Thursday, May 12, 2016

Friday Fragments

Thursday was “Scholars’ Day” on campus.  That’s a day for faculty and staff to do presentations for their peers on things they care about.  For me, it’s a rare chance to see faculty in their natural habitat, doing what they do really well.

I was heartened to see that the faculty-led panel on Open Educational Resources (OER) was standing-room-only.  Even better, two of the professors who had used OER in their classes this Spring reported improved course completion rates, one by double digits.  In a survey one professor conducted in two sections at the end of the semester, fewer than half of the students said they “always” buy assigned textbooks, and 16 percent said they never do.  Apparently, when more students actually have the material, more of them do the reading.  And when every student has the material from day one, fewer fall behind.

Much of the discussion centered around ancillary materials -- tests, quizzes, worksheets.  Commercial publishers now are starting to build ancillary materials to supplement OER textbooks.  Get the book for free, but pay, say, $25 for other stuff to round it out.  I had to admit being impressed at the ingenuity of the publishers.

At first, it struck me as cynical exploitation, if not open violation of Creative Commons.  But when other faculty expressed concerns about the workload involved in generating entirely new ancillary materials from scratch, I started to see the appeal.  In a perfect world, all that stuff would be free, and it sounds like Open Stax is starting to develop it.  But a student who gets the book for free and pays $25 for ancillaries is still getting a better deal than one who pays $200 for a bundle with an online code she can’t resell.

Details aside, though, the level of faculty interest was encouraging, and the reports from the early pilot sections ranged from mixed to generally positive.  Student results were encouraging, and student survey feedback was strongly positive.  We may be on to something.


I had been tasked with making some opening remarks.  The professor who introduced me just went with “go to it, Dr. Reed.”  Not the most florid intro, but it would make a great title for an autobiography.


From the “left-handed compliment” department: this week The Boy was falsely accused of plagiarism by his English teacher because his paper seemed too good.  

He’s that good.  The Boy can flat-out write.  

To be fair, he’s growing up in a house in which it’s not unusual for dinner conversation to turn to the merits of the Oxford comma.  (I’m pretty dogmatically “pro.”  Luckily, my President is, too, so we’ve decreed that the accreditation self-study shall use the Oxford comma.)  We read and write a lot, and we’ve talked to the kids like adults pretty much from the beginning.  

That may account for competence.  The flair is all his.  And I have the same sort of pride that other parents have when a kid has a great fastball or a nasty three-point shot.  


Meanwhile, The Girl is obsessed with the “Hamilton” soundtrack.  At breakfast last week, she asked me if Hercules Mulligan was a real person.  That’s a tough one before the first cup of coffee.


A correction to the post earlier this week about IPEDS graduation rates: I should have referred more specifically to IPEDS-GR.  It’s the headline number, but IPEDS as a whole contains far more than the headline number.  Thanks to Tod Massa for clearing that up.