Registering for college courses tended to give me heart palpitations. Even though I was slightly (ok, a lot) more neurotic than your average college student, I always felt that the odds of getting my ideal classes at the ideal times were slim to none — especially on a campus with 40,000 other students. Thank goodness then for people like Tim Arnold.
As the Huffington Post recently reported, the University of Central Florida senior had a relatively brilliant solution for ending the pre-registration strife of college students everywhere. He developed “U Could Finish,” a program that sent a text message to students when a spot opened up in one of their preferred classes at UCF. Arnold’s program obviously provided a much needed short-cut for students and became an immediate success with over 500 users in less than a week.
The university’s response? Heartfelt gratitude for facilitating course registration? Congratulations for applying intellectual talent to a real-world problem? Nope. According to TEDx, UCF shut “U Could Finish” down, sentenced Arnold to academic probation, and made him write an essay on why his program was inappropriate (in their eyes, anyway). CNN’s Soledad O’Brien quotes from a UCF statement:
They said they encourage and applaud innovation and entrepreneurship but…uh…it’s not about innovation, it’s about the execution.
Granted, if Arnold cared solely about making the course registration process easier, he could have waived the $0.99 fee his program charged and avoided violating the university’s prohibition of students profiting from academic tools. He also could have tried to collaborate with or at very least consult UCF before letting his program go live and subsequently jamming the university’s network. He claims, however, that his attempts to work with the university on previous projects were less than successful and decided not to approach them for approval. To top it all off, the Central Florida Future, UCF’s student newspaper, reported that on the same day the university decided to sustain Arnold’s academic probation, they unveiled a new course registration system obviously “inspired” by his original program. Classy.
Arnold’s case flags the inherent dilemma in schools’ dual duties to simultaneously nurture and discipline students. Obviously students need structure, limits and to generally understand that rules exist to facilitate the learning process and should therefore be followed. But what about when those rules actually hinder students’ ability to actively engage in or apply what they’ve learned? How many times have any of us heard an adult say “Because I said so,” in response to a child’s (or teen’s, for that matter) demands for an explanation of why they can’t do something? Probably too many to count. Personally, there have been quite a few times in my teaching career when I’ve had to stop and think hard about why I’m doling out a particular punishment or vetoing a specific student’s project idea.
Educators and academic institutions are supposed to be encouraging creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills in their students, not squashing them simply for the sake of maintaining an all-powerful image of authority — and in UCF’s case, retroactively profiting from their ideas. When it comes to saying “No,” we need to make sure we have a solid reason to back it up, much as we would expect our students to include in a debate, persuasive essay, or thesis defense.
And if there’s no good reason? Well, it might mean swallowing our pride, admitting we don’t have all the answers, and losing a little face for the sake of enabling students to celebrate and benefit from their own intellectual breakthroughs.
What do you think?
Photo Credit: RubAcn Chase via Flickr