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Mallory Keller ’17: Reflections on Silicon Valley

By Peter Tschirhart on March 30, 2015
The Benton Scholars at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The Benton Scholars at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The following post was written by Mallory Keller ’17, who just returned from the Benton Scholars’ spring break trip to Silicon Valley. An aspiring educator, Mallory reflects on the future of higher education and the importance of building community.


I started this trip doubtful about the future of online education. For almost a year, the Benton Scholars program has focused on online education in a university setting; we took online courses ourselves, then hosted speakers who are leaders in the field of online education. We are even designing and participating an online class for Colgate University–working together to see if it is possible for a small, liberal arts university to exist online, and in what capacity. There was a wide range of opinions and experiences with online education across the group of us who went on the trip and, at least for myself, I was hoping this trip would change my opinion.

Our first visit was to Minerva, an online institution that opened this year, that aspires to change the concept of an university. Minerva felt very much like a start-up, which at least for myself, is not something I want to feel from my university. Maybe it is the social construct that has been engraved in my brain since I was young, but I still view a university as a campus with huge, beautiful buildings with students lounging on the quad, throwing a frisbee around. To enroll in a school like Minerva, you have to be able to take risks, and I am not willing to do that with my education. The next day we visited Khan Academy and were able to sit down and talk with Sal Khan, the founder. We all had read his book, The One World Schoolhouse, and we were full of questions to ask him. We discussed the future of online education, and I feel like the conclusion of the discussion was that online education is a supplement to what a student learns in the classroom, but it cannot replace the physical classroom.

The Benton Scholars visit Big Bend Redwood State Park.

The Benton Scholars visit Big Bend Redwood State Park.

While some online spaces may foster this, the one thing that I value most in my education, and the thing that I find missing in online education, is the sense of community that is created on a campus. There is a bond that is formed from being in a physical space with the same people day after day, which I do not think exists online. While you can be logged-on and participating in discussions at the same time as others, you are in different physical spaces, like your home, a coffee shop, or the library. The importance of community was shown through this trip as well. At the end of their freshman year, the Benton Scholars’ freshman class takes a trip together abroad, so I was already pretty close with the other sophomores on this trip. However, there were freshmen and seniors on the trip that I was not as close with, and I enjoyed that we were able to get to know each other more during the four days. While the purpose of this trip was to learn about online education, I think it also helped create a greater sense of community in the Benton Scholar program.


Quanzhi Guo ’18: Reflections on Silicon Valley

By Peter Tschirhart on March 27, 2015
The Benton Scholars meet for a discussion during their trip to San Francisco in March, 2015.

The Benton Scholars meet for a discussion during their trip to San Francisco in March, 2015. (Photo by Karen Harpp.)

Quanzhi Guo ’18 traveled with the Benton Scholars to San Francisco during March, 2015. Their trip explored innovation in the education and technology sectors and included visits to Khan Academy, the Minerva Project, and Tesla–as well as a hike through Big Basin Redwood State Park. In what follows, Quanzhi reflects on this experience, and on the importance of a dynamic and engaging liberal arts education. (A longer version of this blog post is featured at China Personified.)


On the ninth floor overlooking the busy San Francisco downtown, everyone is working on Macs in open-plan stations—the atmosphere feels like any startup in California.

But I am in a school, with no students in sight — Minerva Schools at KGI, a new institution that hopes to shake the whole education sector.

Over spring break, I traveled with an online education-themed Benton trip to San Francisco, where we visited both Minerva and Khan Academy.

The Benton seminar I am taking this semester is called the Advent of Atomic Bomb, which examines the history, science, and ethics behind atomic bomb. My experience had been, so far, bittersweet. While it is interesting and intellectually stimulating to engage with alumni from all age groups and various walks of life online, the workload is heavier. Besides the normal assigned readings and project-based homework offline, we need to watch the lectures online beforehand because class-time is reserved for advanced discussion. So we are expected to master the basics on our own time. This targeted and technology-enhanced blend is challenging and rigorous–it is the way I want to be pushed.

Benton Scholars listen to a presentation at Minerva in downtown San Francisco.

Benton Scholars listen to a presentation at Minerva in downtown San Francisco.

To me, Minerva is exciting. However, while living in six countries (students at Minerva live in a new city each semester) and being one of a select few has allure (last year, the acceptance rate was only 2.8%), I question the real meaning behind it. Does being physically present in a country, spending most of your time taking online classes in dorms, while going shopping and sightseeing on weekends, equate to immersion in a foreign culture? Aren’t existing study-abroad programs, which allow students to take classes in local universities and live in host families, more authentic? For affordability, at least Colgate subsidizes all expenses for students receiving financial aid. Similarly with diversity: Does having a higher number of international students necessarily mean more different perspectives? At Minerva, one can definitely take advantage of urban resources; but how can you truly make use of it in Berlin if you can’t speak German, or Barcelona if you can’t speak Spanish?

Then there was Sal Khan, who sat on an organic-style stool at Khan Academy, talking about how he started making tutorials to improve the accessibility of new information. Thanks to people like Sal Khan, information is becoming more freely accessible, so class time can be reserved for engaged and deeper-level discussions, for skill development and real-life interaction. And I really appreciate how Colgate, too, can offer that–all with classes of size no more than 20.

Benton Scholars meet with Sal Khan to discuss the future of online education.

Benton Scholars meet with Sal Khan to discuss the future of online education.

When we discussed and shared views over a cup of coffee in the afternoon sun, I realized that what I value after nearly a year at Colgate is the sense of connection. Personally, I hate the panic when my computer breaks down and an online submission is due soon. Also, I don’t want to just “like” my classmate’s answer by clicking a button. I want to give him a pat or high-five with a wide grin. Most importantly, I treasure how my professors interact with me, not just in class or office hours, but how they share with me their life stories over home-cooked dinner, after guests’ lectures, and during trips like this one.

I don’t think that brick-and-mortar universities will be obsolete soon, but it can definitely become better. Technology is never a substitute, but a complement to make things better.


Details: Benton Scholars, Online Education Symposium

By Peter Tschirhart on September 15, 2014

LOGO

As part of a semester-long program to explore online education and its implications for liberal arts institutions, the Benton Scholars are hosting visits from three experts in the field, each of whom will bring a very different perspective to the conversation:

  1. Thursday, Sept. 18 (4:30pm, Lawrence 20): Dr. Fiona Hollands, Columbia University and author of an in-depth study on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), investigates the goals of institutions that are developing and delivering MOOCs, their costs and impact on educational outcomes, and expectations for whether and how this phenomenon may change the landscape of learning over the next few years. The full report is here.
  2. Monday, Oct. 20 (4:30 PM, Lawrence 20): Dr. George Siemens, Director of the Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge (LINK) Research Lab at the University of Texas in Arlington, has been a pioneer in online education and is author of Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age and Knowing Knowledge. His blog can be found here.
  3. Monday, Oct. 27 (4:30 PM, Persson Auditorium): Dr. Marc Bousquet, Assoc. Prof. Department of English, Emory University, author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation, and editor of The Politics of Information; The Electronic mediation of Social Change and Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers. His website is here.

We welcome anyone interested in these topics to participate through any of several different venues:

  1. Come to the presentations! There will be ample time for discussion during and after the presentations, and a reception afterward. Times and places are listed above
  2. Listen to the presentations online. They will be livestreamed through the Colgate EdX site. You can sign up here.  The site is open, and has the following resources available:
    1. A list of readings relevant to the seminar by Dr. Hollands.
    2. Discussion questions designed by Dr. Hollands in preparation for the seminar.
    3. An open discussion forum to begin conversations.
  3. Submit questions at any time before or during the presentations by emailing: ols@colgate.edu
  4. Watch the presentations later on our EdX site. They will be archived for later viewing.
  5. Join-in conversations during and after the presentation, also at the EdX site. We invite Colgate students, faculty, and alumni, as well as individuals from our peer institutions, to participate. We hope to generate an ongoing conversation that will benefit everyone.

Please join us as we explore this important issue in higher education today. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact either Karen Harpp or Peter Tschirhart.


First All-Benton Dinner of the Year

By mkeller on September 3, 2014

The Benton Scholars program kicked off the new school year last Thursday with an All-Benton Dinner at Alana Cultural Center. Members from all class years attended this event, along with members from the greater Colgate community, including Peter Tschirhart, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Scholars Program; Professor Karen Harpp, Benton Scholars Faculty Director; Dean Kim Germain from the Office of Fellowships; Kara Bingham from the Office of Off-Campus Study; Thad Mantaro from the Shaw Wellness Institute; and Michael Sciola, Director of Career Services.

Attendees from the All-Benton Dinner

Attendees from the All-Benton Dinner

All-Benton Dinners are well attended, giving students a chance to meet the new class of Benton Scholars and reconnect with other students returning from semesters abroad.

Professor Karen Harpp discusses with students

Professor Karen Harpp discusses the upcoming year.

Members of all class years interact with one another

Members of all class years interact with one another

Dinner Time!

Dinner Time!

Dinner Discussions

Dinner Discussions

 


Benton Summer Project, 2014: Revisted

By Peter Tschirhart on September 1, 2014

Predictions are everywhere: online education, and MOOCs specifically, will reconfigure the 21st century university. For some analysts, change is positive, even liberating, because it promises to reduce costs while increasing access to higher education. For others, it is worthy of concern. While digital classrooms seem transformational, they might also consolidate the production of new knowledge, or commoditize face-to-face human interactions.

But many such conversations take for granted the insight and opinions of the very people most likely to encounter change: students themselves. To remedy this scotoma, the Benton Scholars identified a group of fourteen students who expressed interest in taking an online class during the summer of 2014. Participation was voluntary, no Colgate course credit was granted, all students had to register their interest in advance (and have their course proposal approved by a team of faculty and staff), and their time and insights were compensated modestly with a small stipend. After completing their course, students were asked to provide a brief written response as a way to reflect both on the delivery of content (as it compared to a more conventional class) and on the experience of taking classes online: What was it like? Did you feel a sense of community? Did you interact with faculty and learn from other students? Would you do it again?

From the outset, students articulated diverse reasons for participating. Some were curious about the course material, while others wanted to learn new technical skills, especially computer programming. Several even hoped to shore-up previously acquired knowledge or to prepare for an upcoming class at Colgate. In the end, however, our results stood apart from many MOOC statistics. A disproportionate number of our students, over 85%, ultimately completed their course — compared to a MOOC completion rate estimated at under 7%. (This number can perhaps be explained by the incentive structure built into our project and the high level of motivation among Benton Scholars generally.) Additionally, 93% of our participants were domestic students — contrasted with early data suggesting 74% of MOOC students register from abroad.

Over the next several days, we will begin to publish post-project reflections written by Benton Scholars. Indeed, as we prepare to host an Online Education Symposium during the fall of 2014, we hope these voices will serve as a provisional trace of the student experience while simultaneously grounding an informed discussion about MOOCs and the future of academe.


Welcome, Class of 2018!

By Peter Tschirhart on August 25, 2014
Class of 2018 Benton Scholars visit Letchworth State Park near Mt. Morris, NY during Benton Scholars Orientation, 2014.

Class of 2018 Benton Scholars visit Letchworth State Park (near Mt. Morris, NY) during Benton Scholars Orientation, 2014.


From “Korea” to “Corea:” Hannah O’Malley and the ’17 Benton trip

By Peter Tschirhart on August 11, 2014

Hannah O’Malley ’17 has created a blog to chronicle, contemplate, and process her experience on the Benton Scholars’ trip to Korea. Apart from explaining why the country’s name might be spelled “Corea” rather than “Korea,” Hannah encourages us to view travel through a self-critical lens. She writes :

I think it easy to notice and criticize flaws in and make generalizations about other systems without really critically looking back at one’s own system. Over the course of the trip, I tried very hard to think about ways in which we pretty much have the same, or worse, flaws in the US and about what the US can learn from Korea.

She also poses a series of questions inspired by Prof. John Palmer‘s FSEM for the Benton Scholars (fall of 2014):

  • In what ways can the US education system learn from the national curriculum that applies to both public and private schools?
  • How would the US benefit from rigor of the cram schools?
  • Given that K-12 education in both South Korea and the US is driven in part by the university systems in both countries, in what ways might colleges be able to manipulate testing or entrance standards to influence the ways in which K-12 students learn?
  • How can both countries make higher education more accessible and a less elite system?
  • Is there corruption, whether manifest or latent, in our educational system? And if so, where?
  • Who does our educational system serve?

You can see and read much more directly on Hannah’s blog by clicking here.


Benton Scholars in Korea: Hannah O’Malley ’17

By Peter Tschirhart on July 9, 2014

Hannah O’Malley ’17 provides the following pictures and captions from the Benton Scholars’ trip to South Korea.


Colgate hasn't been around nearly as long as Gyeongbokgung Palace, which was completed in 1395.

Colgate hasn’t been around nearly as long as Gyeongbokgung Palace, which was completed in 1395.

Rice farms, like this one in the Hahoe Village, covered the countryside. Even though it is a relatively small country, the South Korean landscape includes mountains, cityscapes, rural expanses and seasides.

Rice farms, like this one in the Hahoe Village, covered the countryside. Even though it is a relatively small country, the South Korean landscape includes mountains, cityscapes, rural expanses and seasides.

Though media outlets may have stopped coverage of the Ferry Accident, homages like this one demonstrated that the memories of the children live on in the hearts of South Koreans.

Though media outlets may have stopped coverage of the Ferry Accident, homages like this one demonstrated that the memories of the children live on in the hearts of South Koreans.

“Named spaces bear witness to history and provide a glimpse into the future.” -John Syme The Sungnyemun Gate was erected in 1398 and embodies significant history—it has been repeatedly repaired after damage by natural causes, colonial rule, the Korean War, and a more recent attempt to burn the structure. Today, it is a national treasure of Seoul that speaks to South Corea’s resilience, an attitude which is behind its push to be a global power.

“Named spaces bear witness to history and provide a glimpse into the future.” -John Syme The Sungnyemun Gate was erected in 1398 and embodies significant history—it has been repeatedly repaired after damage by natural causes, colonial rule, the Korean War, and a more recent attempt to burn the structure. Today, it is a national treasure of Seoul that speaks to South Corea’s resilience, an attitude which is behind its push to be a global power.

It was election season while we were there so political campaigns were everywhere, especially in the more residential areas.

It was election season while we were there so political campaigns were everywhere, especially in the more residential areas.

We had the opportunity to visit an all-boys private middle school and speak to them about their educational experience. Our conversations with the students there sparked reflection and debate about both South Korea's and our own educational system.

We had the opportunity to visit an all-boys private middle school and speak to them about their educational experience. Our conversations with the students there sparked reflection and debate about both South Korea’s and our own educational system. Thank you so much to Dan Benton, Professor John Palmer, Woolim Cho, Peter Tschirhart, Sarah Ficken and the many others who made this experience and continue to make experiences like this possible!!


Benton Scholars in Korea: Brittney Dorow ’17

By Peter Tschirhart on June 23, 2014

Brittney Dorow ’17 recently returned from the Benton Scholars’ trip to South Korea. In this reflection, she discusses her youthful fascination with Asian cultures and her more recent interest in the vibrant mixture of “old and new” in contemporary Korean cityscapes–an interest that has lead her to the International Relations program at Colgate.


Growing up as a young girl with two brothers was a blessing.

I lived a life essentially free from gender. Yes, I was a female who loved dresses and tea parties and dress up dolls, but I was not limited to exploring one side of a culture many find to be split by sex. I played with cars, liked to wrestle and mess around, and I was equally as pleased to get the Pokemon Card as I was the Polly Pocket toy with my Happy Meal.

I think the greatest thing that came about being raised so openly centered on film and television.

One of my fondest memories was coming home from school on Friday’s to find my brothers down in the basement and a Japanese monster movie plugged in the VHS. I grew up watching these foreign films, moving from Godzilla movies with the boys, to dramatic and adventurous anime as I entered my teen years.

Overtime, my love for Asian culture developed. Entering into high school, it was safe to say I was obsessed. Watching anime and Korean Dramas with my friends while I picked at my meal with a pair of plastic chopsticks, I allowed myself to fall in love with it all, the people, the food, the fashion and so on.

More than anything else, I was enamored with the Asian city. Particularly in anime and film, I became fascinated with urban structure, a melting pot which combined the urban landscape of New York with the culture of traditional life. When I first discovered I could travel to Korea, I saw the perfect opportunity to finally see for myself if the culture I’d grown to idolize had been portrayed accurately or not.

A street market in South Korea.

A street market in South Korea.

I am happy to say, it had.

My picture shows one of the first markets we the Bentons explored in South Korea. Even from a glance, you can see the blending of new and old culture which I had hoped to find on this trip.

Tall industrialized buildings lit up with electric lights and neon signs.

Inside, traditional fans, bowls, street foods and cloth are sold.

Overall, I was not disappointed, but rather, in awe of the cultural phenomenon that is an Asian city, particularly a marketplace. I found a place of acceptance, of peaceful cultural blending, and well a preservation.

Most importantly, seeing a place like this reminded me why I love the study of culture and how I truly want to pursue my major in International Relations. I want to fall in love with all the cultures of the world, and feel this amazement for the rest of my life.


Benton Scholars in Korea: Ishir Dutta ’17

By Peter Tschirhart on June 13, 2014

The following pictures and captions by Ishir Dutta ’17 continue our coverage of the Benton Scholars’ trip to Korea. Stay tuned for more posts in the coming days.


Click the image below to launch a slideshow:

"It's the East Sea, not the Sea of Japan!" - Prof. Palmer

“It’s the East Sea, not the Sea of Japan!” – Prof. Palmer

In a place closer to home (At Namsan Tower)

In a place closer to home (At Namsan Tower)

...and my other home. (At Insadong)

…and my other home. (At Insadong)

Even amid the frenzy, we found calm.

Even amid the frenzy, we found calm.

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