I was just in the audience for this one. A couple of college students who self-identify as being on the Spectrum (Asperger's, Non-Verbal Learning Disability) presented a case for "understanding" last week on campus. Forty or so students, staff, faculty (mostly students) showed up at 7pm to hear what they had to say. Eric Dicesare, an art/graphic design major lead the discussion, largely drawing from his own experience and the response was noteable (to say the least). Students shared their own stories of struggling with disabilities of all sorts and several talked about friends and family members with Autism.
This was something that Eric and his friend just decided they should do. A kind of "Greening of KSC" to change consciousness about people who are quirky and different...a plea for extending our notions of diversity to what has been called Neurodiversity. A great night. Informative and inspiring. Here's a quick clip:
Yeah you can always find ways to do things cheaper by outsourcing. Automatic machines at the post office or the supermarket, groups that provide services for groups that provide services for other groups. I'm sure there are young MBA's out of business school who got it down on how to cut. But what is lost?
I'm thinking a lot about quality of education mostly but the creep is all around us, isn't it? I'm catharting a bit because I'm just off the phone for the fourth or fifth time with....well I don't know. My kid's iPhone broke and I'm moving through a maze of groups to figure it all out. I've paid tons for full insurance, but after a few weeks I just figured out I'm talking to at least three different companies: 1. At&t (service provider) 2. Ausurion (sp?) the insurance provider and 3. OnProcess Technology (the communications group that follows up for 1 or 2 (above). And here's the problem (duh): One group doesn't know much about the other. So, when one group tells you one thing, and another tells you another....Yikes!
The customer is left feeling like an idiot: Today I babbled about a problem to the OnProcess caller when the problem had nothing to do with them but with either 1 or 2 (see above). At one point I tried talking to At&T but it was the "turf" of 2 or 3 (see above). I give up. I'll give them the phone. I'll give them my money. Will they take the kid, too?
What does this have to do with teaching at a college? When my students arrive wanting to transfer credits (cheaper credits in most cases) from online colleges where little is known about the quality of the courses...what's a College to do? As Comedienne Joan Rivers likes to say, "Can we talk?" If College registrars and administrators accept these credits without review College Profs who care about quality will have something to say. And so it goes (where is Kurt Vonnegut now that we need him).
Of course the devil is in the details when running a group, including utilizing clinical skills to guage prompts and instructions vs. kicking back and listening. But it’s important to always come back to the principles which guide how we believe we should work with people, with the understanding that how we treat others is also about how we want to be treated ourselves. So here goes.
My friend and colleague Michael Caulfield has been busy busy creating the perfect online MOOC for Introduction to Psychology which I will be piloting this summer. I've been teaching an online summer course for years at Keene State College but this will be my first foray in to MOOC land where the course will be publicly posted and open to others across the planet to participate. In the past, my online courses have been "enclosed" so that only ten or fifteen of my students could participate. So, as one of my current students would say, "what's the deal?" A few things I'm hoping for:
1. Collaboration. While I currently have research projects in Autism with other people in other parts of the world, my teaching is pretty much limited to little Keene, NH. Not only can I invite students in from other places, but why not colleagues with particular areas of interest? MOOC's hold out that promise of "breaking the campus barrier" and encouraging hybridization of teaching.
2. Diversity. Inviting students (and colleagues) from around the planet is good exposure for my students who tend to be a rather homogenous bunch from the the northeast region of the U.S. This summer they'll get a chance to exchange ideas with people from across the globe.
3. Scrutiny. I can invite my colleagues (who are admittedly skeptical) to hop in at any time. Every exchange, every word that is spoken in the MOOC, is there to be viewed and analyzed for it's didactic value. Want to know what I'm doing in the classroom, please come visit.
4. Accomodating the mobile student. Many of my students are busy in the summer working or on internship. The MOOC allows them to take that course they need too keep up. It also allows them to "stay in-house" with their academic work, rather than being forced to take courses at their local college where we don't have any control over the quality of teaching.
5. Searching for my Instructional Designer. It doesn't matter where my colleague Michael travels, he's always available to assist. A few days ago I reached him using the Google Voice app he uses on his cell (I could hear fireworks going off but didn't bother to ask him where he was).
I've done two interviews with print media in recent days regarding guns, mental illness, and shooting students, and I've got to say, the discourse is getting weird. For example, I've been asked my thoughts about college professors being required to carry guns in class (my off-the-cuff response was that I'd probably end up shooting my own foot...and who knows what or whom else).
Much of the conversation makes a thinking person...well...think. When people seriously talk in terms of "good guys" (who should have the guns) and "bad guys" (who we must defend ourselves against) I wonder at first if they are kidding. As a psychologist I have had many conversations with "good people" who have made seriously bad decisions, some of which have had catastrophic consequences for both the offender and the victim. Under stress, individuals who may be chronic outsiders to the social world or who may have difficulties differentiating subjective and objective realities (i.e., what's "in their heads" from "what's outside their heads") and who have ready access to guns may quickly shift from being a "good guy" to a "bad guy." And so, the notion that we can simply "arm the good guys" to scare off the bad ones is misguided. This is where such dichotomous thinking truly leads to irrational conclusions.
One reporter today asked my response to "But guns don't kill..." to which I responded: "The problem is that guns make bullets go really fast."
My dad died yesterday. His life was all about work and family. A great guy who supported his kids (three of us) and grandchildren unconditionally. He was once said to me with regards to choosing a life path: "Do something that you find fun."
I uncovered an interview with him from years back where he talks about his work.
A WWII vet who served in the Navy on a battleship, he spent his free time back then haunting jazz and blues clubs. While on duty at Navy Pier in Chicago he got a chance to see Billy Holiday whose music he listened to up to the day he died. Here's some of her music for you Dad.
With the NY Times breaking a story that the Newtown killer carried a diagnosis of Asperger's a few words of caution seem warranted. We've been down a road before where particular mental health disorders are connected to killings and it's tough to watch psychologists and others have their clipped remarks broadcast when the issues are far more complicated.
As with any problem that leads to social dislocation and chronic "outsider status" we can construe a path to problems. Example: Person with few or no viable social networks (outsider status) gets strange ideas (obsessive like thoughts/perseveration) which is not refuted or challenged by close friends, loved ones, professionals, leading to horrific behaviors. But that's just an inferred model, not one supported by clear evidence.
And, I need to say, that in working with scores of individuals on the spectrum, I've never seen a high level of violence among them. In fact many of them develop quite different ideas of how to deal with the world and their problems.
After a deadly school shooting in Arkansas in 1998 I was interviewed by a CNN reporter on the campus of my college and I said that disconnection plus easy access to guns is a big problem. We can't easily solve the social disconnection problem, but we sure can limit access to powerful weapons. I hope we start there.