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Competency-Based Education for Underprepared Students

The key to designing a competency-based education program for underprepared adult students is the need to balance remedial instruction with college work, within a system of effective student support services, says a new paper from Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit group. Competency-based education has great potential for students who have remedial needs, the paper said, because of the course delivery method's focus on flexibility, customization and learning for mastery.

Exercise improves cognition, so colleges should require physical education (essay)

Brain Matters

Exercise improves cognition, so it's time for colleges to require physical education throughout a student's undergraduate experience, writes Karen Costa.

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Let's put cameras in the classroom to protect professors from narcissistic students (essay)

It takes only one problematic student in an otherwise amiable class to cause a teacher to temporarily question his career choice. It’s especially troubling that the proportion of such problematic students appears to be growing.

Some studies have reported a rising “narcissism epidemic” among students, the result of which suggests that the “United States is poised to experience social problems as younger narcissists age and move into positions of power,” as Josh Clark of Seeker.com noted in February 2013. Many educators are unfamiliar with scholarly research on this mental disorder, yet they know, through personal experience, its various symptoms. What are those symptoms, and what can educators do to manage them when they flare up, particularly in the classroom?

Let’s start with the first question. Narcissistic students are distinguished by several traits that imply a greater likelihood of conflict with their instructors. They are prone to “arrogant, haughty [rude and abusive] behaviors or attitudes,” according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They are also easily offended; one might expect that this trait is especially manifest in classes where controversial social issues are regularly discussed. Further, narcissism is associated with a sense of academic entitlement, as well as uncivil behavior when, as noted in an article in Personality and Individual Differences, “entitled behaviors fail to achieve the desired outcome.” Finally, narcissism is linked to immoral -- and shameless -- conduct, including academic dishonesty. (Cheating seems to be on the rise, although I’ve seen little evidence that students are getting better at it. Would it kill them to at least change the font color before copying and pasting someone else’s work?)

Simply put, narcissistic students are more disruptive, academically entitled, willing to cheat in order to succeed and likely to fuss when they don’t.

As a result, classroom conflicts with narcissistic students may occur with greater frequency in higher education today. Here I’m particularly interested in the more serious cases that reach the attention of college administrators, wherein professors face at least two challenges when presenting their side of the story. First, if narcissistic students do have fewer qualms about committing acts of academic dishonesty, it isn’t a huge stretch of the imagination to suspect that they’re also more likely to deliberately misrepresent classroom confrontations and level false accusations against faculty members. Such bogus allegations are a real -- and evidently growing -- problem in today’s educational institutions. In Great Britain, at least, more than one in five teachers reported having been falsely accused by school and college students in a survey conducted last year by the U.K.-based Association of Teachers and Lecturers. On the other side of the Atlantic, it was reported that one in seven male teachers has been wrongly accused of “inappropriate contact with students,” leading to a dearth of “male role models” in Canadian classrooms, according to the Canadian Education Association.

Second, colleges and universities are increasingly run like businesses, whereby students are viewed as customers. Accordingly, Nate Kreuter argues, “the old main street American, folksy business mantra that ‘the customer is always right’ can’t be too far behind.” Although recent experience has taught me that I’ve been blessed with a very fair-minded dean, I know that professors at other institutions aren’t nearly as fortunate. The rise of this business model of education may be part of the reason why some of them are quitting. Perhaps they’ve lost confidence in their institutions’ ability to adjudicate conflicts between students and faculty members impartially.

So, what’s my solution? Installing video cameras in classrooms is by no means a novel idea. It has been proposed for multiple reasons, from helping “teachers ground their self-reflection in empirical evidence” to protecting students from bullies and abusive professors.

But class cams aren’t usually predicated on the growing need to protect educators. While leaving it to each college and university to address questions of implementation (e.g., where, and for how long, will video footage be stored? Who may access it and under what conditions?), I argue that class cams will produce the incontrovertible evidence that faculty members need to overcome false allegations from students.

Of course, faculty members and school teachers are capable of misconduct, too (and I mean real, coming-to-class-drunk-and-walking-into-walls misconduct, not the distasteful-yet-harmless-dropping-the-f-bomb-in-class misconduct that, these days, can help get a professor fired). Therefore, class cams could also benefit students by proving or deterring inappropriate classroom behavior on their instructors’ part.

Class cams are an admittedly costly solution. But for colleges and universities that can afford them, they may be a necessary safeguard for faculty members until we successfully resolve the underlying causes of our narcissism epidemic.

Amir Azarvan is an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Gwinnett College.

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Free college won't really help students who are unprepared for it (essay)

The current national dialogue around greater access to higher education is encouraging, but zeroing in on it leaves us dangerously close to overlooking the full spectrum of challenges facing today’s students. By limiting national debate to the financial barriers that prevent students from earning a college degree, presidential candidates ignore the larger problem: we are an undereducated nation. Too many of today’s students are unprepared to succeed in college and, worse, in life and work after they graduate.

Free college accomplishes very little if students continue to arrive on our campuses unprepared. Right now, half of all community college students enroll in at least one remedial course. Far more often than not, students who aren’t ready for college-level course work when they start, don’t finish. They leave college with debt and no degree to show for it.

We know this trajectory begins long before students reach college, and yet we neglect to tackle the problem at its source. We -- all of us in education -- have to reach out to these kids earlier. Despite a clear need for K-12 schools and higher education institutions to work together as one complete system of education, we still operate and receive funds as two separate and distinct entities. And effective systems don’t operate in silos.

Presidential hopefuls should consider a plan that will incentivize K-12 and higher education to get our acts together -- ideally, through a funding model that binds our sectors and ensures investment only in what works. To be truly effective, we should target support to data-driven, evidence-based programs and services that we know not only increase access to college but also boost completion -- and ultimately lead to career success.

As in other states, we see the dire need for this kind of collective action in my home state of New York. For every 100 ninth graders here, it’s estimated that only 73 will graduate from high school. Of those, 51 will go directly to college, 37 will return for their sophomore year, and only 23 will complete their degree even close to on time. Just 23 out of 100, and that is only the average. In our upstate urban centers, it drops to 16. And that’s just in New York, a state that’s doing better than most.

A Roadmap to College Readiness,” recently published by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association and the National Association of System Heads, reports a similar trend of underpreparedness nationally and looks at what 10 state systems are doing to address it. In California, each of California State University’s 23 campuses employs an early-assessment program coordinator who works with high school advisers. In Texas, “go centers” pair recent college graduates with low-income and minority students who are academically ready but do not plan to attend college. And each of the states studied offers a senior-year transitional course for students who score below a college-ready level in 11th grade, helping to bring them up to speed before high school graduation.

The common denominator among successful strategies highlighted? All 10 states report that their most effective strategies are a result of K-12 and higher education working together.

To be truly effective in preparing students for successful lives, this partnership model must carry over into a student’s college years and after graduation. Because even the students who are prepared for college aren’t always completing their degree, and even those completing their degree aren’t necessarily finding a job in their field.

Less than 50 percent of adults in New York hold a postsecondary credential of some kind, yet by 2020, almost 70 percent of jobs in the state will require one. That’s an astonishing gap, one that is only slightly narrower than the national average. Any education strategy that doesn’t directly impact that bottom line is not worth pursuing.

As the state’s public university system, the State University of New York owns the challenge of grappling with this issue on behalf of New Yorkers, and we are confident that we have a path forward: a completion agenda that aims to deliver 150,000 SUNY degrees annually, up from about 93,000, by investing in proven strategies that support student completion. Among the approaches we are taking to scale are:

Strengthening cradle-to-career partnerships. As many as 40 percent of children nationwide are not ready for kindergarten. They lack the basic vocabulary and sensitivities this early work demands, and this level of unpreparedness often follows them as they progress through the education pipeline. Adapting the StriveTogether model and working closely with the national organization, SUNY is partnering with communities across the state to ensure that every child, every step of the way, has a chance at success. In Albany, N.Y., one such partnership -- the Albany Promise -- has improved student outcomes with a number of targeted interventions. Through a partnership with Albany High School, for example, they put in place New York’s first in-school administration of the SAT in 2014, raising student participation from 53 percent to 82 percent.

Recruiting, training and retaining more excellent teachers. We know that excellently trained teachers are the No. 1 in-school factor for student success. And while New York is home to some of the best schools and teachers in the country, too many students still never experience great teaching. Through TeachNY, we are partnering with all of New York’s education stakeholders, including the state Education Department, to address a significant teaching shortage by transforming teacher preparation. One of our goals is to cement teaching as a clinical practice profession. Because like a doctor performing surgery or a pilot flying an airplane, we want to provide every opportunity for future teachers to gain live classroom experience before their first day on the job.

Streamlining high school to college transitions. Throughout the country, innovative new high school designs that offer college credit are serving the needs of students who are traditionally underrepresented in college and making a crucial connection between K-12 and higher education. Dual enrollment programs in Maryland, New York, Tennessee, and Texas allow students to earn college credits -- oftentimes even an associate’s degree -- before they graduate from high school.

In New York, we now have 20 early college high schools that offer dual enrollment for students who are traditionally underrepresented in college; 33 P-TECH partnerships, for which students complete an industry-aligned curriculum; and five New Tech Schools, which use a project-based learning model and emphasize the integration of technology in the classroom. Some are transitioning to what we call Smart Schools, which will provide a streamlined program where students acquire an associate degree in high school, at no cost, and then transfer to one of our four-year colleges to earn a higher degree. In our state, these models share an average graduation rate that exceeds 90 percent.

Bringing applied learning to every degree. The value and effectiveness of learning by doing is unrivaled. Our students consistently point to internships, clinical placements, service-learning programs and other work-based experiences as the highlight of their education. Job-placement rates for cooperative education programs nationally are nearly 100 percent. We are bringing applied learning to the broadest possible scale while also working with the state’s Department of Labor to ensure our graduates are meeting workforce needs.

These efforts are a small sample of the interventions and strategies that we know will increase completion for our students. There is so much more to be done in our state and across the country. Cutting costs only scratches the surface.

Free college is a well-intentioned and, in a growing number of states, successful model, but it falls substantially short of what today’s students really need. If presidential hopefuls want to tackle the costs of college and truly make a difference, they should support significant and targeted investment in student achievement that spans the education pipeline and incentivizes schools, communities, colleges, employers and everyone else with a stake in education to work as one cohesive system.

If we could begin collectively serving the whole student, from his or her start in pre-K to and through college and into career, we can help more of today’s students be successful in school, in their chosen field and in life.

Nancy Zimpher is chancellor of the State University of New York.

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New Rules Proposed for Workforce Training

The U.S. Departments of Labor and Education released the final rules Thursday for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in an effort to expand job growth.

The final rules affect more than a dozen programs that receive $10 billion in training and education funding and serve about 20 million people.

"I am especially pleased that these rules strengthen education and workforce partnerships to reinforce the importance of postsecondary education and training in promoting better jobs for students, as well as removing barriers to employment," said U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr.

The final five rules are related to state planning, performance accountability and Titles I, II and III, which regulate programs like the Job Corps and are connected to adult education.

Connecticut College revamps gen ed

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As part of a new general-education program, Connecticut College rethinks the 100-level course.

Colleges start new programs

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  • Assumption College is launching a master of arts and certificate of advanced graduate study in applied behavior analysis.
  • Hiram College is starting an undergraduate major in integrative exercise science.
  • Nunez Community College is starting a certificate program in software development.

As educators, we should understand more about how the brain works (essay)

Brain Matters

As educators, we need to bring a far greater understanding of how the brain works to our conversations on teaching, learning and student success in higher education, argues Karen Costa.

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Why a commencement speaker's Spanish words should not have drawn controversy (essay)

This academic year, a number of college campuses across the country became sites for vocal clashes between student groups, the administration and larger political movements. And just last month, our campus, California State University, Fullerton, made headlines following Univision anchor María Elena Salinas’s keynote speech at the Department of Communications’ graduation ceremony. As she addressed a graduating class of more than 800, she spoke of the role of identity in our society and the responsibility of journalists, and she made brief remarks to the crowd in Spanish. As she spoke, the crowd began to boo, at various times shouting, “Make America great again!” “English!” and “What about us?”

Almost immediately, backlash occurred on Twitter and Instagram, as users admonished the Univision anchor to speak in English. A graduate who had attended the ceremony wrote about it in the  OC Weekly, with The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times picking up the story soon after. While many of the headlines focused on Salinas’s mention of Donald Trump, many of the student comments referred to the address as too Latino-centric, saying Salinas focused on Latinos at the expense of other groups.

This expression of hostility toward the perceived “Latino threat” is not an isolated incident.

Donald Trump began his presidential bid describing Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, deportation has been one of his most consistent campaign promises, and he had Salinas’s co-host, Jorge Ramos, removed from a press conference last year. Trump’s rhetoric defies the conventions of political correctness and plurality.

In this case, Salinas’s speech and the resulting fallout are a synecdoche for what is at stake in the larger zeitgeist in this country. After years of championing diversity and inclusion, we now have to complete the move from relying on rhetoric to ensuring that diversity becomes a substantive practice.

Campuses are often a site of contestation, where students are negotiating the challenges of pluralism, belonging and diversity while preparing to engage in the broader society as both citizens and professionals. As faculty members, we firmly believe that the goal of a college education is to provide students with the opportunity to confront new ideas, engage with the complexity of contemporary social life and develop intellectual positions that result from careful consideration and study.

In furtherance of this goal, diversity has been championed on college campuses. This comes from the belief that campuses, in both faculty and student populations, should be representative of the people, experiences and ideas within the larger population. As the Census Bureau reports, by 2020 the more than half of the children in the United States will be part of a minority race or ethnic group. By 2060, only 36 percent of the population will be single-race, non-Hispanic white. Given the changing demography of the nation, it is encouraging that colleges and universities are taking steps to reduce the disparities in higher education achievement and aiming to have faculty and student populations that reflect our contemporary society.

As faculty members in the Department of Communications at CSUF, we are proud that our department takes an interest in serving a diverse student body that is reflective of our Southern California location. Our university has been designated a Hispanic-serving institution, ranked No. 1 in California and fifth nationally in awarding bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics. Our department is ranked first nationally in awarding communications degrees to Latinos. To broaden the professional opportunities for our students in journalism, advertising, public relations and entertainment and tourism, we recently launched the Latino Communication Initiative as a way to provide guidance and experience for students interested in the growing Latino communications industry. As part of that initiative, we have begun a Spanish-language news program, Al Día.

A Small Effort at Inclusion

It is in this context that Salinas’s speech, and the negative reaction by some to her remarks, occurred. According to the video of Salinas’s remarks, she spoke in Spanish for exactly 25 seconds, saying she was very proud of the students and their achievements and that she encouraged them to continue working and writing for their community. Switching to English, she then remarked that it is wonderful to be bilingual, because it allows to one to move between cultures. In an era where study abroad initiatives and diversity are encouraged for exactly this purpose, these comments should hardly be controversial or exclusionary.

As the events at our department’s commencement began to attract national attention, we received a number of emails from students, which led to long phone calls during which students expressed their varying perspectives on the incident. Many students saw nothing wrong with Salinas’s remarks. For example, Alana Garrett, a 25-year-old African-American graduate who does not speak Spanish, said, “It didn’t bother me. It wasn’t like she just spoke in Spanish the whole time. She said a couple of sentences. That’s what she should do -- she works for Univision. Why would that upset people?”

Similarly, graduate and Al Día reporter Alfredo Sanchez, 21, whose family is from El Salvador and for whom Spanish is his first language, said, “There should not be shame in speaking one’s language. She was just talking about Hispanic students making a difference and being able to reach the stage of commencement.”

Other students expressed an understanding why some non-Spanish-speaking students would feel excluded by Salinas’s Spanish remarks. David Leos, a 42-year-old graduate born to two Mexican immigrants, said, “The two students I was sitting next to were an Arab Muslim and a white Christian, and I can tell you they both felt excluded. I appreciated Salinas’s spotlighting of Hispanics’ successes and adding Spanish dialogue, but I also felt sorry for other non-Hispanic students.”

Indeed, in articles published in the aftermath of the event, some people expressed a belief that the delivery of these remarks in Spanish was exclusionary. However, this perspective disregards the fact that many of the parents, grandparents and extended family in the audience speak Spanish more fluently than English, or do not speak English at all, and were therefore excluded from the entire remainder of the ceremony. Delivering less than 30 seconds of her remarks in Spanish was a way for Salinas to include such individuals. Arely Martin, 23, had family members in attendance who did not speak English. “She actually told me, ‘Finally we go somewhere where we understand. There is actually someone talking to us,’” Martin said of her mother, who was born in Mexico.

The question we must ask is why this small effort at inclusion resulted in such hostility from a segment of the audience.

Much of the news media coverage has emphasized that Salinas’s remarks in Spanish were met with heckling and a distinct call for “English!” That is audible on the video of the speech. The focus on the language spoken by Salinas takes for granted the very real ways in which language and race are correlated.

Specifically, complaints about the speaking of Spanish are a way in which “color-blind” racism against Latinos can rear its ugly head. As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva explains in his seminal work Racism Without Racists (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009), because it is acknowledged that racism is “bad,” people use proxies for race to express beliefs that, if stated directly, would be considered racist. Arguments favoring “English only” in public spaces have a very long, very racialized history in this region. Well into the 20th century, the Southwest was sprinkled with signs that proudly boasted, “We Serve Whites Only. No Spanish or Mexicans.” Bilingual education has been banned in California public schools since 1996 under Proposition 227, the repeal of which will be on the ballot in this November’s election. Such a long history of contestation over the use of Spanish in the United States maps onto the history of the legitimacy of Latinos’ presence in this country.

While diversity and inclusion are contentious civic terrain, for anyone hoping to enter the workforce, linguistic, ethnic and racial diversity are de facto values. The Harvard Business Review has reported on how workplace diversity increases innovation and how diversity-centric strategic goals led to IBM’s turnaround success story. A study published in PNAS found that diverse teams outperformed high-ability teams on problem-solving tasks -- suggesting that diversity of thought is more important than simply high aptitude. Most crucial for our graduates, industry journals such as Advertising Age have published articles on the need for the media industries to diversify, arguing, “This will give us the insights and the skills to evolve alongside the massive demographic, technological and social shifts that we’ll see in the coming decades.”

When Salinas spoke last month, the fact that some students and families felt excluded at times is indicative of the previously limited experiences they have had in engaging with difference. Other students and families appreciated that the remarks reflected their own experiences. These reactions are reflective of the larger political terrain, where Trumpism pits an essentialist national identity against our contemporary realities. But the fact remains that exposure and engagement with difference is necessary in order to navigate our multilingual, multiethnic, multiracial society.

What remains to be seen is if these exhortations of the value and importance of diversity will retreat to the dustbin of rhetorical canards or if we can build a sustainably diverse public life -- one that is too deeply engaged with the benefits of multiplicity and diversity to crumble under an attack on political correctness. CSUF graduate Arely Martin took hope from Salinas’s address that her generation can do the work to build a diverse society. “She said, ‘You are the generation that’s going to build bridges, not walls.’ I thought, that’s so true. How could anyone be offended by that?”

Christina M. Ceisel and Vanessa Díaz are assistant professors of communications at California State University, Fullerton. The opinions expressed in this article are their own.

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Colleges start new academic programs

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  • Brandeis University is starting a master’s program in digital innovation for finance technology.
  • Centenary University, in New Jersey, is starting an Ed.D. in educational leadership.

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