Thursday, June 25, 2015

Predatory Colleges Find Friends in Congress (
Assigning value to a college program based on its value in the economy is problematic for me in three ways: 1) it narrows the value of college down to economic value when in reality that value is much more complex and influenced by several other factors, 2) it takes a lot of the consumer-ish responsibility students need to have to make choices about where to go to college and what program to enroll in, and 3) colleges have very little control over how the economy values a set of skills. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Articles for June 24, 2015

Adults, Computers and Problem Solving (OECD)
This report is especially interesting because it looked at how well adults accomplished "problem-solving tasks that require the use of computer applications, such as e-mail, spreadsheets, word-processing applications and websites..." Specifically, the report found that "...literacy proficiency and age have the strongest independent relationships to proficiency in problem solving in technology-rich environments..." (p. 54).  Of course, these skills apply to several career clusters, but the technical fields are especially susceptible to advances in technology and use a lot of specialized computer programs. Students who have trouble creating an e-mail or using Microsoft Word are not going to have an easy time working with image editing software, repair databases, or even just managing all the files that result from several drafts and separate pages typical of a technical field. This is not to mention those fields that need to create and/or repair technologies, like in a car, machine, or network, or the fact that many technical fields now conduct hiring processes electronically. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Articles for June 22, 2015

Higher ed as a commodity? Colleges have only themselves to blame (
This is a response to Hunter Rawling's post College is not a commodity, stop treating it like one (June 9), and it's pretty reflective of the other side of the balancing act colleges are facing. The hard reality is that colleges need tuition to operate, and not all would-be tuition-payers would be convinced by the message author Jeffrey Selingo feels higher education needs to promote. 

Selingo offers three reasons why the commoditization of higher education is its own fault: 

  1. For decades, higher education has promoted the personal economic value of higher education. 
  2. Students are not solely responsible for their success. The college does matter. 
  3. Colleges have turned the four-year degree into an assembly line of getting in and getting out as quickly as possible. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Articles for June 19, 2015

The Watchdogs of College Education Rarely Bite (The Wall Street Journal)
The Journal uses plenty of data to talk about a dimension of the college graduation/loan default rate conversation that has seemed to have been left alone until now: accreditation. Although it lays blame without really laying blame, the article offers several statistics on how many colleges accreditors have closed, and what the graduation and loan default rates are at those colleges they haven't. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Articles for June 17, 2015

Defining Competency (
Some in higher ed who were hesitant at first to accept the concept of competency-based education (CBE) are now starting to warm up to the idea, myself included. My feeling is that a lot of the hesitancy was based on mistrust--particularly, the legislative bodies don't trust individual colleges, nor do colleges trust individual instructors. It's much easier to 'cover up' a trouble spot that might hold a student back inside the context of an 18-week course; CBE potentially exposes weaknesses--but also strengths--in students, instructors, curriculum maps and course content, and assessment methods. The major decision-makers in higher education seem to have been nervous about approving a structure that might make those potential soft spots public, and the effects thereafter. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Articles for June 15, 2015

Lazy Rivers and Student Debt (
Although there are some political undertones--especially in the comments section--about the recent attention brought to this issue by Chris Christie and Elizabeth Warren, this article does offer some hard data about how much amenities like aquatic centers and climbing walls actually cost in relation to other causes for rising tuition costs. The argument is usually that large, expensive amenities like these attract students; the counter is that college affordability and repairs to academic facilities should be the priority. To me, though, this seems like the end of a long breadcrumb trail. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Articles for June 10, 2015

College is not a commodity. Stop treating it like one. (
This is a fabulous, fabulous post written by Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities and former president of Cornell University and the University of Iowa. His main point is that the public forms all perception about higher education as if it is a commodity by focusing on the economic dimension of it; he uses the example of a car. However, "unlike a car, college requires the 'buyer' to do most of the work to obtain its value" (para. 4). He goes on: "...most public discussion of higher ed today pretends that students simply receive their education from colleges the way a person walks out of Best Buy with a television" (para. 5).    

Monday, June 8, 2015

Articles for Jun 8, 2015

2 + 2 Shouldn't = 5 (
Transfer credits appear to be yet another sticky spot that requires higher education to decide if it is a  public- or private-good industry. The process of trying to transfer over a class from one college to another seems to pit one college against the other in much the same way the value of a new car plummets as soon as its driven off the dealer's lot: both happen because of a lack of knowledge, which leads to a lack of trust. This is tough, because competing interests should have a little something different that makes them stand out. But if higher education, as seems to be the case, emerges as an opportunity that everyone should have, those differences will have a hard time existing since we'll need everyone to know the same thing. It seems that the answer to this problem has been to make more classes transferable, which, in turn, makes them more similar among different colleges that have traditionally had to compete for students. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Articles for June 5, 2015

Working Together to Prepare Students for College Success (
There is hope. A few great examples of partnerships between community colleges and high schools are discussed in this article. A program out of Maryland graduated 92 students from the Academy of Health Sciences Middle College; these students earned their associate's degree the same day they earned a high school diploma. In California, a consortium of eight colleges, 30 high schools, and more than 100 employers are organized into four hubs to offer support systems like dual-enrollment, bridge programs, mentorships, and tutoring to prepare students for ICT-related careers. Maricopa Colleges in Arizona implemented Hoop of Learning, a program that covers most of the financial costs of college and works with school districts to guide qualified participants into mainstreaming with regular college students. The GC PASS initiative in Texas encourages its eight community colleges and 11 school districts to create transition teams, and tackles the ever-present blame game between high schools and colleges in the process. 

Technical colleges would do even better to recognize the potential in partnering with high schools. Research out of the NRCCTE found that many students who have trouble with traditional academic subjects choose technical fields. Furthermore, research from the CCRC found that students in technical programs are less likely than students in an academic field to achieve their degree. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Articles for June 4, 2015

Serving America's New Traditional Students ( [PDF]
The focus of this short report is on the changing demographics of post-secondary institutions, and that education policy needs to allow access to account for those demographic changes. A key point given is a projection from the U.S. Census Bureau: by 2050, half of the population in the United States will belong to a minority group. Tied with the focus on the need for educational attainment to achieve better income equality, this has strong implications for what colleges are then tasked to do.

While the education than an institution provides must be tailored to the needs of modern workforce, in terms of skills, it must also be tailored to the changing needs and demands of students. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Articles for June 1, 2015

Adult Course Offers Learning for the Sake of Learning (
Imagine that: intrinsic motivation increases success and value in higher education. This kind of motivation makes going to college more meaningful than just getting a degree for the end goal of making more money at a better job--and I say "just" because it should be one reason, not the only reason. 

The students at the program in this article are those students that we, in the learning center, see the most often. These are the students who traditionally need the most help, and are most likely to drop out before completion. Why? Just a handful of lines down the page, we find an answer: 
"'I was so freaking nervous,' Mitchell says, 'because I felt so dumb. You know, I felt like I was too old.'" 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Articles for May 28, 2015

Deciding to Go to College (New America Foundation) [PDF]
The first brief in the series on results from the College Decisions Survey, this article covers why students choose to go to college, the factors they use to apply to a specific college, and how financial concerns play into those decisions. Unlike other similar coverage, these data will include traditional and non-traditional students.

What's interesting is that the first figure shows the top reported reasons to go to college, with the top three--"to improve my employment opportunities," "to make more money," and "to get a good job"--centered around expanding financial horizons. Put that beside the second figure that show the top reported factors in deciding a specific college, and you won't find "how many graduates find full-time employment in the field within six months" until #5 on the list; others centered around graduation and ROI are in the same chunk of the ranking. Instead, the highest percentages go to those questions related to more immediate concerns: "the majors/programs that are offered," "availability of financial aid," "how much it costs," and "where it is located."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Articles for May 27, 2015

Can we really prepare kids for both college and career? (
This article might say more about the state of industry than the state of education. California's linked-learning curriculum includes college-prep academic courses and on-the-job training; in my opinion, this should be the norm, not the exception, for a high school experience. To balance this idealism, Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, makes a more realistic point: preparing students for both is unrealistic because the requirements of college and the requirements of a career are vastly different. Perhaps it is not only education that we need to consider reforming. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Articles for May 26, 2015

A New College for Old Credits (
College Unbound, a degree-completion program turned private non-profit college in Rhode Island, will be allowed to award undergraduate degrees to students who fall into the "some college, no degree" category. The article reports that the program uses personalized curriculum, a form of competency-based education, and even a student's current job to form classes and earn credits. So, it appears, this single program includes just about everything that scares the current system of higher education. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Part I: Inclusion in Higher Ed

For the past few months, consultant Jaime Utt has led my co-workers and me through a few rounds of discussion on inclusion and diversity. It feels really good to have a chance, and a reason, to talk about some of the changes a 100-year-old institution might face in the next 100 years. 

So far, the focus has been on sexual orientation and religion. The traditional structure and nature of the classes offered here has been that of a strict attendance policy and dress code, and learning done in groups or pairs through primarily projects and labs. With the changes in our student demographics, some of that traditional structure and nature has had to flex a bit. Granted, some of the flexibility was learned via baptism-by-fire, but it seems that, as a whole, we are all at the level of accepting that a change is needed. 

What I'd like to see next is discussion around a couple of areas that perhaps get passed over when we think of inclusion and diversity. My team and I have a unique perspective of the school since we work with the strugglers and see the gaps in the physical form of a student. Personally, the two areas that we'd do well to include in this discussion are age and education level. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Repeat Grand Finale

One of my best friends is a corporate trainer, and a regular topic at our monthly lunch dates is teaching for different generations. We talk a lot about teaching the Millennial generation and how that generation gets dumped on quite a bit, and adjusting teaching for multiple generations in the same classroom. She's got some interesting views on this particular part of teaching, and I always come

away with a new book to read or a promise that she'll send me this article. It's a dimension of teaching not included in traditional teacher prep since most K-12 classrooms include students of the same(ish) age; this is not the case in higher ed or in corporate training classrooms. 

My classes this semester just happened to be dominated by recent high school graduates. Most have a semester of college now behind them, but a residual green-ness is still evident. Naturally, the different approaches I need to take now have been the focus of my prep time, especially since these same characteristics are typically those of students who don't do so well in or fail my classes.  

Two pieces got me thinking further about this. The first is a YouTube video sent to me by my co-worker the other day, Branford Marsalis' Take On Students Today, in which the speaker shares that his music students seem to be "only interested in how good they are, and how right they are." The most provocative part comes at about 0:43: 
"...the idea of what you are is more important than you actually being it..." 

Just hold onto that for a second.

The second is the buzz around Sec. Arne Duncan's speech on reauthorizing NCLB, (for background, read this EdCentral post), particularly the changes to the testing mandates that are said to set limits and streamline the process. 

Now, back to Marsalis. Marsalis was referring to the idea of being a musician instead of actually working to be a musician, but the same could be said for students in general. The idea of being a student is more important than actually working to be a student; the idea that you learned something is more important than actually learning it.  

And it seems that testing reinforces "the idea of" instead of the "actually being." 

A great comment on the Marsalis YouTube post says this: 
"...some of my teachers were great, but they let us know that we were just students in the process of learning." [Emphasis mine]
Assessments and tests imply that learning is finished. Try as we might to implement both formative and summative assessment or call it "progress monitoring," tests still trigger a sense of completion and stand for an end, a finished product in some manner. If we constantly test our students, we constantly tell our students that they are "finished" and the process of learning is cut short. The actual learning that occurred is less important than the idea that the student learned something. Taking a test is part of being a student, so it's more important to take the test and adhere to the idea of being a student than to actually be a student. 

Assessment itself is absolutely essential, and we need to keep working to find a balance. But I came to this when I started comparing the standardized, high-stakes, all-encompassing tests we ask K-12 students to do relatively often to the local, low-pressure, subject-specific assessments my co-worker uses in his AUTO classroom. Why do his assessments seem to work so much better? Because the instructor considers the action involved in producing the answers? Because students are held to get 100% before moving on? Because the instructors then use the results to inform teaching? Because they are local? All of the above! 

The nature of assessment in this classroom reflects progress, improvement, and opportunity. Students are well-aware that they are in the process of learning, not at the end; that the process requires certain actions and they won't be able to simply sit through the class and "get by"; and that the assessments are part of the process of learning, not the finale.

In my classroom in post-secondary, the students who struggle the most are recently graduated seniors students. They often struggle to find that new definition of what it means to be a student, to redefine what "good enough" now means or what "enough studying" now means, or to find the nuances that will guarantee them a good score. It takes a few weeks for most to figure out that the answers to the first two are outside their comfort zone, and that I'm looking for more than just regurgitation of my own brilliance. They can't just sit through the test and call themselves students. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Finding Balance in Re-Ignition

So, here's what happens when a faculty member is assigned to teach four writing-intensive courses that she has never taught before: burnout for the teacher, and for the blog.

I tried several new instructional approaches this past semester and I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so some of the burnout was self-induced. I taught a regular section of English, as well as one that was a trial run of a more supportive version. I taught rhetoric in the context of a business plan during an evening class of students in their last year of the bachelor's program. And I taught a class that would be defined by most teachers as "dream students": smart, talented, motivated, funny, organized, and worked well together. This was almost the perfect storm of a semester for experimentation. 

The final weeks of last semester felt like the cool-down to the perfect trail run. The intellectual demands of these classes exhausted me and my students, and it was good. It was a semester in which I had found the sweet spot--challenging material held to high standards taught and learned in such a way that my students were pushed outside their comfort zones and found growth. An effective classroom is one in which both sides--teacher and student--walk together. This semester, my students kept pace and gave me a workout. 

But it also opens up a discussion about how much I needed to give up in order for this to happen. Teachers like me know that the allotted prep time is almost always never enough, and teachers unlike me know that the allotted prep time is almost always too much. So, like so many other teachers, I brought my work home every night and every weekend, and had to pause most of the outlets that keep me from becoming a zombie. 

I brought my laptop with to the toy room during playtime with my boys. I graded and prepped during movie night with my husband. I put my workout regimen completely on hold. I owe my poor German shepherd a countless number of walks. I squeaked dinner out with fast food and convenience meals. I didn't go to a single Civil War Roundtable lecture. I'm currently halfway through the October book club pick. I spent almost my entire 2-week Christmas break grading final papers. And, oh yeah...I didn't post a new blog entry for three months.

Even though this past semester was a "perfect storm," it should exist each semester in some capacity. Does this mean that successful teaching and learning happen at the expense of the instructor? 

Professional-personal life balance is a conscious choice, and we would do well to recognize where the tipping point is for teachers. Teachers have a terrible habit of forgetting to keep the two separate, and it's all the more difficult since there are humans involved on both sides. After all, developing relationships with students is part of what makes a classroom tick. Defining that relationship becomes especially hard when very personal notes impact academic performance. We've all had students who become "my kids" or for whom teaching the hidden curriculum and guiding to success moves toward a mentor/coach level. 

What's more, teachers are terribly unselfish. Making choices in terms of professional-personal life balance means deciding priorities, which also means somebody loses. It's hard to admit to the 15 pairs of eyes waiting for rough draft feedback that I still haven't finished reading them all because I chose to read the boys a second bedtime story instead. It's more comforting to feel extra prepared for tomorrow and deal with an hour or so less sleep than to scramble for an idea during the morning commute. It's much more satisfying to check some grading off the list than get through the next chapter or two in the latest book club pick. 

This might be a tough topic because the actual art of teaching is still pretty misunderstood by those outside the classroom. Even school administrators and staff who were once teachers slip into the false idea that if a teacher isn't in front of a classroom, she isn't working. The issue of professional-personal life balance isn't by any means unique to education, but the way that it's defined is. And we can't begin to form that definition until we can redefine teaching according to the demands placed on today's teachers and instructors. 

My issue with the well-known demonstration of Stephen Covey's "make the big thing the big thing" concept is that it implies we need to fit everything in. Teachers would benefit from finding ways to make everything fit together. There is no escaping that time is scarce or that schedules will become less hectic, so fitting pieces of the professional-personal life puzzle together allows for that balance in the current context. My last semester was invigorating and refreshing, and I'm determined to balance it with the outlets that keep me from burning out.