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The Future of Higher Education - Part 2

Continuing our conversation with Gordon Jones, President of CWI, we look at how breaking the mold on the standard model of education can lead to better results. In PART TWO of our interview - We discuss our own experiences with higher education and what things really stood out to us. Part 3 coming soon!

Ashley Byington: How do we prepare kids in like K through 12 or for example, or middle school, high school, whatever. Um, for those things like how do, what kind of experiences can we provide them in K through 12 that can prepare them for these experiences in college or in higher ed?

Gordon Jones: I mean, I have plenty of thoughts, but I don't know someone else wants to kick it off cuz you're seeing things from your lens as well.

Grant Hathaway: So I can point to what got me really excited about STEM and it was a robotics class I took in seventh grade and it was the coolest. The high school teacher came in and we did like Lego robotics, and we did drafting, and it was super, super strict. It's probably the most strict class I'd taken up to that point, but it was the most fun cause we got to create and build, we built robots, we had contests, and the whole class ended with this project that required us to pop a balloon in as close to one minute as possible using robotics. You couldn't use timers. It had to be just mechanisms movement, so kind of like a Rube Goldberg machine. And it was the coolest thing that I had done for probably all of my K through 12 education, but being hands on, getting in there, building that... That's what got me excited. I knew I wanted to be in tech for a long time. I thought I wanted to be mechanical engineering, but after I took, uh, differential equations, I realized that that wasn't the case. So, I think that hands on experience is kind of a tough point for a lot of places. Cuz if you don't have the resources, it's hard to kind of whip together a really meaningful hands on lesson. You can only do so much with, you know, spaghetti noodles and marshmallows. There are some real needs that people have to create interesting hands on projects.

When you have tech, there's so much more need for people to be designers, content, creators and content. I see that as a big problem for a lot of places when they want to be technical and hands on, but think they have limited resources. Truthfully, there are so many free resources out there nowadays. It's just the knowledge base and the time that it would require the teachers to use them that is difficult. We've talked about that a lot as well, you know, blender is an awesome 3d modeling program. It's free to use, it's open source. Um, you can write code in it, you can do all these really cool things, but the learning curve is just insane.

Ashley Byington: That's a good segue. Cole designs our curriculum, so I'm curious to see how you engineer introducing those sorts of topics maybe, you know, with somebody who has never done it before. Like how do you prepare them for higher ed with that?

Cole Smith: We kind of have to start by taking a broad look at whatever concept we want to get to the students and then just breaking it down as far as we possibly can, um, both for the instructors and for the students to digest. If you give a student a topic, or an instructor a topic that they're not ready to tackle, more often than not it just completely turns them away from what they're trying to learn. So what we've been trying to do is take our curriculum in a direction that is comfortable but is still challenging. And maybe it's - it's difficult to get it a hundred percent correct. But one of the big things that I believe in when tackling anything in this vein is, uh, sort of managing failure and seeing failure as a great opportunity to try again and to learn from what you've done previously and to build on it. Both in our game design and 3d modeling and esports - anything like that. Um, we want students to try new things. We want them to walk down a path and hit a brick wall and then find a way around it.

Gordon Jones: Yeah. I think the thing I think of as I listen to this is with my lens is that there's a lot of educators who recognize the value of what we would call, applied learning. Um, the idea that every student should have the ability to apply ideas we're teaching in the classroom. That could be in the liberal arts, if you're gonna study Shakespeare, maybe you take your hand trying to write your own play, right? Try to be the author of something. At the same time, I think when it comes to technology, what's another theme that I see in higher ed today is one of the challenging operating environments we have. And that's K-20 too, K-12 through higher ed is the pace of change on the technologies that we're trying to teach. We all acknowledge, or many of us acknowledge, we are going into a technologically enabled era. I think what's hard for education and public education systems is we're not used to this pace of change. Cybersecurity's another one you can learn all you want, and in six months it's antiquated. It's hard to get teachers. It's hard to recruit. It's hard to train. So you have to think - where do I find those solutions if I'm passionate about having our students have that opportunity? And I think most educators are absolutely passionate. Nobody wants to be "left behind". So I think it's an interesting conundrum, or it's an interesting opportunity in either case. I think these are the kind of environments I hear all three of you kind of referencing in your own way is, you know, the problem that many educators or decision makers and educational districts face.

Grant Hathaway: When I found the GIMM program at Boise state, that's when I really started doing better in school, cuz I'd already been teaching after school. I knew that I like teaching video game design and Unity was like the coolest, most exciting thing. And I had taken an engineering CAD course in mechanical engineering after I switched from material science engineering. So I knew that I loved it. And when I found GIMM I was like, oh, that's awesome. I jumped in and really found my stride. I was getting like straight A's for the first time, not just in college, but like my whole life. It was all project based and I could just sit and create. I'd failed a couple coding classes before this, but in GIMM, the gaming interactive media and mobile technology program, I learned to code. I was doing well. It changed my experience in higher education and that program was started under your watch.

Gordon Jones: Yeah, so, you know, President of College of Western Idaho. Prior to this, I was the founding Dean of what's called the College of Innovation and Design at Boise State, which is a wonderful four year institution here in Idaho. I was smart enough to know who are the people that we want to bet on or, or invest in or resource. But more importantly to me - what GIMM was about from my lens, was modality of learning. Like, hey, I failed three programming classes, but GIMM really clicked. And I know that's because there's that faculty member who's so inspirational and so talented - designed cohort based learning, applied learning, you learned that there's more to setting up the learning environment than just the teaching of material. And I don't know how you experienced the other coding classes, but what really I focused on at Boise State and the college I was in (COID) was back to this, where's the ball headed? Where do we need to be flexible? GIMM still would not have been created at Boise State had there not been a vehicle like a College of Innovation and Design where we were disciplinarily agnostic. And if you think about what goes into GIMM from an academic standpoint, it's actually comprised of three different disciplines that normally would never work together in any meaningful blended way. Art, psychology, and computer science. That's a recognition from faculty about what goes into these majors. Traditionally you'd say we'll just make 'em take a art 302, an art 401 and we'll all add my programming, and then I'll take this. But you know, sometimes when you add, uh, you know, a third of a donkey, a third of an elephant and a third of a cheetah, you know, you don't really get what you're, you don't design the race horse that you were intending to design, right? You know, and that's the famous saying from folks, is that when you form a committee to design a race horse, if you're asking everybody just to put their piece in, you end up with a camel at the end.

Ashley Byington: I just got really excited because I was an art student. I was originally an illustration major. And when I came into GIMM, it was because I wanted to do animation. Long story short, I did not graduate from GIMM, but I still stayed in the College of Innovation and Design. And the most, um, monumental class for me was actually the leadership course that is in COID and -

Gordon Jones: Dr. Reader. Yeah.

Ashley Byington: Yeah. And I had to read so many books, but people were coming in who were business owners from the area, and talking to us about these amazing experiences that they had and we were getting, you know, taught from the lenses of so many different people. It taught me so much about moving through my life. So like you said, melding those things together just made my college experience so cool. I got, you know, it was like art and then I got the leadership classes and then I was in GIMM for a while and I learned coding and you know, all the things that I wanted to learn. And so even though I didn't graduate because of the cost of higher ed, uh, especially at a four year university, um, I left and I felt so prepared for my career. I didn't need the degree to validate that necessarily because I learned so much while I was in that program.

Gordon Jones: I think the thing I wanna make sure I emphasize, cuz not everybody who's gonna be listening to us chat knows what GIMM or Boise state or College of Innovation and Design is. The main theme here is as an educator, what I'm passionate about is be willing to experiment. Be willing to try. Be willing to nurture. There's a level of understandable risk aversion. I would use the fear that if I don't design something perfectly or make sure I've fully, you know, kind of not only reviewed, but then double reviewed, triple reviewed that, that it gets hard to be willing to try new things. I'm just here to try to encourage people. I don't know, everybody's regulatory environment and I understand those are important things to consider, but be willing to try, be willing to experiment. Not everything has to be designed by you for you. Where do you experiment? Sometimes find partners. That's a core component of my time in the College of Innovation and Design. So people don't necessarily to know what GIMM is, just understand what we're talking about here is are you willing to experiment? Are you willing to back that kind of curious faculty member you have, or teacher who is kind of wanting to, you know, try to apply things or design things in a little different way with a twist, how do we get behind not get afraid of that experimentation?

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