Thursday, February 21, 2013

Blue Review Writers Talk the Talk on Education

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 3:28 PM

The audience listening to a speaker at The Blue Review release party.
  • Nathaniel Hoffman
  • The audience listens intently to speakers at The Blue Review release party Wednesday night.

The second issue of The Blue Review, Boise Weekly's partnership publication with Boise State, hit stands this week, dissecting the topic of education with a combination of academic precision and alt-weekly sass.

Last night, Feb. 20, some of the folks behind The Blue Review gathered at the Alaska Center for a discussion and forum on the articles in the sophomore issue.

To open the forum, Blue Review Editor Nathaniel Hoffman read briefly from a book of essays called The University of Tomorrowland by Jerry Farber. Farber described his vision of Jetsons/Metropolis-style university the size of a city enclosed in a glass dome with defenses against "enemy missiles."

Hoffman said he opened with that to contrast how education is actually being disrupted by technology.

The first writer to discuss his piece in The Blue Review was Chris Blanchard, who spoke about his article "Make or Buy? The software developer shortage that isn't," a scathing condemnation of Idaho's attempts to dump money into educating software designers.

"I lived in Seattle and know what a real software economy looks like," he said. "This isn't it."

Blanchard said the numbers show that regions that have top-notch education for software engineers but not genuine software economies simply bleed new graduates to other markets, and that in Idaho, software engineers account for 2.18 jobs per thousand in the state, compared to Washington's 12.48.

Blanchard said that if Idaho is serious about developing a software economy, the most important thing it could do is to stop referring to itself as a "rural" and "agricultural" state, things that don't appeal to the wired generation, and to conceptually urbanize.

Blanchard acknowledged that his thesis is likely to be contentious, considering the folk wisdom that the future is all about tech. He was correct—his presentation generated much discussion.

The next speaker, who wasn't published in the Blue Review, was Ross Perkins. Perkins spoke about the growth of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, a sort of distance-learning program that allows hundreds of thousands of people to take part in courses offered by marquee universities, and what the availability of those courses means for institutions like Boise State. As MOOCs are still developing, much of what Perkins discussed was theoretical.

One member of the audience took issue with MOOCs being part of a perceptual shift aligning education solely with job training. Others expressed concern with the idea of classrooms without actual facetime with teachers.

Perkins said that the reality was that colleges often hire experts in science fields that have never taken a single course in education, so the reality is that a good online course can be infinitely preferable to a bad professor.

The final speaker was Tad Conner, who dissected a federal study and a series of state talking points on the efficacy of merit pay for teachers.

Afterwards, the discussion continued into the evening next door at The Crux.

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