UVA Starts Board Repair After President Ouster Crisis
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UVA Starts Board Repair After President Ouster Crisis
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I’m at the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting in Denver through Monday and I’ll be writing up short dispatches and posting them here at UVenus.
Liminality -I am in a funky space located somewhere between a sociologist and a member of the press. I’ve been attending/presenting at ASA since the late 90’s and this time, I am representing UVenus and Inside Higher Ed. It’s a strange feeling, a space of watching and observing rather than participating. I’ll write more on this as the weekend progresses.
I received my Ph.D. in 2004 and, after a short stint as a faculty member, took a dean position and dove into administration. At ASA2010 in Atlanta, I presented two papers -; one in Sociology of Culture (based on my dissertation research) and one in Sociology of Education (based on my administrative work). That was also a time of straddling two worlds: academic and administrator. I was very much aware of watching faculty members at work, watching the boundaries of a discipline being actively maintained, watching graduate students being indoctrinated into the discipline through the mechanizations of a professional society. As an administrator, I was aware of how this helps faculty become known entities in their worlds and increases their status. I was also aware of how this takes them away from their institutions, departments, students. It is not a bad tension but it is a place of push and pull.
Writing for UVenus, I can’t help but think of our writers and readers as I attend sessions, read the Twitter feeds, and watch the interactions. The Twitter feed is dominated by the voices of PhD students and early-career faculty -; resisting the indoctrination and professionalization while realizing that “;success” requires some sort of acquiescence. I’d like to hear more from you in the comments on the good and bad of attending conferences.
I attended a fantastic panel on Inequalities in College Access and Completion yesterday afternoon and I’ve asked a couple of the presenters for their papers. I’m hoping to write a more substantive post on this topic later this weekend. One important issue that came up at the end of the series of presentations was around the obligation of an academic to the people she studies. Do we prioritize the “;purity” of our research over the lives of those we study or vice versa? For me, this comes back to one of my favorite topics -; the role of academics with regards to public engagement.
Stay tuned for more and follow the Twitter chat at #ASA2012.
We can debate Brian Kibby's vision that higher ed should go completely digital in 36 months. Many of us have already commented on his essay "Digital Deadline", and I'm sure that you will have some strong opinions as well when you go back and read his piece and the subsequent discussion.
What stands out for me is not so much KIbby's arguments, although I do think they are interesting even if I don't share all his beliefs, but that Brian Kibby is the president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Kibby's essay is the opposite of the bland corporate speak that we often get from employees of for-profits in the educational technology and publishing sector. I love the Kibby is willing to passionately lay out a vision for change in higher ed, one that many people will strongly disagree with.
It is certainly true that Kibby is writing about his own industry in his essay, and that McGraw-Hill does have a stake in the digital transformation, but I do not believe that Kibby's article was at all a piece of marketing. One would hope that a leader in the educational publishing field would have strong opinions about the future of his own industry and the role that publishers can play in transforming higher ed.
Perhaps "Prbanks" said it best in his comment to Kibby's article when he wrote:
"One should not be so quick to judge Mr. Kibby's motives simply based on where he works or what he may or may not stand to gain for taking such a bold position. Reading the article carefully reveals (at least to me), that his position is far more of a challenge than a prediction. Perhaps if we viewed the world more directly through the eyes of today's students – the ones that can type circles around most of us (including me) on a mobile device – Mr. Kibby's enthusiasm and passion wouldn't seem self-serving to so many folks on here. Just because he's involved in a for-profit endeavor doesn't mean he's out for pure personal gain".
I've always wondered why more employees of for-profit educational and publishing companies don't follow Kibby's example and publicly engage with our IHE community. When I speak to the professionals who work for ed tech, for-profit education, and publishing organizations I find them to be passionate, knowledgeable and article advocates for change. Unfortunately, the opinions of people who work in the for-profit sector are underrepresented both in the article and blog comments, and in the Views section.
Why don't we see more participation from people in the for-profit edtech, education, and publishing sectors in our IHE community? My sense is that for-profit companies have not done enough to incentivize, train, and support their employees to participate in online communities such as IHE. Employees are concerned about expressing views that may run counter to corporate messaging. The idea that public communication is something that the public relations people do is deeply entrenched, and it takes an active and concerted effort from company leadership to empower professionals throughout the organization to engage in a public dialogue.
I also think that employees may be worried that whatever they write will appear "self-serving." That even if one's boss supports public participation within web communities such as IHE that the community itself will de-value any contributions. I think all of us who work in the non-profit education sector need to do a better job of inviting our for-profit, edtech, and publishing colleagues to all the communities in which we interact.
Finally, we should recognize that thoughtful participation and contributions to our IHE community, contributions that I think Brian Kibby models, involve the investment of time and energy. The people I know who work in the for-profit sector are staggeringly busy. They would like to write, blog, and comment more – they just don't have the time. This is an issue for the leadership of these companies, as they need to find build in the proper incentives and rewards for this sort of engagement.
I don't know Brian Kibby, but after reading his essay I'm much more likely to want to speak with him and learn more about what McGraw-Hill is up to in the digital education space. Business in higher ed is built on relationships, and getting your company's people into the discussion is the very best form of outreach.
Does your company encourage you to follow Brian Kibby's lead?
It's probably a little bit (but only a little bit) unfair of me to lay blame for the cultural immaturity that is consumerism at the door of American higher education. After all, most of the behaviors and expectations that prevent children (consumers) from becoming adults (citizens) are established well before entry to college or university.
Some of it, of course, comes directly from advertising. One of the lessons I taught my kids early on was that commercials are lies. All of them. Some are big lies, some are smaller lies, but none of them tell the truth. A bit later, I taught them the corollary that advertising is proof that most grown-ups will lie for money, and that even more grown-ups are willing to be lied to if money is involved. All my kids grew up to be skeptics, and each of them has a well-developed capacity for cynicism. (I have no idea why.)
With the amount of TV most American kids watch before they even enter pre-school, the groundwork for consumerism has clearly been laid. With the proliferation of cable channels targeted specifically at kids — all the way down to toddlers — it can be laid more efficiently and effectively than ever before. Nothing like advertising to unformed minds in images and simple terms/concepts that they can relate to. Heck, if you can get the concept of "McDonalds" or Cocoa Puffs firmly rooted before the more general concept of "food" is fully established . . .
But the truth of the matter is that most early schooling — heck, most schooling at any level — reinforces submission to authority (including the spurious authority which is the mainstream media) rather than teaching resistance to it. The earliest task of public schooling is to socialize students. Public teachers at all levels who succeed are ones who master classroom management (read: discipline and the constant inducement of submission). Typical pedagogy reinforces subservience to textbooks, to testing protocols, and to the premise that what's being taught is what it's important to know. The authority of the information, the validity of the tests, the importance or even relevance of the specific material covered — no teacher who regularly undercut any of these implicit messages would likely remain employed.
Additionally, typical pedagogy teaches individualism. Group projects are the exception, not the rule, in most classrooms. Solidarity among students would be many teachers' (and even a higher percentage of principals') worst nightmare. Pour the knowledge into the individual, test what knowledge is retained by the individual, reinforce the separate identity of each student. "Divide and conquer" is a common tactic in schoolrooms. Unfortunately, it means that high schools graduate students who think of themselves as divided and expect to be conquered. What more could a market campaign designer hope for? (This is one area in which home-schooled kids may have a leg up on the typical public-school product. Of course, many of them have even more so been divided/set apart and conquered in other areas of their cultural lives. Sigh . . .)
So is it fair to expect higher ed to, even partially, reverse or offset the implicit cultural messages with which are incoming students have been deeply imbued? Perhaps not fair, but necessary. After all, if not us . . . who? The transition from high school to college/university at least offers a juncture at which significant change in attitude and awareness might be introduced. One expectation of incoming first-year students is that college will be different and, in some ways, it is. But the inherent authority of the textbook and the emphasis on the individual (now seen as a consumer of education) persists. Questioning of the system, or of the societal norms it reproduces, is hardly encouraged in most undergrad curricula. Indeed, it's relatively rarely encouraged even in grad schools.
Of course, if teachers and principals would be threatened by consciousness and solidarity in public school students — most of whom still live at home and thereby are at least minimally subject to parental influence — just think how much more professors and deans of students would be threatened by the same in a population that has (commonly) just moved out of the parental home and might well be toying with rebellion. Moreover, as part of institutional attempts to promote successful transition and increase student (particularly first-year) retention rates, a lot of effort goes into making sure that the college/university experience isn't too different from what the kids are used to.
But . . . if we keep doing what we're currently doing, we're going to keep getting what we're currently getting. The graduates we turn out are well-conditioned to their role as consumers. And consumerism has aspects that are very unhealthy for the economy, the environment, and democracy. The net effect of all our little tactics, seen at a macro-level, seems to be more destructive of a healthy society that reproductive of it.
Maybe institutions of higher ed can influence the pedagogy and practices of universal public education — after all, that's precisely what happened a century ago. The standard mix of high school subjects became standardized based on expressed requirements for admission to college or university. If we (particularly the most prestigious of us) shift what we're looking for in applicants, high schools will (over time) shift what they emphasize in their graduates. Inquisitiveness can be fostered but, at present, it's not seen as a priority.
Sad, that. But maybe it goes a way to explaining how a nation which idealizes the decisive independent individual more and more consists of self-declared individuals whose main experience of 'personal freedom' seems to be reflexively making exactly the same (market-constrained, marketing-instilled) choices as everyone around them.
Society is not — all of us collectively are not — benefiting from the collective impact of those choices. We need to learn to choose better.
Anybody know a teacher?
Sometimes it’s the offhand comments that tell you the most.
In a conversation a few days ago, some thoughtful faculty noted in passing that the state’s constant drumbeat about job placement and STEM fields — two different things, btw — was becoming a factor in faculty morale in the humanities and social sciences. They heard every invocation of college-as-personnel-office as an attack on what they do, and as a harbinger of even-more-diminished resources to come.
I couldn’t blame them, really. Budgets are tight, new state and federal money (when it exists) tends to go to more favored areas, and it’s not hard to read the public mood.
As someone who has attended more Employer Advisory Boards than is probably healthy, I can attest that much of the “;practical-versus-pure” dichotomy is overdrawn, if not simply false. But the political rhetoric is pushing in one direction, so some folks — understandably, if unhelpfully — are compelled to push back in the other, thereby implying that the terms of the discussion are correct. If I could, I’d love to convene some much larger Employer Advisory Boards and invite both politicians and the English department to observe silently.
Even in our most baldly vocational programs, employers consistently make it clear that their greatest need, and disappointment, with new employees is with the soft skills. Even in technical areas, we hear consistently that anyone who wants to move above the entry level needs to have good communication skills, good workplace savvy, and a basic sense of numeracy. The employers are still willing to do a certain amount of training on their own specific systems; what they want from us is people are who have the skills to be trainable and employable.
In their more thoughtful moments, I’ve heard politicians acknowledge that. But in the heat of legislative battle, such counterintuitive truths don’t get heard. Instead, we fall into stereotypes of “;ivory tower” academics not preparing students for the “;real world,” and we believe somehow that if we could just reduce education to training, everything would be fine.
It doesn’t work like that. It has never worked like that.
The relevant question is not whether we should fund, say, chemistry, as opposed to sociology. (Last week, the Freakonomics folks — whose readers tend to have economics backgrounds — did a poll asking which social sciences should die. Shockingly, economists didn’t choose economics.) That’s the wrong question at the systemic level. (It can be the right question on individual campuses, but that’s another issue.) Both majors can produce thoughtful people who have something to offer, and both can produce drones. And especially in the first two years of college, it makes sense for students to have at least some exposure to each discipline, or at least to similar ones.
At its core, some very smart economists say, the jobs crisis is not primarily about having too many sociology majors. It’s about having a too-skewed distribution of wealth, a too-powerful financial services industry, and too many people making life choices that any competent sociologist could tell you don’t lead to good outcomes. I’m much more worried about college dropouts — especially those with heavy loan payments — than I am about graduates with degrees in comparative literature.
Historically, the liberal arts grads have struggled somewhat to get the first real job, but have done quite well for themselves once they’ve made their way in. They just need that first foot in the door, which is a tall order during a nasty recession. But let’s not confuse the effects of the nasty recession with the value of the liberal arts education. And even more importantly, let’s not make the mistake of purging the “;gen ed” courses from the technical and vocational fields. Technical firms need managers too, and those managers will need to be able to understand people, write and speak well, and make decisions with limited and flawed information.
Attacking the humanists is not going to solve the recession. It simply is not. If the employers with whom I speak are to be believed, that’s the last thing we should do. Short-term training is, at best, a short-term solution; if we really want long-term prosperity, we need people who bring the whole package. That means recognizing English and history and, yes, sociology as integral parts of our mission. The answer isn’t to hit back with the virtues of irrelevance; it’s to affirm the relevance of the educational core. We need people who know enough to listen to the offhand remarks.
I underline and highlight as I read and scribble copious notes in the margins of books (or sometimes, particularly in a book that I used for teaching, on a color-coded series of sticky notes that serve a dual purpose of bookmarking particular passages). But as I found myself reading more and more digital texts in recent years, I’ve struggled to adjust my note-taking habits to the new format. Sometimes it just wasn’t that easy technologically to take notes (I had to ditch my old-school Kindle for this very reason); sometimes it wasn’t that easy to find the notes I’d digitally jotted down; I worried that, much like ownership of digital texts is in question, my notes might just disappear if a platform owner decided to yank them (See: Amazon’s infamous 1984 incident).
But while The New York Times and others have worried that e-books spell the doom for marginalia, I’ve long felt like they offer an interesting opportunity, too. What if we can more easily share our notes? What if we could see the authors’ commentaries on their own works? What if we could easily read experts’ highlights? What if a class could work together on the pages of an assigned reading -; asking and answering questions, and in turn giving the professor a sense of what’s being read and what’s being understood?
Today Highlighter announced that it’s partnering with the 20 Million Minds Foundation, a non-profit committed to finding ways to lower the cost of textbooks, to product a book for the upcoming Fall term -; Introduction to Sociology. The textbook, created by OpenStax College and Rice University is free and openly licensed.
Highlighter and 20MM describe it as “;the first student-faculty interactive textbook” insofar as it will offer these social highlighting, annotating, commenting and sharing features. The Highligher version of the textbook will also let professors place students into smaller study groups for easier social interaction and enables them to track students’ reading and note-taking progress within a topic or chapter.
The app is built in HTML5, meaning it’s accessible across devices and platforms and via modern browsers.
Highlighter has also landed contracts with a handful of universities that will utilize the startup’s publishing platform for course material.
I recently wrote that the latest round of textbook-related news was banal at best. But the social components, along with the OER materials and the flexibility therein, do offer something a lot more interesting here, I think.
Why God doesn’t have a PhD via John Pinto at Stanford University
Image by dullhunk
1) He had only one major publication.
2) It was in Hebrew.
3) It had no references.
4) It wasn’t published in a referreed journal.
5) Some even doubt he wrote it by himself.
6) It may be true that he created the world, but what has he done since then?
7) His cooperative efforts have been quite limited.
8) The scientific community has had a hard time replicating his results.
9) He never applied to the ethics board for permission to use human subjects.
10) When one experiment went awry he tried to cover it up by drowning his subjects.
11) When subjects didn’t behave as predicted, he deleted them from the sample.
12) Some say he had his son teach the class.
13) He expelled his first two students for learning.
14) He rarely came to class, and he just told students to read the book.
15) Although there were only 10 requirements, most of his students failed his tests.
16) His office hours were infrequent and usually held on a mountaintop.
Why God doesn’t have a Ph.D. via John Pinto
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The online education platform Coursera announced today that 12 more universities had signed on as partners, joining the 4 that were part of the startup’s launch in April. Joining the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, University of Michigan and Stanford are Georgia Tech, Duke University, University of Washington, Caltech, Rice University, University of Edinburgh, University of Toronto, EPFL – Lausanne (Switzerland), Johns Hopkins University (School of Public Health), UCSF, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Virginia.
That last university is a particularly interesting one, considering the role that MOOCs played in the ouster of UVA president Teresa Sullivan by its Board of Visitors. The decision-making at UVA is the focus of much of Inside Higher Ed’s Steve Kolowich’s article on today’s news. Kolowich chronicles the negotiations among UVA deans, faculty members and Coursera, noting the irony that these discussions were ongoing as the BOV fired Sullivan for failing to have an adequate response to their questions about the university’s plans to respond to the Stanford-model MOOCs. The plans are clear now: join the Coursera platform.
The rapid expansion of Coursera’s partners, along with the equity investment made by two of them, certainly suggests that many institutions are preparing to face what the New York Times’ David Brooks called the “;campus tsunami.” Initially, Coursera had to woo schools and professors; now schools and professors are approaching Coursera, which offers universities its technology and expertise in teaching and grading “;at scale.” And while this might demonstrate what Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng told me -; that “;MOOCs are not a passing fad” -; it’s not clear yet how MOOCs will evolve as they expand to new disciplines and new universities and/or how these MOOCs will change higher education in turn.
It’s the latter that seems to elicit the most excitement and concern. Georgia Tech computer science professor Mark Guzdial has shared the email that faculty received there announcing its partnership with Coursera. In it, Provost Rafael Bras offers reassurance that “;we are not abandoning our central mission of residential undergraduate instruction. In fact, we view this as an opportunity to remain true to our pledge to define the technological research university of the 21st century by exploring new modes of instruction and operation. What we learn from the Coursera and other similar experiments will above all benefit our own students and strengthen our existing programs.”
That echoes how Ng and his co-founder Daphne Koller describe Coursera as creating a “;better education for everyone.” When I spoke to the duo when Coursera launched, Koller said that the creation of these online courses will make for robust and active learning experiences on campus. There is a “;growing amount of content out there on the Web,” she said, and “;the value proposition for the university isn’t getting the content out there but rather the personal interaction between faculty and students and students and students.”
That is part of the value proposition of the residential campus experience, I’d argue. When I asked Ng about the impetus behind these universities’ signing up for Coursera, he said that both faculty and administration were pushing for it. But students at these universities, not so much. That’s not to say that students in general aren’t interested in the free online classes -; Coursera boasts 1.5 million course enrollments by over 680,000 students. But these students aren’t necessarily that same population served by a residential campus. (According to demographics from Ng’s Machine Learning class offered last fall, only about 11% were in undergraduate degree programs.) In The New York Times today, University of Michigan (and Coursera) professor Scott Page says, “;There’s talk about how online education’s going to wipe out universities, but a lot of what we do on campus is help people transition from 18 to 22, and that is a complicated thing,.” He adds that MOOCs would be most helpful to “;people 22 to 102, international students and smart retired people.”
Who’s being “;helped” here is a crucial consideration -; for institutions, for faculty (both research and instructional faculty), for enrolled students and for learners everywhere.
A few lingering questions:
- How will the University of Washington’s plans to offer credit for its Coursera classes work? (And related: how will concerns about online cheating be addressed? Udacity partnered with Pearson for this.)
- How will a partnership with Coursera change universities’ other online course offerings? (These universities and other universities, pre-existing and planned programs, and particularly for-credit ones)
- How will the peer grading work? (History professor Jonathan Rees raises questions about how well students will be able to evaluate one another’s assignments.)
- With all these online lecture-based course options, whither the offline lecture-based course offerings? And how will funding models have to change for universities if students opt to learn “;elsewhere” for these credits?