Harvard Law School is preparing to offer a free course through edX -- the platform Harvard University uses for MOOCs (massive open online courses). But as The National Law Journalreported, the law course (on copyright) won't be totally open or massive. Enrollment will be limited to 500. The course description explains the rationale behind the limit: "Enrollment for the course is limited, in keeping with the belief that high-quality legal education depends, at least in part, upon supervised small-group discussions of difficult issues. Fidelity to that principle requires confining the course to the number of participants that can be supervised effectively by the 21 teaching fellows. The limit on the enrollment does not mean, however, that there will not be access to the course materials. On the contrary, all of the readings and recorded lectures used in the course will be made available to the public."
Fifteen years ago, my attendance policy in media ethics class was considered so unusual that The Chronicle of Higher Education did a news story about it, titled, "Ohio U. Professor Will Take Any Excuse for Students' Absences."
The article, still online, shared my reason for accepting any excuse, as long as a test or project was not scheduled for that day. I wanted students to assess their priorities. What was more important — attending class, or nursing a hangover from a Thursday night on the town?
I continued to teach at Ohio until 2003, when I became director of the journalism school at Iowa State University. My contract was entirely administrative. In other words, I did not teach a class again until the fall 2012 semester, when I took over the media ethics class of a faculty member who passed away suddenly. (See the essay "24 Hours" in Inside Higher Ed.)
More on classroom absences momentarily.
As an administrator, on a few occasions, I had to cope not only with stringent attendance policies of faculty but also their own attendance in assigned classes.
Case in point: In 2009, my administrative team began to see declining enrollments in our degree programs in advertising and journalism and mass communication. We identified two primary causes for the drop in pre-majors. We were requiring an "English Usage Test" before students could become our majors, and it seemed that students were not getting sufficient instruction in high school on grammar, spelling and syntax — essential in our disciplines.
Then we discovered the attendance policy in our required orientation class. Students failed the course if they missed one, yes one, class.
We changed that attendance policy in 2010.
As director, I have had to take action on occasion when instructors cancel too many classes. Official Iowa State policy states that faculty members are "required to be on duty during the academic year on those days when classes are in session." Professors may arrange for others to manage their responsibilities when they are away from campus while classes are in session.
However, before professors can take time off for personal or professional reasons, they are expected to fill out a form specifying dates they will be gone and how their courses and other obligations will be covered.
Of course, accidents, emergencies and illness can strike without warning. In those cases, we ask that the instructor contact the main office so we can post information on classroom doors or arrange for others to take over classes.
We do not police these policies, but we do expect faculty to adhere to them. You may want to consider that level of trust with your students.
After taking over our media ethics class, with one day’s preparation, I had to create a new syllabus within hours. That’s when I decided to implement the attendance policy that attracted so much attention at Ohio University in 1997.
Here’s an excerpt:
You can miss as many lectures as you like, as long as an exam or project is not due that day. Simply write a brief e-mail to me explaining the real reason for the absence. The only requirement is that you tell the truth. Do not say you were ill if you overslept, for instance. Do not invade your own or another person’s privacy in telling the truth (i.e., simply say you had a medical appointment – don’t explain symptoms). Send the e-mail to me before you miss the scheduled lecture or deliver it within 24 hours. Note: Title your absence email "462 Absence."
The attendance policy also has a section for late and early departures from class. Nothing can be more disturbing to the instructor or the class as a tardy student clumsily opening the door during lecture or a student leaving before the lecture ends. The latter also suggests something the teacher said was so disturbing that students just had to leave when they really only had to relieve themselves.
So I designate a row of chairs near the exit as "liberty seats," meaning students may come and go as they please if they sit in that row.
But what about students who violate the attendance or seating policy? Again, an excerpt from the syllabus:
Failure to Follow Attendance Rules: If you miss a class without e-mailing an excuse letter, your final grade will drop by 50 points out of 1000 for each occurrence. If you come late or leave early, without taking a reserved seat in the back row near the rear exit – and then fail to write an email explaining why you had to leave — your grade also will drop by 50 points for each occurrence.
How will I know who’s who, who’s lying and more, if I don’t also take roll? Well, I can download photos of my students from the registrar’s office so that I can identify them if I have to over time. In other words, students may be able to get away with skipping class and not emailing me initially — which only encourages future infractions — but sooner or later I catch up with them and their lies.
And remember, this is a media ethics class. If you lie in any ethics class, you go to hell — literally, I tell them.
But the best part of the attendance policy is compiling the class report detailing just why students miss class.
Here are a few examples, names withheld, of course, from last semester’s ethics class:
It just so happens, tomorrow is my birthday. Not just any birthday you see, and I know you like us to be honest; it’s my 21st ... at midnight, tonight. I should also add, I am a senior and the last person I know to turn 21. So, I have this weird feeling that tomorrow's 9 a.m. class is going to come up and hit me like a brick wall. I don't think I'll make it, but hey, you never know! I could rally!
*** Professor Bugeja,
I was absent for 462 yesterday and here’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. While I was walking to class, a raccoon was in my path that was squirming and running around. I knew something was wrong since it was out in the daylight, so I called animal control. They asked me to keep an eye on it so it wouldn’t run away (although I’m not sure how much help I would have been if it had). By the time the animal control woman arrived, I was 30 minutes late for class with a 10-minute walk ahead of me. I didn’t want to be rude and show up that late, so I didn’t come into class.
As a final gesture to students, I post a chart that summarizes why they missed class and why others who had taken the class previously also missed. Categories include:
Career-related conflicts: Working for a student media outlet or part-time job.
Academic-related conflicts: Working for other classes or student organizations, sororities, fraternities, etc.
Family-related conflicts: Dealing with emergencies, weddings, outings.
Romance-related conflicts: Indulging in Valentine’s Day, excursions, rendezvous.
Health-related conflicts: Dealing with illness or honoring medical/dental appointments.
Overslept: Falling asleep in rooms, newsrooms, etc.
Funeral: Coping with death of parents, relatives, friends, associates.
What surprised me was how reasons for missing class at Iowa State in 2012 were so similar to reasons at Ohio in 1992-2003. The world has changed so much since then, especially in the digital classroom. Nobody missed class because of Facebook, for instance. In fact, the only technology-related absence concerned a student missing class from Oct. 29 through Nov. 2 to attend a Microsoft conference in Seattle.
To view reasons for missing class in a downloadable chart, click here.
Also consider this: Stringent attendance policies may be necessary in small workshops, labs or other group-related classes. I get that. I also know we’re very good at finding reasons why students should attend our classes but usually not very informed about why they actually skip.
In the end, it’s their tuition dollar and their grade.
As I explained to my class, my attendance policy may look lenient at first blush, but I also can document that students with the fewest absences also almost always boast the highest grades. There is a correlation there, and I have the data to prove it.
Michael Bugeja is director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University.
Coursera, the largest platform for massive open online courses (MOOCs), on Tuesday announced Coursera Career Services, a match-making tool aimed at connecting its most talented students to companies that are looking to hire. The company will offer its students the chance to opt in to a database that employers can then browse in search of job candidates. "If you do well in a Coursera class and allow us to share that information with potential employers (who will have agreed to keep this information in strict confidence, and use only for the purpose of considering you for employment), this could make you even more appealing to employers," wrote the company in a release.
At first the service will focus on software engineering. Coursera says it has relationships with several software companies, including Facebook, Twitter, AppDirect and TrialPay, and has successfully gotten students hired during a pilot phase the company has been running for several months. As MOOC providers explore revenue models in lieu of charging tuition for their massive courses, recruiting services such as this may figure prominently. Udacity, another for-profit MOOC provider, has also been pursuing a "headhunter" model whereby companies pay for introductions to talented students.
In Coursera's contract with the University of Virginia the company lists "employee recruiting" as one of its potential monetization strategies. "Company will allow prospective employers to execute queries against end user records," stipulates the contract. "These queries might involve end user performance in relevant courses... as well as end user-supplied demographic information." A percentage of the revenue generated by Coursera Career Services would go to the universities that are running the relevant courses.
America’s economic future depends on the success of our public schools, and the success of our schools depends upon effective teachers and principals.
In the next Congress, both the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act will be up for reauthorization. We need to seize this opportunity to improve the chances for student success by building a truly collaborative system for educator preparation -- one that creates a positive school environment, allows educators to work together and connects higher education to early childhood and K-12 education.
Currently, these systems function in their own separate silos of educational policy and practice. While some innovative practices are being implemented in each arena, there is no systematic connection. Educational stakeholders -- parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and policy makers -- need to engage now on how best to establish an aligned system, especially for the preparation of new educators who will be teaching and leading in schools with the greatest needs.
Our legislation, the Educator Preparation Reform Act, increases collaboration between high-need local educational agencies, clinical teacher preparation sites, and community stakeholder organizations, and, secondly, streamlines and strengthens the accountability for teacher preparation programs. In developing this legislation, we have had input from a broad coalition of stakeholders representing teachers, colleges and universities, principals, school boards, and community-based organizations. Moving forward, we will continue to seek input from the community and from our colleagues to strengthen the proposal and to ultimately enact legislation that will chart a clear path forward for preparing educators for success in our schools and classrooms.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act builds on the success of the Teacher Quality Partnership Program, which connects institutions of higher education with high-needs school districts and other partners to reform teacher education and help teacher preparation programs and public schools collectively and collaboratively share new ideas and best practices.
One of the toughest challenges facing high-need schools is retaining effective teachers and principals. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, almost half of teachers leave their job within five years -- creating a churn that correlates to poorer outcomes for students. One way to combat this high turnover rate is to improve educator preparation. According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, teachers with greater levels of preparation are more likely to remain in their jobs than those that did not go through a teacher preparation program.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act will help local schools and community organizations and institutions of higher learning partner together to provide yearlong teacher and principal residency programs -- pairing a high-need school district with an educator preparation program -- to ensure that new, well-qualified teachers and principals are ready to serve in high-need school districts.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act overhauls the cumbersome and opaque reporting requirements for teacher preparation programs with a focus on transparency and data that can inform program improvement. Under this bill, teacher preparation programs would report on key quality measures that address both program inputs and outcomes, such as grade point averages and test scores for teacher candidates admitted to the program, data on clinical preparation requirements, and program graduate’s impact on student learning, performance in the classroom, and retention in the field of teaching.
All programs -- whether traditional or alternative routes to certification -- must be accountable and report on the same measures.
We require states to identify at-risk and low performing programs and provide them with technical assistance and a timeline for improvement. States would be asked to close programs that do not improve.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act would also support assessments to measure teacher readiness for the classroom. States and teacher preparation programs that implement these teacher performance assessments would be able to report on the outcomes on these assessments rather than on the current teacher licensing exams.
Finally, the Educator Preparation Reform Act makes important changes to the TEACH Grant program to focus on students who have committed to pursuing teaching in programs that meet the quality standards for performance set by their state. Eligibility for grants would be restricted to the final two years of a teacher preparation program. In this way, we will reduce the number of TEACH Grant recipients who are required to pay back their grants as loans because after a few semesters they decide that teaching is not for them. Institutions that are identified as low-performing in their state will not be eligible to offer new TEACH Grants to their students.
Our focus on the educator is essential, now more than ever before.
Every day, in schools and classrooms across the country, hardworking teachers, principals, and support staff work to spark innovation and prepare our students to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
We can help them today, by passing the Educator Preparation Reform Act and ensuring that educators in the classroom are well-prepared to enter the profession and the best and brightest are ready to serve where they are needed the most.
Michael Honda is a Democratic U.S. representative from California, and Jack Reed, a Democrat, is the senior senator from Rhode Island.
Submitted by Paul Fain on November 29, 2012 - 3:00am
The University of Wisconsin System on Wednesday released details about its new competency-based degree offerings, an effort the system first announced in July. Next year campuses will offer degree and certificate programs that are grounded in a series of assessments designed to test student mastery. And the UW Colleges, which are the system's two-year institutions, will offer general education courses in the new competency-based "UW Flexible Option" format. Students will be able to take assessments based not just on self-paced coursework, but on knowledge gained through military and on-the-job training as well as other learning experiences, including MOOCs, the system said.