teachinglearning

Colleges start new programs

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  • Brown University is starting an executive master of healthcare leadership program.
  • Mercy College, in Ohio, has started an online bachelor of science in medical imaging. The degree is a degree-completion program for graduates of associate degree programs in radiological science or nuclear medicine.

Essay on how to handle classroom discussions on affirmative action

As the Supreme Court gets ready to review the consideration of race in admissions policies, instructors need to think about how to manage discussions of the issue -- both those that are planned and those that are unplanned.

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New York Times to Shutter Online Learning Venture

The New York Times Company is closing down the Knowledge Network, its five-year-old venture into online learning, a company spokeswoman said on Friday.  The Times announced the venture with much fanfare in 2007, believing that the esteem with which it is held in higher education and especially the depth of its content would give it a leg up in the increasingly crowded distance education market (and, like many newspaper companies, hoping to generate new lines of revenue as its traditional businesses sagged). The company established partnerships with a relatively small number of colleges and other organizations to offer courses jointly as well as offering its own, but the business apparently did not take off.  

"I can confirm that after July 31, Knowledge Network courses will no longer be available online," said Linda Zebian, manager of corporate communications at the Times Company. "We’re examining our education businesses to see how we will structure them in the future to best serve readers and others who are interested in learning with The New York Times."

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Elite universities won't upend the online learning market (essay)

In the past few weeks the twin quasars of the New York Times opinion page -- Thomas Friedman and David Brooks -- have waxed poetic about the coming revolution in higher education as presaged by  recent announcements of elite universities moving online: MIT and Harvard with edX; Stanford, Princeton, Penn and Michigan with Coursera.  According to Friedman, “In five years, this will be a huge industry.”

The exuberance is understandable and stems from two factors: (1) Quality; and (2) Affordability. It’s hard to argue with either given the reputations of the institutions involved and the current pricing for these MOOCs (massive open online courses):  free.

Online higher education is already an industry of some scale – over $30 billion annually in the U.S. – and there’s no question that it will be huger still in five years as it takes off across the rest of the world.  There’s also no question that affordability will play a major role in its acceleration – the Internet axiomatically causes the effective price paid for information and online services to plummet – and that free is a pretty good place to start.

***

“Colleges are a bit like funeral homes.

Talking about getting your money’s worth strikes some as a little crass.”

--Rick Wartzman, writing on The Drucker Exchange

This may have been true a year ago, but a lot has happened in America since the Occupy protests last fall.  Even The New York Times has come to understand that the cost of actually providing a quality education isn’t close to what our universities spend, and hence charge as tuition. 

The days of charging the same for an online program as a traditional on-ground program are numbered; much lower tuition models are coming to online education. The question begged by the Times is this: Are Stanford, MIT and the Ivy League likely to lead the way?

The threshold issue is the gap between non-credit-bearing MOOCs and meaningful credentials, currently in the form of associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. These are what matter in higher education for now and the foreseeable future. (This week’s exhibit: the college skeptic Peter Thiel’s hedge fund posting an analyst position last week explicitly calling for candidates with a “high GPA from a top-tier university.” The fund changed the posting following Slate’s reporting.)  We would live in a better world if love of learning were the key motivator for payment and persistence in higher education.  Alas, based on the 85 percent drop rate in Thrun’s non-credit bearing MOOC, we can fairly conclude that it is the credential that attaches to you for a lifetime.

Higher ed. commentator Kevin Carey (Education Sector, The Quick & The Ed) noted last week that Stanford responded to a piece he had written wherein he described last fall’s MOOC offered by then-Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun:  “Over 100,000 students around the world [took] the course…. Those who did well got a certificate from the professor saying so.”

Stanford’s official response to Kevin was as follows:

“Students who did well did not receive a certificate.  Neither Stanford nor the professors issued a certificate. All students who completed the courses received a letter from the professor saying that they had completed the course. And that’s it.”

Hell may freeze over before Stanford is willing to provide any credential for these learning experiences.  The gap between exclusive residential degree programs for elite 18-22 year-olds and online learning open to the hoi polloi is a chasm that few will cross.

Even so, given the number of elite institutions with MOOC dreams, in time a few may talk themselves through the obvious brand and reputational concerns and cross the chasm to something like a meaningful MOOC credential, perhaps with a differentiated brand like edX. Still, is this hypothetical adventurous elite university likely to dominate the online future?

***

We would submit that colleges today are less like funeral homes and more like airlines 30 years ago, when flying the friendly skies cost much more than it had to and there was similar grousing aplenty.  When the discount airline model became possible as a result of deregulation, many traditional carriers started their own discount carrier:  United begat Shuttle by United and then Ted; Delta begat Delta Express and then Song; US Air begat MetroJet; Air Canada begat Air Canada Tango.

They all failed.  They failed because they attempted to leverage the operations of the parent carrier.  The traditional operations were hub-and-spoke, whereas the new discount model worked best point-to-point.  The traditional operations had more costly product and process design. Traditional operations were less productive per labor unit.  And traditional operations had labor costs sometimes 50 percent higher than what a new entrant would pay. 

One can envision similar conversations along the Infinite Corridor at MIT. Quality comes first and can only be guaranteed in the new edX online venture via full participation by faculty and other highly paid employees. It’s also tempting for the institution to allocate some of its lofty cost structure to the new online project. There are certain defined expectations as to what a program from or affiliated with the university must include. (It took traditional airlines over 20 years to do away with the in-flight meal; imagine how long it will take MIT to do away with the cohort in a credit-bearing course.) Productivity, which is the hallmark of successful discount carriers – turnaround times of 20 minutes vs. 45 minutes for traditional carriers -- is much more studied than practiced by these institutions.

So it’s hard to envision any top-tier university launching an online program with the objective of keeping every aspect of its operation separate.  Clearly, it couldn’t if it wanted to grant degrees; degrees must be granted by the accredited institution.  But realistically, no online program would be completely separated from the mothership.  The allure of trading off the brand is irresistible, as United, Delta and Air Canada demonstrated with their choice of discount carrier names.  Even MetroJet, US Air’s discount airline, invoked the parent brand with its logo.

Of course, the winning discount carrier is Southwest.  With one type of airplane, no meals, no paper tickets, no lounges and online booking only, Southwest has redefined the industry and the traditional carriers are still trying to catch up. 

So the right question to ask is:  Who will be the Southwest Airlines of online education – delivering what customers need, but doing so much more cost-effectively?  It could be a private-sector university.  Or perhaps a very innovative traditional university with a clear vision of educating and granting credentials to millions of qualified students from around the world, along with a willingness to throw aside its existing model. 

Either way we arrive at a conclusion that refutes the Times:  it will not be MIT, Stanford or an Ivy League institution. Their impact is likely to be limited to the extent other universities opt to incorporate their content into new programs – equivalent to today’s textbook publishers.  And just as many people who can afford to pay much more actively seek out Southwest over traditional carriers, rather than cementing their leadership, the coming revolution could very well change up the pecking order in higher education for the first time in the history of the Republic.

Ryan Craig is a partner at University Ventures, a fund focused on innovation from within higher education.

Howard Hughes Institute to Provide $50M in Grants to Small Colleges

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is today announcing $50 million in grants to help 47 small colleges and universities collaborate to improve their science curriculums, involve more students in undergraduate research, prepare more K-12 science teachers, and increase diversity of science students. The grants range in size from $800,000 to $1.5 million.
 

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Public colleges outsource online teaching coaches with new service

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Nonprofit group offers a pool of online teaching coaches to public universities, helping them staff growing programs quickly and cheaply. Adjunct advocates don't like new form of outsourcing.

Essay on how liberal arts colleges promote leadership

Today’s economic environment, with its stubbornly high level of unemployment, is pressuring liberal arts institutions to justify the "value proposition" offered by our undergraduate programs. This was one of the concerns that brought leaders together at Wake Forest University for a conference in April, focusing on careers and the liberal arts in the 21st century. In particular, we are being asked to explain how a liberal arts degree advances employment prospects at a challenging time that many believe favors immediately applicable, career-ready skills.

Along with my peers at other liberal arts colleges, I regularly articulate the value of a liberal arts education: providing interdisciplinary opportunities for analytical, problem-solving and adaptive learning that produce graduates who think creatively, innovatively and expansively; express themselves persuasively; and operate ethically as citizens committed to making a difference in a constantly transforming world.

Candidly, many people feel this rationale sounds more philosophical than practical. With more than a decade of experience in the field of career development, I could cite countless examples of liberal arts graduates who embody these skills and whose professional successes would quickly silence the prevailing rhetoric about the practicality of the liberal arts. But rather than cherry-pick stories from the hundreds of students I’ve advised, an analysis of the educational credentials of leaders in the business, nonprofit, and government sectors of our economy may help to stem the notion that a degree in the liberal arts is impractical.

According to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s classification system, there are 270 U.S. baccalaureate colleges that offer arts and sciences programs -- the designation that most closely aligns with the mission of liberal arts colleges and includes Grinnell and our peer institutions. These schools represent a subset of the 4,634 U.S. higher education institutions in the Carnegie database, and just 2.2 percent of students enrolled in U.S. undergraduate programs attend these colleges.

Consistent with these statistics, one might extrapolate that societal leaders would reflect a similar distribution with 2.2 percent holding degrees from baccalaureate institutions offering arts and sciences programs. However, after analyzing data from three distinct sources, a striking difference revealed itself – one that demonstrates a strong correlation between a liberal arts education and career leadership positions in the business, nonprofit and government sectors.

In researching the undergraduate institutions of leaders in these three broad fields, the Grinnell College communications team and I consulted three data sets: for businesses, the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies; for nonprofit organizations, leaders from The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy 400; and, for government, the 100 U.S. senators. In each case, the undergraduate institutions these leaders attended were coded in accordance with the Carnegie classification system.

Overall, 11.33 percent of the leaders across the above three sectors graduated from baccalaureate colleges that offer arts and sciences programs. That’s more than five times the expected 2.2 percent incidence of enrollment in baccalaureate arts and sciences colleges based on Carnegie’s classification. Looking at each sector individually, 11.75 percent of Philanthropy 400 leaders, 12 percent of U.S. Senators and 10.87 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs received their undergraduate education at baccalaureate arts and sciences colleges, i.e., liberal arts institutions.

These findings suggest that a liberal arts education may be a significant contributor to the career success of leaders in the business, government and nonprofit sectors. Today, perhaps more than ever, our nation’s leaders need to be able to strategically think and plan, deftly interpret changing global conditions, effectively marshal expansive resources and collaboratively guide teams of diverse people. Students at liberal arts colleges are challenged and supported to cultivate these skills throughout their coursework and co-curricular activities and then apply them during undergraduate research projects, volunteer experiences, and internships.

In today’s job market, many people are urging liberal arts colleges to refocus our academic efforts on career preparation. While those of us who lead career development programs at liberal arts institutions are very serious in our commitment to cultivating a dynamic learning community that allows students to grow and develop in remarkable ways, we also know that the educational experiences we offer are especially effective in fostering the enduring, broadly applicable skills needed for the workplace of tomorrow. In fact, the data presented here clearly illustrate that liberal arts graduates will not only be well-positioned for career success, but that many of them will be poised to become our nation’s next leaders.

 

Mark Peltz is associate dean and director of career development at Grinnell College.

Online test bank raises copyright issues

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An online collection of old tests walks a blurry line on copyright law and academic integrity. Some faculty members are concerned, while others say it can help students learn.

Candace Thille talks MOOCs and machine learning

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In a podcast interview, Open Learning Initiative director Candace Thille talks MOOCs, big data, and what we might soon know about learning.

Some college students deserve failing grades (essay)

I remember how bad I felt when I assigned my first F. The night before I turned in my grades, I could barely sleep; I kept tossing and turning, worrying about the student who was about to fail. I thought this failure was going to ruin this kid’s future; he was doomed, I was certain, to a life of meaningless jobs for sub-minimum wage because his first-year writing teacher failed him. I equated his failing with my failure: He failed by not doing the work, and I failed him on an existential level because I was not able to keep him from failing.

As my mentors at the time explained to me, it did indeed get easier to give Fs. One of the reasons was linguistic; I stopped saying I was "giving" grades and instead switched to the language of "recording what the student earned." In this case, semantics did make a difference, but, truthfully, in the 15 years since I "recorded" that first F, I have never felt good about it. Contrary to what many students believe, giving — ahem, recording — failures is not fun. Teachers do not celebrate when students fail; and many, myself included, often bend over backward to find ways to allow students to pass. We listen to their stories, their excuses, their reasons, and we give an extension or some extra credit. We work hard — sometimes harder than the students themselves — to help them pass.

I never really questioned this practice until I stepped into the dean’s role in academic services. At my institution, the dean of academic services oversees the granting of incompletes, leaves of absence and withdrawals (both voluntary and required), and any and all academic issues students may be having. In practical terms, this means that almost every student who is struggling academically sooner or later comes to my attention. While my role is to counsel students about academic issues, inevitably their personal lives — mental, social, physical, emotional -- are wrapped up in their academic issues, so I hear stories that range from the tragic to the sad to the more mundane.

As dean, I spend much of my day listening to tales about dying grandparents, sick siblings, financial struggles, drug and alcohol addiction, family troubles, roommate troubles, classroom troubles — the list is endless. In many ways, I am still the softie I was 15 years ago; I often believe students' stories — even the most fantastical ones — until they give me a reason to doubt them. I have learned, though, how to balance my (perhaps) naïve sense of trust with the realities of needing documentation. It does take some skill to express sympathy in one breath and in the very next breath ask for a copy of an obituary. Where I have noticed the biggest shift in my thinking, however, has been with the issue of giving Fs.

Perhaps because the students I talk to every day are not “my” students (i.e., I am not their teacher, and I don’t actually have to assign a grade), I now have a broadened perspective on the importance of — and even the educational value of — failing. At the end of the semester, for instance, I often get e-mails from professors saying something like, "Sally hasn’t been to class since spring break, has missed her midterm and her final and hasn’t responded to my e-mails. What should I do?” I have to restrain myself from simply writing back: “FAIL HER.” As the dean and not Sally’s teacher, I am able to see Sally’s situation as cut-and-dried: she has disappeared and stopped doing the work. She has chosen, for whatever reason, not to complete the course and the consequence of her decision is an F.

I’m sure at this point some of my readers are thinking that I am being too quick to judge Sally, that there must be extenuating circumstances that need to be taken into consideration. About 50 percent of the time, those readers are correct: something has happened in Sally’s life that has caused her to disappear from the classroom. Sometimes that situation is the common one of a first-year student not sure how to handle the sudden freedom of college and deciding to spend too much time on the social. But there are other scenarios, too: Sally has been very ill; Sally has lost a parent; Sally has a learning disability but thought she could handle college without accommodations; Sally is anxious, depressed, addicted, or a combination of all three.

I always reach out to students when I hear they are in trouble. Some respond but most don’t. If Sally does come to see me, I patiently listen as she tells her story. Sometimes, I might cry right along with her. There are indeed days when I have to close my door to grieve over what I have just heard, weeping for the complicated and overwhelming lives some of our students lead. But even in these worst cases, when Sally’s story breaks me, I still think Sally should fail.

If Sally’s circumstances have indeed been difficult — and they often are — I will look for ways to get her back on track. I might help her get an appointment with the counseling center or walk her down to register with our disability coordinator. I will explain the academic support services we have on campus and show her how to register for those. I will help her think about ways summer courses or interim courses might allow her to catch up on her requirements so she can still graduate in four years. In other words, I will do whatever I can to help Sally except advocate for her to get a passing grade she did not earn

Sally should fail because she did not complete the work; she did not learn what the course proposed to teach; she was not educated. If the university allows Sally to pass, we will be failing her in a much more serious way: we will be failing her as an institution that is deeply committed to learning, failing her as mentors, failing her as human beings. If we do not let Sally fail, she will not learn that adults need to take responsibility for their actions, even when the chips are down, even when the world seems like it is coming to an end. She will not learn that sometimes, for reasons beyond our control, even the best of us fail. If we do not allow her to fail, she will not have the chance to learn resilience. She will not learn to ask for help or recognize the importance of communication. If we don’t allow Sally to fail, she will not learn that adult life is hard and often unfair and that success is defined in that critical moment between giving up or staying the course.

I do not enjoy watching students fail any more than I did 15 years ago, but now I see failures as part and parcel of the total experience of a college education. Like so much in life, failure and success are just different ends of the same spectrum. Learning to navigate that spectrum with integrity, grace, humility, and a little grit, is one of the most important skills colleges can teach.

 

Melissa Nicolas is interim associate dean of academic services at Drew University.

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