Sunday, March 31, 2013
An accreditation visit pushes the comparative perspective even deeper. In this case, the information is pretty thorough and specific. I don’t know what I’ll find when I get to the campus, but I’m already looking forward to it.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Wise and worldly readers, what do you think? Is financial literacy a potentially useful subject for a freshman seminar? Or is this all just dancing around the recession?
Ask the Administrator: The Kabuki Search
This is not hypothetical—I’ve had to deal with it a couple of times now. I keep asking for ethical advice but no one yet has offered me any that I find really satisfactory. We hire someone to work in a temporary position, and are thus able to do so without a national search. This person turns out to be extremely good, and we convince the administration to give us a new line so we can hire them permanently. University policy nevertheless requires us to conduct a national search to fill the position. So we find ourselves in effect recruiting for a slot that has already been filled. What are the ethics of advertising, interviewing, etc., when we already know who we’ll be hiring? I’m extremely squeamish about this process, but I simply haven’t been able to come up with an alternative.
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Liberal Arts Deans
These aren’t the kinds of issues that can be resolved by combining nearby departments or by separating gen ed from liberal arts. They’re deeper than that. People who can breathe at those depths are few and far between. But we’d be in a heap of trouble without them.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Ask the Administrator: Second Round Interviews
I am writing about second round interviews at community colleges. I have found many helpful resources online about first round interviews, but I have found fewer resources about second round interviews, and those resources tend to be short on details. Thus, I was hoping that you might be willing to post some questions about second round interviews on your blog. In particular, I would like to solicit feedback on the following questions:
What can candidates expect from second round interviews? What if the first round consisted only of a brief (20-30 minute) interview? Might a teaching demonstration then be expected? Or are those always conducted during the first round? What kinds of questions do search committee members typically ask during second round interviews? What about administrators (e.g., deans)? Do second round interviews usually contain many of the same kinds of questions asked during the first round, or do they tend to be significantly different? What exactly are faculty and administrators looking for when conducting second round interviews beyond "fit"? Or is it often all about "fit?"
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Wise and worldly readers, especially those who have experienced teaching with OER from either the facuty or the student side, what should those of us who are intrigued by the prospect know before jumping in?
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Yes, he does.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Training for What?
Wise and worldly readers, what would you do? If you ran MATC, would you honor the union request, or would you run the program?
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
major or course of study made possible in this model that the credit hour system stifles, or would a college basically have to reverse engineer from the old model? And if it does just work backwards, where’s the gain?
So there’s plenty of work to be done. But I say “Bravo!” to the department of ed for giving a green light, and yet another in a series of “bravos!” to SNHU for stepping up. The transition to the new system could be hairy, but if it’s done right, it could be a real breakthrough. As Westerberg put it so many years ago, color me impressed.
Monday, March 18, 2013
“Not a School for People Like Them”
To my reading, Cottom puts a little too much faith in the economic cycle to explain for-profits’ success, and probably too little on the regulatory climate. And it’s reasonable to think that the for-profits should be even more nervous about MOOCs than the rest of us. But those are quibbles. Go and read her piece. Give it some thought. She’s on to something, and we’d best figure out just what it is.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
I get a little twitchy whenever I read about “undermatching” as a problem.
Broadly, “undermatching” is the claim that high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds often attend colleges that are “beneath” them academically, and that therefore they miss certain kinds of opportunities. If only the elites were more thoughtful about reaching the masses, the argument goes, they’d do a better job of creating a pure meritocracy, and the talented tenth (or twentieth, depending on taste) wouldn’t be shackled to institutions built for the unwashed masses.
The whole framework around “undermatching” assumes a lot.
At one level, it assumes a really unproblematic caste system in higher ed. On this view, the prestige hierarchy is written into nature to such a degree that community colleges that enroll high-caliber students are portrayed as problems. They’re violating the natural order of things. Or, more charitably, they’re symptoms of the failures of elite institutions to do their meritocratic job.
In my observation, anyone who puts too much faith in a Great Chain of Being is missing the point. Having attended one of the elite colleges myself, I can attest from personal observation that what makes them different from other places isn’t so much academic rigor as a sort of unconscious affluence. Students there don’t work thirty or forty hours a week for pay while they take classes. And the assumption that “exclusive” equates to “high quality” is both antithetical to public higher education, by definition, and a reversion to the bad old habit of mistaking inputs for outputs.
Secondly, it neglects the very real academic excellence that can be found on many public campuses.
Thirdly, it’s based on a really basic category error. Let’s see if you’re smarter than a New York Times editor. Find the flaw in the following:
Taylor attends Hypothetical Community College.
Hypothetical Community College has a 25% graduation rate.
Therefore, Taylor has a 25% chance of graduating.
If you think that’s an airtight syllogism, congratulations! You have what it takes to edit the New York Times!
On the other hand, if you can spot the fallacy, then you might actually grasp the truth. Not every student at a given college --any given college -- has the identical odds of graduation as every other student at that same college. The overall graduation rate (leaving out for now that it only refers to first-time, full-time, degree-seeking students, which is a minority of community college students) reflects, among other things, the results from various subgroups of students, all added up. If you disaggregate, you notice quickly that some subgroups do much better than the average, and some much worse.
If Taylor is the kind of traditional-aged, high-achieving student that the Times has in mind, she’ll do just fine at a community college. She’ll find her way to the honors program, join a learning community or two, run for student government, and quickly seek out the transfer counselor. The fact that other students who come in with lower GPA’s, weaker academic preparation, less family support, and more need to work for pay graduate at lower rates really doesn’t affect her chances one way or the other.
But prophecies can self-fulfill. If the parents of the Taylors of the world decide that community colleges and less selective four year colleges have “too many” students who, well, aren’t like Taylor, they’ll start to think of community colleges as Not For People Like Them. And American political history is abundantly clear that once an institution is identified politically with the poor, that the institution will be impoverished.
I’m not a fan of any strategy that involves writing off most students and most colleges. Bright students choosing to attend college close to home, where they have support networks, is not a crisis. Elite opinion suggesting that we simply write off open access public education for anyone with talent is a crisis.
If public higher education isn’t “good enough” for Taylor, don’t pretend that giving Taylor a slightly better shot at Harvard solves the societal problem. Make public higher education better, and let the Taylors of the world go where it makes sense for them to go. Besides, sometimes talent comes in overlooked packages, the kinds that the Harvard admissions office might miss. I’d rather offer opportunity -- real, high-quality opportunity -- to whomever wants it, and let the results tell us where the talent is. You might be surprised.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
The obstacles aren’t trivial, but I drew hope from seeing Education Secretary Arne Duncan tweet approvingly a link to a story about Maryland K-12 schools adopting later start times.
Knowing what we know about adolescent sleep cycles, the idea of forcing them to sit through pre-calc at 7:30 in the morning is self-defeating. It’s setting everyone up to fail.
Yes, moving school days later will impact after-school activities, whether they be sports, clubs, or jobs. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And if it means that students are actually awake enough to learn something, I’ll take that deal anytime.
A few decades ago, Piotr Sloterdijk defined cynicism as enlightened false consciousness. It’s a sort of pose of wisdom that simply substitutes one form of illusion for another. But its superior attitude actually blocks learning.
I was reminded of that in reading this piece in the Chronicle. It’s a superficially clever piece about outcomes assessment, which tries to paint assessment as a sort of epistemological circle. If grades don’t tell us what we need to know, the author asks, then how does assessment?
The answer is that assessment looks at a different thing to answer a different question. Grades look at the individual parts (“courses”) of a curriculum. Assessment looks at the curriculum as a whole. Does the whole equal the sum of the parts, or is something missing?
It’s a simple enough distinction. I would have expected the Chronicle to know better.
The Boy did us proud. We’re pretty strict about rationing “tech time,” which is our catchall term for time on computers, the kindle fire, or whatever. The kids chafe at the limits, of course, but that’s to be expected.
Last week TB wrote us a two-page manifesto explaining -- clearly and logically -- why he should get more tech time, especially on weekends. The piece was pointed but not angry, well-constructed, and pretty convincing. For an eleven year old, I thought that was pretty good.
We met him halfway, giving him more time on weekends. I’m thinking that if an eleven year old boy can sit down and write out a rational solution to what’s frustrating him, we should encourage that. There are certainly worse ways for adolescent boys to handle frustration.
Apparently, I’ve passed on the blogger gene. Poor kid.
This Dad wins the week. In order to let his daughter play center stage, he hacked Donkey Kong so that the princess rescues Mario.
From one Dad to another, I have to say: well played, sir. Well played.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
MOOCs as Work-Arounds
A few years ago, some colleges in my neck of the woods flirted with the idea of partnering with more expensive for-profits to provide “express lanes” for students to get around long waiting lists for high demand programs, especially in nursing. The idea was that the colleges didn’t have the resources to build the needed capacity, so they would partner with institutions that did.
Now, and on the other ocean, California is considering requiring public colleges and universities to accept MOOCs for credit when taken by students on waiting lists for regular classes. The MOOC providers are nonprofit, and the courses will cost the same or less -- it isn’t clear from the various articles -- but the basic idea is the same. If we assume austerity as an immutable fact of life in community colleges, then the only way to add capacity is to come up with work-arounds.
So many thoughts...
First, it’s helpful to keep the various sectors straight. It’s true that at many research universities, intro classes are taught in cavernous auditoriums by a sage on a stage, usually with PowerPoint. To pretend that those classes aren’t already “distance” education is basically lying. They’re taught that way not because it makes any educational sense, but because it’s cheap. The profits from those classes subsidize smaller, upper-level sections (and lighter teaching loads for research faculty). I’d be hard-pressed to locate any actual educational harm from shifting the viewing of a lecture from row 30 of an auditorium to a window on a browser. If anything, the browser is probably preferable, since you can pause and rewind (or whatever the digital equivalent of rewinding is).
But that’s not true at every level. At most community colleges, intro courses are smaller. I’ve never seen a 300 student auditorium class at a community college. The smaller sections are meant to accommodate interactions with students who need interaction; in this sector, the “ah, what the hell” objection that might work at a research university doesn’t hold.
If anything, I think Josh Kim’s piece earlier this week got the economics right. For a community college that is concerned with student success rates, MOOCs could actually increase costs. That’s because the wraparound services that students need to be successful are both costly and hard to monetize. At my college, for example, students pay by the credit hour for the courses they take, but the library and the tutoring center are free and all you can eat. If we outsourced the classes but kept the support, the entire economic model would collapse.
Second, the idea of mandating credit transfer from unaccredited providers is groundbreaking. This is where I have to take issue with Matt Yglesias’ characterization of the bill as “a very modest step.” There’s nothing modest about bypassing accreditation and mandating credit. It may or may not be a good idea, but it’s big.
It’s also backwards. If you want to harness MOOCs intelligently -- to turn into the skid, as it were -- you have to decouple them from evaluation. Steer students on waitlists to the MOOCs that will help them test out of the classes they’re missing, then base credit on whether they test (or portfolio, or otherwise perform) well enough to get credit for the class. If you pick up enough knowledge on your own to test out of Intro to Psychology, well then, good for you. Where you got the knowledge should be irrelevant.
Third, the language in the bill -- which I’m getting secondhand, and which may be incorrect -- suggests that only “faculty-approved” courses would get credit. Depending on what that means, that could scuttle the entire initiative. I don’t imagine faculty being in any hurry to outsource their own jobs. The argument that it only applies to courses with waitlists sounds persuasive until you recognize that staffing shortages cause waitlists, and staffing shortages can get progressively worse with each new round of cuts.
In a collective bargaining setting, which California public colleges are, a change that would shift “unit work” to non-unit people -- such as shifting instruction from unionized faculty to non-union MOOCs -- would trigger an impact bargaining requirement. The bill is written to avoid that, lifting Federal grant language to the effects that MOOCs will “supplement, not supplant” normal classes. But unless you define “normal classes” with a single historical snapshot, the goalposts can move every year. As the cuts accumulate and the “normal” offerings shrink, the waitlists proliferate, and more courses become eligible for MOOC treatment.
If California is serious about moving in this direction -- and heaven help me, I never know what California is serious about -- it’ll have to junk any sort of “performance” funding formula for community colleges. It’s preposterous to hold a college responsible for the caliber of instruction of courses it doesn’t teach, by faculty it didn’t hire. Given the attrition rates in MOOCs at this point, I’d expect to see colleges whose funding is based on “performance” to avoid them like the plague.
Over the long term, I think it’s obvious that we need to get away from seat time as the currency of higher education. But as a transitional move, this strikes me as likely to backfire. And I’d be afraid of any legislature arrogating to itself the role of accreditor. Yes, it’s a great idea to take advantage of new online resources and to use new technology to find efficiencies. But to just outsource the one lucrative avenue colleges have, and then double down on performance requirements that would require even more expensive wraparound services, is really setting colleges up to fail. Innovation is great -- I’m a fan -- but it requires both investment and thought. California doesn’t seem to be interested in either.