Archive for the ‘institutional responsibilities’ Category

The Semester Has Officially Started….And Yet Another Cheating Scandal

In cheating, Education, institutional responsibilities, integrity, tests on September 5, 2012 at 7:56 am

What is it about learning that inspires cheating? If seems that if you make it to Harvard, you are one of the “smartest [people] in the room.” Picture from movie: Smartestguysintheroom Yet the latest from Harvard is about a number of students who cheated on a take home exam. And according to MIT behavioral economist Dr. Ariely’s blog, there were LOTS of students who (allegedly) cheated–125!! Students claim that they thought collaboration was allowed (although the exam instructions said something different) because they collaborated for other things during class, they skipped lectures and shared notes and because the student guidebook, the Q Guide,  said students in the past had collaborated with the teaching fellows (of course, that’s probably why the instructor included the statement NOT to collaborate!). (Source of this student perspective: Harvard Students Fighting Allegations of Cheating on Exam).  And these are students that educators claim are the brightest and best–that’s how they merited entry into Harvard.

How can educational institutions encourage learning without promoting cheating? I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the “smartest people in the room” remained there and graduated by cheating. Maybe we need to figure out  different ways to measure intelligence.


You Work Only 12 Hours Per Week, Do Not Work in the Summer & Have a Sabbatical Every 7 Years?!

In course evaluations, Education, faculty responsibilities, institutional responsibilities, teaching, universal design for learning on June 11, 2012 at 10:58 am

Consumatory Scholarship!?! Sounds like someone eating books and articles!

In the Chronicle article Just Because We’re Not Publishing Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Working, Bruce Henderson argues that faculty Eatingwork is inadequately recognized by the public and by legislators who make demands for accountability. He also notes that “teaching” as an activity in higher education, is not respected. He notes, as an example, that those who do the most teaching (adjunct faculty) receive lower pay.

I agree.

We do not honor teaching as we should. Universities usually measure and reward teaching by counting publications (research), looking for a key number on student evaluations (e.g. 4.0 on a 5 point scale or meeting the department average) and relying on peer evaluations, Publications in one’s area of expertise do not necessarily translate to good teaching, student evaluations are notoriously unreliable (see my latest post on student evaluations) and peer evaluations are only an indicator of one (or two) colleagues’ attendance at one or two classes. Adjunct faculty’s jobs are at risk if they have low student evaluations, even though the link between student evaluations and teaching is tenuous. So, let’s begin measuring teaching effectively: let’s show students, faculty and legislators how and what students learn. Let’s do that using evidence-based teaching practices, explaining how innovations can help improve learning and reward faculty who do their part (and remind others how learners must do their part).

University administration should reward faculty for their teaching accomplishments. And that means ALL teaching faculty, not only tenure-track faculty. Then, the public can begin to see that not only do many teachers work hard, that they work more than 12 hours per week but that we provide a substantial benefit to society.

I sometimes wonder whether there’s an element of classism, anti-feminism and racism in the continual demands for accountability. The University faculty and administrators were overwhelmingly middle-class white males in the 60s. Now, it’s much more diverse. The increase in diversity parallels the increased demands for accountability. And while I know correlation doesn’t mean causality (and accountability demands have complicated causes), it is frustrating to know that for years, higher education faculty faced no obligation to justify existence. During those times, faculty presented material in a way that only certain types of learners (those you might call read-write learners) could succeed. Student studyingTenure was awarded based on a handshake (at least according to some of the faculty who retired just as I came on board) or solely based on the school from which the faculty member obtained his Ph.D.  And while I was successful in that environment, I recognize that my success shouldn’t be the only measure of whether anyone else can garner educational success. I have met students and others who were just as intelligent, but who learn in different ways. So, I recognize that this system of teaching is not the only means of communicating.

I also wonder whether the accountability demands reflect an attack on intellectualism; that the demands represent an attack on those who want to explore and learn. In his blog posts, The Real Ken Jones discusses this in more depth in his “Celebrating Stupidity” series. He focuses on some of the contradictions between science and what some what to believe. Whether the attack on education is related to an attack on intellectualism in general is subject to debate, but there does continue to be a significant attack on education: justified on some grounds but not on others.

So this discussion returns to the topic line: what should we as educators do to let the public and legislators know what we do in the classroom? Regardless of the cause of the controversy, we need to figure out how to address it–how to rebuff the attacks and to go on the offensive. We provide an invaluable service to the community, yet that gets lost in the rhetoric about accountability.  Is using the term “Consumatory Scholarship” and defining it a way to address it? I think not-the essence is in the details. But to the core question I do not yet have an answer.

Do you?

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

In assessment of learning, Education, faculty responsibilities, information literacy, innovation in teaching, institutional responsibilities, teaching with technology, technology on April 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm

All around us, the world is changing. From digital information everywhere to mashups, the landscape is changing.

Yet in higher education, we’ve been extremely slow to change. Holding to tradition can be beneficial, but educational institutions face a changing landscape that other institutions have faced. Medicine has changed with the advent of digital information. One study concluded that more than half the patients of a primary care internal medicine group used the internet for information, including information they did not share with their doctors (2002). The music industry has changed drastically; purchases of CDs has reduced y 50% with the advent of illegal file sharing and access to purchase individual songs. (See: Music’s Lost Decade) Yet in higher education we teach as though nothing has changed.

Lecturing has its benefits, but there are far more options available to teach. However, institutions and regulatory bodies do not make it easy to change. Classes are structured so that students are expected to spend 150 minutes per week “seat time” in their courses. Any changes to that structure require compliance with University regulations–and under faculty governance that means that the changes must be submitted to several faculty committees to be reviewed. At my institution, such changes generally take a year to progress through committees and sometimes longer. Clearly processes need to be changed to permit “pilots” or fast-paced changes.

In addition, the “a” word (assessment) requires that work must be evaluated to determine its effectiveness. Assessment can be complicated, since different factors may determine whether a technique has been effective. One factor is student effort-and that is difficult to measure. In addition, we tend to focus on short term (semester) but there can be long term implications that are not easily measured.

Why can’t we adopt a process that makes it easy for faculty to test new approaches, with a quick turnaround time and ample assistance to assess effectiveness?

Twearning + Motivation

In Education, faculty responsibilities, how people learn, institutional responsibilities, Motivation, teaching on April 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm

JumpingMotivation to learn, to explore, to engage, seems to be less prevalent in my classes. I seem to have more questions about whether something will be on the test, than curiosity about what a theory means and its implications for individual or business conduct.

Yet according the article Can Colleges Manufacture Motivation, by Dan Barrett, posted in the Chronicle of Higher Education, it seems that motivation is a key factor for student success. According to the article, as students continue with their college careers, motivation declines.  And it seems to be faculty rather than institution-inspired. According to one of the studies cited in the article, there were wider disparities in motivation generated within universities rather than between universities. Recommended ways to motivate included multiple opportunities to review assignments and re-submit, permitting students to choose topics and permitting students options on formats. Institutions can motivate students by determining which faculty motivate students most and assigning them to teach the introductory courses. At the same time, different people are motivated by different things and what inspires one can sound a death knell for another.

Can motivation also explain the success of the Twearning exercises where I’ve combined Twitter with Learning? I’m going to add a few questions about motivation to the post-survey about Twitter use; I wish I’d thought to add them to the pre-survey. Perhaps motivation is part of the explanation for the success of Twearning to date. So far, no students have dropped the class, altho there have been varying degrees of participation. If all stay until the end of the course, that itself will be a first during the five years I’ve taught this particular course.

Oh, No, We Won’t Go-Academia and Digital Information

In Education, institutional responsibilities, tests on April 2, 2012 at 9:06 am

Digital information everywhere. Digital books. Digital images. Digital videos. Digital…but not in the academy. In the academy we still place extraordinary attention to print media as the basis for tenure and promotion. We ignore the digital revolution that has occurred all around us.


Instead, the structures of universities often fail to reward and champion digital innovators, particularly in guidelines for promotion and authorship that privilege traditional scholarship.

If we do not create mechanisms that reward faculty and students who form digital-research communities, then innovation may bypass universities entirely, putting us at risk of falling behind institutes, private companies, and even individuals.

Randolph Hall, Vice President for Research at USC, made this point in a recent article titled Scholarship, Liberated from Paper at Last in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He notes that after discussion with faculty at his institution, the faculty agreed to include revise the process for tenure and promotion to include recognition of the value of a faculty member’s digital research.

Change occurs slowly in academic institutions. I’ve made that point in other posts. You would think academia would be at the forefront of forging new directions and new research areas. You would think that academia would be the first to devise new ways of thinking about how people learn and in fostering an environment of analyzing tradition and also challenging tradition. If you thought that, you would be wrong. Academia is tied down to traditional methods despite the progress in the rest of society. For example, information forwarded for academic tenure and review at my university is still wedded to paper documents. The process includes, for example, instructions on how the faculty member should label his or her [paper] binder. So, even though all the documents are created electronically, they must be converted to paper for the review. ePortfolios (see .e.g. Trent Babson’s ePortfolio links) or programs like LiveBinder could allow for that same information to be provided in electronic form.

u_s__supreme_courtWhy are academic institutions wedded to paper? Paper is perceived as more permanent; however there are ways to preserve electronic documents. And if the courts permit electronic filing of documents (see e.g. e-filing of electronic briefs) where finances and other matters are at stake, then our University should recognize the value of electronic documents. Also, if the concern is the rigor of the scholarship, public exposure and peer review can help to increase rigor. Research that is available to the public helps to promote additional learning for the public and for the researcher. It could also lead to additional research and creative use of that research.

So, as noted in the Hall article, academia must recognize the value of digital research. Hall notes that Universities like Harvard have createst tubested ways to disseminate research to the public more quickly so that others can read and comment on it. My own experience in posting on SlideShare and on this blog has allowed me to present research findings, (e.g. results of using Twitter in the classroom) to many others. I have had 80 views on a presentation on plagiarism-far more than attended the actual presentation. And with more exposure, I have more opportunity to learn more, test my research and work to make it better.  That’s much more exposure than posting the article in a paper journal that requires that people go to a physical library to access it.

Still Adrift in Education

In assessment of learning, course evaluations, critical thinking, faculty responsibilities, institutional responsibilities, teaching on February 15, 2012 at 1:19 pm

In his essay,’ Academically Adrift’: the News Gets Worse and Worse, Kevin Carey, explains that there is more information that not only do college students fail to learn in college, but also that students who perform lower on the CLA (Collegiate Learning Assessment) also fail to find financial security after graduation.

In an earlier post, I discussed some of the conclusions I reached from the sections of the book which I had read. Those conclusions were:

  • There is an inverse relationship between the number of faculty publications and a faculty orientation toward students.
  • The higher students’ grades in the course, the more positive the student evaluations.
  • Grade inflation probably exists.

In a later post, I discussed critical thinking as a concern: that students don’t “enjoy” the challenge of traditional problem solving the way I (and other faculty) do and that has an impact on whether students learn. If students do not see tackling and solving problems as a challenge (and we as educators should do as much as we can to make problem-solving interesting), then there will be a significant impact on student learning.

A Not So Radical Transformation in a Core Business Course

In the introductory business law course that is required for all business majors, all the faculty teaching the course agreed to make substantial changes in the way the course was taught in order to acknowledge and address perceived efficiencies: students lack of college-level ability to read, college-level ability to write and need to improve critical thinking. Students complained a great deal about the additional work.

Assessing and Working to Improve Reading Skills

Although my own experience with students confirms that it would help for them to have more practice reading and writing, the students did not agree. When asked whether My Reading Lab (a publisher-created product) helped them, students said no:


Note that this response is only the student’s perceptions. We have not yet completed an analysis to determine whether those who performed better on My Reading Lab performed better on the tests or in the course. We will work on analyzing that data later. This also does not included longitudinal data, i.e. would students, upon reflection, decide that they had learned more than they thought by the additional practice reading. However, what this data does show is that students did not embrace the additional reading practice and testing requirement.

Reading the Textbook

Student preparation for class is a concern. Many students do not read before attending class; they attended class then read after class.  In addition, students did not study. As part of the course redesign, we required quizzes prior to students attending class. Students (74.2%) agreed that the quizzes helped them keep up with the reading.  Even though the students said the quizzes helped them keep up with the reading, many still didn’t read everything. The following graph lists the students responses about whether they had read the textbook (this is at the end of the semester):


Note that 40/202 or 19.8% read 90% or more of the readings and 80/202 or 39.6% read 80-89% of the readings. That means that nearly 60% of the class read 80% or more of the readings. These are the results obtained after faculty required that students read and take a quiz on the material before attending class. Thus, students were more motivated to keep up with the reading. How would these results differ if the students had not been required to take a quiz before attending class?


Student preparation and studying. The following graph includes information on the hours that students studied.


According to these self-reports, 21.2% of students studied between 1 and 3 hours per week, 27.7% of students studied between 3 and 5 hours per week, and 21.7% of students studied between 5 and 7 hours per week.  Students should have studied nearly 8 hours per week (2 hours per week outside class for each hour of class-this was a 4 unit course). In Chapter 4 of Academically Adrift, the authors note that students report spending 12 hours per week on their courses outside of class.  According to figure 4.2 of the book, in a 7 day week, students spent approximately 7% of their time studying.

Conclusions so far

The educational process requires that the faculty and the student participate, and if the students have not completed their share, then education and learning wouldn’t necessarily take place. I don’t know how this data compares to other studies on student reading, but it is challenging to help learning if both parties are not fully invested. Students have a variety of reasons for that lack of involvement, but if the investment in education is relatively small, then improvement in learning will be small.

In addition, this past semester, my student course evaluations were much lower (this was also partly due to a change in the institution’s survey evaluation instrument). Because I am tenured, I do not face losing my job over the changes in my student evaluations (although adjunct faculty face a different reality when it comes to being rehired). However, adjunct faculty depend on good student evaluations in order to keep their jobs. If that is the case, adding rigor to a class could cost that faculty member his or her job.

In assessment of learning, institutional responsibilities on January 31, 2012 at 7:00 am

Higher ed’s move from pursuit of knowledge to pursuit of enterprise dollars and its impact.

This is a summary of another article that I haven’t yet had time to read-so this information is secondhand. It is interesting because it talks about the University’s move from pursuit of knowledge to pursuit of business dollars.


[Image retrieved from, 31 January 2012]

While this week is a “break” week in the change mooc, I decided to reflect on the article to which I referred last week – Rhoades, R.A. 2011. The U.S. research university as a global model: some fundamentals to consider ( InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 7(2): 1-27).

My reason for being intrigued by Rhoads’ (2011) analysis and critique is twofold:

  • Throughout this mooc there were questions asked about the future of higher education and more specifically on how advances in technology are shaping teaching and learning. Rhoads’ analysis indicates that there are other forces at work that we should not lose sight of…
  • I completed my application for “rating” by our National Research Foundation (NRF) as part of the institutional imperative to increase the number of NRF rated researchers resulting in a higher standing for my home…

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Improving Critical Thinking in Higher Education-Possibly

In faculty responsibilities, institutional responsibilities, teaching on March 15, 2011 at 6:43 am

In Chapter 2 of Academically Adrift,  authors note that improving critical thinking is a skill that many university’s tout as one of their leading goals. Yet, according to the study, the improvement in critical thinking during the first two years of school is minimal at best—according to the authors, the improvement is statistically not above zero. The book authors state

An astounding proportion of students are progressing through higher education today without measurable gains  [emphasis added] in general skills as assessed by the CLA. While they may be acquiring subject specific knowledge or greater self-awareness on their journeys through college, many students are not improving their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.” (ch 2-reading on Kindle so don’t have page #)

How can that be? Institutions require that students take a package of courses and one key goal is to improve critical thinking. How is it that institutions can miss the mark by so much? Similarly GE courses have as one of their goals requiring students to write a minimum number of words in a course. Why is it that students cannot write (well) after their first few semesters in college?

I have a couple of thoughts (I still haven’t finished the book to find the authors’ suggestions). One is that faculty have not been taught how to teach critical thinking. Most of us teach the substantive content in our disciplines and teach primarily in the way that we had been taught. We presume that if we learned that way, then students can learn that way.

I enjoy critical thinking questions and challenges, yet I am not certain that I do a good job teaching students how to think critically. (And we don’t’ always agree what that means.) I try thinking, musing girl silhouetteto model how we think in the discipline through the way I solve problems, but I don’t know whether I’m helping students learn how to do it or not.

Critical thinking is a skill and habit of mind that must be practiced. At the same time, one must have an interest in it. If I am giving a complex problem, case scenario or reading, I dive in. I presume that I will be able to read through it and analyze it enough so that I can understand it. I see it as a challenge to try to understand it.

Many of my students do not approach tough material or a complex scenario with the same gusto. They seem to just want  me to tell them the answer and they are uncomfortable with the idea that there could be multiple ways of approaching the issue and multiple solutions depending on one’s interpretation of the scenario. They are not comfortable with the idea that I want to know how they arrived at the solution—they just want to know whether their solution is the “correct” solution.

So far, the reading implicitly presents an argument that these initial courses should be taught by full time-tenured faculty who have had guidance in learning how to teach someone to develop critical thinking skills. On most campuses, however, the faculty who tech the GE courses are part time or adjunct faculty and those faculty may be excluded from opportunities to learn how to teach critical thinking more effectively.

My theory on lack of writing ability is based on my concerns with student plagiarism. I will not repeat here what I explained in an earlier post.

Learning More about Teaching and Learning (Or Lack Thereof)

In assessment of learning, faculty responsibilities, how people learn, institutional responsibilities on February 27, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I have not posted much since the beginning of the semester. It’s been hectic. I am currently traveling, so I have begun reading the book Academically Adrift. Note that this is a long post, so it teachersmay take more than a quick glance.

What I have learned from reading the book so far is disturbing. Some of it I knew but some of it was new. The following are my comments on some of the things I learned and my reactions.

  • I learned that there is an inverse relationship between the number of faculty publications and a faculty orientation toward students.

I knew this intuitively, but the book summarizes studies that suggest that faculty in non-research institutions have become more research-focused. This research focus is at the detriment of focusing on students (and teaching and learning). I believe that is true in my school-we have pushed to encourage faculty to publish. If faculty have a finite amount of time to work and the reward lawbooksstructure has shifted to reward publications instead of good teaching, then teaching must suffer.  The one shining light in our school is that teaching-related publications are accepted now as  quality publications. The benefit of that is that faculty can use the research as a way to improve teaching. It will be interesting to see whether that results in improved student learning.

  • I learned that the higher students’ grades in the course, the more positive the student evaluations.

I have heard this many times before. My response has been that if faculty challenge students in courses, students will rise to challenge and they will improve their performance. I also believed that faculty can have higher student evaluations in courses where they are tougher as long as the grading standards are clear and students know what to expect.  My philosophy had always been that challenging students results in student recognition that they can do the work and student effort to complete the work.  I haven’t read the studies to examine the parameters of the studies cited by the authors of ACADEMICALLY ADRIFT, but their summaries of those studies suggest that inflated grades result from reduced demands on students.

I also have anecdotal evidence that this is true. Adjunct faculty only get re-hired if their student evaluations are equal to department averages. Yet we know that student evaluations are nothing more than student satisfaction studies and student satisfaction doesn’t necessarily translate to student learning.  In a previous post, I discussed the study that concluded that students admit that they lie on student evaluations. And if you look at Harvard’s study on implicit assumptions, one of the things that is apparent is that whether a student “likes” a faculty member could depend on factors unrelated to teaching and learning.

As I read, I resisted this suggestion. I want to believe that high quality teaching and challenging demands result in, at least equivalent student evaluations.

My belief has gone down in flames. I advocate change a great deal, but I was certain that students would recognize the value in challenges and would see that as an important quality in an instructor. Must I accept that this is an incorrect belief? I guess I must really re-examine that, because it seems to be contrary to the evidence.

  • I learned that grade inflation probably exists.

According to the studies referenced in the book, grade inflation is real. It seems that every balloongeneration looks at the previous one and says that the current generation is unprepared. One of the studies referenced by the authors says that student class and study time went from 25 hours per week to 14 hours per week during the past 40 years.  (That includes the time spent in class each week.) This result mean either that the students now are smarter and thus need to study less or there’s something seriously wrong in education that students can earn top grades and yet study only 14 hours per week.

Disturbing. I’ll post more as I read and absorb the information in the book.