Continuing our Consulting Professor Profile series, I’m pleased to introduce you to an amazing individual and wonderful contributor to Saylor.org: Dr. Anthony Pizur. I conducted a quick interview with Tony via email: here’s what he has to say about his background, what he does for Saylor.org, and what open education means to him.
Free education is a very good thing. I’ve been fortunate to receive scholarships, fellowships, and corporate reimbursement to fund my education. I received my B.A. from a small Jesuit college in upstate New York and went straight to graduate school at Brown University. After working in the private sector, I completed my doctorate at the International University of Kyrgyzstan. My focus was on economic development; studying overseas was a natural choice for that. It’s not the typical path—but one that’s led to all kinds of interesting professional and life experiences.
I like to teach at a variety of schools and across the curriculum. I learn from each experience and improve my teaching. For example, traditional schools cover depth of material very well while upstart for-profits have impressive course delivery systems and retention tools. I prefer teaching online because I get to work with students from all backgrounds and locations. One of my favorite examples is from a business math course. During our weekly chat, an adult student from rural Mississippi confided that she could never get past fractions. She said it would be OK if the class just moved on to the next topic. Her peers were adamant about trying another approach; we all expressed the belief that she could succeed. I asked her to go to the kitchen and get a pitcher of water and measuring cups. Over the next 15 minutes, she was able to see the mathematical relationships, and the class cheered her on. When she graduated, she wrote the dean a letter describing how mastering fractions led to one of her life’s greatest accomplishments: She was able to bake a birthday cake for her grandson. Oh, and by the way, she went on to start a home-based cookie and cupcake company.
I keep current with research as a contributing author to The Central Asia–Caucasus Analyst at Johns Hopkins University. I chair dissertation committees and help graduate students build their research skills. I’m currently working on a blog about how students can avoid taking on too much college loan debt.
As for fun, I live in New York City, and that keeps me pretty busy. I don’t own a television because there are so many things to do: film festivals, great new restaurants, the Union Square farmers market, and just about everything else under the sun. I also love to read and cook and work on my terrace garden.
What do you do for Saylor.org?
I’m doing a lot of multitasking! I’m building a Math for Economists course to round out the economics curriculum. I’ve assembled resources, authored exams, synthesized peer reviews, and created original content for several economics, strategic management, business, and political economy courses.
One of the more-interesting projects was developing the strategic management course for The University of the People. Saylor and UoP worked together to build this capstone course using totally free resources. It was great to collaborate and see the partnership produce such positive results.
Right now, I’m leading Saylor’s accreditation initiative. It’s very exciting to move the organization toward getting its courses recognized as college-level learning. The objective is to have the courses translate into traditional college credits. That would be truly revolutionary—a free college education open to all.
What has working for Saylor.org taught you?
Working for Saylor reminds me of this quote:
“It is dangerous to make everyone go forward by the same road, and worse to measure others by oneself.”
— St. Ignatius Loyola
When I design courses, I keep in mind that the end-user may be a teenager from Malawi, a graduate student in a traditional university, or even another professor. The constituency is diverse, and the materials have to relate to them all. I’ve definitely had to consider new perspectives and methods of teaching.
Why is open education important to you?
In the U.S., the increase in the price of a college education has been double the rate of inflation for the past 15 years. This is not a sustainable path, and alternatives must exist to drive down the costs, or students will be priced out of the market. An educated workforce is a national asset in a global economy. I don’t believe a person should be denied an education because of cost.
In some countries, access to an education may be denied on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, race, or religion. A smartphone with an Internet connection can circumvent all of those barriers—if there are free organized educational programs available.
How do you feel that students can learn in an open education environment?
The resources exist, but students need help understanding which resources are high-quality ones. They also need exams based on those free resources to test their understanding. I believe that Saylor is the first organization to combine these essential elements.
Stay tuned to the Saylor Journals for future professor profiles!