Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.

Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories. -Sun Tzu

Our Vice President of Instruction issued a challenge at convocation.  While I hope our upcoming SEAL Academy Team (Faculty, join today!) will take a strong run at these, we need all hands on deck!

In the first three weeks of class, here is some not-so-happy data about college students:

  • 28% miss turning in an assignment at least once.
  • 43% report coming to class without having completed readings or assignments at least once.
  • 25% report skipping class one or more times.
  • 68% report no participation in tutoring or other skill labs.
  • 64% report never discussing readings or classes with instructors outside of class.
  • 63% say they never worked with classmates outside of class on projects or assignments.
  • 82% say they never participated in a required study group.
  • 35% say they never used an electronic tool (e-mail, text messaging, Facebook, MySpace, class website,etc.) to communicate with instructors or other students about coursework.
  • Only 64% agree that an advisor helped them select a program or major; and nearly 50% say no one spoke w/them about commitments outside of school to figure out how many courses to take.

The truth is data are always subject to interpretation. However, another truth is you have a choice between paralyzing yourself with inaction or going to war with the knowledge you have.

I’d like to draw one firm line in the sand. I will never suggest the responsibility for earning high marks in a course can exist anywhere other than squarely on students’ shoulders. That being written, I also firmly believe in the power of college employees to shape an environment where students have the best opportunities to succeed.

We can never be responsible for other people’s choices. What we must do is be responsible for our own choices. Let me draw another line in the sand. The excuse that other’s choices ties our hands is trite and tired. The power we have to shape our campus and classroom environment to best advantage is not to be underestimated nor taken lightly. I believe completely in our determination to simultaneously embrace rigourous standards and offer unparalleled instructional support.

The good news is students are allies, not enemies. We can join forces, find common ground, build trust, and forge community. You and I know how college degrees transform our students. We know the good it creates in their lives. It is in part why we are so passionate to educate – we feel we can make a difference. But our students cannot yet see that far ahead; they’re still learning. I do not blame them – even the very wise cannot see all ends.

In an age of apathy, incivility, and disengagement, how do we share our spark to ignite their fire? How do we stir up and incite our world to learn? To study? To grow? How do we change our students’ destinies?

We must do it the way leaders always encourage their people. We must find the human connection. Scary, yet ultimately worth doing. Our challenge is great. I have a secret, though. I know your skill and compassion are greater.

What do these data tell you? What additional data would you like to know? Are you ready to go to war? Let me know! I look forward to supporting this conversation further.

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. -Winston Churchill



Matt Wiley is a tenured, associate professor of mathematics with awards in both mathematics education and honour student engagement. He earned an assortment of degrees in computer science, business, and pure mathematics from the University of California and Texas A&M systems. He is the director of quality enhancement at Victoria College, assisting in the development and implementation of a comprehensive assessment program to enhance institutional performance outcomes. A programmer, a published author, a mathematician, and a transformational leader, Matt has always melded his passion for writing with his joy of logical problem solving and data science. From the boardroom to the classroom, he enjoys finding dynamic ways to partner with interdisciplinary and diverse teams to make complex ideas and projects understandable and solvable.

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