Tag Archives: Liberal arts

November 4, 2010, 7:47 am

Want a job? Major in what you enjoy.

The Seven liberal arts. Grammatic and Priscianus.

Image via Wikipedia

Excellent blog post in the NY Times website this morning telling us that the choice of college major is not as important as we think. The author shares this research finding:

A University of Texas at Austin professor, Daniel Hamermesh, researched career earnings data sorted by choice of major and concluded that:

“Perceptions of the variations in economic success among graduates in different majors are exaggerated. Our results imply that given a student’s ability, achievement and effort, his or her earnings do not vary all that greatly with the choice of undergraduate major.”

A study conducted by PayScale Inc. found that history majors who pursued careers in business ended up earning, on average, just as much as business majors.

The author goes on to cite four reasons why a liberal arts major…

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June 21, 2010, 6:21 pm

What (some) engineers think about liberal education

I’m currently at the American Society for Engineering Education conference and symposium in Louisville. There is a lot to process as I attend sessions on student learning, technological literacy, liberal education, and so on, all from the perspective of engineers and engineering educators. There is an entire division (a sort of special interest group) within the ASEE for Liberal Education, and I attended one of their paper sessions this afternoon.

Engineers have a quite different perspective on liberal education than those in “liberal arts” disciplines (by which we usually mean social sciences, arts, humanities) and those of us math/science people working in liberal arts colleges, but surprisingly — at least for the engineers I hung out with in the session — the two conceptions largely agree. We all conceive of liberal education as education that integrates multiple perspectives into …

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April 4, 2010, 8:30 pm

Turning questions into learning

Attacking Difficult Questions
Image by CarbonNYC via Flickr

The hardest thing about teaching the MATLAB course — or any course — is responding to student questions. Notice I do not say “answering” student questions. Answers are not the issue; I’m no MATLAB genius, but I can answer 95% of student questions on the spot. The real issue is whether I should. If my primary task is to teach students habits of mind that translate into lifelong learning — and I earnestly believe that it is — then answers are not always the best thing for students.

I’ve noticed four types of questions that students tend to ask in the MATLAB course, and these carry over pretty seamlessly to my other courses:

  1. Informational questions that have nothing to do with the problem they’re working on or the material. Example: When are your office hours? When is this lab due? When is the final exam?
  2. Clarifying questions that seek to make sense…

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March 12, 2010, 7:38 am

ICTCM underway

It’s a beautiful day here on the shores of Lake Michigan as the ICTCM gets underway. It’s a busy day and — to my never-ending annoyance — there is no wireless internet in the hotel. So I won’t be blogging/tweeting as much as I’d like. But here’s my schedule for the day.

  • 8:30 – Keynote address.
  • 9:30 – Exhibits and final preparations for my 11:30 talk.
  • 10:30 – “Developing Online Video Lectures for Online and Hybrid Algebra Courses”, talk by Scott Franklin of Natural Blogarithms.
  • 11:10 – “Conjecturing with GeoGebra Animations”, talk by Garry Johns and Tom Zerger.
  • 11:30 – My talk on using spreadsheets, Winplot, and Wolfram|Alpha|Alpha in a liberal arts calculus class, with my colleague Justin Gash.
  • 12:30 – My “solo” talk on teaching MATLAB to a general audience.
  • 12:50 – “Programming for Understanding: A Case Study in Linear Algebra”, talk by Daniel Jordan.
  • 1:30 – “Over a Decade of…

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March 24, 2008, 4:00 pm

The suckage of being an engineering student

A blog post at Wired claims to give the Top 5 Reasons It Sucks to be an Engineering Student. Discussion is in the comments there and at this lively thread at Slashdot. The reasons given at the Wired blog are (in reverse order):

  1. Awful textbooks
  2. Professors are rarely encouraging
  3. Dearth of quality counseling
  4. Other disciplines have inflated grades
  5. Every assignment feels the same

It sounds to me like the blogger at Wired is stereotyping, based on what goes on at large research universities. A student could avoid #2, #3, and maybe #5 just by doing a 3+2 program where the first three years are done at a liberal arts college (…shameless plug alert…).

As for the grade inflation, I admit there’s no solution to this short of doing the right thing and forcing real academic standards on some of the touchiest-feeliest portions of the liberal arts world. But I think that would lead to mass…

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February 19, 2008, 10:29 am

What is a classical education approach to mathematics?

Following up on his three posts on classical education yesterday, Gene Veith weighs in on mathematics instruction: 

I admit that classical education may be lagging in the math department. The new classical schools are doing little with the Quadrivium, the other four liberal arts (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). The Trivium, which is being implemented to great effect (grammar, logic, and rhetoric), has to do with mastering language and what you can do with it. The Quadrivium has to do with mathematics (yes, even in the way music was taught).

This, I think, is the new frontier for classical educators. Yes, there is Saxon math, but it seems traditional (which is better than the contemporary), rather than classical, as such.

Prof. Veith ends with a call for ideas about how mathematics instruction would look like in a classical education setting. I left this comment:


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February 18, 2008, 2:19 pm

A trifecta on classical education

Gene Veith, one of my favorite religious writers and the proprietor of the terrific Cranach blog (and provost at Patrick Henry College), has three quick posts today on classical education. He touches briefly on teaching content rather than process, and how classical education teaches bothl; on critical thinking; and on learning styles and the teaching of “meaning”. Some clips: 

The key factor in learning is grasping meaning, a concept that evades any of these sensory approaches. (While cultivation of meaning is what classical education is all about.)


More substantive scholars say that being able to think critically requires (again, see below) CONTENT. You have to think ABOUT SOMETHING. Whereas much of the critical thinking curriculum is all process, trying to provoke content-free thinking. (The classical solution: DIALECTIC, featuring questions AND answers, as in that great…

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October 19, 2007, 5:27 am

The liberal arts in Africa

Inside Higher Ed has this fascinating (and too brief) interview with Patrick Awuah, president of Ashesi University in Ghana. While Ghana has several large universities, Ashesi is the first (and only) liberal arts college in this African nation. Awuah was asked about the Ashesi’s liberal arts focus:

I think that the liberal arts focus is probably the most important thing that we’re doing at Ashesi and it’s driven in part by my experiences at Swarthmore, but also comparing that with the experiences of my colleagues who were educated in Ghana for college. In Ghana the educational system is very heavily dependent on rote learning, just memorizing facts and repeating them to faculty. It does not prepare people to be problem-solvers. So what we’re doing at Ashesi is trying to set this example that we hope others will follow, where the process of education should be about asking the right…

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