Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book Review #17: We're losing our minds

I ordered the book We're losing our minds: Rethinking American Higher Education written by Richard P. Keeling and Richard H. Hersch in 2012 after reading a review by @joesabado on Goodreads.

The main premise behind this book is that American institutions of Higher Education have shifted their focus away from being places of 'learning' towards a place of higher rating than its neighbours. Although the arguments themselves made a lot of sense (and I certainly couldn't argue with many of the points made), the book itself was a bit winded and made for a slow read.

I definitely took my time getting through this one (2 weeks is a long time for me to take to read a book), but it was worth reading just for the fact that it offered some strong arguments, as well as a few suggestions of discussion points to encourage change.  Not quite a page-turner, but an interesting read nonetheless.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Book Review #16: Hacking Your Education

Mind = Blown

That is the best statement I can say in relation to the book Hacking your Education: Ditch the lectures, save tens of thousands, and learn more than your peers ever will by Dale J. Stephens and published this year. I found out about the book from @joesabado's Goodreads list and am glad I did!

Stephens begins the book by recounting his own experience dropping out of school in the fifth grade, and then out of college in his freshman year, to become an unschooler.  This book is not in fact a call to action, asking everyone to drop out of school.  Instead, the author encourages readers to create their own intentional learning opportunities, whether within the post-secondary system or not.

Stephens offers several suggestions for those looking to 'hack' their education, from broadening social networks, to taking out books from the library, and hopping on a place across the globe.

I think that working with students, we often hear them complain that they don't really know what they want to do, and are only in schools because that's what is expected of them.  This book encourages those students to take some time to figure out why they are in school, and determining whether that is the best way to achieve the goals they have in that moment.

I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone, as we all know that learning is a lifelong process, and it's never to late to start!

Book Review #15: Outliers

After four years, I have finally gotten around to reading Outliers: The Story of Success, written by Malcolm Gladwell in 2008. As much as I have kept telling myself over the years that I needed to get to it, I'd be lying if I didn't say that the reason I finally picked it up is that I ran out of books to read (I ordered a dozen in January and have made it through all of them - thankfully my most recent order arrived on Friday).

This book was very similar in style to Gladwell's other works (Tipping Point and Blink), in that it begins with a fairly simple concept, and then consists of several examples supporting it.  The premise for Outliers, is that one cannot just assume that the 'world's greatests' were simply born with an innate talent or gift, but actually reached this exceptional status through timing and circumstance (essentially being at the right place at the right time).

An example in the book is of Bill Gates, who happened to be entering his teenage years when a fundraising group purchased a computer for his school. After using up countless hours of computer time, he found a company needing work completed, a university computer lab with available time in the middle of the night, etc.  All these conditions resulted in Gates working up to 10,000 hours on programming, before he finally dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to start Microsoft. Now had Bill Gates not been born in 1955, had Lakeside not received a computer, had C-cubed not been willing to allow teenagers to check code on weekends, had ISI not needed someone to work on its payroll software, had the University of Washington not have open computer time from 3-6am, etc., Microsoft might not exist today.

This book definitely provides some food for thought, and truly makes readers appreciate the various circumstances which can come together to 'make or break' someone.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review #14: Blink

I picked up Blink: The power of thinking without thinking (written by Malcolm Gladwell in 2005), four or five years ago, along with The Tipping Point and Outliers by the same author.

I read the Tipping Point shortly after buying the books, and loved it.  I then began reading Blink, and I guess life must have gotten in the way, because when I picked it up again last week the bookmark was still sitting somewhere around the middle of the book.  Seeing as I didn't really remember what the book was about, I decided to start from the beginning, and have enjoyed reading it this past week.

The main premise behind Blink is that some of the best decisions we make in  life, and some of our greatest insights, are those made in split second 'slices' where our conscious mind reacts to a 'signal' from our subconscious.  One example in the book is that of art experts glancing at a sculpture which science has indicated to be an original piece, several hundred years old, and feeling immediate repulsion. Later analysis was able to determine that the piece was only a few decades old.  The experts were not able to state how they knew the piece was fake, only that their first instinct was to feel that there was something wrong.

Gladwell then spends the rest of the book listing off other examples of similar thoughts/judgments, which can seem a bit tedious at times, but still provides considerable food for thought.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review #13: The Audacity of Hope

The book The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream written by Barack Obama in 2006 was recommended to me during a session at the College Student Alliance's Transition Conference in 2009. I purchased the book immediately following the conference, put it in my desk drawer, and completely forgot about it, until last week.

I found this book extremely refreshing, especially when considering it was written when Obama was a US Senator, not one of the most powerful men in the world. Obama writes this book partly as a memoir of his own personal experiences, as well as several suggestions for improving quality of life not only in the US, but around the world.  Reading it now, as Obama begins his second term in the White House, one can truly appreciate the fact that he has remained true to his own principles, and taken steps to meet some of the challenges he himself set out to American politicians.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Book Review #12: Drive

This book has been recommended to by so many people in the #SAchat community, and I just never got around to ordering it until last month. Drive, written by Daniel H. Pink in 2009 explores new motivational techniques aimed at increasing results in twenty-first century workplaces.

Pink's work is based on three elements of motivation: Autonomy, over task, time, team, and technique; Mastery, becoming better at something that matters; and Purpose, making a contribution and supporting a cause greater than oneself.

One of Pink's concepts that particularly resonates with me is that of the 'carrot and stick' approach to rewards. By using an 'if, than' approach to rewards, we are reducing creativity, productivity, and ensuring that we will not see desired results without offering a reward in exchange.  The author uses the example of giving a child allowance for performing chores.  If children know that they can get paid to perform household tasks, it will become almost impossible to get them to help out around the house for free.  On the flip side, if one offers 'now that' rewards to randomly recognize good or hard work, it will boost morale and thus increase productivity.

I would recommend this book to just about anyone, as it offers some great insight into not only how to obtain better results from employees, but also how to create more motivating situations within our own lives.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Book Review #11: Pursuing Higher Education in Canada

I've just finished reading Pursuing Higher Education in Canada: Economic, Social, and Policy Dimensions, edited in 2010 by Ross Finnie, Marc Frenette, Richard E. Mueller, and Arthur Sweetman, the accompanying volume to the book I reviewed this morning.

Like it's predecessor, this work is a compilation of a series of research articles and studies conducted based on Statistics Canada data (yes, this weekend has been a bit of a statistics overload).  Though the first volume was focused more on what factors (financial, parental education, etc) could increase or decrease likelihood of pursuing post-secondary (PS) education, this one focuses more on the transition from high school to college or university, how the general economy impacts PS enrollment, ethnic differences in educational attainment, and the impact of family background on PS aspirations and attendance.

This volume is very data-heavy, and causes a bit of an information overload when read at once (especially with the first volume added); however the information contained in both volumes is extremely valuable in understanding the students currently enrolled (or enrolling) in our institutions.

Book Review #10: Who goes? Who Stays? What Matters?

In a previous post, I wrote how Canadian higher education resources are relatively hard to come by.  As the field is still behind its American counterpart, most of our research and data is based on US numbers.  

A book I reviewed recently provided historical information and background on the field of Student Affairs in Canada. This new volume, Who Goes? Who Stays? What Matters? Accessing and Persisting in Post-Secondary Education in Canada, edited by Ross Finnie, Richard E. Mueller, Arthur Sweetman, and Alex Usher in 2008, provides statistical analysis of post-secondary attendance and persistence in Canada.

The book is by no means a thrilling narrative; however it is quite informative (and I imagine I will be using it as a resource when I pursue advanced degrees).  Much of the articles in this volume are based on the data compiled with Statistics Canada's Youth in Transition Survey, a longitudinal analysis of students from age 15-21 (to date) as they make their decisions to (or not) pursue higher education in Canada.

The volume is divided into a number of sections regarding Access, Persistence, and Financial Issues.  The works attempt to determine which factors are more likely to determine whether a student chooses to attend college, university, or neither: high school gpa, friends intent to pursue PSE, parental income, parental education level, part time jobs, etc. 

I would recommend this volume to any professional in Canada looking to examine educational trends, as it not only answers some questions, but opens the door for new studies.