Editorial—Looking for Winners

Most of the winners from our Voice Survey have responded and goodies should be in the mail shortly, however, there are a few of you out there who haven’t yet.  So, if you filled out the Voice Survey, please check the email you left as your contest entry!  We need to get your physical address so that we can snail mail your prize, or if you don’t want it, do let us know and we’ll pull another name from our hat so you can get the warm fuzzies of giving someone else a gift!

As an aside, it’s not a literal hat, of course, I put all your email addresses together on a spreadsheet which I pass-word protected so that nobody but me knew the order, and sent it to the VPex of AUSU, along with the Editor in Chief/Executive Director.  Then we had the VPex pull a list of random numbers from random.org and send that to myself and the Editor In Chief.  Once everybody had the list of numbers, I gave the password to the spreadsheet, the first number was the row of the grand prize winner, and the subsequent 15 numbers all runners-up.  Would it have been easier if we just had someone pull names out of a hat, sure, but this way we all know (and now you all know) that nobody had the chance to swing the results in favor of any friends or family.

Which kind of ties into my larger theme, because this issue, we have a report on AUSU’s Members Meeting that took place last Thursday.  A large part of the discussion was on learning technology and what AU could do to those ends, and it struck me that when we speak of what technology we need, what we’re essentially doing is trying to figure out ways that the technology we currently have is throwing up barriers to what we want to do. As I pointed out in a previous editorial, however, technology changes so fast these days that trying to plan this out in any sort of long-term fashion is really just setting yourself up for failure, either by over-anticipating what changes will happen, or, more likely, by not being able to foresee those technological shifts that were unforeseeable.

However, it can be hard to get people to think in the truly abstract way of what they really need and want from their learning experience.  So much so that when the question came up of what do we, as students, want from our degree apart from occupational qualifications, the room—which had been reasonably lively to that point—drew a blank.  And over the previous week I’ve been pondering that question and realizing that the answer, at least for me, is not just a capacity for critical thought, but the recognition that that’s what university has imparted to me.  Yet that recognition has been increasingly lost as post-secondary institutions continue to drive their focus toward the much more measurable “after-graduation employment” statistics.

So many of us, especially in Canada, have come to see post-secondary as little more than a higher-tier job training program, but that’s a view that going to put us all in trouble as the speed of automation and the sophistication of AI continues to increase.  You can’t recognize patterns as fast as computers will. You can’t work as cheaply as machines will.  You simply can’t.

But if you have the ability to look at a situation and figure out how to apply those computers and machines, how to critically evaluate the situation, ah, then you have a skill set that’s going to remain in demand—for a little longer than most others, anyway.

But how can we communicate that to a post-secondary institution that’s increasingly incapable of responding to non-quantifiables?  An institution of primarily administrative employees who are looking for quantitative charts and spread-sheets that they can use to create quick executive summaries and bottom line evaluations to give to their bosses, so that those bosses can, in turn, pass that on to politicians who are looking for a fast sound-bite they can pass to the public about how their funding decisions have materially—not intellectually, not in terms of individual satisfaction or ability, no, just materially—benefited their voters.

And this isn’t to belittle those administrative employees either.  They’re doing the work their tasked with, responding to the pressures that are on them to continually produce more for less, to try to find ways to glean from the learning experience some sort of objective, non-disputable proof that the systems in place are generally working to give students what they need.  And when they find it, the university system responds by noting that this is good information that they can easily use to persuade people, so naturally gravitate to hiring more of the same.

But going beyond objective facts and figures requires time, it requires looking at the individual as an individual, perhaps talking to them to try to determine not just what a person is thinking, but how they’re thinking.  That’s not easy at the best of times, and there are simply way too many of us and way too few of them for any organization to really do it.

So, I’m not sure what the answer is, as to truly prepare a post-secondary institution for 50 years in the future, you need to change how society views post-secondary learning as a whole.  You need politicians who feel confident in trusting that their constituents will see the benefit of educating people as a means to train them how to think clearly, rather than as simply another occupational training centre.  You need a public who doesn’t look at any course that’s not immediately applicable to the working world as a waste of resources and time.  It’s not an easy task.  Maybe that’s why the question drew such a blank.  It’s simply too hard to find a winning answer.

Enjoy the read!

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