Monday, December 7, 2009

Report on 2009 NSSE

At the page linked below you can get the full report. The forward of full report, by Russ Edgerton, is worth reading. It will give you some background that helps in understanding some issue. NSSE started when Bill Clinton was still president. The threat was the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings. Finding an alternative was a major impetus for NSSE. Yet participating colleges, who have found that their institutional data got them beat up in the press, were reluctant to release the NSSE results. So, 10 years later the US News rankings are as entrenched as ever in driving people's attitudes about colleges, while NSSE guides internal decision making on the various campuses, but doesn't impact public views. There is another point that Edgerton makes that I take small (but important) issue with. He argues (correctly in my view that we largely don't implement best practice in undergraduate education because the incentives are weak to nil for doing so. But implicitly he argues that effective teaching is just applying known results. I think that is wrong. What is known about effective practice are high level principles. How to incorporate those principles into any specific course is itself an applied research, along the lines of the doctor in Gawande's chapter The Bell Curve. There is creativity in the teaching art in finding effective was to implement the principles. Instituting a culture that encourages such experimentation with teaching probably requires going beyond simple incentives. And we're nowhere near doing that sort of thing at the institutional level yet.

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