On Sunday, September 27, 2009, The Washington Post ran this headline on its front page: “Sandwiching Older Metro Cars Was PR Move.”
The headline referred to the Washington Metro officials’ move to sandwich older rail cars between newer, more sturdy, rail cars in response to this summer’s subway crash that killed nine people. The older cars being sandwiched are similar to the one that was crushed in the crash.
Metro officials said the move was to improve safety, but as the Post reports, the practice was not based on engineering analysis. The initiative was called “PR”. In a letter to the Tri-State Oversight Committee, Metro Safety official Alexa Dupigny-Samuels said the Metro repositioned the cars “to provide an added level of reassurance” but did not cite any scientific support for the move.
The Post said that subsequently, the Committee concluded the move was “purely a public relations effort.”
It’s obvious neither the Metro nor the Committee knows what PR is. What the Metro did was a stunt, not PR. The Metro needed to take methodical steps to study what went wrong and fix it, making rail cars and all aspects of subway usage safe. Professional public relations management would have kept all publics informed during the process.
Finally, once the problem was fixed for good, then the Metro should have shared the information with key publics. If the Metro wanted to “provide an added level of reassurance”, then fixing the problem that led to the crash and keeping publics informed of progress was the reassurance sorely needed.
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Last week was the first week of fall semester. It’s a busy time for me, and every moment counts. There is so much to do to launch four classes and begin a new doctoral course.
Day two, my computer got a virus which shut it down completely. Being the first week of school, the help desk wizards were swamped. I went from Tuesday to late Thursday without a computer — no email, no blog, no Twitter, no Facebook, no student records, no Blackboard, no nothing. It was painful.
But it was also instructive. We are totally dependent on computer and internet technology to do anything anymore.
In reading today about the history of technology and learning, I was struck by the praise once heaped on a technology that would revolutionize education. This technological breakthrough was touted as the greatest system to contribute to learning and science ever invented. The wording was from 1841, and the “system” was the blackboard. That’s the chalk blackboard, not the computer-based Blackboard.
Education has suffered through many such “breakthroughs” that were believed to be capable of transforming education. Among these are:
- Audiovisuals using projectors, made less effective by expensive, high-maintenance equipment in the early days plus poor quality and variety of films.
- Radio, which was simpler than film, but lack of equipment limited diffusion of the medium.
- Television, loudly and fervently hailed as the greatest innovation to improve education, but didn’t.
When new technologies did not gain wide acceptance and live up to their hype, teachers were frequently blamed as being unwilling to adopt the technology or merely incompetent.
But computers are different. They work in education. Computers are by far the most effective teaching and learning machines ever to be tried in a classroom. But to be truly effective, computers must be used effectively by knowledgeable and dedicated teachers.
Add to that computers and computer systems with adequate virus prevention and correction.
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