Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Posts from — January 2009


Although I think many of us feel that the recent Canadian budget is seriously flawed and that a coalition government could have worked out well for Canada, I also think that Michael Ignatieff’s move to support the budget was a savvy one that will better position him to win an election when the time is right. There’s an interesting profile of Ignatieff in the NY Times today that’s worth reading. I’m looking forward to reading his new book this spring.

January 31, 2009   No Comments

More on the Canadian healthcare systems

As this is a continuing topic of conversation in the US and with Americans who ask me my thoughts on these issues as a Canadian, I’ll continue to post here links to resources that I find helpful in explaining these differences. This interview with Princeton professor Uwe Reinhardt, a top American expert on health care economics, explains in a way that I’ve not heard before in the same detail just why the administrative costs are so high in the United States and why a national health care system could easily save enough money to bring affordable universal health care to everyone in the US. If this is something that interests you, make sure to take the time to read or watch this extensive interview.

This part of the interview, which was featured in this other shorter news story on the Canadian system that I’ve embedded below, explains it all:

Edie Magnus: We were in a hospital that was affiliated with McGill University, and it was a regional system that had six hospitals that were affiliated with one another, and they annually have some 39,000 inpatients, and they do about 34,000 surgeries and they deliver about 3,000 babies. And managing all of this is a staff of 12 people doing the billing, the administration. What would an equivalent hospital in the U.S. take to run administratively?

Uwe Reinhardt: You’d be talking 800, 900 people, just for the billing, with that many hospitals and being an academic health center. We were recently at a conference at Duke University and the president of DukeUniversity, Bill Brody, said they are dealing with 700 distinct managed care contracts. Now think about this. When you deal with that many insurers you have to negotiate rates with each of them. In Baltimore, they are lucky. They have rate regulations, so they don’t have to do it. But take Duke University, for example, has more than 500,000 and I believe it’s 900 billing clerks for their system.

January 30, 2009   No Comments

The future of learning

As an academic and a parent of young school-age children, I surprise friends and acquaintances sometimes when I tell them that by the time my kids are of age to attend university, I’m not sure that the academic institution as we know it today will be all that relevant. I’ve just spent a bit of time checking out some of the rapidly growing content on iTunes University and have to ask why, with such great learning opportunities available at the click of a mouse, anyone today would want their learning to be confined to the set of teachers at only one institution? Why not pick and choose from hundreds of institutions and create the type of education that best suits (and better serves) one’s interests?

Today I am wrapping up teaching my online course on Margaret Atwood to a great group of UVM students who have taken the course from home over Christmas. Even now, after teaching this course online for about five years, I’m still impressed and surprised by how students in my online courses routinely outperform my students in face-to-face classes. Why is that? One reason may be that they are more responsible for their own learning in that environment. Instead of being required to go to class at a particular place and time, they get to choose where and when they want to learn. I also ask them to write and read a great deal every day. It’s impossible to sit in the back of the class to see what the professor or their fellow students have to say; they need to be active learners each and every day of my course.

This ad from Kaplan University inspired me to take a few minutes today to talk about this. The ad sums up my point very well, except for that here it’s still an ad for a single, profit generating university that shapes students learning opportunities within parameters generated by that institution. I think that someday maybe (if I live long enough) I’ll be paid by the students from all over the world who want to take my class rather than by an individual university. My office might well be an actual office, a beach chair, or Cappuccino U.

January 9, 2009   No Comments

Obama and Spidey

Barack Obama will be appearing in an upcoming issue of Spider-Man, on sale on January 14th.

Today’s Guardian has a preview:

The five-page story takes place in Washington DC on inauguration day, when one of Spidey’s oldest enemies, the Chameleon, attempts to stop Obama’s swearing-in ceremony. Fortunately, Peter Parker is covering the event as a photographer, and jumps in to save the day.

“Ya hear that, Chameleon? The president-elect here just appointed me … secretary of shuttin’ you up,” Spider-Man says as he thwacks the Chameleon in the face. “I hope this doesn’t ruin the inauguration for you,” he tells Obama, as the Chameleon is led away by security officials. “Honestly, I’m more upset by the Chameleon’s shockingly deficient understanding of the electoral process,” Obama replies.

Spidey then cedes the limelight to Obama. “This is your day, after all, and I know it wouldn’t look good to be seen palling around with me,” he says, in a nod to Sarah Palin’s comment that the then presidential candidate had been “palling around with terrorists”.

Having a President appear in comics is nothing new. I even remember way back in 1979 when Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau appeared in the Uncanny X-Men and later Alpha Flight. It doesn’t get cooler, though, than having a President who collects comics, and a state Senator who not only collects comics but appears in the latest Batman movie. Sadly, and this is just a guess, I don’t think Michael Ignatieff reads comic books.

January 8, 2009   No Comments