Archive for October 21, 2010

Britain *only* funding STEM?

STEM learning and teaching is really important.  But only funding that seems a bit much.

Government funding for higher education in Britain is to be cut by 40 percent over four years, suggesting that public funding for teaching in the arts, humanities and social sciences may come to an end.

The Comprehensive Spending Review unveiled Wednesday includes a reduction in the higher education budget of £2.9 billion – from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion – by 2014-5.

The Treasury says in a statement that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which oversees higher education, will “continue to fund teaching for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.”

However, no mention is made of other subjects.

via News: Massive Cut in Britain – Inside Higher Ed.

October 21, 2010 at 11:42 am 3 comments

Education Research is not equal to Teaching: A note to email correspondents

It’s mid-Fall, which is the time of year when senior academics get inundated with two kinds of email:

  • From graduate students, asking to talk about possible positions before applying for graduate programs in December/January, and
  • From departments, asking for review letters for promotion and tenure cases.

Both kinds of letters are flattering — it means that students are interested in working with you, and other schools value your opinion.  It’s only a problem when I get these appropriately, which does happen a fair amount.  It happened twice just yesterday, which leads me to this post.

  • A student wrote to ask me about the possibility of graduate study with me in the Fall.  He described his areas of research, which weren’t at all connected to my own.  I responded, politely and briefly, pointing this out.  He wrote back, “But I want to be a great professor.  You do education work.  You can teach me to be a great teacher.”
  • I was asked to write a review letter for a professor at another school.  I didn’t know this professor’s name, so I googled him.  His work is in my worst area of computer science, e.g., when I took a course in this area in grad school, I got the lowest possible grade without ending up on academic probation.  I wrote the chair, “Uh, why me?” The response was that this professor emphasizes teaching and writing textbooks, and I do that, so could I write an evaluation?

I waited a day to write this blog post.    I’ll write this here, and maybe future email correspondents will find this before writing me.

I do computing education research.  Like most people who find themselves doing domain-specific education research, I like teaching, value it highly, and am probably pretty good at it.  But I’m not an expert on teaching in college, nor on developing teaching expertise in college, nor on evaluating teaching in college.  My expertise is in how people come to understand computing, and how to improve that understanding.  Teaching is one part of that, but doesn’t happen to be a part that I particularly study.  I’ve never studied what works best in a classroom, nor what the attributes of highly skilled teachers are, for example.  I study things like how relevance and identity leads to retention, what mistakes students make with objects and iteration, how students get confused about what computer science means, how to measure learning about computing, and how to create materials that students of various sorts (like adults) find valuable.

To graduate students who want to become great teaching professors: Wonderful!  That’s not why you should come work with me.  I advise students getting their PhD’s.  A PhD is granted for an original contribution to a research community.  It is not a vocational degree. Come work with me if you want to make an original contribution to the computing education research community.  I am not here to teach you how to teach better at the post-secondary level.  That’s an important goal, but it’s not what I do.

To departments asking me to write review letters: Asking me to evaluate someone’s teaching is like asking a lab technician to review a biology teacher’s teaching.  Sure, I know some of the same content, and I’ve taken lots of classes, and I’ve even done teaching.  But evaluating teaching is not my area of expertise.  That’s not what I do on a daily basis.

Asking me to evaluate teaching from a review packet is insulting — not to me, to the teacher!  A skilled teacher is a master at their craft.  Teaching is an embodied practice, as Sally Fincher told us at the last SIGCSE Symposium.  How can you judge that craft without seeing the practice, or inspecting the products (e.g., interviewing the students)?  To be that judge, you have to be some kind of expert at the craft or at evaluating the craft.  I don’t see how anyone can judge teaching, based on a CV, teaching statement, and three academic papers.

I am honored to talk to students who want to work with me in computing education research, and to write letters of review for researchers in whose area I have some experience.  (And I certainly have a lot of those review letters to do this season, for computing education research people!  That is a positive and healthy sign for the field!)  But don’t come to do a PhD with me just to learn to teach, and don’t ask me to be a judge of teaching from a set of research papers.  Get an expert on evaluating teaching, not on computing education research.

October 21, 2010 at 11:16 am 1 comment


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