Tuesday, December 31, 2013

(One of) The Most Interesting College(s) in America

What if Mills were organized into "five undergraduate schools... : School of Fine Arts, School of Natural Science, School of Social Institutions, School of Education and School of Language and Literature"?

What if it branded itself "one of America's most interesting colleges"?

What if our general education program was simply to require that students "take at least half of her work outside the particular school in which she is majoring"?

What if we minimized the importance of marks and credits and instead required that "to earn a degree, a student must cover a definite educational area and must be able to demonstrate her complete understanding of the territory covered"?

What if we offered courses in Chinese language and literature?

What if we offered courses in which 5 or 7 professors (or maybe even ALL the professors in a division) collaborated to present material and in which large fractions of the student body enrolled?

What if we took advantage of our small size and instituted a "tutorial plan, adapted from the English
university system" in which "each entering student is assigned a tutor who, as 'guide, philosopher and friend,' takes a warm and continued interest in her progress"?  And may highly prepared and talented students could be "encouraged to set their own academic pace" while less prepared are coached on "how to make their efforts more effective" and reach the highest levels of achievement?

If it sounds new and exciting, be prepared for a let down.  This was Mills in 1935.

Monday, December 30, 2013

(STOP) Wasting Time in Meetings

A simple step colleges and universities could take to increase efficiency would be to stop wasting time in meetings.  In fifteen years at my current institution I have attended maybe two well organized and well implemented meetings.  Interesting, given that we are an academic institution, how much bad meeting behavior mirrors behavior we would flunk students for. Some examples:
  • My colleagues show up unprepared
  • Agendas not formulated, not distributed, or just ever-growing laundry lists
  • Poorly prepared background material not distributed ahead of time
  • Invite lists based inept theories of representation rather than participation
  • Lack of minutes
  • A culture in which any participant can hijack the conversation
  • No shame in contributing uninformed opinions
  • No urge to identify and work out conflicting positions
  • Decisions made by apathetic consensus
But the worst thing about our meetings is just that they are unproductive and consume gargantuan amounts of our scarcest resource: person hours.  Better meetings would waste less time and produce more/better results.

The fact of the matter is a lot is known about how to "give good meeting" as one wit once put it.  But as noted by Amy Gallo a post on the Harvard Business Review blog:
The bad news is that keeping your meeting on track takes discipline, and few people make the effort to get it right. “The fact is people haven’t thought about how to run a good meeting, or they’ve never been trained, or they’re simply too busy,”....
The really embarrassing thing about colleges as organizations is that we don't even recognize the problem (even if we bemoan meetings, we do no critical thinking about them) and even if we do, there seems to be no interest in putting in the effort to improve things.  A little ironic that people whose work involves making abstract mountains out of molehill stuff almost no one cares about are unwilling or unable to think there might be some "science" in something so mundane as meetings.

One idea, described in a blog post by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is to eliminate presentations.  Instead, meetings begin with participants reading through notes or slides or a memo giving meetings the tone of a study hall.  But it's time well spent and the participants start the conversation with equal levels of preparation (and no one feels like a chump for being the only one to do her homework) and it forces presenters to make better handouts since folks are going to be reading it right there in front of them.

It is a technique borrowed from Jeff Bezos at Amazon.  He starts meetings with up to 30 minutes of participants reading multi-page narrative memos scribbling notes in the margin before the talking part of the meeting gets under way:
Bezos says the act of communal reading guarantees the group's undivided attention. Writing a memo is an even more important skill to master. "Full sentences are harder to write," he says. "They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking." (Fortune.com 16 Nov 2012)
Another technique, deBono's "Six Hats" method, was described in an October post on this blog.

Not surprisingly, a good source for ideas is the business media, especially around high tech - bad meetings impose significant and discernible costs in those environments.  In a blog post "How To Run Your Meetings Like Apple and Google" Sean Blanda gathers some meeting principles from several much admired organizations.

Two from Apple:
  1. Every project component or task has a Directly Responsible Individual whose name appears next to all of the agenda items they are responsible for.
  2. Be prepared to challenge and be challenged. 
  1. All meetings should have a clear decision maker.
  2. No more than ten people at a meeting.
  3. Decisions should never wait for a meeting.
  4. Kill ideas, and meetings. Focus more resources on fewer efforts. 
  5. Focus has to permeate every aspect of a company, including meetings.
From a variety of sources here are a few good ideas that could make a difference college and university meetings. They are simple and concrete:
  • Compute the cost of the meeting
    • Even if only as a thought experiment, multiply the time by the salaries of the attendees and have a clear picture in your head about how much of the institution's budget you will consume in this meeting.  How many person-days of work will it eat up?  Make sure it is worth the cost.
  • Make purpose of meeting explicit and clear.  
    • Why are you gathering these people together?
  • Control the size.  
    • Invite the people who need to be there to accomplish the purpose.
  • Assign someone to take notes. Tidy them up and distribute promptly.
  • Come with solutions, not questions/problems.  
    • Meeting chair must do her/his homework and put potential solutions in front of meeting for discussion, feedback, evaluation, expansion rather than announcing problem and throwing it open for suggestions.  People do not generate good solutions on the spot.
  • When brainstorming, forbid criticism.
    • Don't let people waste time with "war stories" ("we tried that back in 1995....")
    • Don't waste time flaw-finding until you have narrowed the field of options
    • Don't encourage people who are lazy negative thinkers
  • Manage ramblers and control tangents.  
    • Model focussed participation and call out lack of focus.  
    • Focus on action, responsibility, and completion.  When conversation rambles, loses focus, bring it back with what can actually be done.
    • Don't be afraid to call people on being broken records.
    • Structure agenda and your comments to promote focus.
  • Who is responsible? 
    • Every task needs one ultimately responsible individual.
    • Every document has a responsible author and an explicit list of contributors.
    • Invite list should include people who can do things that will be talked about.
  • Be deadline driven.  
    • Make timelines that capture actual priorities.
    • Review what people promised last time and whether it's been done (don't just ask for reports, as chair you should already know).
    • Cultivate a "get it done" rather than "delay until it's perfect" culture.
  • Eschew excuses.  
    • Hold one another accountable rather than understanding why things are not done.
  • Don't talk about meetings as work
    • Work is what happens in between meetings.  Do not valorize having a schedule that is full of meetings.

References and Resources

  1. Jeff Weiner.  "A Simple Rule to Eliminate Useless Meetings"
  2. Sean Blanda. "How To Run Your Meetings Like Apple and Google"
  3. Amy Gallo. "The Seven Imperatives toa post Keeping Meetings on Track"
  4. Christopher Wink. "Technically Media meeting style: effective, productive and professional from home"

Saturday, December 28, 2013

MOOCs are so 2012 but IS There Gold in Them Hills?

The first two chapters in the MOOC story have been written: heroic arrival and unbounded enthusiasm followed by disappointment and backlash.  I argued in Fall 2012 that for liberal arts colleges at least the real future is in what this article calls SPOCs (small private online classes).  I've experimented with this form both last year and this.  MOOCs are like the Apollo space program - the benefits were not in getting to the moon but in all the tools that smart people invented in order to get to the moon.

An Alternative Voice in Higher Education Conversation

In its own words, the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE) "is a NEW GRASSROOTS NATIONAL CAMPAIGN to support quality higher education." It was launched in Los Angeles in May 2011 by leaders of faculty organizations from across the US.

CFHE provides a needed counter-balance to the dominant voices in debates about the future of higher education in the US.  It's not less partisan, but it is differently partisan (if you are familiar with AAUP take on things this will ring familiar), and only a bit more transparent than the others, but it's refreshing to see faculty unions in the conversation for a change.  

According to their statement of principles, the organization's principles include

  • making education a public good available to all rather than private good available to the few
  • making sure education is more than narrow job training
  • promoting investment in quality faculty
  • encouraging smart incorporation of technology
  • distinguishing real efficiencies vs. false economies of cut cut cut
  • calling for more public investment
  • arguing that educational outcomes cannot be measured by standardized metrics and that we need to avoid

Friday, December 27, 2013

Experimenting with Price Cuts in Higher Education

I've long been an advocate of cutting tuition and getting away from the wrong-headed "luxury-price signals quality product" logic so common in lower and middle tier higher education. There are many reasons not to "just do it," but more than a few things in favor of the idea should at least motivate serious discussion:
  • honesty in pricing might better reflect institutional values;
  • some prospective students never consider a school, knowing sticker price is out of their reach; the current system discriminates against such "humble realists";
  • institutions should grapple with the fact that full-pay families might not be willing to participate in the institution's redistribution scheme if they thought (knew) about it;
  • it is not clear there is any dis-interested, scientifically valid research on the implications;
  • revenue models rarely take into account the cost of administering Byzantine financial aid schemes;
  • some institutions are unfairly labeled "elitist" based on sticker price alienating people to whom their mission otherwise would appeal;
  • tuition discounting is one of many opacity practices that undermine administrators', board members', and faculty members' capacity to effectively monitor the economics of their institutions.

See also

Friday, December 20, 2013

Another "What We Know about Teaching and Learning" Sampler

Kathleen McKinney is a sociologist who focuses on the "scholarship of teaching and learning" in sociology.  These lists are not earth-shattering or paradigm-busting (some are even "obvious" ... once you read them), but I find them to be good reminders of how to get the basics right.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

PDFs are not Accessible! Oh No! Convert Everything!

Alarm bells went off recently at my institution when some colleagues reported that they'd heard that "PDFs are not accessible" and that all of our electronic reserve materials would need to be converted into an accessible format and that while the library would help, its staff did not have the time to do all that would need to be done.  And so, as is often the case, the task would fall on individual instructors who, apparently, do have the time.

We could discuss the bad economics of shifting a task from those who are trained in a skill and cost less to those who are not trained and cost more.  Or we could question the quality control consequences of having 150 different people carry out a task unsupervised.  But instead, we can try to make some headway on a sketch of how a small institution might proceed...
  • A clarification, from a "non-partisan" perspective, about what the legal and regulatory situation actually is.  We need to get clear on the "what we must do" and "what we should do" and "what we can do"
  • Some background on what "accessible instructional material" means.  We've learned a bit already about universal design - where does this issue fit in with that? 
  • Develop shared sense of how we have dealt with AIM issues heretofore.
  • Some facts on size of e-reserves as currently used, proportion that are problematic, etc.
  • Learn about issues in the PDF/Ebook area.
  • Perhaps develop a short tutorial on ebooks and ebook formats?
  • Develop a cost/benefit based strategy for achieving AIM goals we set. What should we do first?
... and then get to work learning something.

Background on Law and Policy

  1. Background material at the National Center for Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)
  2. The Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Post-Secondary Education for Students with Disabilities
Recommendation#12:Faculty/Staff Awareness and Capacity-Building (report p 79The Commission recommends that federally sponsored projects and programs encourage and support systematic faculty and staff professional development with respect to selection, production and delivery of high-quality AIM to meet the needs of students with disabilities in postsecondary settings.

Federally sponsored ... grants... and contracts that involve ... creation of materials that could be used for postsecondary instruction need to support accessibility. ... encourages ... institutions to ...utilize Section 508 procurement and purchasing guidelines in their digital product development ....

Higher education institutions, consistent with the requirements of the ADA and Section 504, should purchase authoring tools for use by faculty, staff and students in working with accessible digital publications. In addition, every postsecondary institution should offer a mandatory system-wide orientation for faculty, staff, teaching assistants and administrators concerning strategies for ensuring accessibility in all aspects of the education enterprise, including readings, courseware and instructional technology, assessments and instructor-made materials. ....

Ebooks and Accessibility

  1. Accessibility of eBooks @ Britain's Royal National Institute of Blind People
  2. Wikipedia Comparison of e-book formats

"PDFs are Not Accessible" is Not Quite Accurate

PDFs come in at least three flavors.  One is simply a scan (image) of a text page.  It is a "raster" image - dots on the page that our eyes see as letters but that mean nothing to the computer.  A second version has these images optically recognized and the document has a sort of "text in the background."  The text is more or less accurate depending on the quality of the image.  The third kind is a pdf that is produced FROM a text document (as when you save a Word document as a pdf).  This file contains the full text of the original and can contain meta-information as well.

You can recognize either flavor 2 or 3 when you view the document in Adobe Acrobat and you can use your mouse to select and copy text.

Documents of flavor 2 and 3 can be made accessible through various means.  The task can range from simple to tedious.  Below are some sources of information on the options.
  1. Adobe.com How to Make Accessible Adobe PDF Documents: A Guide for Document Authors
  2. HowTo.gov Creating Accessible PDFs
  3. Ohio State University.  Creating Accessible PDF from Scanned Documents
  4. How to Geek.  How to Convert PDF Files for Easy Ebook Reading describes free software called Calibre
  5. Cal State Sacramento.  How to Create Accessible PDFs Using Adobe Acrobat
  6. Adobe.com Adobe® Acrobat® 9 Pro Accessibility Guide: Creating Accessible Forms
  7. AcrobatUsers.com Making Forms Accessible

(Unpaid) Internships and Experiential Learning

Seems one of the buzz-concepts these days is "education that happens outside the classroom."  Never mind, for now, that there are interesting ideological battles buried beneath that phrase; let us just focus on a minor practical/moral minefield associated with it.  As the conversation turns to "experiential learning" (read "internships") faculty and administration would do well to catch up on the latest legal rulings and national conversations around the topic of paid and unpaid internships.

One element of the standard by which internships are judged (across both for-profit and non-profit sectors) as actually being "internships" is this:
"To be considered a 'trainee' the internship must primarily benefit the intern – not the employer." (Council of Non-Profits).
You be the judge: consider a recent email distributed by a college Career Services Center announcing an internship at a local non-profit:
"X's internship program is a vital part of the organization's operating structure. The goal of the internship program is to provide opportunities for training ... allows participants to assume professional-level responsibilities, receive training and guidance .... Interns should ... possess strong communication skills and have computer skills."
For one position: "Responsibilities may include seeking business donations/sponsorships, coordinating auction artists, creating and maintaining Excel spreadsheets..., catalog production, event production and entertainment, installation, coordinating volunteers, decoration design, publicity and marketing, webpage preparation and maintenance and membership tracking."
For another: "Responsibilities include processing digital images of current exhibition programming for our website, press purposes and our digital archive. Proficiency in Photoshop is required. A working knowledge of Illustrator and In Design is a plus and access to a Digital SLR camera is preferred."
A June 2013 court ruling gave some guidelines for FOR-PROFIT organizations based on the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The conversation about non-profit organizations continues.  Among the issues we might want to talk about as educators:
  1. Is it legal?
  2. Is it right: do organizations hide behind "it's an opportunity..."?
  3. Is it right: are organizations using it as a way to screen before hiring?
  4. Is it right: are organizations blackmailing young people: "if you ever want to work here, you'll have to provide free labor first."
  5. Is it right for us to charge tuition and require volunteer work for academic credit?
  6. Does the practice discriminate against those who cannot afford to do unpaid internships?
  7. Are unpaid internships good for those who get them?
"A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers finds that a paid internship has distinct advantages over an unpaid internship. The survey reveals that 63.1 percent of paid interns who graduated in 2013 received a job offer, compared with 37 percent of those whose internships were unpaid." BUToday 09.23.2013

Read More

Does Assessment Work?

A short commentary on assessment from a respected sociologist who has done a big assessment project funded by the Mellon Foundation and who served several years on Middle States (the WASC of the mid-Atlantic region).  Chambliss spoke at Mills in ~2005.

Click here to download.

The Hamilton Plan for Assessment of Liberal Arts

Click here to download.

Takacs and Chambliss on "Systemic Advising"

Chris Takacs and Dan Chambliss are the authors of the forthcoming How College Works (Harvard, February 2014).  Their work is based on an eight year long, social science based assessment study. Among other points, here they suggest research-based reasons why having a broad selection of really good intro courses is important.  

More generally they suggest making sure any course that students have to take is high quality, not least because there's no "voting with your feet" to give us feedback on these courses. This advice will, alas, fall on deaf ears because we are uncomfortable with the idea that any of our courses are not high quality. But the idea of deploying teachers strategically where they can do the best job is smart. 

Click here to download.

See also (reposted from early November on this blog)...

Inside Higher Ed piece discussing Chambliss and Takacs’s finding, in How College Works, that an inspiring encounter with a faculty member strongly influences a student’s choice of major

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Education Resources from NYT

A list of resources from around the Web about education as selected by researchers and editors of The New York Times.



Policy Groups


Education Unions



College Admissions

College Rankings

Financial Aid and Loans

Study Abroad

Higher Education Studies


Two More Ways to Measure Educational Outcomes

So, here's a sorta cynical question: do we have anybody working on how we can look good in these ratings?  Or at least anticipating how we will look?  Or, less cynically, can we have a conversation about the relative importance of these outcomes (and others) to us and to our students? And what do we think that the logic of outcomes, rankings, and accountability? Should we just put our faith in tradition?  Or should we tolerate bad measurements rather than wasting valuable time coming up with sound ones?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

After Setbacks, Online Courses Are Rethought

The latest swing of the MOOC headline pendulum is way over on the "complete bust" end of the evaluation spectrum but they represent a very big solution in search of a problem and as such are not likely to disappear as fast as they emerged.

I stand by most of the points I made in my 2012 talk on MOOCs and small liberal arts colleges.  The main one was that we should we should avoid the urge to imitate and compete but embrace the opportunity to borrow and adapt the tools being developed in connection with MOOCs.

In today's NYT we read about several high-profile flops in MOOC-land and evaluation research that suggests that MOOCs so far have been reaching "already educated" folks rather than those without access to higher education, undermining one of their primary public selling points. I would caution against over-embracing: as I said in the 2012 talk, the bandwagon is a hand-basket.

Other recent MOOC-related articles in the NYT...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Disrupting General Education

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) is holding another "institute" next summer on "General Education and Assessment."  All the usual caveats associated with anything in higher education that uses the word "assessment" apply, but it's almost certainly the sort of thing that some folks at some institutions will think is a great way to spend $8,000 or so.  Don't say we were not warned!
That said, the following document was attached to the web page describing the program, apparently a handout from last year's institute.  It includes some crisply written scenarios for provoking discussion about gen ed.  The ideas mentioned capture the broad diversity of American higher  education institutions well.  They might be too broad to be optimally useful for a given institution, but could provide a model for cooking up some that would be.
Here's LINK in case frames don't work. 

More Sources on Competency Based Education

Debbie Morrison at Online Learning Insights has a nice blog post "The Next Big Disruptor – Competency-based Learning" with good suggestions for further reading.

Paul Fain at Inside Higher Ed has been reporting a lot about competence-based education:

See Also

The Conversation about Competency-Based Education I

One starting point for thinking about the thinking about "competency-based education" is the executive summary of a 2002 report from the "National Post-Secondary Educational Cooperative" (associated with National Center for Educational Statistics which is connected with the Institute of Education Sciences  which is a part of the Department of Education).  It lays out some of the issues in the ongoing conversation about "competency-based" education.  The motivations sound plausible, but are not as strong arguments as they could be:
  1. Assessment  is based on competencies. So think in terms of competencies so assessment can happen.
  2. Competencies help faculty, students, employers, policymakers have common understanding about skills and knowledge students should have as result of education.
  3. Articulating competencies facilitates design of curriculum and teaching and evaluation methods.
But it is part of a bigger picture.  One piece of this is the argument that "other stakeholders" should have more of a say in what faculty are teaching students.  These would be employers and governments.

Another piece is concern that certification for competence should be "transportable." For some this means from school to school. In Europe it means between national higher education systems.  The "political" rub comes when it means between schools and other entities that can offer certification - in other words, it is a tool meant to break the monopoly that colleges and universities have on being the place where society can spend its education dollars.

Yet another issue raised is reliability and validity (of the means of certifying competence).  Reliability means different evaluators evaluate the same person the same way.  Validity means that the outcome of an evaluation is an evaluation of what we think it is.

Richard Arum (of "Academically Adrift" fame) at UCB Tuesday 10 December

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Do Faculty Matter? Effects of Faculty Participation in University Decisions

This paper models the effects of faculty participation in university decision making.  Its findings suggest that by affecting academic quality, faculty participation provides a net benefit to the institution compared to scenarios in which faculty are excluded from decision making.   

The model's assumptions about institutional quality and how enrollment depends on it strike me as too simple even if a good starting point and I'm not enough of a modeler to assess the quality of the model, but it is nice to see the question framed formally.  The benefits of clear thinking may outweigh shortcomings. It might be more of a conversation starter than exhortations based on things like representation or the right of participation.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Small, Private Colleges Woo Veterans With Scholarships

NPR piece by Gloria Hillard - November 18, 2013

Many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking advantage of GI benefits to pay for higher education. But most are looking at large state schools or for-profit and online universities. Now, a new scholarship program in California focuses on veterans whose experiences and talents are better suited for smaller private liberal arts colleges.

Listen Now...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Peter Brooks, Our Universities: How Bad? How Good? NYRB

In the March 24, 2011 issue of the New York Review of Books, literary scholar Peter Brooks reviewed four widely read books on higher education in an article titled "Our Universities: How Bad? How Good?" The books were Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa,Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—And What We Can Do About It by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus,Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities by Mark C. Taylor, and Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities by Martha C. Nussbaum.

Among other points, Brooks notes that (1) few of these critiques are new; (2) lots has been done over the decades, some with great effect, some not; (3) the education crisis is partly a surrogate for other crises in American society; (4) much of the allegedly at-least-semi-scientific criticism of higher education routinely fails to recognize the uniquely broad variety among American institutions of higher education; and (5) some of the criticism of higher education is misplaced, some disingenuously ideological, and some just "short on reasoned analysis and long on animus." Two brief quotes:
"If crisis there is, it surely has something to do with the larger crisis in American society: the increasing gap between haves and have-nots, the retreat from any commitment to economic fairness, the sense that the system is rigged to benefit a tarnished elite that no longer justifies its existence." 
"The result, I think, is a fair measure of bafflement and ressentiment, resulting in a kind of indiscriminate flailing about in criticism of the university, some of it justified, much of it misdirected, and some pernicious."

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Future with Only Ten Universities

"In 50 years, he says, there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them."
Sebastian Thrun

Audrey Watters, who blogs at Hack Education gave a talk titled "A Future With Only 10 Universities" on 14 October at a pre-conference called "Minding the Future"* held at Mary Washington University.  Her spiel is to pose a dystopian future in which there are only 10 universities in the world, to speculate as to what they are, and then to suggest what the path to this future might look like.

I describe an alternative dystopian future in post on Majoring in the 21st Century, arguing that a likely future is one where small colleges become franchises of education conglomerates that are the descendants of companies like Pearson, Kaplan, McGraw-Hill, etc.

To give you a sense of her angle, here is her list:
  1. Oxford
  2. Cambridge
  3. Harvard
  4. MIT
  5. Stanford
  6. Princeton
  7. The University of Pearson (acquires Coursera, 2016)
  8. The University of Google (acquires Udacity, 2014)
  9. The University of Walmart (acquires University of Phoenix, 2017)
  10. BYU
Spoiler alert: she doesn't actually think this is an inevitable outcome.  There's a video of the talk on You-Tube (at 1:33:00).

* The conference description from YouTube post of the streamed video: "Across the nation, higher education has seen a recent flood of initiatives that seek to leverage the advantages of the "virtual" domain to improve affordability, degree completion rates, and educational outcomes. Many of these initiatives are being driven by calls to fundamentally change the landscape of higher education as we know it — but is this supported by thorough conversation or vision about what the new landscape should look like?

"To examine this question, the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), a wide range of Virginia's public higher education institutions, and the Shuttleworth Foundation are sponsoring a two day event that will investigate these calls for disruptive change, and chart a path for Virginia public institutions to navigate the possibilities and challenges in the future.

"On Monday, October 14th, five thought leaders from multiple disciplines and professional domains will examine the issues, in light of the national landscape of higher education. A series of focused talks throughout the afternoon will be capped by a panel discussion dealing specifically with whether or not public institutions have their head in the sand when it comes to topics such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), distance learning, and the 'electronic delivery revolution.'"

Flawed Metaphor: Education Not Like Business

Evaluating and Assessing Short Intensive Courses

Two articles on the topic of assessing and evaluating short, intensive courses.  Most of the results appear positive in terms of learning outcomes, but there are a number of factors associated with variations in outcomes that appear worth paying attention to.
Using a database of over 45,000 observations from Fall, Spring, and Summer semesters, we investigate the link between course length and student learning. We find that, after controlling for student demographics and other characteristics, intensive courses do result in higher grades than traditional 16 week semester length courses and that this benefit peaks at about 4 weeks. By looking at future performance we are also able to show that the higher grades reflect a real increase in knowledge and are not the result of a “lowering of the bar” during summer. We discuss some of the policy implications of our findings.

Altogether, we found roughly 100 publications that, in varying degrees, addressed intensive courses. After reviewing the collective literature, we identified four major lines of related inquiry: 1) time and learning studies; 2) studies of educational outcomes comparing intensive and traditional formats; 3) studies comparing course requirements and practices between intensive and traditional 
Scott and Conrad finish their literature review with several sets of open research questions suggested by their research:
  1. How do course requirements and faculty expectations of students compare between intensive and traditional formats and, if different, how does this affect the learning environment and student learning outcomes? 
  2. How do student's study patterns compare between intensive and traditional length courses?
Learning Outcomes
  1. How do pedagogical approaches compare between intensive and traditional length courses and, if different, how do these variations affect learning?
  2. How does the amount of time-on-task (i.e., productive class time) compare between intensive and traditional-length courses?
  3. How do stress and fatigue affect learning in intensive courses?
  4. Are intensive courses intrinsically rewarding and if so, how does that affect the classroom experience and learning outcomes?
  5. How do the immediate (short-term) and long-term learning outcomes compare between intensive and traditional-length courses?
  6. How do different student groups compare in their ability to learn under intensive conditions? For example, do older and younger students learn equally well in intensive courses?
  7. How does the degree of intensity influence student achievement? Do three week courses yield equivalent results to eight-week courses?
  8. How does the subject matter influence outcomes in intensive courses?
  9. Which kinds and levels of learning are appropriate for intensive formats?
  10. How do course withdrawals and degree completion rates compare between students who enroll in intensive versus traditional courses?
  11. How do intensive courses influence a student's attitude toward learning?
Optimizing Factors and Conditions
  1. What disciplines and types of courses are best suited for intensive formats?
  2. What type of students are best suited for intensive formats?
  3. What types of pedagogical styles and instructional practices are best suited for intensive formats? Must teaching strategies change for intensive courses to be effective?
  4. Can certain instructional practices optimize learning?
  5. Do learning strategies differ between intensive and traditional-length courses and if so, can students effectively "learn how to learn" in time compressed formats? In other words, can students be taught effective learning strategies for intensive courses that would enhance achievement outcomes?

See Also 

John V. Kucsera & Dawn M. Zimmaro Comparing the Effectiveness of Intensive and Traditional Courses College Teaching Volume 58, Issue 2, 2010, pages 62-68

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Three Articles on NACUBO Report on Endowments

The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) publishes an annual report on the state of college endowments.  They pre-released some results recently, based on 206 responding institutions.  The full report with data representing more institutions is expected in February.

Documents from LAST YEAR's NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments (this year's not yet posted)

Click for Full Document
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Click for Full Document

Friday, November 8, 2013

How College Works (Harvard U Press 2014)

Teaching Unprepared Students: The Importance of Increasing Relevance

"Whether students arrive in your classroom underprepared (that is, their high school educational experience did not prepare them for the rigors of college work) or unprepared (that is, they are not ready to contribute and participate in your course on any given day), the way to help them is still the same."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Supporting Former Foster Youth Through College

from the New York Times...


See Also

Mills public policy graduate Nicole Hudley wrote her 2009 thesis on educational outcomes for former foster youth.

Entrepreneurship at Liberal Arts Colleges

From the Boston Globe...

With no grades or majors, Hampshire College, the Amherst institution with an alternative approach to higher education, seems an unlikely breeding ground for aspiring capitalists. 
But last week, the college announced the creation of a $1 million fund to encourage the “animal spirits” of would-be entrepreneurs among students and recent graduates. It’s called the Seed Fund for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and the college will allocate $200,000 a year over five years to fund ideas that may lead to successful ventures. The fund will be managed by a small group of students, who will decide which business pitches deserve financing. 
“There’s no reason not to embrace entrepreneurship,” said Zilong Wang, who graduated from Hampshire in May, after creating a task force to examine creating a center for entrepreneurship at the school of 1,400 undergraduates. “With these structured resources, students will be empowered to take action.” 
The $1 million fund is the gift of a foundation run by Michael Vlock, a venture capitalist and 1975 graduate of Hampshire, and his wife, Karen Pritzker, a member of the Pritzker family of Chicago, one the nation’s wealthiest families.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Lists That Rank Colleges’ Value Are on the Rise

Rankings that privilege affordability and "return on investment" are becoming more common.  They tend to look very different from more conventional lists.  It becomes problematic if one falls into the false dichotomy trap: either you care about ROI or you care about "intellectual, social and civic value of education."  One advantage of a liberal arts education is that it teaches you "both/and" as well as "either/or" thinking.  We need to recognize that paying attention to cost and career value does not mean abandoning other education fundamentals.

From The New York Times
Published: October 27, 2013

Looking out over the quadrangle before him as students dashed from one class to the next, James Muyskens was feeling proud one recent afternoon, and why not?

The college he had led for the past 11 years had just been awarded second place in a new ranking of American higher education — ahead of flagship state universities, ahead of elite liberal arts colleges, even ahead of all eight Ivy League universities.

The college is Queens College, a part of the City University of New York with an annual tuition of $5,730, and a view of the Long Island Expressway.

Catering to working-class students, more than half of whom were born in other countries, Queens does not typically find itself at the top of national rankings. Then again, this was not a typical ranking. It was a list of colleges that offer the “best bang for the buck.”

“Elation,” said Dr. Muyskens, recalling his delight when he learned of the honor. “Thrilled!”

Purists might regard such bottom-line calculations as an insult to the intellectual, social and civic value of education. But dollars-and-cents tabulations like that one (which was compiled by Washington Monthly), are the fastest-growing sector of the college rankings industry, with ever more analyses vying for the attention of high school students and their parents who are anxious about finances.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Developments in the 10,000 Dollar Degree Movement

From The New York Times 18 October

Low-Cost B.A. Starting Slowly in Two States