Lateral Thinking

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Thinking by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

With all the concern about the pandemic this year, moving courses online and making plans for reopening, I'm afraid that what has been set aside is pedagogy. I did graduate work on a doctorate in pedagogy that I never completed, but it exposed me to a lot of ideas on how we might improve our teaching.

One of the things I learned about some decades ago is lateral thinking developed by Edward de Bono in the 1960s. Lateral thinking fosters unexpected solutions to problems. De Bono believed that we tend to go for the straightforward, and obvious solutions to problems. He encouraged seeking out more oblique, innovative answers.

Lateral thinking is sometimes called “horizontal thinking” as contrasted with vertical thinking. The latter might be defined as going for the first good solution that comes to mind and launch into the details.

Lateral thinking encourages a longer brainstorming session in order to enhance creativity and come up with the most innovative solutions.

There are several lateral thinking techniques: awareness, random stimulation, alternatives, and alteration.

For de Bono, we need to cultivate an awareness of how our minds process information. That is a skill that is very rarely part of any curriculum, and yet moving away from established patterns leads to greater innovation.

Random stimulation is something I have been employing during this pandemic year - and I suspect many readers of this have also - probably unconsciously - done it. Normally, we try to shut out all distractions in order to focus on a task. In lateral thinking, problem-solving improves with some "random" input which often includes information - taking a walk, talking with a colleague or stranger, listening to a podcast, journaling.

At the heart of de Bono's approach is to deliberately consider alternative solutions. That has been described is many ways, including "thinking out of the box." Doing this is not easy for many people. His term, "alteration," can mean using several techniques. You might reverse the relationship between parts of a problem. You might deliberately go in the opposite direction of what’s implied as the correct approach. Sometimes breaking a problem or obvious solution into smaller parts can lead to an alternate mindset about individual parts.

It didn't help the spread of de Bono's theories in academia that he was not a fan of extensive research. He had called research “artificial.” For example, he claimed that “nobody has been able to prove that literature, history or mathematics classes have prepared people for society” - though I think we all believe that they have helped prepare people.

Lateral thinking has its critics, but the basics are sound and I have always thought that incorporating them into classroom activities is a good thing. I have never "taught" de Bono to students, preferring to embed it in activities. 

 

 

Higher Education Responds to COVID-19

empty lecture hallThe coronavirus has been an unexpected disruptor to education around the globe. In March 2020, most institutions K-20 started canceling in-person classes and moving to online-only instruction. The pandemic is also disrupting things on campuses outside classrooms and labs. Admissions and enrollment, athletics, and many social and campus community activities have been halted or severely altered. Financial instability from unexpected costs and reductions in revenue touch on all aspects of school operations.  

This summer the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) began posting information about what it is seeing happening in higher education in response to COVID-19.  (There is also a K-12 responses page.)

Many responses from the spring no longer apply to this fall. The situation continues to develop. The immediate problems in March and the short-term solutions implemented have become long-term challenges. NCSL is obviously concerned with legislation enacted because of the pandemic. Bills to ensure students receive refunds for room and board expenses, pause the collection of payments on state held student loans, and in some cases to require higher education institutions to develop and expand emergency preparedness and response plans. Like the colleges, legislators must have strategies to address funding and appropriations for public colleges and universities.  

The NCSL site has a lot of information and I will summarize some that seem pertinent here. Any report from the spring semester or summer plans is likely to have been changed. Every school probably had several possible plans for fall 2020 but there was hope early on that we might return to something like normal classes or at least a hybrid approach. But we saw reversals in in-person classes almost immediately in September with some schools switching back to being almost completely or completely online.

The 3 plans that almost every school were preparing:
In-Person Instruction (with social distancing and precautions)
Hybrid-HyFlex Model or Limiting Students on Campus
Moving to Online-Only Instruction

A good number of colleges planned one of those things over the summer, perhaps even implemented the plan, but have already moved to another option.

Concerns and Issues:

  • The quality of online-only classes for instruction, particularly for students who are already academically struggling
  • Helping students who might lack access to an internet connection, including opening university libraries on a limited basis and distributing mobile hotspots to students.
  • Reconsidering grading systems to try and accommodate and support students in transition.
  • Under "unexpected expenses" we find pro-rated refunds issued to students for room and board (tuition refunds demanded by many students have not materialized)
  • Sanitizing dormitories, classroom, and facilities
  • A variety of technology costs associated with moving to online courses. 
  • Hiring freezes for faculty and pay cuts or furloughs for staff.
  • Adjunct and part-time faculty make up more than 40% of faculty nationwide have issues with generally lacking paid sick leave and health insurance from their college.  
  • Postponed campus tours and admissions events and a decline in admissions visit requests.
  • Limited access to college dorms, dining halls, and work-study programs
  • Closures impact current and future students’ ability to receive and manage financial aid.  
  • Dealing with more than 1 million international students studying in the U.S. (2019, who make up about 6% of the total higher education student population.
  • Collegiate athletics is not at the top of most faculty concerns but it affects college budgets (including income) and student financial aid through scholarships.

Many of these issues were thought to be (or hoped to be) short-term concerns but have become long-term items.

Useful Free Tools for Back to School From the Internet Archive

As students around the world resume their education - perhaps in a physical classroom - probably online - there is still a lot of uncertainty.

The nonprofit Internet Archive is dedicated to Universal Access to All Knowledge. They provide a number of free resources for parents, students, teachers, and librarians around the world—check out these tools for remote learning!

Over the past several months, the Internet Archive has collaborated with a number of educational specialists to determine how our collections can best serve teachers. You can leverage the Open Library to get new material or find lesson plans to make curriculum preparation easier.

oregon trail screenStudents can also access the Open Library books. For younger students, there are Kid-Friendly resources. For homework help, The Internet Archive has a huge array of textbooks and study guides. If you’re looking for primary sources to cite in your History assignments, our 26 million historical books and texts are a great place to start; if you’re trying to get through English class we also have thousands of works of literature from around the world.

There is even a huge collection of educational (and some less-educational) software and computer games if you need a study break.

The American Libraries collection includes material contributed from across the United States including the Library of Congress, many local public libraries, including material in the public domainand materials sponsored by Microsoft, Yahoo!, The Sloan Foundation, and others.

Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions

Jeff Selingo's new book - Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions - will be out September 15 and he has been doing a number of virtual events around the topics in the book. Here are three that are coming up this week. 

There's no doubt that the past 6 months have changed much of the admissions process for high school students and for college admissions officers. Will we ever return to the admission process of the past?

  • For parents of high schoolers: On Monday at 8 p.m. ET, I’ll be hosting another discussion on college admissions in the COVID era – this one focused on how to conduct the virtual college search when admissions representatives aren’t visiting high schools and campus tours are canceled. More details and register here.
  • For college officials: On Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET, I’ll be in conversation with one of the leading accreditors as well as two academic leaders in online learning about how to assess students in remote instruction this fall. More details and register here.  
  • For parents and counselors: On Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET, I’ll be joining Education Consultant Katy Dunn of PrepMatters for a town hall on admissions. Join us to hear more about the book and what I’ve learned from admissions officials in recent months. Register here.

The book as described online:

"From award-winning higher education journalist and New York Times bestselling author Jeffrey Selingo comes a revealing look from inside the admissions office—one that identifies surprising strategies that will aid in the college search.

Getting into a top-ranked college has never seemed more impossible, with acceptance rates at some elite universities dipping into the single digits. In Who Gets In and Why, journalist and higher education expert Jeffrey Selingo dispels entrenched notions of how to compete and win at the admissions game, and reveals that teenagers and parents have much to gain by broadening their notion of what qualifies as a “good college.” Hint: it’s not all about the sticker on the car window.

Selingo, who was embedded in three different admissions offices—a selective private university, a leading liberal arts college, and a flagship public campus—closely observed gatekeepers as they made their often agonizing and sometimes life-changing decisions. He also followed select students and their parents, and he traveled around the country meeting with high school counselors, marketers, behind-the-scenes consultants, and college rankers.

While many have long believed that admissions is merit-based, rewarding the best students, Who Gets In and Why presents a more complicated truth, showing that “who gets in” is frequently more about the college’s agenda than the applicant. In a world where thousands of equally qualified students vie for a fixed number of spots at elite institutions, admissions officers often make split-second decisions based on a variety of factors—like diversity, money, and, ultimately, whether a student will enroll if accepted.

One of the most insightful books ever about “getting in” and what higher education has become, Who Gets In and Why not only provides an usually intimate look at how admissions decisions get made, but guides prospective students on how to honestly assess their strengths and match with the schools that will best serve their interests."