful code, which can change human conduct and change lives. Affluent companies and individuals can pay for self-benefiting influence and power in our society through an invisible algorithm. This has resulted in more disparate opinions than any time in recent history. With the internet, more and more things that used to be locked away in the corridors of schools and institutions are now freely accessible. Anticipation of norms being disrupted by man and machine are manifesting at a momentum not seen since The New Deal in 1933.
Figure 2: Brain Circuits Machine Learning (by marquetand on Pixabay)
Shift in the Education Process
Speaking to that shift, universities need to either accommodate it or offer some value-added to be worth it. Taking responsibility, traditional education has inadvertently enforced student disparities. All of our Supreme Court Justices attended Harvard or Yale, out of the 100+ appellate justices chosen in the current administration all of them are Caucasian, and Federalist Society right wing. The majority of the Senate are white men. The House, particularly with the infusion of young women of color, is attacked as being radical socialists. People of color and females continue to earn far less for the same job as their Caucasian, male counterparts. As educators, we contribute to these inequities through buying into the myth stepped in wealth and privilege as commensurate with intelligence. We graduate students blindly into systemic racism hidden behind terms such as “cultural fit” in companies. Over time, it should not be a surprise to universities or educators that a wealth gap would inevitably expand, not solely based on free markets, but since the same practices exist in education. A pandemic did not create this but only makes the haves and have-nots problem more evident.
This does not indicate a criticism of the “elite” schools. There are social and psychological benefits of participating in rowing teams, Greek-days on the quad, and practicing adulthood while enjoying spring breaks in the south of France. However, it creates a privilege bubble that does not encourage a wider knowledge of societal reality (Rosen, 2011). Additionally, it does not provide alternatives for adult learners with families and work-study obligations. In 2018, approximately nineteen million Americans were enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree-granting institutions.
Of that number, around 14 million were enrolled in public colleges and only about five million were in private colleges. The numbers have not significantly changed in ratio or numbers in 2020 (stastia.com). It is difficult to understand how 5% of private school graduates have the majority of powerful and lucrative positions. In 2017, the prominent student attitude for attending college, at 85%, was the investment in their future. The second motivation, at 66%, was degrees being important in society. The statistics reveal an opportunity for universities to reflect on the moral forces at work in student’s educational demands.
According to the Pew Research Center, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the role universities play in society from admission decisions to the extent to which free speech is constrained (Parker, 2019). Only half of those surveyed, (38%) thought colleges and universities were having a positive effect on the way society is being formed. The survey was up from 26% from 2012. Gallup found a similar shift where confidence in higher education dropped from 57% to 48% (Parker, 2019).
Although the above research continued to explore these opinions along partisan lines, a society increasingly multicultural shapes ideologies, backgrounds, and visions of the world regardless of political party. This requires review and new considerations of the education process. Focusing on common humanity as well as respecting individual and cultural differences are necessary to overcome the biases and limitations of current education models (Sleeter, 2007).
The assumption can be made that all students enter studies to graduate and be prepared for the upcoming event of better employment. If the university’s position does not consider diversity and inclusion in the event of better employment but merely provides a degree path, it is providing a disservice to the student. They are giving the hope that things will magically work out post-graduation and any discrimination experienced is the student’s delusion. Without reforming education, and with the probability of new debt in the form of student loans, the university risks contributing to the diverse students’ financial and psychological suffering.
Figure 3: Ready for Tomorrow (by geralt on Pixabay)
However, many universities have paid little attention to lower GPAs, lower retention and how the education process affects these groups nor have they considered it a result of the education process at all. There is no legitimate genetic differences that account for disparities in achievement in these groups falsely presented as IQ research in the book The Achievement Gap (Nisbett. 2009). Stanovich (2009) argues, correctly, that IQ tests fail to measure many of the traits society traditionally associate with intelligence – including rationality, good decision-making, and the ability to work well with others or under pressure. As these groups grow in academic prominence, these issues should be evaluated as a problem that academic institutions can address (DePriest & Buck, 2020). The thought that graduates who may have been in the same courses or teams throughout their degree plan, refrain from association based on diversity, reflects something wrong in the education process. Universities should not graduate the status quo but initiate graduates ready to contribute to a better world. Universities have a shared responsibility to a more perfect union. The shattering of norms due to the pandemic may be an opportunity to reform the educational process. This is possible if administrators and educators recognize universities’ contribution to the problem of divisions and disparities and then courageously seek innovative education models for student success.
The Benefit of Business Intelligence in Education Reform
Offering students a less expensive education while not dealing with what they will experience in society, even with a degree, can be addressed from the better use of university data. Business intelligence including these areas of diversity and inclusion, and tracking of graduates, can provide the data in which universities can make better decisions. The amount of data that universities and educators collect from students is vast. Much of that information is not analyzed but considered as data just occupying storage space. However, within this data lies important patterns such as the number of times a single parent was late on assignments, or the lack of women in computer science or technology administration, and much more. Having a robust alumni association, not just available to join but actively reaching out to graduates in pay-it-forward programs, would gather more meaningful data to measure both sought and achieved employment, salaries, and other demographics. This effort would unravel information that most universities ignore and by doing so, abnegate the responsibility of the education process to make society more equitable. Far too many universities operate like this, ignoring meaningful yet addressable pain points, especially in challenging or uncertain times.
Herein lies the core issue, be it physical, online or hybrid. How does America maintain citizens’ confidence or systematic culture while simultaneously offering education with diverse, inclusive and honest curricula? How do the universities both promote a history of America erected from “freedom and justice for all” for diverse students while honestly addressing the history of disparate opportunities for them? Ongoing and expanding struggles such as poverty, oppression, civil and gender rights all stand as realities that too many graduates blame on a lack of self-worth. Until the current education order expands intellect beyond mastery of the European-centric classics, diverse students will continue to perceive assimilation as the only key to opportunity (Levine, 1997). Universities have maintained the same basic structure since affluent white men were the lone souls able to attend higher education. Solely teaching from the perspectives of white history and white classics does not validate the hopes of other communities. These are communities that were here before or alongside Europeans migrating to this land. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) offer more diverse courses but also have work to do. HBCUs are still not recognized as equal institutions even with centuries of scholarship. Native-Americans and Latin-Americans, Asian-Americans, LGBTQ and differently-abled Americans have scholarly writings and research that integrate the same areas of study as scholars from European descent, including S.T.E.A.M., medicine, business, law, and jurisprudence.
All this information can be researched, codified and revealed through intelligent technologies. The results can reveal where universities are doing well for students and where pain points exist. Course content, offerings and activities can all be expanded or retooled to be more inclusive of the growing population of diverse students in universities. For example, the ‘ugly’ initial First Amendment of the Constitution, prior to the Amendments, can be discussed from perspectives of economics and slavery, include Native cultures and even white ethnicities such as the Irish and Jews. An open forum for students could ensue to express their views. Properly trained faculty could initiate “similarity” exercises while respecting differences. The omission is more of an offense than an ignorant history which can be forgiven. There are creative opportunities for universities in all degree plans. Universities should not avoid opportunities for liberation and intellectual communities that raise student confidence and send them into the society with the audacity of hope – a result of being seen and heard.
Education Reform Because Lives Matter
The Lives Matter movements for people of color, women and LGBTQIA are triggered by these groups of students knowing they have been resigned to “code-switching” for far too long. Code switching accepts being an afterthought in the universities’ mainstream information that does not include them in its epistemology. The students pass the course but return to their ontological self at home or in their neighborhoods. It is a survival technique based in fear, and passed through generations because everyone wants to succeed in this society, even though they are academically and then systemically underrepresented.
The Lives Matter movements from the perspective of militias and conspiracy groups want the continued benefits from the spell of solidity, the fallacy of fixity, the illusion of immobility, and the semblance of stasis (Phipps, 2012). Theirs is a misinformed stasis where Caucasian men make the rules thus decide the only history that matters, only Caucasian men built this country, and one non-white president was one too many. They are afraid also but of a future where equality rises and they become the underrepresented.
It is time for universities to realize that healthy human relationships, professional, personal and academic, require two-way respect and mutual value to achieve authentic relatedness. It is becoming increasing clear that the diversities between us are more fundamental than previously recognized, in how we interpret and experience the world around us and within us…and heavily informed by the culture in which we live (Phipps, 2012). To achieve effective societal change for the better, universities have a pivotal role in the solution through seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to create education reform.
Clark, R. (July 13, 2012). Information wants to be free. Retrieved from https://www.rogerclarke.com/II/IWtbF.html
DePriest, D.L. and Buck, J. (2020). GPA disparities through the lens of diversity and inclusion. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/purdueglobal.edu/advancement/home?pli=1&authuser=1
Levine, L.W. (1996). The opening of the American mind. Beacon Press: Boston.
Nisbett, R. (2011). The Achievement Gap: Past, Present & Future. Daedalus, 140(2), 90-100. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/23047453
Phipps, C. (2012). Evolutionaries. Pgs. 21-23. Harper Perennial: New York.
Rosen, A.S. (2011). Change.edu: Rebooting for the new talent economy. Kaplan Publishing New York.
Sleeter, C. E. and Grant, C.A. (2007). Making choices for multicultural education: Five approaches to race, class and gender. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: New York.
Stanovich, K. (2009). Cutting Intelligence Down to Size. In What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought (pp. 45-58). Yale University Press. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1nq14j.8.
Parker, K. (August 19, 2019). The growing partisan divide in views of higher education. Retrieved from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/essay/the-growing-partisan-divide-in-views-of-higher-education/
About the Author
Desiree L. DePriest is an IT/AI business intelligence professor at Purdue University Global for 16 years. Desiree’s expertise is in business intelligent information systems and artificial intelligence in business environments. She holds a Ph.D., in Management & Organization with emphasis in Information Technology, along with two masters degrees (Telecom and IS respectively). Desiree has a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and certificate in ABA and I-O psychology which greatly assist in her work in the various areas of business intelligence, industrial and organizational motivation and attitudes. She is the Vice-chair of the Institutional Review Board at Purdue Global and attended UMKC Law School. Desiree developed and directs the Purdue Global Internship Program – Technology (PGIP-T) which is an internship for IT and business students wanting real world experience prior to graduation. She also created the Graduate Information Technology Association (GITA) for active and alumni IT/Business students, and serves as Faculty Advisor. Desiree won the “Best Practices” award for her work in the internship from the American Association of Adult Continuing Education (AAACE).
Her publications include research in persuasive and predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and algorithms in decision support, and pattern recognition. Desiree’s recent interests have expanded to diversity and inclusion, neural correlates of consciousness (NCC), cognitive computing (CC) and quantum teaming (QT). Quantum Teaming is a quality management methodologies with particular focus on virtual team environments and is the intellectual property of Dr. DePriest. Desiree presents throughout the year at conferences in these areas.
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