Friday, February 28, 2014

The "Competency" Bandwagon: Check Out the Full Itinerary

One of this decade's fads in higher education is "competency-" or "proficiency-based" education. The discourse around it is littered with phrases and concepts that are seductive to the left-leaning progressive educator. Personalized, flexible, affordable alterna-tive, transcending hours in seats, students gain ownership of their degree, accountability, employable skills, real world, etc.  

This Inside Higher Ed piece raises one alternative take: does competency-based approach to curricula so fully buy into the student as consumer that it will eliminate the "off-rubric" experiences that might not be directly applicable to some skill but that might be the very stuff of growing up, seeing the world in a new way, and the transformation that education is really all about.

Another thing for those ready to jump on the competency bandwagon to think about is who is steering the train where. Ed reformers are skilled at generating strange-bedfellows in the audience for their ideas. I might like competencies as a way of motivating pedagogical innovation, but am I on-board with those who would design college curricula around the needs of corporate employers?

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Who Owns What When Faculty Create Digital Teaching Materials

The rise (and fall?) of MOOCs over the last two years has intensified interest in who owns digital teaching materials.  If I develop digital tools for students to use in my courses, can the college deploy these in other courses?  If I leave the college could digital versions of my lectures still be made available in online courses the college?  Who "owns" the syllabus I produce for a course?  If the college generates revenue using materials I have developed, am I entitled to a share?  In the coarsest form, the question comes down to this: if I digitize my teaching materials, will my employer be able to replace me with recorded versions of my lectures?

It's complex question with lots of legal nuance, and still evolving practice.  The gist that's relevant for most college faculty members is whether their employer can claim ownership in teaching materials they commit to digital form.

At many institutions, there's no existing policy and this provides faculty an opportunity to put smart policies in place. It's also a risk for faculties who are asleep at the wheel to find themselves with an especially unfavorable policy in place.

A first step in developing the background knowledge necessary to think this through is to clarify the the difference between patents and copyrights.  Patents are for inventions that have functions, copyrights are for creative works with an author.  Patents last for 20 years and give the patent holder right to exclude others from making and selling something.  Copyrights provide authors with control over reproduction, derivative works, distribution and public performance.  Patents are the big concern among scientists and engineers.  Copyright is more the issue for the rest of us.

Owning or holding copyright in your teaching materials - lectures you write, lectures you deliver and someone records, worksheets, exams, syllabi, study-guides - is, for practical purposes, about whether or not someone else can use them, as is or in modified form, in a "commercial" endeavor. That could include another teacher using them without permission in her teaching, but mostly it means can a for-profit website, a for-profit educational institution use or adapt your materials and sell them to students.  Or it could mean can your own institution use the materials to offer credits to students you do not teach?  Or to continue to offer "your" course after you leave the institution?

My own solution for these things is to put everything I produce under what is called a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License:
Teaching Materials by Dan Ryan are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
This means I grant anyone in the world permission to use and adapt my stuff for non-commercial purposes as long as they grant the same license on the material they produce.

But what happens if my employer wants more?  That's where the need for an institutional policy comes in.  To stimulate discussion, here's a first draft of a policy based on one found at Emerson College.  In the policy below, a "non-exclusive royalty-free license" means the college can use the materials without paying the creator and the creator can still license the work to others as she sees fit.  Note that the purpose of this policy is to encourage creativity.  The standard here is "what rights for creators will motivate production of more rather than less pedagogical material."

Faculty rights generally. “Faculty,” all members of the tenured and tenure track faculty and all employees who have a term contract for teaching at the college and all members of the library staff.*  Faculty retain ownership of copyright in all their scholarly and pedagogical works, with the following limitations:
  1. Faculty rights in work created with significant College equipment or staff. If faculty create the work using College cameras, film editing software or hardware, audio editing software or hardware, focus group rooms, specialized staff assistance, multimedia development staff assistance, equipment in computer production labs and suites, television studios, or theaters and sound stages, then the faculty member owns the copyright in the work, but College retains a non-exclusive royalty-free license to use the work for the College’s educational, promotional, and public relations purposes.
    1. The use of standard issue office computer and software or routine support by IT does not constitute "significant College equipment or staff."
    2. This limitation does not apply to materials developed and used for classroom or other course work; that is, the College does not claim a non-exclusive royalty-free license to use faculty created syllabi, lecture notes, lesson plans, handouts, PowerPoint presentations and other digital materials, and the like created in fulfillment of one's teaching responsibilities.
    3. This limitation does not automatically apply to all audio or video recordings of one's class presentations and lectures; that is, even if some college resources are used to produce a recording of lectures for the purposes of "flipped" classes, student review, etc. no license is granted to the college for the use of these materials outside courses taught by the faculty member.
  2. Faculty rights in work created with significant College financial support. In general, if faculty create the work as part of an explicit assigned task, such as the development of a new course, and receive specialized financial support, such as a special assignment contract, then the faculty member owns the copyright in the work, and College retains a non-exclusive royalty-free license to use the work for the College’s educational, promotional, and public-relations purposes.
    1. The receipt of course-development support does not in and of itself constitute "significant College financial support."
  3. The College may on occasion provide faculty significant financial support on the condition that the College own the copyright in the work. The College must assert, in writing at the time the funds are first released, its ownership of the copyright in the work, and the College must grant the faculty member a non-exclusive royalty-free license to use the work for educational purposes.
* The rationale for this definition is to include all those persons who the college wants to be creating things related to education and instruction.  In other words, the purpose of this policy is to encourage creativity.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is this Bandwagon a Handbasket?

One of the most reliable reflex actions in higher education is the urge to re-make general education every decade or so.  The effort described in this article is exemplary for its inclusion of just about every current buzzword and trendy reform.  Competencies. Portability. "Outside the classroom." Design thinking.  Learning Outcomes. Value of degree.  Measuring outcomes. Marketable skills. 

My prediction: schools will come up with cute names that offer a local brand for a program that is a hybrid of existing models dressed up with features that are buzz-wordable.  None of it will be based on known outcomes - methods and models will be attractive because school X tried it (and each of our institutions will fixate on a small number of role model institutions), not because of evidence that it works.  A small group of faculty will champion it and non-tenure stream faculty will be recruited to support it with implicit promises of employment.  The more entrepreneurial departments will help craft the program in a manner that generates enrollments and a share of the "new resources" that will be necessary to make the program a success.

The efforts will be marked by no real documentation of what the failings of the current system are and even if some are identified, the new program will not demonstrably address those failings. Political considerations will dominate so that even if the underlying trope is about basic skills, marketability, and preparation, the new program will have heavy doses of "values" education around race, class, gender, social justice, etc. and the content will be more political compromise than coherent.  No one will articulate criteria by which the success or failure of the new program can be evaluated.  And in ten years it will need to be replaced, primarily because "we never really implemented it as we planned."

Most of all, schools that are really concerned about enrollment and career placement will never seriously consider the fact that almost no one enrolls at a college because of its general education program and almost no employer hires a graduate on the basis of general education skills.  This is especially true when every school is jumping on the bandwagon - the illusion of uniqueness in general education is just that, an illusion.  And for four year schools, it's a funny strategy to put ooodles of energy into the one part of their curriculum that is the same as what students get in community or junior colleges.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, but by now we should have learned to be wary of things with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stamp on them.  Be sure to read the press release behind this story. There you will see that this effort is an extension of Gates' ongoing efforts to import ideas from K12 into higher education and it's tied very closely to the Lumina Foundation's Degree Qualifications Profile. Expect more rubrics, more mapping of curricula, and more efforts to turn faculty judgments of student work into grist for the big data mill.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Smart Institutional Practices Around Interdisciplinary Hiring

Interesting misleading headline in this article from COHE.  Gist of the story is folks at North Carolina State University recognized that cross-disciplinary hiring challenges organizational status quo - especially department level control of resources - and that this manifests in, among other places, tenure and promotion.  Their response was to take the bull by the horns and create evaluation process and funding scheme to attenuate these effects.  No small part of the challenges emerge from departmental understanding that a primary component of their raison d'ĂȘtre is producing basic research.  As definitions of what that means shift change can be expected.  And over time we can expect that colleges that do not have primary research results as a fundamental output will catch on in the spirit of "if they can do it, maybe we can too."

Read more at COHE

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Decreasing Teaching (Course) Load at Swarthmore College

Note: This makes for an interesting pairing with the previous post. It does not take too flexible a mind to think of expanding admin ranks as effectively reducing the work load in those precincts.  General pattern is clear: when duties expand, in some areas workforce expands, in others workload.
Several years ago faculty and administrators at Swarthmore College started talking about reducing faculty teaching load from 5 to 4 courses per year. The college is presently in the midst of a multi-year transition to a 4 course load. Some initial discussions are captured in their 2009 Middle States Reaccreditation Self-Study (which also mentions a "Teaching Load and Faculty Development at Peer Institutions" document) and in their 2011 Strategic Plan.

A 2012 article from Swarthmore student newspaper contains an excellent summary of the motivations behind as well as analysis of the implications such a switch. Among the phrases that might grab your attention:
"One of the consistent things we heard [in Strategic Planning sessions] was that people felt a need for time in order to do what they considered to be the professional minimum… Not only are people doing more work in order to deliver excellent instruction, but some of them are plausibly close to the line where they can’t do that. If we’re so close to the edge, then that’s something to take seriously." 
​"most of us are scrambling" ​"running on fumes​" "long-term sustainability of the teacher-scholar​" "creep of time commitments" ​"acceleration of change and an expansion of how we learn​""subtle, fundamental, and inevitable shift in professors’ job descriptions" "intensification of professor responsibilities"

    Students also penned articles suggesting the plan was not in their interest

    The plan was, apparently, eventually put into place, though not with immediate effect.  Here's a summary from another student newspaper:

    Continue Reading at The Phoenix

    Props to Siobhan Reilly for calling this to my attention.

    Monday, February 10, 2014

    Who's a Cost Center? : The Higher Ed Work Force Report

    The Delta Cost Project, a research group under the American Institutes for Research (AIR) that looks at higher education costs, has released a report titled "Labor Intensive or Labor Expensive? Changing Staffing and Compensation Patterns in Higher Education.

    Unfortunately some of the analysis in the report is easy to misinterpret because it moves back and forth between headcount, FTE, and dollars. Sometimes a trend toward more part time employees looks like growth in workforce, sometimes not. Thus, their figure 1 (here truncated) might indicate growth in workforce at private master's and bachelor's institutions or it might reflect a shift from full time to part time employees.

    Still, I think the report deserves a close reading and that the appropriate folks at my own institution should inquire about where we stand on each of the metrics described and then initiate some critical conversations on whether we are pleased or not by the answers.

    But in any case, this quote : "You can’t blame faculty salaries for the rise in tuition. Faculty salaries were 'essentially flat' from 2000 to 2012, the report says" from the CoHE article below will probably engender some interesting conversations.

    See Also

    Props to Maia Averett for calling HuffPost to my attention.

      Recently in the New York Times

      Thursday, February 6, 2014

      Of Restaurant Chains and Higher Education

      One need not be a sophisticated economist to see that distribution of American family income makes the high tuition/high discount business model of non-elite, non-public higher education unsustainable. Unfortunately, most of the innovative and entrepreneurial thinking that's taking place in response to that is not, IMHO, very education friendly. But reciting the woes of HE in ever more graphic and data supported ways is like shooting fish in a barrel; real solution ideas are a little harder to come up with.

      It will be interesting to see the comments Mr. Selingo's blog post garners.

      Tuesday, February 4, 2014

      Turning Around an Institution in Challenging Times

      Alas, it's a pleasant surprise when a journalist who understands enough about higher education to "get a story" is given enough space to tell it. Here, Charlayne Hunter-Gault describes challenges facing Howard University.  One of her interviewees hints that women's colleges face some of the same issues as HBUCs in terms of adapting to demographic shifts and a changing higher education "marketplace."

      Monday, February 3, 2014

      Well, This Might Provoke Some Conversations...

      From CoHE...
      Accounting for Success:
      Brenau U., a women's college in Georgia, is running million-dollar surpluses. Here's how

      A Book Called "How College Works" by Two Authors Who Get It

      My friends' Chambliss and Takacs' book How College Works (Harvard University Press 2014) has just come out (previous coverage in ). I worked on a small piece with Chambliss at the beginning of their Mellon funded research in assessment project many years ago and have followed along as the book took shape. It's well written, well reasoned, and their's is a perspective that does not delight the higher ed assessment industrial complex. That is, you will find it an interesting read if you work in the kind of institution I work in.

      See also