PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Weldon J. Wilson

F21 Class of 1994 Statements Revisited

Weldon Wilson

Weldon Wilson is Professor of Physics and Engineering at University of Central Oklahoma.

Question: What are the current challenges you are facing in your professional life?

Answer: There are three major challenges I see facing my self and other faculty as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.

  1. Since I began as a faculty member there has been a slow but steady increase in the administrative duties that have been passed down to the faculty. This has reached the point where I, like most faculty, have very little time to pursue research let alone improve my teaching. Since teaching and research were the reasons I entered this profession in the first place, the prospect of spending over 50% of my time on duties that used to be performed by administrators is annoying, if not completely depressing.
  2. The brightest and best American students no longer go into mathematics and the sciences because of poor employment opportunities in these areas and non-competitive wages when compared to alternative professions that require much less formal training and education. Young Americans have generally woken up to the bad prospects and absence of a reasonable middle class career path in science and have deserted it.
  3. Since the K-12 educational system has changed very little in recent years in spite of enormous amounts of money that have been made available to it, one can only conclude that the current education system is not in shambles, but that it does exactly what it was set up to do -- to entertain the masses, to separate material so that there is no clear continuity and connection between subjects, to subdue the unruly individual thinkers, to learn to work in a hierarchy where teachers are in power and students are the followers, to foster intellectual dependency by having students wait for initiative from the teachers before they start learning, to seek self-esteem from external sources like grades and ratings from teachers and standardized tests, to learn to work under constant supervision - from the time they are at school to assigned homework which determines what they are doing outside of school. Unless the educational system is redirected into a truly innovative and radical direction, then the American system will have very grim second half 21st century.

Question: What do you view as your most promising options and opportunities for the future?

Answer: While we are yet to see this done to any degree, the personal computer (if used correctly) offers what is maybe the only hope and certainly the brightest opportunity for K-12 education. Unfortunately, I am unaware of any place that uses a PC in an educational setting correctly. The computer should be used first as a tutorial system that allows each student to learn the basics of reading, math, etc. at their own pace and with repetition until there is mastery of basic fundamentals. Beyond that, the use of internet information systems like Wikipedia and related systems should be developed to provide textbooks, materials, and advanced tutorials for university level work. The key is that the computer will allow all students (at whatever age) to be tutored at an appropriate level with repetition until there is mastery of the subject. .

Question: What will undergraduate STEM be like in 2016, given the urgency of new challenges and opportunities facing our nation?

Answer: While I wish I could be more optimistic, I doubt that little will change in undergraduate STEM education other than the demographics. White-Anglo-Saxon- Protestant students will be the minority. There will be more students home-schooled because the public education will be so poor. An elitist education system of private, prep schools and elite universities will provide quality education for those who can afford it. If we are lucky, there will be a small cadre of guerilla learning educators that will provide (virtually free) via the internet a computer-based mastery tutoring system.