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Convocation Address 2013
Judy Rodriguez headshot

Judith C. Rodriguez

Distinguished Professor

Professor of Nutrition Nutrition and Dietetics

Brooks College of Health

The New Education Paradigm - Are We Up to the Challenge?


First, thank you all for the honor of selecting me as Distinguished Professor. It is humbling to be placed in the stature of Jeff Michelman and prior Distinguished Professors. I hope my past and future work will truly represent the honor of this award. There are many persons here at UNF and in my personal life that are my list of "distinguished" persons: mentors, friends, supporters and advocates. Often they believed in me more than I believed in myself and it was their inspiration and strength that gave me the courage to try, to succeed, and when I failed, to get up, and move on. Their unwavering support and lessons are keys to my successes. My spouse George is my mentor on integrity and patience. Pam Chally, Catherine Christie, Li Loriz, are my mentors on teamwork and possibilities, Jackie Shank, Claudia Sealey-Potts, and Judy Perkin my mentors on academic quality and rigor, and Katie Legros and Pam Niemcyzk are my mentors on "operational procedures." There are many more persons, but to name them all will surely take hours, so I will thank those named and the others personally.


You probably thought that this presentation would focus on diversity or servant leadership. But today I will speak on a topic that encompasses my two areas of interest, diversity and leadership, in a context that is relevant to us all: the changing paradigm of education.


A University is a place where we freely debate ideas, broaden minds, and create a love for knowledge. At one time universities were a place where one learned for the sake of knowledge. Today we continue such but also prepare students for the workforce, and in a shortened learning period. We also have to teach technological skills and the soft skills needed to be socially conscientious and productive citizens. We need to do this while public financing is decreasing and the delivery mode of education is changing. We are facing more competition, demands for transparency, technological changes, and others' intrusion into the business of education. Are we preparing for, and willing, to meet those challenges?

Generational Differences

One of the current challenges, often heard, is the difficulty dealing with the younger generation, called Millennials, or Generation Y. Yes, they have some different values. In general, they believe in their right to a voice, an opinion, to question, an explanation, to use multiple information resources. We think they display a lack of respect, are too open about sharing personal information and find their informality and dependence on technology demanding. We think they cannot form real relationships through a computer or texting. But every generation thinks the generation that follows is not as good as theirs. Can you hear an early 1900's parent saying: "I do not understand the enthusiasm over this phone thing. Really, it will never replace talking face-to-face."


But this is what the the Millennials know. This is how they build relationships. They are positive, challenge convention, want to try new things (although that sounds like my Hippie Days). How do we work through these generational differences and recognize that some of their, as well as our, values have merit and need to be shared and nurtured? Every generation has done something that will make the world better. What will this coming generation's contribution be and how can we prepare them to do it?

Changing Demographics

The faces in our classrooms are changing. Our students are increasingly diverse. There is an increase in intermarriages, mobility and residency patterns. The faces are browner, older. The 2013 Separate and UnequalReport found that although "More African Americans and Hispanics are going to postsecondary institutions …The vast majority of white freshmen are going to the 468 most selective four-year colleges. (and) African American and Hispanic freshmen on the other hand are primarily attending under- resourced two- and four-year colleges." These selective colleges spend almost five times as much on instruction as open-access two- and four-year colleges…" We must work to improve all educational institutions; collaborate to ensure quality education for all or risk informal caste systems that divide our society. (1)


In some cases, we will not even see our students' faces. What students want and expect from an education is changing. "(One) of the "three trends the experts predict will have a significant role in shaping higher education in 2013..." (is) More Emphasis on 'Self-Directed' Learning. "With a large number of adult learners over age 25 in higher education programs, there are already an increasing number of self-paced and competency-based programs, which will become more common, a trend dubbed "flipping the classroom…" How can we reframe education so that self-directed learning teaches critical thinking? (2)

Learning and Communication Technologies

Do you remember mimeographed handouts or overhead transparencies? Now we have computers and Blackboard - and I do not mean a slate rectangle on a wall. Students take a lesson in MOOCs, a classroom, a local café, while walking on a treadmill or in hybrid courses. They use multi-function Pads, digital tools, social media, simulations, electronic whiteboards, avatars, webcams, and other instructional aids. They learn through the Internet, talk with teachers and work on team projects through Skype, have real time chats, create groups through Facebook, and use Smartphones to access information. These gadgets and teaching methods are not a luxury, they are necessities. There is an expectation of integrated learning and that distance learning is an option, if not for an entire degree, at least for some courses. A 2011 U.S. Department of Education study reports that the number of students taking at least one online course has now surpassed six million and nearly one-third of all students in higher education are taking at least one online course. (3) More online programs is one of the other "three trends the experts predict will have a significant role in shaping higher education in 2013." (4) Are we conducting research on how to best use each resource in learning and education? Are we teaching students how to critically evaluate and efficiently use these resources?


In The World Is Flat, Thomas "Friedman argues compellingly that the world is integrating and growing smaller at an accelerated pace." (5) With a Google Map we can see the world, the seas, our own car parked in our driveway. With a live cam we can look at the Kona Hawaii coffee plantation in real time and get world news 24 hours a day. 160 billion e-mails are sent daily, of which most are spam. We can reach a population of 50 million with a click on a keyboard. Chinese is the most spoken language. The video "Shift Happens" reminds us we are educating persons for jobs that do not even exist, to use equipment not yet invented. Many of our young students have already traveled to places we only dreamt of at their age. Some Universities now have their graduation ceremony totally on-line. One institution (Bridgepoint) has had an increase in enrollment of 3000%. (6) You may shudder at these ideas. But are we addressing changes and opportunities in education? Our goal is not to grow just to grow, just make money, or to have on-line graduation ceremonies. But what are we doing to maximize these emerging resources to improve education, to make it vibrant, higher quality, relevant to future generations? Students expect us to help them figure out how to take the world, traverse it, put it in their hands. How can we teach them to take this shrinking world and use it to form collaborations and partnerships?


Decreasing government support for education, increasing costs of an education, the financial needs of students, the student loan system, the need, desire for, or expectation that they work, institutional requirements regarding grant acquisition and research funding, and the demand to increase FTEs are the elephants that crowd our rooms. The use of contracts instead of tenure lines and more adjuncts shake the nature of our positions and the traditional role of an educator. "…one of the three trends (is) More part time faculty…" say the experts. "One of the hardest jobs to get anywhere is full time, tenured faculty positions, whether they're at a community college or more elite colleges," says Kibby. "Having said that, the need for passionate master teachers, whether you're a fourth grade teacher or at the highest level, that will never change and in fact, it will accelerate." (7)


We need to acknowledge that part time faculty can bring practical experience to the classroom and that we need to bridge between practice and theory to assess evidence, support research, strengthen science. We can work to build and support these bridges, make adjuncts master teachers too. Universities cannot be white towers that hide from the world in intellectual dialogue. The economic landscape is creating competitors through distance schools, unaccredited programs, and in ways previously unimagined. The Khan Academy provides a free education to anyone around the world with a computer and Internet access. Some of these may be our future students. What will they expect from us? Are we prepared to create an institution that can implement financially productive, innovatively designed educational programs that can compete in the market place but are true to our values about learning?

Social Expectations

Let me change perspectives from the political and economic to the social - and what my friends call - my anthropology hat. We encourage children to attend college. Not only because of the long term higher lifelong financial earnings and comforts we believe it provides, but also because of the status ascribed to being a college graduate. We believe that a college education provides an intellectual superiority and social code of conduct that is desirable.


A college education is a status symbol and, ideally, an equalizer for diverse populations. Given that, it is natural that college degree is an aspirational possession much the same way is a specific brand of a pair of shoes. Many of you may not like that comparison, but I want to make a simple point here. When we place a high value on something such as a college education we need to do it not just because it represents status or material benefits because then people will seek it for the wrong reasons and find short cuts to getting it. Yes, we have an obligation to make a college education an accessible, high quality opportunity for all, but we want to do it for socially responsible reasons.


Moreover, we need to create a culture that values all people and types of education, regardless of where one gets that education. We want an individual who goes to a technical 2-year college to get a high quality education, to be proud of his or her training, to know that he or she is valued for the skill he or she possesses and contributions he or she makes to our society. Do we value and respect other trainings? If not, what are we modeling to our students?


We are an educational institution, but it is imperative that we keep in mind that the informal learning that occurs outside - and inside the classroom, the informal dialogues and culture within our walls and in our geographic community was where we learned the social and civic minded values. In the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti "There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning."


A new paradigm in education is forcing us to adapt our ways. Have you thought of how you will use new tools, communication vehicles, different expectations and values to reshape how you teach others - and how you learn? The students are different - physically, culturally, and socially. We are not the students' main source of information. We are competing with myriads of voices; all who claim to have the truth we believe we own.


Are we able to share that stage? Can we teach our students to listen and believe us, while simultaneously reviewing other sources but analyzing all sources with skepticism? The Internet has shrunk the world, become a key source of both accurate and false information. At the same time it can be a headache to a teacher it can help open up opportunities.


What about our students? Jacob Chanowski states, "It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot, irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it." Yes, often students challenge and question, but isn't that what keeps us on our toes? How can we learn ways to guide constructively their curiosity and challenges through appropriate empirical, social, institutional channels and strategies that help them build a better world? How can we create a community that teaches all of us how to do this? Isn't that the most important thing we can do as a University? Jeff Bezos states, What's dangerous is not to evolve.Ross Douthat, in reference to the selling of the Washington Post said "…And it has struggled, in part, because the paper's leaders failed to step into an online era role that should have been theirs for the taking." (8)


The future of education - this new education paradigm - is ours for the taking. So, as we enter a new academic year, we should think about learning not only in terms of what we impart to others - but rather what we can learn and as an opportunity to consciously and with strategic design, seize opportunities to move our University community - our students - to greatness. To quote Sarah Caldwell and Miguel De Cervantes, respectively, "Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can - there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did." "It is good to live and learn." As a Registered Dietitian let me end by saying we can choose to be at the table or on the plate. Let's choose to be at the table.


Thank you for this honor and I look forward to working with you this coming year.


  3. U.S . Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics
  8. (Columnist for the NYT, 8/13/13)