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Ed O'Malley

Ed O'Malley

A former state legislator and gubernatorial aide, Ed O’Malley is President and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center, a first-of-its-kind training center charged with fostering large-scale civic leadership for healthier communities. He tweets at eomalley.

We need citizens, not just workers

Q: How would you assess the leadership of college presidents in embracing new technology and innovative teaching techniques aimed at reducing costs, improving quality and reengineering higher education? What leadership steps would you recommend for them?

Retro is in. Albums are back. I wish I still had a record player. I hope the bold new future for higher education is retro too. New technology and innovative teaching techniques should help universities connect with their original objective - creating citizens for a democratic society. In comparison, adapting to new technologies should be the easy part.

I usually don't like mission statements. They reek of wordsmith debates over commas and semi-colons. However, I can't stop thinking about a simple, yet powerful, mission, from a tiny school nestled in the Wichita metro area. Founded in 1933, Newman University's mission is to "empower graduates to transform society."

I love it. The mission is not to prepare a workforce. It's not to be a top 25 university in media rankings, nor to be a certain size. It's simple - empower graduates to transform society.

University presidents must exercise leadership to create a culture that prepares students for the transformational work needed to create a stronger, healthier, more prosperous society. Embracing new technology is a means; the end must be producing graduates ready to transform society.

We need citizens, not just workers. Yes, we all need a job. Yes, the workforce is changing and educators everywhere must adjust, but citizenship must be the priority. Do new graduates know how to build relationships across boundaries? Have they left school with purpose and passion, or just a skill set? Have they been prepared for uncertainty, ambiguity and conflict, three things always present in any attempt to transform anything be it a company, organization, community or society?

I imagine the pressures on a university president are great. Achieving continued excellence in higher education will require changes - including adaptation to new technology - that conflict with a system based on tradition, history and protocol. Real or perceived loss is all around whenever discussions about new technologies emerge. A professor friend of mine described campus conversations about online learning and new technologies as being fraught with fear and anger. People perceive, some rightly so, that their livelihood is at stake.

The question above connects new technologies with the higher education funding cutbacks. What's a university president to do? I know it is cliché, but do what's important. View new technologies as tools, not solutions. Prepare graduates to transform society to be stronger, healthier and more prosperous, and the money issues will solve themselves.

By Ed O'Malley

 |  May 26, 2010; 2:20 PM ET
Category:  Education leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I agree that technology has become a religion, and that we in the classroom have been pushed to "embrace" it, even absent evidence that it improves teaching.

Technology can certainly be used advantageously in classroom, and I use it myself. But often, textbook companies do little more than reproduce the traditional textbook ancillaries in an online format, which is an expensive (to the consumer) missed opportunity.

Even when technology is used to truly enhance learning, here are two points that are rarely acknowledged:
1. Technology has become a financial black hole for educational institutions. The relentless updating by technology companies, the rapid forced obsolescence of hardware and software means a constant scramble for money to keep expensive technology equipment in schools and colleges from becoming dinosaurs. When the IT people whistle with astonishment before a computer that is five years old, we as a society have a problem.

2. Using this technology, especially since it is constantly changing, requires a huge time investment for teachers and other university personnel. For teachers, the advent of technology has not reduced course loads. On the contrary, we are told that technology makes things easier for us, so we should be able to handle more. Yet, machines constantly break down, connections constantly fail -- such that every technology-based lesson plan requires a non-tech-based plan B. Using websites in class means having to update constantly, since they are so ephemeral. Constantly changing technology systems means time invested in constant retraining and constant updating and adapting already-established materials.

One last note: non-religious universities are also working to form thinking, concerned, engaged citizens.

Posted by: lxp19 | May 28, 2010 3:43 AM
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I am currently a student in the Masters of Social Work Program through Newman. They have been so innovative in bringing upper level degrees to rural western Kansas. They are fulfilling their goal to transform society and I am so excited to be a part of that.

Posted by: laurieb3 | May 27, 2010 1:51 PM
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Thanks so much for your positive comments about our powerful mission, Ed. I couldn't agree more about technology being a means. Yes it's important but our purpose is, indeed, to empower graduates to transform society.
Noreen Carrocci, President
Newman University

Posted by: noreenc | May 27, 2010 10:19 AM
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