The Best Way To Educate

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World Education University Journey Poster

Can we educate in today’s world? What is the best way to educate?

All animals must teach and learn basic skills to promote survival of their species. Since human beings are at the top of the brain-chain, it is literally only natural that we highly prize anything related to thinking and especially the transference of information, human-to-human. In the early period of human development, teaching and learning was primarily performed on a one-to-one basis—a child learning from a parent or elder often focused lessons into a narrow subject or skill, as humans usually needed only to learn survival skills. Hunting, gathering, building fire, making clothing or shelter, using tools are examples of those things that once occupied most of our educational time.

All ages share classroom

Initially, what we learned and taught was by either direct example or word of mouth. As we progressed we learned the power of cooperation. We formed organized societies that allowed, to some degree, individuals to choose a path of development. People could specialize as their individual talents, or those special skills that were attributed to their stations-in-life, were coordinated with other individuals who used their special skills for the common good. By cooperating, everyone’s life became easier and suddenly we had something we never had before…free time.
The more free time we had, the more each individual was allowed to explore new options. A growing number became literate and used communication skills to meet broader demands. Before written language, people were able to pass information from one generation to another by using oral devices (such a rhyming and storytelling) so that important instructions and information could now be transferred from one generation to another. When we learned to write things down, transferring this information became much easier. As a species we had learned to use our best tool, our brains. We explored new horizons and we adapted to each new discovery.

Teacher and students in Estonia

Formal education was eventually born. Yet, the model that we use today is relatively recent in our overall development, and perhaps better suited to a time before information not only could be recorded, but when it could also be transmitted around the globe in the blink of an eye. The question is: What drives us to educate? Can our needs to communicate and learn be met in an ever-expanding population of a rapidly changing world? Have we become too smart for our own good?

Scott Hines

Educators in a brave new world are struggling with society-changing questions just like those above. Scott Hines, president and COO of World Education University (WEU) a bold new model in higher education, spoke with L&L Editor, Gordon Richiusa about his University’s shared vision for the future:

(SH) I am one of the co-founders of the company. The other co-founder is Curtis Pickering. Curtis and I were introduced a couple of years ago by a mutual friend. In the course of getting to know one another and developing a friendship, we discovered that we had a common interest in education, and not just that. We discovered we both had a passion for bringing educational resources to lower-income people and giving folks who were living in poverty or right on the edge of poverty an opportunity to pursue high quality education and lift themselves out of poverty and become productive and successful citizens. This is based upon our own personal experiences. In my case, I was a kid who grew up in a foster home in western Colorado. My family didn’t have much. My parents who ultimately adopted me were not well-educated people themselves. They valued education, but they had just not had the opportunity to pursue education. They came from farming communities. So, they really raised us to cherish and value education and instilled in us the fact that education was our ticket to a better life. I was made aware of the United States Air Force Academy, while living there in Colorado, by a man who later became a mentor to me. He challenged me when I was in elementary school to work hard and shoot for the stars to get into the Air Force Academy. So, I just made that my goal, because I just saw that as my only real way to go to college. It was a free university, though very competitive, so it really appealed to me. I worked hard and made it into the Academy. I graduated from there with a bachelor’s degree and went into the Air Force. The Air Force paid for a couple of master’s degrees along the way and I did well. I really look back and see that period as a turning point in my life. I am very thankful for that free gift of education, because without it I have no idea where I would be today. When I finished a decade of service in the Air Force, as an officer, I started a K-12 tutoring program that was specifically focused and geared toward foster children and low-income youth, funded through contracts with schools and foster care agencies. I grew that into a national company and was able to successfully sell that business. I stayed on as CEO for a while then moved to California to enjoy the good life. I’ve been working the past five or six years in politics. Until recently, I was a registered lobbyist in California, mostly with education issues. I’m now the mayor of my city, Rancho Mirage (just down from Palm Springs), but this has really been a theme in my life. When I met Curtis, we had both been working on somewhat similar concepts. We merged our efforts and WEU was born.
My whole city is a retirement community. I’m the youngest person ever elected and all my colleagues are in their seventies and eighties, which is great. I love helping youth and I love helping seniors. Everybody else in the middle has to fend for themselves (laughing).

Curtis Pickering and Scott Hines

(G) You talk about the disenfranchised, but what about all those others who are not disenfranchised. How can WEU help those people? Let’s make that even more specific. Let’s talk to people in education who are working in the current models of education.
(SH) Absolutely! I think WEU makes smart financial sense for a lot of folks who are attending a bricks and mortar school or intend to, and are not wanting to incur loads and loads of student debt, but still want to get a high quality education. I think we also appeal to people who are pursuing continuing education, working professionals who may not be underserved or lower socio-economic status, but are still at a point in their life where they can’t afford to quit their work or go to school full-time to achieve that master’s degree, Ph.D. or continuing education. So, we offer a really great option for those folks, as well. But, at the end of the day, we really predict that 75 to 80 percent of our students will be people who would otherwise not be able to access college at all. Those who won’t be able to have that opportunity in any other way are really our target market.

(G) In other words, you won’t be stealing students from the other community colleges and universities?
(SH) I don’t see it that way. Our local community college turned away thousands of students this year, because they simply didn’t have room in the school. There literally was not the physical space in that bricks and mortar campus, there weren’t enough teachers, they weren’t funded to the point where they could handle all those who wanted to be students. I think we are a great partner of bricks and mortar schools. We can handle overflow students and maybe they’ll come to us for a semester or a year until a space opens up in that school. We would hope that those schools would accept transfer credits from us. I also think there is something to be said for having the [traditional] college experience, particularly if you are a four-year college student. All but one of my own children desires to move to college campuses and live in dormitories to have that experience. My other child would rather work and make money and go to school at WEU. Of course, what it comes down to is that we provide a choice that doesn’t currently exist in the marketplace.

(G) What are you most proud about with WEU?
(SH) One of the things I’m most about with WEU is that we’ve built a program and a culture that completely focuses on giving back. When students enroll with us they sign student agreements, contracts. In a traditional environment that contract has a lot to do with tuition and the repayment of that tuition, if it’s a loan type of situation. In our case we ask that students repay World Education University for the free gift of education by simply taking that education and then going out into the world and doing good with it. It’s our goal to inspire and spawn a whole generation of social-entrepreneurs, who recognize that they’ve been given this free gift of education, and they take that and they go and do good, whether on a local, national or international level. We memorialize that in an actual contract, largely based on an honor system, but we believe it’s symbolic and meaningful and represents the quintessential aspect that defines WEU. It’s what we’re all about. It is the genesis of the founding, because it is Curtis Pickering’s and my belief that since we were granted free education we need to do the same. So, we call it our Pay It Forward Program.

(G) WEU was recently covered in the Sacramento Bee Newspaper, correct?
(SH) Yes, we’ve been covered all over the country and even in our local Palm Springs newspaper just this week. One of the things that these articles emphasize, and a message we want to make clear to potential students is, free doesn’t mean low quality. We’re building an incredibly high quality, high caliber program and it’s tough. WEU is not a skate in the park. It’s hard to get through our courses and programs, because they are at a very high caliber. As a result we’re recruiting some of the most amazing professors out there. Just today, in fact, we contracted with a woman who is a Ph.D. in Pennsylvania, a national expert in art therapy, which is a specific field in Psychology. In fact, she is the president of the national art therapy credentialing board. She’s a super, high quality person and when she heard about what we are doing she immediately reached out to us and said, “I want to be a part of this.” Her name is Dr. Penny Orr. Her comment to us was that she sees so many students turned away because they can’t afford to pay. Or, they might not be able to get quite high enough of an SAT score to get in, but they clearly have college potential, and it breaks her heart when she sees that happen. So, she wants to be a part of an organization that doesn’t pride itself on exclusivity, but prides itself on the fact that everyone is welcome. At the end of the day, it’s based on a person’s individual responsibility that gets them through the programs. Remember, that is coming from a person who is currently working within traditional Academe. We’ve got a hundred more of those stories of people coming to us who want to be a part of this movement to bring high caliber, high quality education and subject matter expertise to the table. I just find that inspiring.

(G) Are their any other specific groups that might benefit from WEU or abuses that might be mitigated with WEU’s expansion?
(SH) Anything that works for the advantage of military personnel is very near and dear to my heart, as a veteran myself. I’m very upset at some of the for-profit colleges who are preying upon GIs, taking that GI Bill money and not following through and helping these veterans complete college. That is just unethical. We offer a phenomenal opportunity for veterans not to have to take on that amount of debt or use their benefits for classes or programs that are not accepted by other universities. The military can come and do a lot of their courses with us and it will be meaningful training for them.

(G) Let’s talk about the phrase FREE education. Is it really possible that WEU can deliver on such a promise? Has making such a promise caused unforeseen problems?
(SH) We go back and forth with that. Some accreditors ban the use of the word free in all marketing. We were meeting with one of the accreditation groups and we had to say, “But we really are free.” They wanted to know how that could be and we had to go through our whole business model for them, after which they said, “Well, we might have to get a waiver for you guys.” Sometimes we do say tuition free, but the pushback we’ve gotten on that is some people then think we are merely playing semantics and finding other sneaky ways to have students pay for their education. To those I have to say, No, no, no it is truly free. There are no application fees, no graduation certificate fees or any others. We know there are some other groups who have tried to sneak in costs to students, in the fine print, where there are many costs that must be absorbed by the student. We’re still experimenting with that particular vernacular because we want to make it clear that our programs are really 100% free to the students. One of the challenges we are facing right now is that many Ph.D.’s, who have created courses in the past, have done so around a textbook, or a series of books and refer to the readings in those books or some other required purchase. A student in a traditional classroom might have to spend five, six or seven hundred dollars per class, on books alone. That doesn’t work for us. To be completely free there should be no book fees, no fees whatsoever. There is a lot of open source content out there that we’re navigating through and we’re talking to several publishers about having a sort of partnership with us, but that is still a hurdle we’re wrestling with right now.

(G) How far off is accreditation?
(SH) We believe that the completion of the process is within a year for us with a national accreditor and perhaps two years with a regional accreditor. We are, however, authorized to grant degrees and operate as a non-accredited college in California at this point. To become licensed to operate in California we had to apply with the Bureau of Post-Secondary Education. However, after 2009 the higher education licensors provide exemptions. We are actually exempt from the law in California, because we offer our courses and do not charge tuition. As a result we are exempt from the regulation in this state. Therefore, we are authorized as a non-accredited college to grant degrees because of that. One of concerns for these organizations is consumer fraud protection, and since no one spends any money with us, there is no possibility of fraud. We continue to work with these organizations anyway because we want them to be informed of our activities and even champion what we are doing. By their own words, they have no real legal authority to regulate us. So, they wished us the best of luck and appear to be excited with what we’re trying to do.

(G) So how would you summarize your initiative and put in context the mission of WEU, in the bigger picture of evolution of education?
(SH) From a systemic standpoint, we are really bucking the system. We’re turning higher education on its head, because, until now it has been a club atmosphere. College graduates are somewhat in a club within society. It has become somewhat elitist to gain access to that club and become a college graduate. A graduate has access to things that non-college graduates don’t have, such as better employment. We are really leading a social justice movement, bringing high quality, high caliber education to the masses. That really shifts things within society. It has implications for the national economy, and so we are swimming upstream. There has been some resistance from the administrative members of academe because the model is quite threatening. On the other hand, the professors are swarming to be a part of our team. So, there is a disconnection between the administrations and those who work as instructors at these institutions. We frame ourselves as Social Justice Freedom Fighters and are extremely passionate about our cause. Nothing will dissuade us.

(G) So, in a perfect world, if you could look ahead 50 years, what will education look like?
(SH) You’ll have to reference check me, but I believe it was Thomas Friedman in the New York Times who said, “Fifty years from now, there will only be ten universities in the country.” What we are looking at now, through technology is probably such an extreme disruption that it will change the way that higher education is delivered and that colleges will be aggregated into large bodies or forced out of business. So, we see a pretty radical future, where everything is learned in a personalized and adaptive manner, using technology. The model of a lecturer, lecturing with one-way communication to a lecture-hall of students is probably going to be considered very antiquated in the future. WEU is different from the other open source or online colleges out there, in several ways. Groups like Coursera or Udacity are wonderful entities that are trailblazers and first-to-market, but their models are starkly different in that they are surrogate hosting sites for other university’s courses with no real definitive endpoint for students. They don’t grant degrees; they may grant certificates for completion of an individual course, which could be meaningful for some individuals. We firmly believe that our market, the people who are to improve their lives, need something more comprehensive. They need a complete turnkey university experience, which is what we plan to offer with degrees and diplomas that are granted for the accomplishment. That’s probably the starkest difference. Other groups are created by Ph.D.’s for Ph.D.’s and used to promote Ph.D.’s. We are about the needs of students. Our technology is disruptive as well. Our PALS system, which stands for Pinpoint Adaptive Learning System is now in the tech crunch and development stage. We are trying to provide a personalized learning experience based upon a number of measurable factors. A student begins their experience with WEU by taking a proprietary Cognitive Learning Assessment. It’s a self-report test, similar in many ways to the Meyers-Briggs test. Student report a number of different things about themselves, answering personality-type questions. The output of the CLA is one of sixteen different thinking styles. This is based on research in both the neuroscience and behavioral science fields. So, depending on what type or style of thinker you are, PALS will adapt the way which information is presented to you, based upon how your brain best processes, retains and recalls information. And, then from there, as one moves through the system we track all of the data of our student’s interaction with the information. We can see every keyboard stroke so that we can better develop systems in the future to provide the most personalized experience possible for students, based on how they prefer to learn. It’s a pretty exciting system, very cutting edge and I think we’ll really define the future of learning, not just the higher education but from Pre-K-12 all the way to learners in their gray years. We are aiming to ultimately create an eco-system of education that caters to pre-K through gray. We will have programs for toddlers right through college, with enrichment classes for seniors who are interested in learning. All of those students’ brains are at different levels of development, and they all learn differently. A senior person’s brain processes information differently than someone in their thirties or in grade school. So, if we develop the PAL System, and we learn more and more from the data we collect we’ll be able to develop a more personalized experience for every individual, based upon their stage of life, as well as their preferences and on and on.

NOTE(s) FROM EDITOR:

It’s important to emphasize that WEU, though a unique and somewhat frightening model for some, views education as a team effort. They know that there is no one solution to the complex problem of educating for the future. The California Community Colleges, for instance is currently the largest system of higher education in the nation. It is composed of 72 districts and 112 colleges serving 2.4 million students per year. Community colleges supply workforce training, basic skills courses in English and math, and prepare students for transfer to four-year colleges and universities. All programs and perspectives that put the student first are high on every true educator’s agenda. The Chancellor’s Office, in every state provides leadership, advocacy and support under the direction of the Board of

Chancellor Brice Harris

Governors. In the California Community Colleges, educator, Dr. Brice W. Harris was just named 15th Chancellor of the California Community Colleges. He is representative of those who hold similar offices and responsibilities in other parts of the country.

Formerly, Harris was the longest-serving chancellor at Los Rios, with nearly 16 years at the helm, and he led two local bond measures that funded facilities improvements and allowed the district to serve thousands of additional students. The Los Rios district includes American River, Cosumnes River, Folsom Lake and Sacramento City colleges, and enrolls more than 85,000 students each semester. Harris oversaw the establishment of the district’s fourth college, Folsom Lake, and provided the vision that made it home to a regional performing arts center, which was recently renamed in his honor. Dr. Harris—who we hope to interview in an upcoming edition–said this about his appointment: “It is humbling to be asked to lead such a tremendous system of colleges serving the educational needs of California. The California Community Colleges have helped educate generations of citizens, and these colleges are even more important to the future of our great state. Serving as the system chancellor at this time is very exciting.  The efforts that retiring Chancellor Jack Scott and the board of governors have begun, which relate to improving student success provide us all a clear road-map to a better future for our colleges and for California.”

 

Within this edition, there are two more articles that directly relate to the broad subject of Education. One deals with Correctional Education, or educating inmates within the jails and prisons. To read that article, click here. John Gates, a retired member of the United State Army, relates a poingnant lesson he gained of how some third world countries view and value education. You can link to his article by clicking here or one of the images below.

Seeking understanding

Another perspective

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Gordon Richiusa About Gordon Richiusa

Gordon Richiusa is an Italian American who has been a martial artist for some 50 years. He teaches the Five Bird System. Gordon earned a Master of Arts degree in English and has written numerous articles, stories, books and scripts under his own name and his pen-name, Gordon Rich. He has been a teacher of English Composition, Film as Literature, Creative Writing, and Scriptwriting and He holds two teaching credentials.