Posts tagged ‘perception of university’

Interesting Pushback Against Incentivizing Active Learning in CS Classes

My Blog@CACM post this month makes a concrete proposal (quoted and linked below). We (all academic computing programs) should incentivize faculty to use active learning methods by evaluating teaching statements for hiring, tenure, and promotion more highly that reference active learning and avoid lecture.

On my Facebook page, I linked to the article and tagged our Dean of Engineering, the Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Education, and the RPT Chair for our College, and asked, “Can we do this at Georgia Tech?”  The pushback on my Facebook page was the longest thread I’ve ever been part of on Facebook.

The issues raised were interesting and worth discussing:

  • Would implementing this put at a disadvantage new PhD’s who have no teaching experience and don’t learn about active teaching?  Yes, but that incentivizes those PhD programs to change.
  • My blog post title is “Be It Resolved: Teaching Statements must embrace Active Learning and eschew Lecture.”  I chose the word “eschew” deliberately.  It doesn’t mean “ban.” It means “deliberately avoid using” which is what I meant.  Lecture has its place — I wrote a blog post defending lecture which still gets viewed pretty regularly.  The empirical evidence suggests that we should use active learning more than lecture for undergraduate STEM education.
  • Should such a requirement for teaching statements emerge from faculty talking about it, or should it be done by administrative fiat?  I lean toward the latter.  As I’ve pointed out, CS faculty tend to respond to authority more than evidence. The administration should do the right thing, and deal with educating teachers (e.g., what are active learning methods first? how do we use them? even in large classes?) later. Faculty will learn the active learning methods in order to create those teaching statements.  The incentive comes first.
  • Lots of respondents thought I was saying that we should require all teaching to be active learning. I wasn’t, and I don’t know how to enforce that anyway.  By evaluating teaching statements more heavily that emphasize active learning, we create an incentive, not a requirement.
  • Some faculty pushed back, “How about students that like lecture? Tough luck for them?” Since we know that active learning is better, even for students who like lecture — yes.
  • Several respondents suggested that active learning is just too hard, that faculty are over-stressed as it is.  Faculty are over-stressed, but active learning isn’t that hard.  In fact, it’s hard for faculty because they have to be quiet and listen in class more.  It is hard to make change, but that’s the point of incentives.  We start somewhere.
  • The biggest theme in the thread is that we should first aim to get faculty to care about teaching and to take active steps to improve their teaching.  I don’t think that’s enough.  Libertarian paternalism (see Wikipedia page) suggests that we set the incentive at the minimal acceptable level (use of active learning) then encourage choice above that (choosing among the wide variety of active learning methods).  We don’t want people to choose options that won’t be in the best interests of the largest number of people.

The discussion went on for four days (and hasn’t quite petered out yet).  I do wonder if active learning methods will be forced upon faculty if we don’t willingly pick them up.  The research evidence is overwhelming, with articles in Nature and hundreds of studies reviewed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  How long before we get sued for teaching but not using the best teaching methods?  One of the quotes in the blog post says, “At this point it is unethical to teach any other way.” We should take concrete steps towards doing the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do.

Here is something concrete that we in academia can do. We can change the way we select teachers for computer science and how we reward faculty.

All teaching statements for faculty hiring, promotion, and tenure should include a description of how the candidate uses active learning methods and explicitly reduces lecture.

We create the incentive to teach better.  We might simply add a phrase to our job ads and promotion and tenure policies like, “Teaching statements will be more valued that describe how the candidate uses active learning methods and seeks to reduce lecture.”

via Be It Resolved: Teaching Statements Must Embrace Active Learning and Eschew Lecture | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM.

August 21, 2015 at 8:24 am 4 comments

A goal for higher ed: “There is magic in our program. Our program changes lives.”

My daughter is enrolled in Georgia’s “Governor’s Honor Program” which started this week.  The program is highly competitive — my daughter filled out multiple applications, wrote essays, and went through two rounds of interviews.  Over 700 high school students from across Georgia attend for four weeks of residential classes on a university campus for free.

At the parent’s orientation, we heard from two former GHP students, the Dean of Student Life, the Dean of Residence Halls, the GHP Program Manager, and the Dean of Instruction.  It’s that last one who really got me.

“You heard from these students, and many other students.  GHP changes lives.  There is magic in our program.

The program sounds remarkable.  No grades, no tests.  The Dean of Instruction said she told the teachers to “give these students learning opportunities beyond what’s in any high school classroom.” Students are only there to learn for learning’s sake.

I was thrilled for my daughter, that she was going to have this experience. I was also thrilled as a teacher.

I want to teach in a program whose leadership says, “There is magic in our program. Our program changes lives.”  Last week, I took my daughter to tour three universities.  Our daughter is the youngest of three, so I’ve attended other prospective student tours at other universities.  I’ve never heard anybody at any of these universities make that kind of claim.

I don’t mean to critique my leadership at Georgia Tech in particular.  When I was the Undergraduate Program Director, I never said anything like that to my teachers or to prospective parents.  I am critical of higher education more broadly. Higher education in America sets goals like preparing students for careers, giving them experiences abroad and in research, giving them options so that they can tailor their program to meet their particular desires, and surrounding them with great fellow students — I’ve heard all of those claims many times on many tours.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “We change lives.”

Rich DeMillo argued in his book Apple to Abelard that higher education institutions need to differentiate from one another.  Offering the same thing in the same way makes it hard to compete with the on-line and for-profit options.  At Georgia Tech, the faculty are frequently told, “We get amazingly smart students.”  We’re told to think about how to tune our education for these super-smart students.  I’ve never been told, “Give these students experiences beyond what they will get in any other program. Create magic. Change their lives.”

What I gained at GHP is a new definition for what higher education should be about. We need to step up our game.

June 24, 2015 at 7:20 am 7 comments

California’s multi-million dollar online ed flop is a blow for MOOCs: What happened?

I don’t think that MOOCs are a good solution for required classes.  I agree with the idea that MOOCs are for people who want to learn something because they’re interested in it, and that completion rates don’t matter there.

That suggests that we shouldn’t use MOOCs where (a) the students don’t know what they need to know and (b) completion rates matter.

  • Thus, don’t use MOOCs for intro courses (as we learned at GT with English composition and physics) where students don’t know that they really need this knowledge to go on, and the completion rates are even worse than in other MOOCs. The combination hurts the students who want to go on to subsequent courses. Using MOOCs to provide adults with content that might be covered in an intro course isn’t the same thing. For example, an intro to programming course for adults who want to understand something about coding, but not necessarily continue in CS studies, makes sense for a MOOC. If they’re not trying to prepare for a follow-on course, then the completion rate doesn’t really matter.  If the MOOC learners are adults who are foraging for certain information, then the even-lower completion rate in intro-content MOOCs makes sense.  There may only be a small part of that content that someone doesn’t already know.
  • Thus, don’t use MOOCs to teach high school teachers about CS, where they don’t know what CS they need to know, they’re uncertain about becoming CS teachers, and a lack of completion means that the teachers who don’t complete (90-95% of enrollees) don’t know the curriculum that they’re supposed to teach. Using MOOCs to provide existing CS teachers with new opportunities to learn is a good match for the student audience to the affordances of the medium. Trying to draw in new CS teachers (when they are so hard to recruit) via MOOCs makes little sense to me.

Setting aside my concerns about MOOCs, it’s not exactly clear what’s going on in the below article.  I get that it’s not good that California had to just forgive the loan of $7M USD, and that they will likely to continue to lose money.  I get that the quote below says, “we got extremely little in return.”  I don’t see what was the return.  I don’t see how many students actually participated (e.g., we’re told that there was only 250 non-UC students, but not how many UC students participated), and if the courses they created could continue to be used for years after, and so on.  It doesn’t look good, but there’s not enough information here to know that it was bad.

“We spent a lot of money and got extremely little in return,” said Jose Wudka, a physics professor at UC-Riverside who previously chaired the Systemwide Committee on Educational Policy of the Academic Senate, which represents faculty in the UC System.

The project, which cost $7 million to set up at a time when the state was cutting higher-education funding, aspired to let students take courses across campuses.

via California’s multi-million dollar online education flop is another blow for MOOCs – The Hechinger Report.

May 29, 2015 at 8:37 am 2 comments

Adjunct Faculty are Unionizing

I wonder if this is the start of a trend that will change higher education.  The job of being faculty is becoming harder, especially in CS as enrollments rise without a rise in faculty numbers. Adjunct faculty are particularly put upon in universities, and unionizing is one way for them to push back.

Part-time faculty members at downtown Pittsburgh’s Point Park University have voted to join the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers AFA-USW.The group filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board NLRB in April to hold a mail ballot election. A total of 314 part-time Point Park instructors were eligible to vote, and the ballots were counted this morning at the NLRB’s downtown offices.

via Point Park Adjunct Faculty Votes to Join AFA-USW Union | United Steelworkers.

October 26, 2014 at 8:58 am 15 comments

Understanding CS Ed Research in The Soul of the Research University

The below-linked article is highly recommended.  It’s an insightful consideration of the different definitions of “University” we have in the US, and how the goals of helping students become educated for middle class jobs and of being a research university are not the same thing.

This article gave me new insight into the challenges of discipline-based education research, like computing education research.  We really are doing research, as one would expect in a research university, e.g., trying to understand what it means for a human to understand computation and how to improve that understanding.  But what we study is a kind of activity that occurs at that other kind of university.  That puts us in a weird place, between the two definitions of the role of a university.  It gives me new insight into the challenges I faced when I was the director of undergraduate studies in the College of Computing and when I was implementing Media Computation.  Education research isn’t just thrown over the wall into implementation.  The same challenges of technology adoption and, necessarily, technology adaption have to occur.

At the “TIME Summit on Higher Education” that the Carnegie Corporation of New York and Time magazine co-sponsored in September 2013 along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the disconnect between the views of the research university from inside and outside was vividly on display. A procession of distinguished leaders of higher education mainly emphasized the need to protect—in particular, to finance adequately—the university’s research mission. A procession of equally distinguished outsiders, including the U.S. secretary of education, mainly emphasized the need to make higher education more cost-effective for its students and their families, which almost inevitably entails twisting the dial away from research and toward the emphasis on skills instruction that characterizes the mass higher-education model. Time’s own cover story that followed from the conference hardly mentioned research it was mainly about how much economically useful material students are learning, even though the research university was explicitly the main focus of the conference.

via The Soul of the Research University – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

July 20, 2014 at 9:10 am 8 comments

A theory for why there’s so little CS Ed in the US

I have a theory that predicts when (if?) we will see more computing education research students in the US.  I think that it might also help understand when computer science education (e.g., an AP course in CS) might reach the majority of US high schools.

Why are there so few CS Ed research students in the US?

Recently, I hosted a visit from Dr. Nick Falkner (Associate Dean (IT), Faculty of Engineering, Mathematical and Computer Sciences) and Dr. Katrina Falkner (Deputy Head and Director of Teaching, School of Computer Science) from the University of Adelaide. We got to talking about the lack of CS education research (CER) graduate students in the United States. There are lots of PhD students studying CER in Australasia, Europe, and Israel. To offer a comparison point, when we visited Melbourne in 2011, they had just held a doctoral consortium in CS Ed with 20 students attending, all from just the Melbourne area. The ICER doctoral consortium at UCSD in August had 14 students, and not all 14 were from the US. The Australasian Computing Education will have its own DC, and they’re capping enrollment at 10, but there are far more CER PhD students than that in the region. I get invitations regularly to serve on review committees for dissertations from Australia and Europe, but rarely from the US.

Why is CER so much more popular among graduate students outside of the US? I’ve wondered if it’s an issue of funding for research, or how graduate students are recruited. Then it occurred to us.

Check out the Falkners’ titles: Associate Dean, Deputy Head (Katrina will be Head of School next year), Director. I remarked on that, and Nick and Katrina started naming other CS education research faculty who were Chairs, full Professors, and Deans and Directors in Australia. We went on naming other CS education researchers in high positions in New Zealand (e.g., Tim Bell, Professor and Deputy Head of Department), England (e.g., the great Computing Education Group at Kent), Denmark (e.g., Michael Caspersen as Director of the Center for Science Education), Sweden (e.g., CS Education Research at Uppsala), Finland, Germany, and Israel.

Then I was challenged to name:

  1. US CS Education researchers who are full Professors at research intensive universities;
  2. US CS Education researchers who are Chairs of their departments or schools;
  3. US CS Education researchers who are Deans or Center Directors.

I’m sure that there would be some quibbling if I tried to name US researchers in these categories. I don’t think anyone would disagree that none of these categories requires more than one hand to count — and I don’t think anyone needs more than a couple fingers for that last category.

We have great computing education researchers in the United States. Few are in these kinds of positions of visible prestige and authority. Many in the ICER community are at teaching institutions. Many who are at research intensive universities are in teaching track positions.

Computing Education Research is not as respected in US universities as it is in other countries. In these other countries, a graduate student could pursue computing education research, and might still be able to achieve tenure, promotion, and even an administrative position in prestigious institutions. That’s really rare in the United States.

There are many reasons why there isn’t more CER in research-intensive universities.  Maybe there’s not enough funding in CER (which is an outcome of lack of respect/value).  Most people don’t buy into computing for all in the US.  Unless there’s more CER in schools, maybe we don’t need much CER in Universities.  I’m actually not addressing why CER gets less respect in the US than in other countries — I’m hypothesizing a relationship between two variables because of that lack of respect.

The status of CER is definitely on the mind of students when they are considering CER as a research area. I’ve lost students to other areas of research when they realize that CER is a difficult academic path in the US. My first CS advisor at U-Michigan (before Elliot Soloway moved there) was strongly against my plans for a joint degree with education. “No CS department will hire you, and if they do, they won’t tenure you.” I succeeded into that first category (there was luck and great mentors involved).  It’s hard for me to say if my personal path could ever reach categories 2 or 3, and if barriers I meet are due more to my research area than my personal strengths and weaknesses.  All I can really say for sure is that, if you look around, there aren’t many CER people in those categories, which means that there is no obvious evidence to a graduate student that they can reach those kinds of success.

So, here’s my hypothesis:

Hypothesis: We will see more computing education research graduate students in the US when CER is a reasonable path to tenure, promotion, and advancement in research-intensive US universities.

Why is there so little computing education in US high schools?

Other countries have a lot more computing education in their high schools than we do in the United States.  Israel, New Zealand, Denmark, and England all have national curricula that include significant computer science.  In Israel, you can even pursue a software engineering track in high school.  They all have an advantage over the US, since we have no national curricula at all.  However, Germany, which has a similarly distributed education model, still has much more advanced computing education curricula (the state of Bavaria has a computing curriculum for grades 6-12) and CS teacher professional development.  What’s different?

I suspect that there are similar factors at work in schools as in Universities.  Computing education is not highly valued in US society.  That gets reflected in decisions at both the University and school systems.  I don’t know much about influence relationships between the University and the K-12 system. I have suggested that we will not have a stable high school CS education program in the United States without getting the Schools of Education engaged in teacher pre-service education. I don’t know how changes in one influence the other.

However, I see a strong correlation, caused by an external social factor — maybe some of those I mentioned earlier (not enough funding for CER, don’t need more CER, etc.). Professors and University administrators are not separate from their societies and cultures. The same values and influences are present in the University as in the society at large. What the society values has an influence on what the University values.  If a change occurs in the values in the society, then the University values will likely change.  I don’t know if it works in the other way.

So here’s where I go further out on a limb:

Second Hypothesis: We will see the majority of US high schools offering computer science education (e.g., AP CS) when CER is a reasonable path to tenure, promotion, and advancement in research-intensive US universities.

Here are two examples to support the hypothesis:

  • Consider Physics. No one doubts the value of physics. Within society, we’re willing to spend billions to find a Higgs Boson, because we value physics. Similarly, we strive to offer physics education to every high school student. Similarly, physics faculty can aspire to become Deans and even University Presidents. Physics is valued by society and the University.
  • Consider Engineering Education Research. Twenty years ago, engineering education research was uncommon, and it had little presence in K-12 schools. Today, there are several Engineering Education academic units in the US — at Purdue, Clemson, and Virginia Tech. (There’s quite a list here.) Engineering education researchers can get tenured, promoted, and even become head of an engineering education research academic unit. And, Engineering is now taught in K-12 schools. Recently, I’ve been involved in an effort to directly interview kids in schools that offer AP CS. We can hardly find any! Several of the schools in the Atlanta area that used to offer AP CS now offer Engineering classes instead. (Maybe the belief is that engineers will take care of our CS/IT needs in the US?)  Engineering has a significant presence in K-12 education today.

I don’t think that this hypothesis works as a prescriptive model.  I’m not saying, “If we just create some computing education research units, we’ll get CS into high schools!”  I don’t know that there is much more CS Ed in schools in Australia, Sweden, or Finland than in the US, where CER is a path to advancement. I  hypothesize a correlation.  If we see changes at the Universities, we’ll be seeing changes in schools.  I expect that the reverse will also be true — if we ever see the majority of US high schools with CS, the Universities will support the effort.  But I thnk that the major influencer on both of these is the perception of CER in the larger society.  I’m hypothesizing that both will change if the major influence changes.

(Thanks to Briana Morrison, Barbara Ericson, Amy Bruckman, and Betsy DiSalvo on an earlier draft of this post.)

October 28, 2013 at 1:48 am 46 comments

CS/IT higher-ed degree production has declined since 2003

I couldn’t believe this when Mark Miller sent the below to me.  “Maybe it’s true in aggregate, but I’m sure it’s not true at Georgia Tech.”  I checked.  And yes, it has *declined*.  In 2003 (summing Fall/Winter/Spring), the College of Computing had 367 graduates.  In 2012, we had 217.  Enrollments are up, but completions are down.

What does this mean for the argument that we have a labor shortage in computer science, so we need to introduce computing earlier (in K-12) to get more people into computing?  We have more people in computing (enrolled) today, and we’re producing fewer graduates.  Maybe our real problem is the productivity at the college level?

I shared these data with Rick Adrion, and he pointed out that degree output necessarily lags enrollment by 4-6 years.  Yes, 2012 is at a high for enrollment, but the students who graduated in 2012 came into school in 2008 or 2007, when we were still “flatlined.”  We’ll have to watch to see if output rises over the next few years.

Computer-related degree output at U.S. universities and colleges flatlined from 2006 to 2009 and have steadily increased in the years since. But the fact remains: Total degree production (associate’s and above) was lower by almost 14,000 degrees in 2012 than in 2003. The biggest overall decreases came in three programs — computer science, computer and information sciences, general, and computer and information sciences and support services, other.

This might reflect the surge in certifications and employer training programs, or the fact that some programmers can get jobs (or work independently) without a degree or formal training because their skills are in-demand.

Of the 15 metros with the most computer and IT degrees in 2012, 10 saw decreases from their 2003 totals. That includes New York City (a 52% drop), San Francisco (55%), Atlanta (33%), Miami (32%), and Los Angeles (31%).

via In the Spotlight: Higher Ed Degree Output by Field and Metro | Newgeography.com.

August 19, 2013 at 1:19 am 4 comments

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