Archive for February, 2011

Online Teaching Advice

February 27, 2011

A column helping faculty decide whether to teach online classes. Some good information, including pros and cons, resources, and general information on strategic and technical aspects of online courses.

Going Medieval

February 27, 2011

An interesting suggestion for how one might revision some of higher education. Drawing on the medieval monastic tradition and even the Rule of Benedict, here is one possible alternative. Parts of it sound great, but I have a feeling there are some complications that might make it hard to do.

Educational Perfect Storm

February 26, 2011

Thomas Benton of Hope College writes of the perfect storm for Higher Education. While President Obama and others stress the need for more students to go to college, there are problems in the quality of education that should be fixed prior to thinking about enlarging the student pool. He highlights the following ten factors contributing to the problem:

  1. Lack of student preparation
  2. Grade inflation
  3. Student Retention
  4. Student evaluation of teachers
  5. Enrollment minimums
  6. Lack of uniform expectation
  7. Contingent teaching
  8. Time constraints
  9. Curricular chaos
  10. Demoralized faculty members

Obviously, this kind of diagnosis makes clear there is no easy fix. But a fix (or at least a move in that direction) is needed.


A perspective on Galatians

February 26, 2011

Here’s a satirical piece on Galatians and its reception if it were given today.

The Benefit of Doubt

February 24, 2011

I just bumped into Pete Enns’ lecture on doubt from November. I think it is a thoughtful discussion of doubt in directions one doesn’t normally think of. I’d recommend it.

Why do Liberals Play Games Like Conservatives?

February 23, 2011

A thought-provoking essay by Monica Potts. Of course some of the reason may be in the gameplay design (if combat works better or is more effective that peaceful tactics, play will move that way). But I think the last line may be as revealing as any in the essay:

Maybe video games also tease out the latent conservative in all of us.

That $10,000 Degree

February 23, 2011

Here’s a sample of the kind of thinking that might actually produce the $10,000 B.A. Texas Governor Rick Perry has been advocating. The basic idea, applicable to Texas given its size and scale, is to produce and own the content for a block of courses (for a 90 hour degree; 12 core courses and 16 major and 2 minor courses for 15 key programs – a total of 412 courses) and then deliver them via online or similar means at a set rate per course ($250 per course and $400 per semester fees; total of $9,900).

Would it work? I’m not sure. Given sufficient upfront investment (the essay suggests $200,000,000!) it could, though to be fair, that cost needs to amortized into the cost of education. Assuming 100,000 enroll, that means an extra $2,000 per student. And some investment will be needed in course updates and revisions, though if properly designed, it would be relatively minimal.

Given a low enough salary profile for the teachers, there is money for the respective colleges to use to fund students services, etc., so this might work. There are still some questions outstanding and even if it works for Texas, it won’t work for most systems. Nevertheless, it’s in the ballpark, and suggests some interesting possibilities ahead. Not to mention the implications for other schools if this kind of option is available (it will be hard to market a $200,000 mediocre degree against this, I would wager).

Wisconsin, The Race to the Bottom and Educational Innovation

February 23, 2011

Walter Russel Mead has provided another thoughtful take on the Wisconsin battle, with implications for education. Basically, he notes that the dividing lines are partially based on perceptions of the future. The government must protect our way of life (teacher’s unions) or the government must get out of the way so we can reach new levels of prosperity. In some sense, this is the problem faced by blue-collar workers in the past few decades now faced by white-collar workers. And just as Luddite approaches couldn’t really solve the problems of the blue-collar transition, we need to rethink everything. Here’s where he applies it to education (and other knowledge based careers):

Now that technology is moving into the knowledge based industries, the same thing is going to happen to many lawyers, bureaucrats, medical workers and (alas) college professors.  Dr. John Henry, PhD; Dr. Jane Henry, MD and J. Henry, Esq are going to fall farther and farther behind the 21st century equivalent of the steam drill: Watson (the IBM computer that recently mopped the floor with its human opponents on TV’s Jeopardy).  Less educated people, assisted by smart machines, are going to outperform old style professionals at more and more tasks….

The educational system is also going to change in ways the unions and the guilds can’t imagine — and will fight to the death.  Going forward, students need to be evaluated and credentialed on the basis of what they know, not on the basis of time served.  An exam based rather than an instructional hours based system will put students back in control of the educational system; the vast armada of meaningless degree programs in pseudo-academic disciplines like business communications, hospitality studies and sports management will sail off into the oblivion they so richly deserve.  The pressure for pointless academic credentials and meaningless degrees is one of the great, expensive blights on our society: we can’t afford this kind of waste anymore and it needs to go.  Employees will demonstrate their competence to employers by passing exams in different job-relevant subjects that test real skills; the training for these tests will be provided by entrepreneurial organizations that are likely to rapidly replace many of the inefficient and expensive post-secondary educational institutions around today, once appropriate systems to regulate their practices and monitor their performance can be developed.  (Traditional liberal arts education needs to survive, and it will, but education and training are very different things that require very different approaches.  To promote economic growth and social mobility, and to help individuals continually retool their skills in a changing economy, we need to separate training from education and make training as widely available, cheap and convenient as possible.)

Food for thought.


Another translation

February 23, 2011

Though my daughter informs me I’m behind the times, via a link from Pete Enns, here’s a new translation. What this says about translation theory…

The Cost of Children

February 22, 2011

The Financial Times notes the decline in the birth rate and some of the economic factors contributing to it. Moreover, it may lead to some serious future demographic problems.

Granted, the cost of children can be greatly reduced by those who choose more thrifty options. The numbers the article cites are insanely high for people of more modest means – I’ve had years where my total income wouldn’t match their estimates: $286,000 (not including college), or roughly $12,000-$21,000 per year. I’ve had 4 children, all of whom have reached adulthood and 3 completing college and I know I’ve not spent $1,000,000 plus on them. Though on recent review it was surprising how much we have spent on college despite generous financial aid (but that’s not even part of the article’s figures, and still nowhere near the amounts they were talking about).

Still, factoring in the reality that children are an economic drag rather than a resource as they used to be (e.g., on the farm) does shape our behavior and even our values in ways we don’t always recognize. Of course, my children will soon be caring for me in the manner to which I have become accustomed, so my experience will be an outlier!