The Pulse podcast features interview with Charley Miller of TouchCast

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This month's edition of The Pulse podcast features an interview with Charley Miller, head of product at TouchCast, a new video production software.

Miller talks with Rodney B. Murray, host of The Pulse. They discuss how TouchCast differs from other video editors and its possible uses in the classroom.

Study finds increased STEM enrollment since the recession

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Since the recession, undergraduate enrollments have gone up dramatically, but primarily in engineering and biology and not at expense of humanities and social sciences, study finds.

New analysis sees mixed results of 'undermatching'

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New study finds both positive and negative results of attending a less competitive college than where one might have enrolled.

Colleges start new programs

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Did Professor Teach Wrong Course for Semester?

A faculty member at Lone Star College taught the wrong chemistry course for a semester, KHOU News reported. The television station told the story of an A student surprised to find she was failing introductory chemistry. But the professor eventually said that she had been teaching a more advanced course. The student said that the professor made up for the situation by raising everyone's grade. The college and professor aren't commenting, but KHOU confirmed the story with another student in the class and through an email in which a department chair said that teaching the more advanced course was not intentional.


Competency based learning isn't a panacea, but may be one answer (essay)

Amy Slaton's February 21 essay is a good example of how a well-intentioned effort to defend the value of higher education ends up portraying competency-based education as something it’s not and perpetuates the view that there is only one true approach to higher education.

To understand the recent focus on competency-based education, it’s important to recognize a few critical realities.

First, the cost of higher education from 1980 to 2010 has risen more than 600 percent -- a rise more rapid than the cost of any other major good or service in the United States, including health care.

Second, state support dropped in 2012 to its lowest rate in 25 years.

Third, technology has yet to generate the dramatic cost savings we’ve seen in other arenas. For example, in 1900, the average American family spent 50 percent of its income on food and more than half of the American workforce was engaged in farming. Today, food consumes just 8 percent of household income and farming requires only 2 percent of the labor force.

Fourth, the American public has very mixed feelings about higher education. On the one hand, we know that better-educated individuals are happier on average, make better personal financial decisions, suffer fewer spells of unemployment and enjoy better health. On the other hand, there is a widely shared view that higher education is overpriced, inefficient, elitist, and inaccessible.

Fifth, research by Richard Florida (The Rise of the Creative Class) and Thomas Friedman (That Used to Be Us) and others has shown the importance of higher education to the future welfare of this country, just as global competition is mounting and our worldview is being shaken.

This is the reality in which higher education is operating as it tries to solve the problems of access and cost, while protecting quality and rigor.

Slaton’s solution to the cost problem is to typographically shout that higher education should get “MORE MONEY (as in, public funding).”

Unfortunately, shouting and wishing it so seldom works. The fact is that Americans are not willing to spend more money on the public good, let alone agree on what the public good is. The bottom line is that higher education is going to have to help itself; no one is coming to its rescue.

Enter competency-based education. It was introduced in America towards the end of the 1960s, but it applied only to small niche markets. Back then, cost and access were not the acute problems that they have become. The reason that new models are emerging now is that competency-based education is a well-conceived effort to meet at least some of the challenges facing higher education today. It is not the only effort, but it is promising because if done well, it addresses the issues of cost, quality, scaling and individualized learning all at once.

Competency-based education is a team effort. Similar to traditional higher education, faculty continue to be on center stage; they are the experts and the specialists. They set the standards and the criteria for success. They decide what students must know and how they must be able to demonstrate their knowledge in order to qualify for a degree.

Faculty in competency-based education work collaboratively to determine the structure of curriculum as a whole, the levels of competencies, and assessments that best measure competency. When constructed well, a competency-based curriculum is tight, with little ambiguity about how students must perform to demonstrate mastery, move through the program, and qualify for a degree.

The individualized nature of teaching changes. In their relationships with students, faculty function more like tutors and academic quality guarantors, attending to those students who need their expertise the most. Other staff, including advisers, coaches, professional tutors, instructional designers, and others, all pull in the same direction to make the learning and mastery process for students individualized, comprehensive, effective and efficient.

In his January 30 piece on Inside Higher Ed, Paul LeBlanc wrote that competency-based education "offers a fundamental change at the core of our higher education ‘system’: making learning non-negotiable and the claims for learning clear while making time variable. This is a profound change and stands to reverse the long slow erosion of quality in higher education.” 

Competency-based education is not a panacea that will save higher education, but no one claims that it is. It is one approach to higher education that expands students’ options for learning and most importantly, expands their access while focusing on what they know and are able to do (instead of focusing on how many hours students spend in a classroom or the number of credits they pay for).

Today 40 percent of college students are nontraditional (U.S. Department of Education): they work full time, they have families, they care for aging parents and they attend to myriad responsibilities that make going to college in the traditional time blocks impractical if not impossible. In addition, many adult students have knowledge and experiences that are worthy of academic recognition that’s unavailable through traditional programs.

The view that the status quo is the only correct model of teaching and learning is the kind of hubris that makes higher education appear haughty and conceited, rather than as a vehicle for growth and opportunity.  Competency-based education is a viable and important approach that provides students with another option for accessing and benefiting from higher education.  We should support its development, and we should strongly encourage students to create ownership of their degrees and allow them to discover their unique identities.

If not this, what else is higher education for?

David Schejbal is dean of continuing education, outreach and e-learning at University of Wisconsin-Extension.

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After abrupt cut, Purdue faculty call for restoration of common reading program

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Citing cost and lack of data showing benefits of a common freshman reading, Purdue cuts its program, but faculty members want it back.

New York City, CUNY to Certify 400 New Pre-K Teachers

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City has big plans to increase the number of qualified pre-K teachers, and announced plans to work with City University of New York’s Early Childhood Professional Development Institute to do so The mayor released a report Tuesday, announcing a $6.7 million partnership with the university to recruit and train about 400 New Yorkers so they can become certified to teach pre-K students. The effort is designed to help the city expand full-day pre-kindergarten, a major goal of the new mayor. The Department of Education projects that the city needs up to 1,000 new teachers this fall and another 1,000 next year to meet this goal.


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Report: Federal Aid Rules Stall Competency Education

Federal student aid is not conducive to competency-based education, according to a new report, because the current system is designed to fund education that occurs within structured, discrete time periods. Mastering competencies, however, can happen outside of the credit-hour standard or through learning that lacks designated start and end dates. Stephen R. Porter, a professor of education at North Carolina State University, wrote the report, which the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded. In the report Porter calls for "thoughtful experimentation" with federal aid programs to test the promise of competency-based education.

Essay suggests that student emails are a chance for teaching, not mocking

As a writing and communication instructor, I read emails from my students with great curiosity, trepidation and, oftentimes, a feeling of helplessness. Whether the email contains a confession (“I’m going through a difficult time…”), an apology (“I’m sorry…”), an assumption (“I’m sure you’ll understand…”), a plea (“Please, please, please…”), or a promise (“If you grant me this extension, I swear I’ll…”), the student hopes to persuade me.

In the instances where a student’s email is unclear and unpersuasive, a harsh voice in the back of my mind asks, "Does this email reflect my failure as a writing instructor? Have I failed to communicate how the rhetorical knowledge gained through coursework can be transferred to other contexts and forms, including one of today’s most common forms of writing?"

These self-critical questions stem from my desire to empower students. College and university instructors hold a reputation for persuasive scholarship, as well as political and social advocacy. But do we value persuasion and self-advocacy in the classroom? Do we encourage rhetoric from students that could challenge and persuade an authority figure? That could persuade us?

I want my students to not only transfer knowledge across the curriculum, but beyond it. Rather than passively requiring explicit instructions on how to communicate effectively in every situation, I want students to proactively harness their rhetorical confidence when advocating for themselves in a variety of contexts. And yet, when I read a fragmented and/or unpersuasive student email, my typical response is not pedagogical. I give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the student’s request, and move on. My behavior resembles a busy manager rather than a concerned teacher.

Understandably, for many students, email is a venue of freedom and distance from academic considerations. An inbox with messages from family and friends, advertisements, and spam for vitamin supplements hardly seems a venue for thoughtful, intentional writing. In turn, as a teacher, it’s easy to read student emails as separate from the content of the course, an extracurricular and social exchange. After all, student emails are not part of an assignment with specific guidelines or a grading rubric.

I am by no means proposing that instructors add a “how to write emails” unit in their courses. It is the absence of formal instruction on “email writing” that provides us with an exciting opportunity, a voyeuristic glimpse into how a student writes beyond the confines of specific assignments. The email sheds light on the student’s rhetorical awareness, or lack thereof, amidst a moment of self-advocacy.

While the majority of instructors likely respond to student emails with an appropriate and fair response, in other instances we have a tendency to read student emails with suspicion or react with condescension. Many articles written by instructors about student emails reflect this mindset, with titles such as “More (Unintentionally) Funny Student E-Mail Messages to Professors” (Chronicle 2008). Much of the writing on student emails stresses the… well, the stress and annoyance caused by the high volume of “inappropriate,” “unprofessional," “impolite” emails.

Studies have examined teachers’ reactions to student emails, such as how politeness can impact a teacher’s perception of the student’s competence and character (“You are such a great teacher and I hate to bother you”, Communication Education 2014; “R U Able to Meat Me”, Communication Education 2009), but there are no studies that have explored teachers’ pedagogical responses to student emails. I wonder how many instructors intentionally provide constructive feedback on the persuasiveness of their students’ emails? How would this impact our students’ ability to advocate for themselves in the future?

Rather than bring the emails we receive into the virtual teachers’ lounge where we snicker or sigh, there might be great benefit for our students if we as communication instructors not only respond to the content of student emails, but also engage students in a discussion of their rhetorical choices.

Time is likely the biggest obstacle for instructors. Responding to student emails on both a practical and analytical level would push many of us beyond the limits of our days. Though perhaps a plausible starting point, a self-piloted project for this term, would be to offer five unsuspecting students who send me an email the opportunity to discuss their rhetorical awareness and transference. Sure, this form of guerilla teaching would catch these students by surprise, but that would likely make the interaction all the more memorable.

Jared Berezin is a lecturer in the Writing Across the Curriculum program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


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