Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Credits and Credit Hours
But it’s the best and fairest way to break Baumol’s cost disease without just surrendering to a Wild West of credits meaning whatever anyone says they mean. The great appeal is twofold: break the cost chokehold while maintaining academic integrity. I haven’t seen a better way to do both. Is there one?
You are not supposed to earn a credit for sitting in a seat for a fixed period of time, you are supposed to earn it for what a typical student of some poorly defined caliber might learn with reasonable effort in about three times that period of time.
Do you seriously believe that every section of some course taught in the same format (let alone sections of radically different courses across many majors) results in the same amount of learning for a given final passing grade? Or that every course requires exactly the same amount of effort by the typical student? Utter nonsense.
First, I can see how competencies can make it easier for an individual student to move through the system faster ("more efficiently"). But how does this work from the institution's perspective? How does an instructor coach n students toward competency, each moving at the rate most suited to them? It sounds like you're proposing moving towards instruction via private tutorial, which seems to push towards *lower* institutional efficiency. In your vision of competency-driven education, what do professors spend their time doing?
Second, in the past you've spoken out against the dream of "unbundling" the university, rightly pointing out that doing so raises transaction costs (among other undesirable outcomes). How does a move toward competency-based credentialing not serve as an attempt to unbundle the services traditionally provided by university faculty? Isn't the natural outcome of an academe-wide movement to competencies a system of standardized national competency exams, and a horde of instructors whose purpose is to teach to those tests?
Most fundamentally, I suppose, my objection is this: do we really think that it's possible to have continual productivity increases when it comes to teaching calculus to large numbers of people? Certainly individual motivated students can learn the material much faster than the usual three semester sequence plans for, but those students are already using their time efficiently: they get the work for their credit-hour classes done quickly and then spend their free time engaged in extra curriculars, networking, or other productive activities. But do we really think that the average time it takes an entire class of students to learn the material of Calc I-III can substantially be decreased? If not, how is an attempt to fight Baumol's cost disease anything but quixotic?
My apologies if these are questions you've addressed before: I'm a relatively new reader to your blog and haven't yet had the time to read through your history of posts on the subject.
And this was at a four-year school that you have probably heard of that is accredited by NAESC.
I've been reading Dean Dad for a while, and he writes this same column semi-regularly. CCPhysicist then explains again that changing the words "credit hour" or "credit" to "competency" doesn't, in reality, change anything else. Dean Dad then studiously ignores CCPhysicist's comment, and rewrites his column again the next time. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The credit-hour thing is clearly a one of "deandad"'s pet peeves but it strikes me as more a matter of semantics that anything else
Working in a high school myself, with kids in university, from my own experience the education we're paying for now is very different to what it was when I was in high school or university.
High school teachers around here provide a lot more support to students, a lot more communication with parents, and have more regulation to deal with than they did when I was a kid. Consider, for example, report cards. I still have some of my old school report cards: handwritten, with letter grades and very short comments ("good work"). Report cards now come out more frequently, have a percentage grade, half a dozen "learning skills", and a paragraph for comments.
Universities likewise do more than they did when I was a student. Recreation centers, residences, food facilities, etc are a lot nicer (and more extensive) than they were when I was an undergraduate. We had limited computer access, not campus-wide wifi. Undergraduates didn't get on-campus parking (few had cars). These amenities don't do anything to improve teaching, and do raise the cost.
Could we go back to those days? I'm not certain I'd want to — kids now graduate from high school because they have support who would have dropped out when I was young. But let's not pretend that these accomplishments (and they are accomplishments) are free: they cost resources, so the whole system costs more. But don't blame the English teacher because she isn't somehow teaching more students to make up for the cost of the new climbing wall in a brand-new state-of-the-art fitness center with HD TVs and high-speed wifi.