• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

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Friday Fragments

Very short courses; talking politics; more.

February 14, 2019
 
 

I read with interest the Chronicle blurb on “pop-up” courses, which are one-credit classes offered at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.  Students can take individual short courses, or stack them into three-credit bundles.

Pedagogically, I absolutely see the appeal.  If you’re going for depth on one topic, rather than a survey of many, a short, sharp shock of a class can be just the thing.  

And community colleges can’t do it.

I don’t think that the industry at large recognizes just how restrictive “upward” transfer can be. Four-year schools that control their own curricula can get innovative in a bunch of different ways. We can’t, for (correct) fear that pop-up courses wouldn’t transfer.  We have enough trouble getting three credit “topics in…” classes to transfer.

As long as four-year colleges are allowed to cherry-pick credits, innovation will remain a privilege of rank.  Those of us on the bottom of the hierarchy will be relegated to ever-narrower pathways consisting of little more than “intro to…” classes, while the folks who could afford premium tuition from the start can experiment with different timeframes, subject matters, and formats.  

That’s exactly backwards.  If we want to see community colleges do better by students who haven’t always prospered in traditional settings, we need to be free to innovate.  

I don’t begrudge Nebraska in particular; if I were there, I’d favor the experiment.  I just wish we could try it, too.

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Last week I had the chance to do a guest “lunch lecture” for some local retirees. My scholarly field was poli sci, so I talked about current politics.

Talking politics with a roomful of educated older folks is a hoot. They have opinions, and they aren’t shy about sharing them. And they have historical frames of reference that go back far enough that I could mention Ronald Reagan in passing, and know that they knew who that was.

Every so often, it’s gratifying to take off the “administrator” hat and put on the “teacher” hat again. My hook for the day was an attempt to explain a generational change: although the usual pattern is that generations get more politically conservative as they get older, X’ers and Millennials have actually grown more liberal as they’ve gotten older.  Why? And what does that imply for current politics?

Part of the fun was just being able to use parts of my brain that I don’t get to use much in my day job.  But part of it was that the discussion wasn’t around a task; it was discussion simply for the sake of understanding.  That’s one of the best parts of college life, but in administrative roles, it’s often inaccessible. I use the blog for that, but the blog is asynchronous.  For an hour, I was able to reconnect with it, live. It’s good for the soul. I think I enjoyed it more than they did.

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“My battery is low, and it’s getting dark.”

Well done, Oppy Rover.  Well done.

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