Posts tagged ‘perception of university’
Katrina Falkner has written up an excellent reflection (with gorgeous example student work) on her new MediaComp course at the University of Adelaide. I loved the artwork she shared, and I was particularly struck by the points she made about the value of “slowness” of the language, the challenges of helping students decontextualize programming after learning MediaComp, and the students complaining about using a curriculum “not invented here.”
The students didn’t really like working with Jython as it was very slow, but this had an unintended consequence, in that they became aware of the efficiency of their algorithms. I don’t think I have ever taught a first year course where students introduced efficiency as a discussion point on their own initiative. However, when working with their own images, which could sometimes be huge, they had to start thinking about whether there was a better way of solving their problems. I think this was a big win.
I spent a couple days at Michigan State University (July 11-12) learning about integrated engineering education. The idea of integrated engineering education is to get students to see how the mathematics and physics (and other requirements) fit into their goals of becoming engineers. In part, it’s a response to students learning calculus here and physical principles there, but having no idea what role they play when it comes to design and solving real engineering problems. (Computer science hasn’t played a significant role in previous experiments in integrated engineering education, but if one were to do it today, you probably would include CS — that’s why I was invited, as someone interested in CS for other disciplines.) The results of integrated engineering education are positive, including higher retention (a pretty consistent result across all the examples we saw), higher GPA’s (often), and better learning (some data).
But these programs rarely last. A program at U. Massachusetts-Dartmouth is one of the longest running (9 years), but it’s gone through extensive revision — not clear it’s the same program. These are hard programs to get set up. It is an even bigger challenge to sustain them.
The programs lie across a spectrum of integration. The most intense was a program at Rose-Hulman that lasted for five years. All the core first year engineering courses were combined in a single 12 credit hour course, co-taught by faculty from all the relevant disciplines. That’s tight integration. On the other end is a program at Wright State University, where the engineering faculty established a course on “Engineering Math” that meets Calculus I requirements for Physics, but is all about solving problems (e.g., using real physical units) that involve calculus. The students still take Calculus I, but later. The result is higher retention and students who get the purpose for the mathematics — but at a cost of greater disconnect between Engineering and mathematics. (No math faculty are involved in the Engineering Math course.)
My most significant insight was: The greater the integration, the greater the need for incentives. And the greater the need for the incentives, the higher in the organization you need support. If you just want to set up a single course to help Engineers understand problem-solving with mathematics, you can do that with your department or school, and you only have to provide incentives to a single faculty member each year. If you want to do something across departments, you need greater incentives to keep it going, and you’ll need multiple chairs or deans. If you want a 12 credit hour course that combines four or five disciplines, maybe you need the Provost or President to make it happen and keep it going.
Overall, I wasn’t convinced that integrated engineering education efforts are worth the costs. Are the results that we have merely a Hawthorne effect? It’s hard to sustain integrated anything in American universities (as Cuban told us in “How Scholars Trumped Teachers”). (Here’s an interesting review of Cuban’s book.) Retention is good and important (especially of women and under-represented students), but if Engineering programs are already over-subscribed (which many in the workshop were), then why improvement retention of students in the first year if there is no space for them in the latter years? Integration probably leads to better learning, but there are deeper American University structural problems to fix first, which would reduce the costs in doing the right things for learning.
I’ve just started my subscription to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the first print issue I received had a great article about Carl Wieman, whom I have written about previously (here and here and here, for just three). The story (online here: Crusader for Better Science Teaching Finds Colleges Slow to Change – Government – The Chronicle of Higher Education) was about his efforts to get the White House to measure teaching practices.
At the White House, Mr. Wieman tried to figure out what might actually get colleges and their faculty members to adopt proven teaching practices. His centerpiece idea was that American colleges and universities, in order to remain eligible for the billions of dollars the federal government spends annually on scientific research, should be required to have their faculty members spend a few minutes each year answering a questionnaire that would ask about their usual types of assignments, class materials, student interaction, and lecture and discussion styles.
Mr. Wieman believed that a moment or two of pondering such concepts might lead some instructors to reconsider their approaches. Also, Mr. he says, data from the responses might give parents and prospective students the power to choose colleges that use the most-proven teaching methods. He hoped the survey idea could be realized as either an act of Congress or a presidential executive order.
I hadn’t heard about this survey, but my immediate thought was, “What a great idea!” We need better ways to measure teaching (like with Sadler’s recent work), and this seems like a great first step. I was surprised to read the response
College leaders derided it as yet another unnecessary intrusion by government into academic matters.
“Linking federal funding for scientific research to pedagogical decisions of the faculty would have set a terrible precedent for policy makers,” said Princeton University’s Shirley M. Tilghman, one of several presidents of major research institutions who wrote to the White House to complain about Mr. Wieman’s idea. “It is naïve to think that the ‘surveys’ will not have consequences down the line.”
Wouldn’t “consequences” be a good thing? Shouldn’t we reward schools that are doing more to improve teaching and adopt better practices? Shouldn’t we incentivize schools to do better at teaching? I guess I’m the one who is naïve — I was surprised that there was so much resistance. In the end, Wieman lost the battle. He’s now left the White House, dealing with multiple myeloma.
Perhaps the saddest line in the piece is this one:
“I’m not sure what I can do beyond what I’ve already done,” Mr. Wieman says.
Is it really impossible to get universities to take teaching seriously?
Diana Franklin has just published a new book with Morgan & Claypool, A Practical Guide to Gender Diversity for Computer Science Faculty. This is exciting to see. I can’t recommend it yet, just because I haven’t read it. What’s great is that it’s a book on how to teach computing — and there are just far too few of those. Other than the Logo books and the Guide to Teaching CS (from Orit Hazzan et al.), there’s not much to help new CS teachers. So glad that Diana has written this book!
Computer science faces a continuing crisis in the lack of females pursuing and succeeding in the field. Companies may suffer due to reduced product quality, students suffer because educators have failed to adjust to diverse populations, and future generations suffer due to a lack of role models and continued challenges in the environment. In this book, we draw on the latest research in sociology, psychology, and education to first identify why we should be striving for gender diversity (beyond social justice), refuting misconceptions about the differing potentials between females and males. We then provide a set of practical types (with brief motivations) for improving your work with undergraduates taking your courses. This is followed by in-depth discussion of the research behind the tips, presenting obstacles that females face in a number of areas. Finally, we provide tips for advising undergraduate independent projects or graduate students, supporting female faculty, and initiatives requiring action at the institutional level (department or above).
Interesting results! My President is gung-ho on MOOCs (e.g., sending email out saying that half of the University System of Georgia schools will cease to exist in their current form over the next five years), as is my Provost and my Dean (who sends articles about MOOCs to the faculty weekly). Maybe that’s not so common?
“Based on these findings, it’s clear that the U.Va. situation is just a canary in the coal mine,” said Brandon H. Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education. “College presidents, writ large, are extremely skeptical about the value of MOOCs as it relates to reducing cost, improving quality, and even expanding reach. And with governing boards that have strong business backgrounds and have been reading all of Clay Christensen’s writing about how online education and MOOCs will change the world, there’s bound to be big clashes ahead at most — not just some — institutions.”
Semester Online sounded like a nice idea — getting liberal arts focused institutions to share their online course offerings. The pushback is interesting and reflects some of the issues that have been raised about sustainability of online education as a replacement for face-to-face learning or even as an additional resource.
While Dr. Lange saw the consortium as expanding the courses available to Duke students, some faculty members worried that the long-term effect might be for the university to offer fewer courses — and hire fewer professors. Others said there had been inadequate consultation with the faculty.
When 2U, the online education platform that would host the classes, announced Semester Online last year, it named 10 participants, including Duke, the University of Rochester, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest — none of which will be offering courses this fall. “Schools had to go through their processes to determine how they were going to participate,” said Chance Patterson, a 2U spokesman, “and some decided to wait or go in another direction.”
Useful piece that helps to explain how the US can be doing so well in terms of education and so awful at the same time. The problem is our enormous variance, in part explain by our enormous size. Averages are way different than individuals.
Part of this is easy to explain: The United States is big. Very big. And it’s a far bigger country than the other members of the OECD. We claim roughly 27 percent of the group’s 15-to-19-year-olds. Japan, in contrast, has a smidge over 7 percent. So in reading and in science, we punch above our weight by just a little, while in math we punch below.
But the point remains: In two out of three subjects, Americans are over-represented among the best students.
If we have so many of the best minds, why are our average scores so disappointingly average? As Rutgers’s Hal Salzman and Georgetown’s B. Lindsay Lowell, who co-authored the EPI report, noted in a 2008 Nature article, our high scorers are balanced out by an very large number of low scorers. Our education system, just like our economy, is polarized.