Monday, November 30, 2009

Tips for the Media Creators

Below are some suggestions for you about your projects.

1. As with the book review, revisions are a good idea. This is not one and done. You can send me a partial for my reaction. That's fine. Unlike the book review, where I suggested you read other book reviews as a model, there is no model here. So we make it up as we go along. A couple of you after class said you were thinking about 4 minutes for the presentation. (I had in mind about 2 - 2.5 minutes). I don't know how to resolve this in an objective way, so the question I'll pose is does the presentation draw the viewer in?

2. On that question economists teach - there's no accounting for taste. So I expect you to differ in your way of answering that question. And I think for generational if not other reasons (those likely matter too) my taste will be quite different from yours. You should still try to please yourself in making your creation, I just want to state the obvious, that I may react to it differently than you anticipate.

3. Also, regarding mental models, I think it might be helpful for you to consider TV commercials (if you watch any TV) or short YouTube videos (if you watch any of those) and which ones you like and why you find them affective. My favorites from the last several years have been the Guinness commercials with the cardboard cutout figures using the expression "brilliant" as a way to frame the ideas. I thought those were funny, economical in production, and to the point. Our genre is different, but you might borrow from commercials you like what values you are trying to deliver on in your piece.

Now some points on the technology itself.

1. We said you'd hyperlink each image to its source. We want to give attribution if at all possible.
2. Putting a border around images is optional to meet your own aesthetic, but I personally like them as a way to distinguish the image from the background.

3. Assuming you are using slideshare - the music file has to be somewhere else on the Web (like in your Netfiles account). Then you need to let slideshare know about its location.

4. There is a question of whether you build the narrative first and match a song to it or if it you have the song and build a narrative that fits it. I believe in some iteration on that. You might struggle a bit if you build a complete narrative and then try to find a song to match it.

And some points on Copyright/Fair Use

1. You have a fair use argument to make about using copyrighted content without seeking permission from the copyright owner. What you are making is for an educational reason. Your creation also likely won't have any impact whatsoever on the market for the content that you use.

2. For the images, you have a better case if you have many different sources than all from one source.

3. Don't use images that have a watermark on them. Don't take a screen shot of an image where the poster has gone to some effort to make the image hard to copy (disabling the right click function.)

4. For the music, finding free, instrumental only versions of familiar songs may be a bit of a challenge. Time is money (even for students who don't have very much money). A single song purchase is not that expensive.

5. If you use the song for your presentation, but otherwise don't try to redistribute to others, you are probably ok.

6. I've told some or all of you about music in the public domain, which is fine, but it might be less recognizable. So you might not communicate as well by choosing it. If you can find well recognized public domain music that communicates the message you want, you've got a goldmine. It might very well exist but could take some time to find.

Good luck.

Some follow up to today's class session

Here are some points we didn't get to. I simply note them here.

1. We should have tied Senge on Personal Mastery to Bruner on Intrinsic Motivation and the other things we read on intrinsic motivation. In some sense, personal mastery as a path is a commitment to lead a life driven by intrinsic motivation.

2. In our discussion we assumed that the origin of the shared vision is the CEO. But that needn't be the case. The origin can come from within the organization.

3. However, one reason why people leave big companies to become part of a startup is because the shared vision is hard to achieve from the bottom up in a big company.

Also, I made comparison between Personal Mastery and Maslow's notion of self-actualization. This is a very accessible site about Maslow. Scroll down to about the middle of the page and read the section on self-actualization. The list of meta needs that follows is interesting. I wonder whether you yourselves feel those needs (all or a subset) and if you think your education has made you aware of them.

Summary of Session with Mary-Ann Winkelmes

Courtesy of Team Ewe

Dr. Winkelmes spoke about a wide range of separate but interrelated teaching and learning topics in our interview. She is active in her job as Campus Coordinator for Programs on Teaching and Learning where she acts to unite the missions of the various teaching academies across campus. In this role, she also coordinates the transparency initiative that she has conceptualized and implemented. She is facilitating research on how professors can be more effective teachers through explaining "how and why" to students. In reference to the CHP 395 project on peer mentoring, Dr. Winkelmes suggested exploring peer mentoring programs by Elizabeth Morley of the University of Illinois Writer's Workshop and Michael Loui of the University of Illinois electrical and computer engineering department.

Background and education.
Dr. Winkelmes is a product of the Massachusetts public school system. She attended Wellesley College where she received her degree in English and art history. She received her M.A. from Yale in art history and her Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance art and architecture from Harvard. She started teaching Italian art and architecture thinking it would be her calling but became very fascinated by how the students were learning what she was teaching; she was just as curious about their learning as she was about the content. By accident, she stumbled into the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard. It is a center for graduate students and faculty to learn about teaching and learning. She was invited to do some consulting work for them, and then became associate director later on. When given the opportunity, she decided to focus on teaching and learning with professors rather than teaching art history to "pretty privileged liberal arts school students." Working with teachers would have greater impact.

What are the differences in teaching and learning across these universities (University of Illinois, University of Chicago, and Harvard)?
Dr. Winkelmes has worked at Harvard, University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois. She considers all three schools to be large research institutions that expect their faculty to publish in their field. However, she feels that the educational environment at the University of Illinois differs because of its status as a land grant institution. Education of the people matters here differently than it does at institutions like Harvard. The issues of diversity and accessibility are upheld in a different way here; this status makes it so that education of all people matters to the identity of the institution.

What do you do everyday? What is your big picture goal?

Dr. Winkelmes's job is to support the teaching work of the teaching academies on campus, and enhance the learning of all constituencies on campus. Every college or school can have a teaching academy; they are discipline specific centers that support the learning in those colleges. They have recently put together a campus-wide faculty forum, that is a chance for faculty across the campus to discuss how teaching innovations have changed the teaching culture on campus. Dr. Winkelmes tries to connect people on campus to see how they can collaborate on these different teaching issues. She describes herself as the "hub on the wheel, connecting all the spokes."

Can you discuss where [transparency] came to be and how you see that affecting [students]?
She states that if you find out something about teaching and learning that works at the University of Illinois, it is much more applicable nationally than it would be if found at University of Chicago. If you produce results about thousands of students at Illinois it is more relevant than results at private institutions. Two challenges in higher education: 1) students need to learn how they learn and 2) there is little career incentive for non-education psychology professors to delve into teaching and learning research.

Why do you feel transparency is necessary?
Dr. Winkelmes finds that in research institutions, the kind of students that are very successful undergraduates are those that have a learning style that is similar to the style of the professor that is teaching them. The problem is that it produces people who think like professors; the structure produces the same kind of thinking all the time. If you have some system that allows for different styles of thinking, you would eventually have a larger variety of thinkers that would influence higher education in the future. For those students who do not automatically think like their professors, transparency allows for the professor to pull back the curtain to let the student know how the teacher is thinking about it and lets the student determine how to grapple with that.

Can you expand on what concrete actions go into this transparency?

Dr. Winkelemes is trying to get professors who are willing to try one single way of being transparent with how they are teaching. There is a nutrition course taught by Rebecca Roach in the College of ACES, and the professor decided to be transparent about how she puts together her lectures. Dr. Roach presents topics she wants to talk about but then polls the students to see what topics they want to explore. Another course is trying to be transparent about phases of intellectual development. This course in the Law school is for second year law students; these students were at the phase that they just wanted to know what was on the test. The professor knew she could train students to ace a test but that would not help them win a case. She utilized Bloom's Taxonomy and translated that into skills needed for becoming a lawyer, she was trying to teach the skills that lawyer's used to win cases not the facts of the case.

Can you talk about the responsibility of the students in facilitating the [transparency] arrangement?
The responsibility for the students is that they become more responsible as students. They get control and power over learning experience in a transparent course. They become judges of their own learning. They control their learning better. If same tools are available to students as to professors, they have more control over their own learning.

Are there other innovations...(inaudible)?
Transparency is a catch-all term, there are many ways to be transparent. "How and why" is the essence of transparency.

In implementing these transparency initiatives, what mechanisms do you use to get student feedback? And on the flip side, what mechanisms do you use to get professor feedback?
This is the first semester that they have had a big group as a test for the initiative. The way they get feedback from students came through a 30 question survey. The faculty get data from their students responses, and they get feedback from their own tests, as in did the faculty get the answers they wanted to get. Dr. Winkelmes realizes she needs to get feedback from faculty. Right now she is interviewing the participants but once there are more participants she cannot interview everyone.

What would an ideal course structure or format look like?
Information available is a limit to answering what an ideal course would look like. Transparency initiatives should help answer this question with data with one or two variables at a time.

Is there any sort of data point that you find most important? Strong correlations to learning most?
NSSE by George Kuh identifies "learning practices" helpful to students: freshman seminar classes, undergraduate research projects, and capstone experiences. The AACU (American Academy of Colleges and Universities) have a list of high impact teaching practices. The AACU is a top-down way. Dr. Winkelmes views her apporach as a more ground up approach.

Have you seen other resistance from students, faculty, and administrators?
Some of the challenges working with the faculty is that they have some fear. It is hard for an expert on a certain content area to try something new in front of an audience. From an administrative level, it is hard to account research on teaching and learning. It is hard to gauge whether it is personal reflection publication or the serious, rigorous empirical research.

Alessandra: If there is one thing you could tell us to be a better learner, what would it be?
One piece of advice would be it is not about the teacher. It is about the students. Don't think: "How am I teaching?" Think: "How are they learning?" Dr. Winkelmes then alluded the adaptive nature requisite in teaching.

Do you have any suggestions about how you've seen peer mentoring used or how it could be effectively used?
Dr. Winkelmes named Elizabeth Morley of the Writer's Workshop and Michael Loui of the electrical and computer engineering department have implemented peer mentoring approaches successfully. "It's not enough for a teacher to teach students how to learn. You also need students teaching students how they're learning." She social residence literature in reference to peer mentoring. Faculty peer-to-peer mentoring is also relevant, but "no single mentor can give you everything you need."

Macroeconomic Policy a la Paul Krugman

I will confess to not fully understanding macro and balancing long term growth with short term need. So while I know there are arguments for reducing the Federal deficit, what Krugman says in this piece makes sense to me. He has been arguing for this sort of thing for some time. The first paragraph below does give a macroecon sense of the issues the University will face in the coming years. On the second paragraph, after the bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis failed a few years ago, I thought we'd see a public works program to address that issue, not fundamentally as a jobs program, just because our bridge infrastructure needs an upgrade. So I'm asking, why not put two and two together?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Update on Anth 143

A week ago Friday, I had a second meeting with Professor Clancy, this one with Geoff Brewster in attendance. Geoff works for ATLAS. Starting off the meeting, Professor Clancy informed us that the Anthro head had just alerted the department that they were taking a 4.5% rescission. (The entire Campus has been planning for that rescission since the beginning of the fiscal year. Most units held back the funds, so they wouldn't be spent on something else. Apparently Anthro did not.) The upshot is that they will not have TAs this spring. That is how they are taking the budget hit.

Anth 143 is the largest course offered by the department. It is only taught in the fall. (There is a small section taught by a grad student in the summer, but there is no offering in the spring.) Will there be TAs for it in fall 2010? It's hard to imagine a 700 student course without TAs. But it is equally hard to envision having TAs when there is no cash in the system to pay them.

Needless to say, this news created a detour in the discussion of our class project - having mentors to help teams of students do their project work for the course. Can there be realistic intensive student projects if there aren't TAs to grade the projects? We talked about possible work arounds - calibrated peer review, for example. But there is a lot of set up work for the instructor to implement any of these and that is a big part of the issue in implementing any sort of change in such a high enrollment class. So we spent some time whining about lack of resources and the campus not having its priorities right. Not anticipating any of this going into the meeting, I'm afraid I contributed to the doom and gloom. I had no rabbit to pull out of my hat. I didn't see our project working if there were no TAs.

After railing about the issues for a while, we spent some time talking about the use of mentors, as a hypothetical. We did talk about how the mentors might be deployed, scheduling evening sections (perhaps Sun - Thurs), one hour per week, to have a fixed time and space for the mentors to meet with the groups. We also talked a little bit about how that might go and designing the course up front so the teams could get through any stumbling block they might encounter early on and have the mentor help them with that, also so they would bond in advance of the project work they'd do later in the semester.

The other avenue of this we talked about is a totally online version, possibly in the summer, maybe in the fall as well offered as an 8 week course during the second 8 weeks of the semester. It seems that getting the summer calendar in sync with the fall and spring calendars might happen by dividing up the longer semester into halves. I'd favor that. It is a very long semester.
In any event, I thought you should know it isn't full steam ahead, but there still are possibilities.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Next Car Purchase?

I saw Carlos Ghosn on Charlie Rose (click on Recent Shows) last night (I have recorded it from the night before). It's quite a good interview - a lot of themes from Drucker come up during it. Ghosn is the CEO of Nissan/Renault. They are coming out with an electric car, the Nissan Leaf. Looks pretty cool.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Some nonsense for when you need a break

One of the sessions I attended this afternoon in the online conference I mentioned in class was about "geo-storytelling," meaning combining something like the second project for the 396 students with Google maps. I thought that was a cool idea, so I thought we might try something just for fun, simpler but perhaps interesting to the class. For some of you I have your gmail address. If so, I will invite you to contribute to the Map below. You can put in where you were born, where you grew up, stuff like that. The Map is private so your identity info should not be available to anyone outside the class. In the map below, just the locations show up. The version I've started with has 3 locations for me, where I was born in the Bronx, where I lived as a Junior and Senior while at Cornell, and where I lived in Chicago while a Grad student in Northwestern. I added a fourth location, in West Des Moines where my wife grew up, so the ultimate map would include the entire state of Illinois.

Participating in this is entirely voluntary and will not affect your grade in any, way, shape or form. The way I will invite you will allow you to invite others in the class, but only do that if somebody else doesn't show up on their own.

Have fun.

View Origins in a larger map

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Some Historical Context

Perhaps we haven't discussed enough about the times in which we live epitomized, for example, by the bankruptcy of General Motors. Here is some historical context. You don't get lampooned in the comics unless you're incredibly important.

Another piece for Wednesday's class

The conference I'm attending online had a keynote yesterday where the question was posed - Newspapers have been blind sided and decimated by the changes from without - mostly Internet alternatives. Is Higher Ed next? The piece below from earlier this year is kind of a Paul Revere's ride. Regarding mental models, the issue is whether the message is getting through.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A warm up excercise for Wednesday's class

This piece from Nature Magazine that compared Britannica to Wikipedia for accuracy is from several years back. It confounded conventional wisdom, which said "authoritative writing" of encyclopedia entries is necessary to ensure accuracy. Do you have other examples where conventional wisdom proved wrong? And can you explain why conventional wisdom failed in that case?

The Whole And (the) Some Of The Parts

The last couple of weeks there has been an odd confluence of my regular work and our course. Given that we're doing Senge now and he wants us to look at the whole, I thought it might be useful for the class to view things through my eyes. A nagging question, I'm sure, is why aren't we talking about instructors changing their approach to teaching? What's all the commotion with peer mentoring when it should be the instructor side the of the equation where the real action is?

Most of my regular work deals with the instructor side of the equation. So over the years I've given it a fair amount of thought. In the mid 1990's when I got started and using the Internet to help with teaching was a pretty new concept (though on our Campus we had Plato well before that) there was a pretty naive view (not surprising given how little people understood about the impact of the Internet in general) that the technology itself would create a paradigm shift (got to love that jargon) in learning. The group I got hooked up with, a bunch of grantees from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant program on learning at a distance, had some intellectual foundation based loosely on Network Nation (the authors, Roxanne Hiltz and Murray Turoff were among the grantees) but mostly it came from the Sloan grant officer, Frank Mayadas, a former engineer at IBM, who among other things had been one of the drivers on Project Athena. At the time Frank came over to Sloan, IBM had gone through a substantial round of layoffs and one of the big questions was how could these talented employees get re-educated to find fruitful new employment. Because of his engineering background Frank conceived of the online classroom as a bunch of nodes in a network, with each node contributing to the functioning of the whole.

Frank's conception didn't match the face to face classroom at all, at least in my intermediate microeconomics class. So there had to be a reconceptualization of the teaching to make his idea an organic part of the classroom. I soon came to learn that the true power with most innovations is not from the direct impact of the innovation itself, but rather from this reconceptualization, which occurs with some substantial lag after the innovation has been introduced. So in our little unit that supported online learning we developed a mantra - it's not the technology, it's how you use it, something I still believe today. But some of the rest of my thinking has evolved since then. On the faculty rethinking their teaching, where does that come from? The best answer I've come up with is that its not one big gestalt, but rather the instructor's point of view about teaching goes through a gradual change over time, once the instructor comes to the conclusion that part of the job is to learn about what makes teaching effective. In the language of Senge, teaching is an area where the instructor should obtain personal mastery. (There is no metamorphosis otherwise.) This gradual maturation is facilitated by ongoing experiments in method.

So I came to the conclusion that effective teaching involves ongoing experiments of some sort. The experiments need not be drastic, but they do need to reflect the instructors current view of his teaching and where things could be improved. The model I had in mind was a cycle of reflection on past teaching experience, from that generating an experiment to try in the next round of teaching, the experience from trying out that experiment, and then reflection anew. All of this was firmly developed in my thinking before our course was even a rough concept. I'll get back to it in a bit.

What was obvious at the time, however, is that such a cycle of teaching experiments was not the norm for instruction. On the content of a course there might be innovation, with the instructor revising the syllabus from time to time, but on method there really was very little change. For most faculty the technology didn't encourage this sort of experimentation at all, quite the contrary. Faculty had class Web sites because other faculty had class Web sites. Otherwise, there was remarkable inertia. Senge would term college teaching a balancing process.

There are many reasons for this, some of which we've talked about, notably faculty incentives as determined by what factors matter for promotion and tenure, also for salary review. At research universities like ours that depends mostly if not exclusively research output.

But incentives are not the whole story. There are other important factors as well. There is an academic culture that revolves around the research workshop or seminar, a series that promotes the intellectual life in the unit. Papers are presented by their authors (from on Campus or by invited guests) and discussed and debated. Participation in the workshop represents a substantial commitment of time and is one of the main ways faculty learn and keep up with developments n their discipline. There are some tepid attempts at doing something similar for teaching, but participation by the faculty is much lower in those and for many of the participants, the commitment level is less. Mostly, the targeted audience is brand new faculty.

A further factor is the nature of doctoral education, which is in many respects quite like the apprentice model. Doctoral candidates are made in the image of their advisors. So the teaching model doctoral students learn is based their own graduate education. If there is training in undergraduate teaching for the doctoral student, it typically comes from outside the doctoral program. Outside training is valued less, because it is not otherwise part of the culture.

So it is a tough nut to crack to introduce experimental cycles about the process of teaching into the current system. It is something akin to introducing Argyris' Model 2 in the management setting. Indeed, the comparison with Argyris is useful in many respects. The experimentation in teaching would almost certainly move the instruction in the direction of the students and teacher in an ongoing negotiation and away from the notion of the instructor as oracle and the students sitting at the oracle's feet awaiting the wisdom he will spew. If teaching and learning were negotiation of some sort between the participants, undoubtedly it would make teaching a liberal art a la Drucker. That is the direction in which I believe we should head.

But since it is a tough nut to crack, in addition to direct approaches, we should try indirect approaches as well. This gets us closer to what we are actually doing. Several years ago when I first started working on learning technology in large classes, I learned some interesting facts about logistics. The campus has a huge number of undergraduate courses, in excess of 1500 with enrollments at least 10. The size distribution of those enrollments is very skewed. The top 20 or 30 courses in size constitute about 50% of all the enrollments. If you could make a significant impact in those courses, you'd impact the entire student population.

Another factor is even more indirect. Suppose students developed a taste for a negotiated approach to instruction (contrary to the suppositions of the Disengagement Compact). What impact would these student attitudes then have on how upper level, lower enrollment courses are taught. Faculty do try to meet student expectations. So changing those expectations is a potential path toward the desired outcome.

Obviously, this won't happen over night. But I hope it does give you a sense of where all of this is heading.

Then, on the nuts and bolts of our current project, it turns out that about 4 years ago on a campus committee for learning technology, Deanna Raineri (CIO of LAS) and I were pushing Blended Learning pretty hard. We got language in the first version of the Campus Strategic plan on Blended Learning. And we got some funds from the Provost's office ($20K as it ended up, we asked for $60K initially) to initiate some pilots in Blended Learning. By the time the money was awarded I was headed to the College of Business. I agreed to let LAS have the funds because they were more strapped for cash. There were two pilots planned. One in a meteorology course. The other in Anthropology. The latter one stalled because the instructors didn't have the wherewithal to do something. But now we have the pilot with Professor Clancy. She got on board after being made aware of the earlier efforts. So some of my old eggs are coming home to roost, quite a connection for me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Recording of Mary-Ann Winkelmes Visit

The recording is now available in Compass.

Rigged Games

Since the rhetoric of the Declining By Degrees video included the expression, "breaking of the social contract," I thought it would be interesting to see the same expression used in a context unrelated to higher education. Any thoughts on whether the two are otherwise related?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Do any of you watch these sort of things?

You probably have to be on the campus network to access this link.

Nessie News

An interesting piece in light of our class discussion and especially for the prompt on the next set of reflections.

And here is news of the most recent release of NSSE, that indicates things are looking up!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

On student views of course requirements - in the major and elsewhere

There were some animated posts this week. Many in the class reacted strongly to the prompt. I want to do a bit of analysis of the issues and try to tie that both to the posts themselves and to what will be upcoming in the class.

Let me begin by introducing some metaphors that may be unfamiliar at first, but that should be readily apparent when properly considered. The first is the issue of lock-in and its causes. There is a very famous paper by the economic historian Paul David, Clio and the Economics of QWERTY. This paper is quite readable by non-economists and I strongly encourage reading it. It details the history of the typewriter keyboard, originally designed to slow the typist down so the keys wouldn't jam. The original design was optimal given the state of the technology then. But as the technology improved it was no longer optimal. However, it persisted. The explanation is interdependencies. So many people already knew the QWERTY keyboard. They didn't want to switch. There were training programs in place for teaching people how to touch type with QWERTY. The training programs didn't want to switch. Efforts at introducing other keyboards failed. Those other keyboards, if learned fully, would have allowed for faster typing. Nevertheless, they didn't prevail.

Lock in to socially undesirable approaches is a fact of life. The issue is how widespread it is. A different example is the academic calendar. The summer term, which is asymmetric with the fall and spring terms, resulted because when our economy was more agrarian students needed to participate in the planting and the harvest. That need no longer exists, but the calendar persists. Most education experts would argue a symmetric calendar would be better, to fully leverage the summer time for learning. But we don't do that.

Several, if not most, of you argued that the requirements are determined by experts who have the educational well being of the students at heart. Some of you raised minor issues with that. (I'd call them warts rather than fatal flaws.) Kim's post was the first to talk about redundancy in instruction. That idea was echoed in other posts, such as this one. One reason for the current pattern is that the formal approach to verification of whether a student knows x is to ask if the students has taken a course on x. An alternative approach (I'd call this proficiency-ing out) would be to take a test on x and if the test is passed then the student would be said to know x. In Dave B's post, there was some discussion of testing as an "end of pipe" thing, where he gave specific mention to the Professional Engineering Exam. One could envision testing of quite a different sort, on specific skills, where students who demonstrated proficiency could just go on but students who did not would have to remedy that deficiency. That we don't do this in a big way I would say is a consequence of lock in. (The providers of the pre-requisite course may be none too keen on certifying proficiency in this other way. So that inertia would have to be overcome.)

There may be a different sort of lock in with the curricula itself. Some courses may be selected more as a rite of passage than because of their usefulness as a complement to the other courses students take. Fred posted on this. He must not have viewed it as a serious problem, because he came down for not changing the requirements. But he did acknowledge the possibility. Reflecting on this possibility from the point of view of teaching intermediate microeconomics, there is an interesting question of how much of the course should be devoted to the insights of David Ricardo and Alfred Marshall, giants in the discipline but who lived long ago, versus spending more time on recent developments. There is a parallel question of how technical one should get on the exposition of the content. If a course is taught with a lot of technique and detail on very old stuff, one could argue that's a consequence of lock in. ("That's the way I learned it in graduate school way back when, so that's the way you are going to learn it today.")

Now I want to switch to a related idea - what you might call intellectual lock in. Senge calls this "mental models" and discusses those as an impediment to learning. The idea is that if a person has a certain framework for seeing the world, then that framework blocks the person from seeing those things that might be inconsistent with the framework. For the person to see what is happening, the person must first let go of the mental model. We should talk about this specific issue on Wednesday when we begin to talk about Senge.

I believe I saw several examples of mental models in place. One was that students need course requirements imposed on them because in the absence of course requirements students will opt for softy alternatives. Angelica posted on this. She wrote:
Unfortunately, many students view college just as a set of requirements that must be taken to obtain a career. There must be a motivation that must be in students to reach out and find other forms of learning and challenge. The students must see the big picture when it comes to their personal development. If students do not see this big picture, then they can start short changing themselves
Senge would argue to consider this issue from a "systems perspective." Do we in fact encourage students to ignore the big picture by imposing the requirements? Is there a self-fulfilling prophecy created by the approach that is taken? We should discuss those questions in class.

Let me return to lock in but do so in a different area. The broad question is whether "professional education" should be at the baccalaureate level or if it should be as graduate education. Since nobody in class is pre-law, let's use it as an example. In the U.S. law school is for graduate students only. Tuition is high and the curriculum, pretty much, is exclusively law courses. (Some students get joint degrees and there may be individual courses in other curricula, MBA for example, that are relevant but they are minor exceptions.) On the other hand, in the U.K. law school is an undergraduate degree. Why is it one thing here and a different thing there? Without knowing the details I'd say that history matters in explaining that.

We have a mixed system where in some professions the education is at a graduate level (law and medicine come to mind) and in other professions it is at the undergraduate level (engineering and business are represented in our own class). One thing should be clear enough. If professional education happens at the undergraduate level, it competes with liberal education for the student's attention. So it seems reasonable to ask, based on the goals of such degree programs, whether self- containing undergraduate programs are ideal or if there should be some graduate education as a significant component, in which case the undergraduate piece could have more liberal education. It is also possible to envision multiple alternatives with this. Further, as I argued in commenting on Dave L's post, there is an issue of the timing of such graduate education. Should it happen immediately after the bachelor's is earned or with several years of work experience interspersed between the rounds of formal education. A significant issue with professional education is how to keep pros in the field current with recent developments. I would expect to see alternative approaches to address this question as the "right answer" is not obvious.

Finally, let me make one more observation that is not about lock in, but about your own reading of the prompt. Nobody argued that "roundedness" might actually emerge from taking courses in the major. I thought this was a little surprising since we talked about this a little in class, particularly on what learning to learn means. (And on this point, there may be lock in of a different sort in instruction, since folks my age were formally educated in a pre-Internet era where information was scarce and education was conceived of as information transfer, which is almost certainly inappropriate for our current situation where information is abundant. The teaching model, however, may not yet have adjusted to that change.) I would have liked to hear from some of you about whether you believe learning to learn skills have been part of your coursework in your major. I certainly hope that is happening, though I've got little sense of the degree to which it occurs.

Perhaps the Most Significant News from Last Week

I wonder what the accounting students in our class think of this development.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Halloween Humor and 1 = 2

Higher Ed as a Bubble?

This is a different angle at the Declining By Degrees hypotheses, likening the decision making in Higher Ed to that in the Financial Sector where there was a shift to high risk loans in order for investors to continue to earn high rates of return.

This brief Wall Street Journal Editorial from last summer likens the decision making to a Bubble Mentality.

This Money Magazine series from a year ago (there are 3 articles) details the issues. One is an arms race on facilities. Here I will give a different spin on this than is in the articles. First, as the very rich got richer, it became increasingly important for college fund raisers to tap into them for big gifts, especially as other sources of revenue began to dry up. Second, many of these people want to give for facilities because the building serves as a monument to them long after they are gone. (Do note that some give for scholarships or for endowed chairs or in an unrestricted way, so not all givers are in give for a building category.) Third, the usual business practice is for there to be matching funds to an external gift. Way back when the state would provide those matching funds. More recently, those funds have to come from a different source. When tuition is used for this purpose it can't be used for what it usually covers.

The other issue is that funds that used to go for instruction are now going for research. (That's mentioned in the second of the Money Magazine articles). So the first question is whether this is a good or a bad. After all, places like our Campus are fueled by research. The argument is not that research is bad but that the balance between research and teaching has gotten distorted. This is an interesting issue to puzzle about. The second question is, if it is bad why is it happening? The argument here would be that top college administrators, like top business executives, look to their own advancement and making big splashes with notable research projects does that much more than doing less visible things on the teaching and learning front.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Follow up on class today

I've become aware as of late that instructors and students often see the same thing quite differently and that some things instructors say that are intended as throw away lines get taken quite seriously by students while other things instructors mean in earnest get ignored. Taking that to heart, the rest of this post concerns three things:

1) goals statement,
2) topic choice of the reflections, and
3) the importance of the reflections.

On the Goals Statement, this is the post I made about it in the syllabus. If it is adequate, it might be referenced from time to time to assist in determining what course work would be effective a la Drucker. If it is inadequate, it might be helpful to critique it before producing a goals statement created by the class.

On topic choice in the reflection, below is the relevant paragraph from the syllabus post:
Subject matter-wise, I will try to give you suggestions as to a general theme, but you are always free to choose another as long as you can make a good argument that it is relevant to the class. The main purposes are to get you to reconsider the recent readings, attempt to identify the gist of the arguments being made if we haven't already hit the nail on the head in class discussion, pose questions that haven't yet been answered, and especially to flesh out where your own experience speaks to the issues under consideration.
As a matter of practice, to exercise your option to choose a theme of your own making, you almost certainly have to get to that earlier than Friday. If you are turning to the reflection only then, you are reactive/meeting a deadline/doing the writing out of obligation to course imposed rules. Being creative on your reflections makes for a different sort of obligation, to your own standards of producing something of worth and to the class in making something of relevance. That takes forethought.

On the importance of the reflections, please note that I believe the reflections are very important for your own learning quite apart from whether they are effective a la Drucker. I've articulated this often, but most notably in the post about Slowing Down, especially where it talks about identifying structure and then testing that out, and in the post A Reflection On Reflections On Reflection where there is specific reference to the work of Donald Murray and his notion of discovery through writing. Having reached the part of the course where we are doing the course project, we are much closer in structure to organizations that Drucker has something to say about than we were earlier in the semester. So it seems appropriate to me to bring in his notion of effectiveness, where it wouldn't have made much sense to do so earlier in the term.

One final point not on my list of 3 points. I have tried to conduct the class in two distinct ways. One in ensemble mode. The other in one-on-one mode with each of you. This parallels what I was saying at the beginning of class about the role of a whip in a committee. The instructor role is not the same as the whip role, but there are certain similarities, at least in my way of thinking about it. The one-on-one mode has been facilitated by the reflections, but it has also involved emails and some face to face conversations requested by students beyond those everyone had on the reflections. In the one-on-one mode, the student is much more of the driver than in the ensemble mode. I've been scratching my head for the last several weeks whether the reflections are necessary to make the one-on-one mode work, and indeed if something like them would be necessary for peer mentoring to working similarly. I still don't have a satisfactory answer for that. I'm writing about it here because I think it is an interesting question to ask and important to the class project.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Persistent Misconceptions - Another Explanation for Disengagement?

There is a documentary made around the time most of you were born called A Private Universe that shows students who are newly minted grads from Harvard responding to an interviewer about some basic questions from Astronomy - the type you were taught in grade school - with the vast majority getting it wrong, all of them making the same conceptual error. The first question posed was: why is it warmer in the summer than in the winter? Most of those interviewed respond that it's because the earth is closer to the sun in the summer. (That's true if you live in the southern hemisphere, but it's not true for us.) The transcript of the video makes for an interesting read.

The "explanation" for what is going on in the video is that many people (including the Harvard grads) have intuitive conceptual understanding of heat transfer via conduction or convection, but have no intuition whatsoever about heat transfer via radiation. Absent the appropriate conceptual understanding to explain the phenomena, the students rely on what they implicitly do understand, though they apply it inappropriately. Later in the video they discuss the phases of the moon, which the people interviewed also don't understand. This sort of thing can be demo'd effectively with a flashlight (to mimic the sun), a basketball to mimic the moon, and an observer to mimic the earth. Shine the flashlight on the basketball and move the position of whoever is holding the flashlight. Then repeat holding the flashlight fixed but moving the observer. What part of the basketball the observer sees lit by the flashlight depends on the angle formed by observer, basketball, and flashlight. The phases of the moon in a nutshell, voila.

People believe in things if they can produce explanations (constructions) of this sort. Absent that, they have nothing to anchor their beliefs. Learning can then destroy prior held misconceptions. This can be extraordinarily unsettling. If something familiar that you rely on all of a sudden becomes unfamiliar and therefore untrustworthy, it feels like the world has turned upside down. People who have gone through the experience and not thrived as a result may very well wish to avoid having it happen again. Disengagement, then, would be a form of self-protection against this sort of unsettling experience.

Some folks are not so distressed by the need to change their view in light of uncovering misconceptions of their own. They are driven first and foremost to understand what is going on. Peter Senge in the the Fifth Discipline, which we will tackle starting next week, calls this behavior personal mastery. I believe the term is similar if not identical to what the psychologist Abraham Maslow called self-actualization, but Maslow's focus is on the individual while Senge's emphasis is on interaction within an organization.

In any event, the goal in addressing the disengagement pact is not to create a bunch of drones who put in effort but don't think for themselves. The goal is to encourage these people towards a path of personal mastery, which requires them to confront themselves from time to time.

Why is the ocean friendly?

A very bad joke to announce I now have a Google Wave account. (Though I don't seem to be able to invite others.) If you have one we can try it out. (An activity completely unrelated to our course.)

Variations In Performance Across Universities

Different universities can be ranked and sorted according to various performance data. One such index is the graduation rate. I believe these were compiled originally for NCAA member schools to compare rates between athletes and the rest of the campus population. So for that reason, 6-year rates have been the standard. (After they've used up their eligibility, intercollegiate athletes who do graduate make better progress toward their degree. While competing at the intercollegiate level, it is harder to keep a full complement of credit hours and take demanding courses.) Here are some data for 6-year results at major public universities, for students who started college in 2001. If you scroll down at the link you will find data from an earlier cohort, students who started in 1998. For the earlier cohort there are also 5-year and 4-year rates as well as "complete" graduation rates.

There is substantial variation in the graduation rate index across universities. The U of I ranks 8th on this list with not quite an 82% rate. For other Big Ten schools, Michigan is tops (Northwestern is better on this metric than Michigan, but since it is private NU is not on this list.) Penn State is slightly better than us. (We used to be in a dead heat with Penn State.) Ohio State and Purdue are about 10 percentage points lower. Iowa and Minnesota about 15 percentage points lower. University of Arizona is much lower still, the last on this table. So although the Declining by Degrees documentary depicted types who could get through with minimal effort at Arizona, do note that many students wash out.

One wonders what explains this variation. Tautologically, it has to be the students and the schools. Less tautological, one can ask how much of the variation is explained by student characteristics only. So, for example, one might like to look at ACT performance and relate that to Graduation Rate. Many schools quote ACT scores at the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile to give a range of student ACT performance, such as in the table here. Note that U of I has slightly higher scores in this mid range than does UNC-Chapel Hill or UCSD, but has slightly lower graduation rates than those schools. One possible explanation for this is that ACT scores do predict graduation rate reasonably well, our distribution is more spread out than those other schools so while we have a greater fraction getting a score of 26 or higher, we may also have a greater fraction getting a score of 24 or lower. (I don't known this to be the case. I'm simply offering up a possible explanation of the results.) Alternatively the explanation would have to lie with other factors - such as student/faculty ratio, percentage of first generation students, rigor of the curriculum, etc.

There is a similar table listing additional schools, but University of Arizona is not included in that table. So I looked elsewhere and found a table that lists the top 500 universities ranking ACT scores at the 75th percentile only. The U of I is ranked in the top 100; it's 75th percentile score is 31. Arizona is ranked in the bottom 100; it's 75th percentile score is 26. That is a substantial difference.

Noting these differences, there is then the obvious question of how much of the Disengagement Pact can be explained by these factors alone. I don't know the answer to that, nor how it would be measured. But one might reasonably conjecture that the problem is less severe at the U of I than it is at Arizona.

When Linda Katehi was still Provost she visited with the College of Business top administration and in that meaning said she wanted to move our campus graduation rate to 90%. She didn't mean to accomplish this via even higher admissions standards (which is something that we can only indirectly control at best). She meant by doing better by the students who are at risk of dropping out.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Income and Education - Some Data

I was a little surprised today in some of the discussion at the beginning, particularly on the question of whether family income matters for attending college and if that should be a cause for concern. Below are a few references on this.

First, a table on income of people aged 25-34 based on sex and educational attainment, from the National Center for Education Statistics. The table shows a gap between incomes of college grads and high school diploma only (or GED) and the gap has increased over time. This itself doesn't show causality. One possible explanation is that college education raises human capital that has value in the labor market. Another explanation is that well paying blue collar work has been drying up. A third explanation is that educational attainment acts as a signal of worker ability which exists independent and prior to any cultivation of that ability by schools and that the return to ability has become more accentuated. The first and second explanation suggests that going to college is the path to higher income. The third explanation does not as under that explanation it is ability that determines incomes.

Now a couple of pieces on the issue of whether there are not enough low-income students in college. Here is one such article from the Christian Science Monitor. (Amherst College, featured in Declining by Degrees, is discussed in this piece along with other institutions.) It makes an interesting point that financial aide is only part of the issue. Another part pertains to information flows and culture. First generation college students from low income homes have to be actively recruited, because they are not otherwise exposed to the right information to become aware of the opportunities available to them. I'm not suggesting that you read this book, but The Gatekeepers by Jacques Steinberg does offer a detailed look at how this recruiting process works from the point of view of a particular recruiting officer at Wesleyan University going after an Hispanic student of modest family income and educational attainment. Another article, this one from Inside Higher Ed, makes a similar point about family income of college students (those families are richer than the population as a whole and the gap has gone up in recent years). There is also some evidence in that piece about the racial composition of college students over time.

These articles are getting their data from the HERI Survey of Freshmen. You might find the PowerPoint that summarizes their results interesting. The survey has been going on for 40 years so it is much better able than NSSE to provide a look at trends.

Another Higher Ed Reformer's Perspective.

From a book review on Higher Education and the New Society by George Keller.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Some thoughts for tomorrow's class

1. The two reviews of the Declining By Degrees video endorse having students watch it, to make the issues we are trying to address seem more real. So tomorrow I'd like to
a) spend a few minutes trying to orchestrate a viewing for other students who'd want to see it.
b) talk for a few minutes about whether CHP students are insulated from the themes of the movie and/or whether the Disengagement Pact is real on our own campus.

2. It would be good for students to have read and reflected up my longish post summarizing and analyzing the class last Wednesday. If you are looking for the big picture on the project, that is the place to look.

After doing those things, we'll get you back into the groups you were in last Monday. I hope that will recharge you on the purpose.