Dr. Richard P. Barke is an associate professor in the School of Public Policy. His recent research interests focus on the regulation of risk, the roles of politics within science, and science within politics. Barke has written about topics such as the political behavior of scientific disciplines, the impact of university curricula on the organization and advancement of scientific knowledge, the politics of science budgeting in Congress, and how scientists translate scientific findings into policy recommendations. Recent works involve the decision making processes by which science and ethics are reconciled in the regulation of research, particularly research involving human subjects and in nanotechnology. Currently he is writing a book about obstacles to long-term policy making.
Two of the many possible changes are particularly relevant. First, public policy is inherently multi- and interdisciplinary, based largely on economics and political science, but with strong elements of statistics, ethics, organization theory, logic, and other fields. It also embraces much of science and technology, particularly when the topic involves issues such as innovation policy, energy and environment, communications and security, etc. We do not have clear borders that are tightly controlled, so we face two challenges: finding the relevant information, and assessing its quality. We are evidence-based, not belief-based, but much of the information and so-called analysis that students (and faculty) can find are weighted—sometimes very clearly, but often implicitly—by the values and assumptions of various sources. The increasing flood of information means that we need reliable and replicable standards for separating what’s useful from what’s polemic.
Second, many of my colleagues are interested in blended-learning models. Much of the learning in our courses is factual or analytical and could be conveyed effectively by video lectures, exercises, etc. But public policy is a field where at least half the effort is often spent on figuring out what the right question is (often emerging from diverse, changing, and partially-involved stakeholders over long periods). We teach our students that most policy questions don’t have “an answer,” and they often don’t have “a question”—these must be discovered and negotiated. So any changes in pedagogy will need to allow smooth and open exchanges about the facts, values, constraints, incentives, and implicit assumptions that make public policy analysis such a challenge.
Is this change good, bad, or unnecessary?
A combination, of course. C21U’s attention is on changing tools of learning, but all tools are useful for some purposes but not others. Change for its own sake, without thorough consideration of long-term consequences, can be a mixed blessing. I haven’t read a careful analysis of the possible effects of MOOCs and personnel changes on the research function of the university, for example.
What should C21U be doing?
In my opinion, C21U should be taking a balanced look at a variety of possible changes, such as the possible benefits of offering learning experiences for an aging baby-boom generation, or more effective models for residential instruction, or tools for navigating web-based information and analysis more wisely. One possible scenario for the future of education is that everything might not be about to change radically; in that case, what will C21U be contributing to our preparations for the future of higher education?
What is one thing your students or colleagues may be surprised to learn about you?
I nearly fell off Stone Mountain when I was fourteen. Actually, to some students and colleagues, that might not be very surprising.