Posts from "March, 2013"

Thomas Friedman on Innovation

Thomas Friedman of the NYT argues that economic growth and long-term employment depend on innovation… that the jobs of the future don’t yet exist, they need to be invented. His big point is that American education needs to be reinvented to focus on the skills of innovation and creativity.

If Friedman’s general point is important and provocative, he is overly optimistic in his analysis and conclusions. Not everyone can invent their own job via innovation. The imperative in his title therefore seems somewhat flippant. He also does not take into account the
social, cultural and structural differences in his comparison of schooling in the US and Finland. Finally, while innovation often occurs at the intersections of disciplines, it is unlikely that students can “think critically” and imagine pathways to innovation if they haven’t first internalized a significant body of knowledge and specific methods of inquiry. Friedman assumes that existing knowledge is available as “facts” via MOOCs or Google; yet what student, without the proper guidance and motivation, is able to make the imaginative leap from facts to invention?

Training in the liberal arts has traditionally served American students well, both as citizens in a free society and as innovators in a free economy. I would argue that innovation depends–paradoxically–not on a break with this educational tradition but on remembering what it is and relearning how to seriously engage its modes of inquiry with the problems and issues of our time.

read here:

Are There Any Safe Bets?

Today’s NYT has a discussion forum for college bound students, tackling the question: is there a safe major that will guarantee career success?

You’ll hear the typical arguments: “Study science and technology…. English and philosophy are a waste of time…” “No, study the liberal arts… value is not defined by return on investment, but by civic engagement,” and so on. Both of these positions make some sense. But only by ignoring certain underlying realities. Science and technology can be useful for getting first jobs, but can also be self-limiting without other soft skills. Good jobs in these areas also require graduate training. And, true, English and philosophy degrees are the not the most obvious ticket to entry into the labor market.Yet evidence shows that many students in these majors thrive in the marketplace, especially when judged over the lifetime of a career. They are also excellent preparation for all professional schools, including medicine.

The response most aligned with our hybrid approach of Humanities+/+Humanities is the one by William Pannapacker. He encapsulates his position with the statement: “Don’t be the English major who says, ‘I’m scared of math and computers.’
Don’t be a chemistry major who says, ‘I never read books.” As we have argued repeatedly: humanities and liberal arts degrees are still viable and highly valued; the trick for gaining a toehold in the market, though, is to supplement such degrees with undergraduate research, a foreign language, some training in hard
skills and/or internships.

Today’s rapidly-changing global economy makes the path to long-term career success highly unpredictable. The market places a premium on flexibility, curiosity, drive and the ability to innovate. What single discipline in college prepares students for such conditions? It’s not clear. The best strategy is to combine disciplines and experiences in imaginative ways in order to create your own career pathways.


Forbes on Humanities and Careers

To the question: Does Your Major Matter? the authors of this article respond “yes” and “no”. Various studies show that engineering and tech majors are the most employable and highest paying majors immediately out of college. The story becomes more complex and counter-intuitive when you factor in long-term pay, career advancement over a lifetime, job satisfaction, and so on.


“Regular readers of our column know that we are unabashed fans
and supporters of the humanities and the creative and performing arts.
We believe that the world’s thorniest problems will not be solved–nor
will our nation be secure–without an understanding of ethics, cultures
other than our own, and what it means to be fully human. And we have
seen first-hand that students who complete liberal arts degrees have
deeply satisfying–and productive–personal and professional lives.”

More here:

*thanks to Dave Waddell for link

The BBC on Da Vinci and Modern Innovation

According to this BBC report, science and art, once taught in tandem in the time of Da Vinci, have become too radically separated in the modern university. Science and engineering are now paying the price because they are focusing too much on data and rote knowledge and not enough on unique combinations of scientific know-how and artistic thinking. New pathways toward innovation are not found in more science, we are told, but in the development of the imagination and creative vision to harness scientific thinking in new ways.

Einstein often made the same point about the process of theorization: “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited.
Imagination encircles the world.”

*thanks to Lynn Williams for the link

New Study Says College Degree Is Not Enough

According to a recent study, employers are finding that recent college grads lack the skills required for entry into the labor market. Even students with “marketable” technical training often lack the kind of liberal arts training that most innovative companies need.

One problem is that employers no longer do job training–they expect students to be “job-ready” right out of college.Yet faculty in many liberal arts or humanities colleges do not (or do not want) to see themselves as playing a role in career preparation. Even in cases where they want to help, the way forward is unclear. Combine this with 90% of college students who consider college primarily as job training and you begin to see a deepening crisis for everyone involved.

Where does this disconnect come from? What are the solutions? See article here:

Our approach to these challenges in the Humanities College at BYU has been to:

1) Encourage students to balance their education between technical/vocational and humanities disciplines. A hybrid approach–what Phil Gardner calls “a technically savvy liberal arts major or a liberally trained technical major”–is now what the market requires. Make this known to students, faculty and advisors across campus. Often we confine students to our own academic silos.

2) Focus on advising as the ground zero for messaging about how to bridge academics and careers.

3) Strongly encourage or require professionally-relevant experiences, such as undergraduate research or internships. All the evidence points to the internship as the deciding factor. But make sure it’s the right kind of internship and of sufficient duration to be meaningful.

4) Run advising workshops that teach students how to discuss the relation between academic study and internship experiences in ways that resonate with future employers.