Friday, August 5, 2011

What is Higher Education doing to address "the demise of guys?"

In this short TED talk, Philip Zimbardo shares some alarming statistics about males and why we should be worried about them.

One of Zimbardo's arguments is that the traditional industrial model of education--large classes, lecture delivery, rigid policies and requirements, etc.--is a pretty poor fit for male students who want change, novelty, and excitement.

This raises an interesting question about how far institutions should go to "engage" learners, and what that might mean.  What kind of responsibility do institutions and individual educators have to provide change and novelty?  The knee-jerk response from some in educational technology and instructional design is more media, more gaming, and more online learning.  While, technology is likely part of the solution, these cries for technology-rich classrooms seem a little narrow.  And, some in education (like Zimbardo) seem to believe that it's gaming and media that have led to some of the problems we see among males (for a counter argument, watch this TED talk from Ali Carr-Chellman).  

What else could or should higher ed be doing, both in and outside the classroom, to address the problems we see among male students?  When I think about my own campus I can't think of a single initiative, policy, program, or otherwise aimed at enhancing the experience or learning of male students.  This is odd considering how much success we've seen from programs focused on women (e.g. Women in STEM, Women's Centers, etc.).  Let me be clear that I'm not arguing that we should stop focusing on women.  Rather, what could higher ed learn from its efforts to support female students that could now be applied to the "male dilemma?"

Zimbardo and others mention the importance of male role models (I've written about this in a post from about a year ago) and campuses are beginning to address this through mentoring programs and male initiatives like the one at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  But, in talking to those who administer these programs (I learned about UA-LR's program this summer at a conference in the UK), they are small, underfunded, and generally an afterthought of the administration.  Additionally, they are frequently focused on segments of the male population (e.g. minority students, first-generation students, or student-athletes).  

If institutions are really serious about improving the retention rates, graduation rates, learning, and overall experience of males on their campuses, these marginal programs and the work they are doing will need to influence wider campus practices.  Is this happening anywhere?  And, if so, is it working? 

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