Archive for July, 2011

On the College Experience

July 31, 2011

Some useful and interesting thoughts in this essay on the college experience by Steven Bell. In part, it’s a response to concerns about students seeking an experience rather than an education mentioned in a number of recent works. From Lowering Higher Education, he provides the following representative quote:

The corporate model treats students like customers, and as customers they expect services and products for their tuition fees. The services include high grades in return for little effort. The products include guaranteed credentials with a guaranteed value. With this sense of entitlement, most will not prepare for classes, and expect all material to be told to them in simple terms in entertaining classes.

In response, he suggests three strategies:

  1. Start with why: explain to the students why the topic matters
  2. Create an experience brand statement: explain what experience you want students to have and what you bring uniquely to it
  3. Move toward totality: creating a common experience beyond the course “silo” (across departments and even in an entire curriculum)

I’m sympathetic to much of what Bell suggests; in fact, I think a teacher would be wise to try their best to incorporate as much of this in a course/curriculum as possible. Nevertheless, the structural barriers seem to me to be severe. I’ll mention one for each just to get it started:

  1. Why: what do do with students who flat out don’t care about the why? In my particular setting, students frequently have expressed to me their total lack of interest in some of their general education courses. This is a broad cultural presupposition, and I doubt a cleverly crafted introduction will overcome all of the resistance here. Some, certainly. But not all. Moreover, if they really view their college education as credential rather than education, how do I even get them to listen as I attempt to explain why? I agree we should do it, but I’m not all that hopeful for universal success.
  2. Experience Brand: In a multiversity, where you have a student for only one or two courses, how does this work? When students don’t know the professors, how do you develop a brand? It’s a little easier in smaller institutions, where you can be known for a distinctive voice. But even then, if you think it is valuable for students to encounter different experiences, how do you avoid them choosing a familiar and comfortable style rather than one that challenges them? And what if you think it’s less about your experience brand, and more about the importance of learning about physics, or Shakespeare, or any other field. I don’t think most teachers bring that much that is truly unique, nor do I think they should. Excellence, yes. Passion, yes. But I’m old-fashioned enough to think I don’t need uniqueness to be moved. I fear this one might not end in the right direction.
  3. Totality: I just don’t understand how in most settings we can hope to shape curriculum that broadly, again with the one possible exception in a smaller school where you can have more cross-disciplinary dialog. In fact, it seems a bit contradictory to the experience brand suggestion: create a unified brand as you create a unique and individual brand. I agree it’s desirable, but the political and institutional will to do this (and the struggle to decide who gets to shape the totality) make this unrealistic in most institutions, I would guess. At least without gutting the academic independence of the faculty and creating commodified courses. On the other hand, I’ve pushed for efforts to create common interface and format for regularly accessed materials (e.g., LMS) so that students will know where things are – and haven’t had much luck on that yet.
I read the article with interest and do think there are some good points. Just not sure it’s doable without some other more fundamental restructuring. My guess is that most good teachers instinctively try to do quite a bit of this already!
One more thing: a good thought from the comments:
Getting past the “student is the customer” mentality is fairly simple. I always explain to my students that they are not my customer, their future is. If the student were my customer then I should just give them the A they ask for but since their future is my customer I have an obligation to help them identify their strengths and weaknesses so they can use that knowledge to build a better future. If that requires me giving them an F then so be it. Working for an A will also improve their future by teaching them the value of hard work. For those that earn a B or C after hard work, it teaches them that working hard isn’t always enough, at least in the short term, and sometimes they won’t win no matter how hard they work because they started out behind or have to many other constraints. Again all messages they need to make their best future.

Ideological Contagion

July 26, 2011

Here’s a post linking to a study that suggests that when 10% of the population hold a new belief, the idea spreads to a majority of the population. Granted there are some caveats we need to think about. Ideas which are flat out wrong may not be able to succeed in this way (at least I hope so) and this does suggest something about how ideas have to spread (targeting smaller populations initially might be better). It also explains some of what happens with mass consensus which is certainly wrong (e.g., the housing bubble). And sometimes there are opposing committed minorities – they both can’t win. Nevertheless, it also explains how ideas once seemingly out of the mainstream are sometimes adopted very quickly.

Another example of the social nature of humans.

Higher Education Bubble Chart

July 25, 2011

Here’s a pretty compelling portrait of the out of control rise in the cost of higher education. While all markets are different, education inflation has far outpaced housing inflation not to mention the overall cost (and that doesn’t even take into account the housing collapse of the last few years). This is a visual alarm bell.

An issue with online courses

July 22, 2011

They can lead to higher rates of failure and higher dropout rates. Interestingly, the study finding these results suggested 3 steps to respond:

1) Require students to take an assessment of their readiness for online courses. [But that might mean in the expanding pool of new students higher education is seeking to reach we might not be able to rely on online instruction to do in cheaply!]

2) Add faculty training for online pedagogy [What? We are having teachers teach without training them how to do it? I’m shocked.]

3) Improve student support services [In other words, we have to offer round the clock academic support as well as technical support, which again drives up cost]

In other words, we can’t do online education on the cheap or just slap the courses on the internets. And we may find they do less to expand availability to students who currently aren’t pursuing college that some might have been suggesting.

Reporting Cheating?

July 22, 2011

It can lead to controversy. I do think the right kind of assignments can eliminate a good deal of the potential for plagiarism, but even then, sometimes a few of my students have shown a remarkable capacity to be creative. One of my least favorite issues as a teacher.

On the Demise of Handwriting

July 22, 2011

Mine was never very good (I mostly print and took a year of typewriting in high school) and I use it very intermittently now. But is there something lost when we give up teaching handwriting? Edward Tenner says yes. Not sure what I think about this…Not that it will likely matter given technological momentum.

Federal Vision

July 22, 2011

Since it is not a huge debate in my tradition, I haven’t paid as much attention to the specifics of the Federal Vision debate. This seemed like a useful introduction to some of the issues from an insider. At least it helps me see how they see the issue. I’m sure my friends on the other side would have different things to say. Here’s the outline (you’ll have to check it out yourself for details):

I. What Federal Vision Theology Is

  • an emphasis on biblical definitions
  • an emphasis on the external Covenant: a different definition of “Christian”
  • an emphasis on strong church authority
  • an emphasis on the sacraments, particularly baptism
  • another aspect to the church: a global ecclesiology
  • another aspect to election

II. What Federal Vision is NOT:

  • salvation by works
  • justification by works
  • baptismal regeneration
  • a denial of assurance of salvation
  • The New Perspective on Paul
  • a denial of classic Reformed theology as found in the Westminster or Heidelberg
  • a denial of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness
  • heresy taught by men who have been tried in an ecclesiastical court

Now You See It

July 22, 2011

What do we do about distraction? About technology? About change? Cathy Davidson has some suggestions. I think I’ll have to read the book.

Interesting Remedial Program

July 22, 2011

This looks promising on the surface. We certainly need to work on something to help with the effectiveness of remedial education.

KJV Exhibit

July 22, 2011

The Museum of Biblical Art has what looks to be a very nice exhibit celebrating the King James Bible available through October 16. Maybe I can make it.