Thursday, November 10, 2011

Feedback from our National Science Foundation program officer

Here is the text of a letter that our NSF program officer gave us after visiting in Oct. 2011:


I wanted to share some observations and thoughts while they were still fresh in my mind and before I get distracted with the next objectives of my trip.  Please feel free to share these in toto or selectively with anyone you choose.  Also note that these observations are made in the role of your NSF program officer.

First let me state that I am impressed with both the scope of what you are trying to accomplish as well as your actual accomplishments.  You are trying to fundamentally change faculty perspectives, and this is a critical and poorly understood step in improving our educational system.

Second, I was glad to get a chance to interact with Roger.  He is an amazing individual and brings a much needed perspective; I wish I had the opportunity to keep attending his weekly workshops.  Although attending just one does not give me much sense of the entire process, I worry at the lack of administrators in attendance.  It seems that given Roger's background and experience your University administration is missing a significant opportunity.  Could you please pass on to Roger these links on games and higher education:

One of my concerns has to do with the focus and direction of your project.  It seems to me you have, by necessity, been forced to take a very local and short term perspective.  The reason NSF funded your project was the potential of your third person research network to solve the dialectic conflict inherent between research and engagement.  This seems to have taken a back burner with the need to get Sustain SLO up and running and the numerous bureaucratic obstacles you have needed to overcome or work around.  I understand completely the perspective of the administration on being hands-off while you struggle with this issue...  However what has not been fully considered is the opportunity cost this perspective has engendered.  Let me state that this is a significant concern and if I was doing a SWOT analysis I would list it as a weakness.

How do you solve the issue of being forced by necessity and survival to become more inward looking (the natural state universities fall into) with what NSF desires which is to contribute in a meaningful way to national dialog on engineering education (NSF's mandate of external-looking)?  One way is to do a better job capturing the process as it occurs.  The third person research network was, I believe, originally focused on capturing changes in student learning.  However the slow pace of progress endangers this outcome.  Could you shift instead to capturing changes in faculty and organizational learning?  This issue is less known and potentially more interesting.

I was glad to be given a chance to speak with faculty and students, and lay out my own ideas for ways forward in our country's educational dilemma.  However I have become keenly aware of the diversity of local environments and need for local solutions.  However we desperately need forward-thinking models of education that are affordable, scalable, and effective.  It seems like your new dean is keenly interested in making Cal Poly a leader in exploring such models.  I encourage all of you to experiment locally and share globally and to continue a dialog with NSF on enabling productive exploration.

One other area of concern we did not get a chance to talk about is how Sustain SLO differs from other service learning efforts.  I believe I have a reasonable sense of this, but there is strong competition from such programs as EPICS and they will vigorously defend their "established here" claims.  I urge you to pay more attention to branding and marketing what you are doing since this will be important for institutionalization and long term sustainability.

Finally, thanks for the opportunity to be invited to participate as a colleague and friend, not just as a program officer.  I know visits such as mine can be perturbative and stressful, and I sincerely appreciate all you did to make me feel welcome, and the time everyone took out of their busy schedules.


"He who seeks to outwit wisdom adds to ignorance presumption, and that is a combination the Gods do not love."

No comments:

Post a Comment