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  • 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.

Friday Fragments
August 1, 2014 - 3:48am

This one is specifically for the registrars out there.  How do you handle attendance reporting to the feds when you combine accelerated courses with semester-long ones?

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Yesterday’s University of Venus piece about the decisions academic women have made about whether and when to have kids is well worth checking out, but it also brought me up short. 

We’ve hit the point as an industry at which having children is a career decision.  There’s something fundamentally wrong with that.

Obviously, having kids restructures how you spend your time.  But it also puts a lot more restrictions on your realistic options.  Cheap but interesting housing is suddenly out of the question if it’s in a bad school district and you can’t afford private options.  Suddenly, moving every couple of years is far less appealing.  (That matters at the early stage, at which people are trying to climb the faculty ranks.  It matters again in administration, where the market is national.)  Given the geographic dispersion of opportunities -- spread out, in an era in which they otherwise tend to concentrate -- having kids forces some very difficult decisions.

It shouldn’t.  Parenthood should never be required, but it shouldn’t be effectively forbidden, either.  Many adults will want to become parents at some point, and a good thing, too.  (Those of us in regions with declining numbers of 18 year olds can speak to the impact on higher ed after birthrates drop.)  If we’ve constructed an industry in which parenthood is disqualifying, then we need to reconstruct our industry.  Something has gone very wrong.

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If you haven’t seen it, this story about the Hoboken, New Jersey school district abandoning a “one laptop for every student” policy is well worth reading.  In a gallows humor kind of way, it does a nice job of catching the gaps between intentions and facts on the ground when it comes to technology, classrooms, and adolescents.  Laptops broke frequently; kids played Crazy Taxis in class; townspeople dropped by to use the free school wi-fi, since the kids publicized the password. 

The same tech tool can look very different in different hands.  The Boy frequently gets my tech hand-me-downs, and he uses them very differently than I ever did. (The first thing he did with his new phone, for example, was to get a spiky, neon-green case for it.  The second was to install Kik.)  Imposing tech without considering the reality of the user and the user’s environment can get weird, quickly.

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Apparently, UT-Austin is charging students for on-campus wifi.l They have multiple tiers of service, and students can choose based on what their professors have assigned.

As an administrator, I actually get it.  Wifi access costs money, and demand increases dramatically every year as students bring more devices to campus and watch streaming video on all of them.  Demand is increasing much more quickly than institutional revenue is.  Tying revenue to demand offers a double win: it promises to increase revenue and dampen demand, thereby making a balanced budget sustainable..

But from an educational perspective, it’s a nightmare. 

We know that the best educational outcomes tend to come from courses that blend online and onsite activity.  Suddenly putting up a toll bridge on the online part -- one that will hit some students far harder than others -- is likely to have unwelcome impacts.  And I can’t imagine a more counterproductive policy when it comes to encouraging the use of Open Educational Resources, which are supposed to save money.  (“Yes, it’s free, but it’ll hog your data.”) 

As with data caps on cell networks, it also fails to distinguish between peak periods and slow ones.  In that sense, it falls flat as a way to manage traffic. 

I understand the need to cover costs, but honestly, this is what technology fees are for. Trying to calibrate at this level is just asking for trouble.

 

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