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For at least a decade, higher education has
aspired to drive itself forward by dispassionate
scrutiny of data. Opinions and judgments are today
undergirded by numbers. And they inevitably lead
us from peripheral certainty to a centrist conclusion.
Technology and its use in education offers the
most interesting and complex example. First the
noise: technology will bring down costs, increase
participation, improve learning outcomes, expand
opportunities. The signal, found after many years
of experience and data-gathering, both confirms and
abridges each of those assertions.
Online classes, blended deliveries, flipped
classrooms, and digital archives do facilitate learning,
especially for the mature student. Technology allows
us immediate and comfortable access to whatever
data we may deem important. We can quickly
capture and preserve our thoughts, and no poorly
written sentence need be left unattended, irrespective
of where it falls in a piece of writing. Students can
encounter new information in various media, and
faculty can embed interactive responses in any
lecture delivered online. Most miraculous: We can
retrieve, with only a word or two, the full text of any
imperfectly remembered verse. Technology cannot
speak to longings of our spirits, our frames of mind,
our willingness to continue a difficult task. Only a
human voice can fill those deeper needs of the soul,
enabling us to soldier forward in our work.
Even to avail ourselves of the life-giving power of
art, we often require a guide to show us the way. It
has often been said that the piano lesson is the most
inefficient learning forum: one master sitting with one
pupil. It is also the only way to learn to make music at
the piano. If the goal is measurable learning outcomes
-- life-altering encounters with a master who can
respond to his or her student’s unique circumstances
-- technology does not offer a satisfactory alternative
to the presence of a great teacher. Massive Open
Online Courses (MOOCs) can offer free access to
much information, and students may listen in as a
great teacher speaks, but the faculty’s evaluation
of work and the guidance of effort, the center of
intellectual life in all the best universities, cannot be
offered to a class of 40,000.
The end of this biennium finds Texas A&M
International University healthy and enormously
productive, engaged daily in separating signals from
noise and managing programs both successful and
at present underfunded. We will pursue petroleum
engineering as an obvious addition to our curriculum
and a wider role for intentional leadership training in
all disciplines. The Texas A&M University System and
our Chancellor John Sharpwill expand our deployment
of strategies both economically and intellectually
sound: shared services and immediate access to
online curricula in all our institutions. The County of
Webb has graciously agreed to fund a tennis complex
to boost the quality of life on this campus and in our
Are our times more subject than Emily Dickinson’s
to fluctuations between Sense and Madness? The
plaza, to be sure, is more crowded; public frogs
abound. But would any of humanity’s great souls
--Homer, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Shakespeare,
Cervantes, Bach, Mozart, Lincoln -- find our challenges
I think not.
Dr. Ray Keck, III