• 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.

Title

Friday Fragments

A cool data tool, a cool tech tool and The Boy plays me.

October 1, 2021
 
 

Davis Jenkins and John Fink’s new article on the CCRC website is well worth reading, but the article is almost an afterthought. It has one of the coolest data tools I’ve seen.

It’s under the “What College Credentials Are Students Completing?” subhead. You can pick a community college and see the breakdown of how many students graduated from it in various fields over a few years. Even better, you can disaggregate by race and sex.

Many of us have these data for our own colleges, but having a national compendium of them almost feels decadent.

The article itself is somewhat less compelling than the data tool. In the section on alignment of community college majors with transfer institutions, for instance, it assumes that a student with a liberal arts transfer major at the community college level necessarily intends to transfer to a liberal arts program at the four-year level. Some do, some don’t; what gets called “liberal arts” here is often called “gen ed” there. Fulfilling gen ed requirements here before moving on for, say, a business major isn’t uncommon.

But that’s a quibble. This data tool is seriously great.

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Speaking of gadgets, I’ll admit being intrigued by some of the technology that has come along to help with livestreaming an in-person class so a quarantined student doesn’t have to miss it.

We don’t have the budget to do all-HyFlex, all the time. So we’ve had to find other ways.

It started with the document cameras in classrooms. If you flip them up, they’re passable video cameras. They work well with Zoom, too. The pictures and audio are only OK, and the field of vision is narrower than would be ideal, but as a cheap workaround, they’re better than they had any right to be.

Recently the indefatigable instructional designers at the TLC discovered conference cameras that look like potted plants. The part that corresponds to the pot is a big microphone. On top of the stalk, where a flower would be, is a camera. The camera has a much wider field of vision than a document camera, so it’s able to take in an entire whiteboard in front of a classroom. For folks who use the entire whiteboard, that’s a game-changer.

This week, too, I saw a demo of a “lightboard.” It’s like a double-sided transparent whiteboard with a mirror involved. The instructor stands behind it, facing a couple of screens. One screen shows what the students see, and the other screen shows the instructor. When the instructor writes on the screen with a marker, the mirror flips it around so it isn’t backward for the students. That way an instructor doesn’t have to turn their back to the students to write on the board.

Even better, they can use “overlays” on the lightboard. Those can be stationary images that the professor can annotate with the marker, or they can even be snippets of video. For something like a film class, it could be amazing.

The intended application is live Zoom classes, but it also lends itself to prerecording videos for asynchronous classes. I could imagine doing my Steve Kornacki impression with a map of states of various colors, explaining various elections.

My hope is that when the pandemic finally recedes -- how’s now? Now’s good -- we will carry forward some of the capacities we were compelled to develop after COVID hit. New flexibility in presentation, time and space could -- emphasis on “could” -- lead to more inclusive teaching. That’s a conscious choice we’ll have to make over and over again. I hope we do.

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A couple of days ago, The Boy called from Virginia to ask me about the congressional debt ceiling, the filibuster and the like. He had heard something about a shutdown and wanted to get my take on it.

I went on for a while.

In retrospect, I think it was a bit like the scene in Bull Durham when Tim Robbins pretended to misunderstand something Kevin Costner said, then laughed and said, “I just like watching you get worked up.”

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