Future of the University

One place I see room for improvement is in the general education requirements that universities have. I understand that the intention of such requirements is to provide students with a well-rounded education.

However, students receive little or no guidance on the best way to select courses that will be useful to them while also fulfilling the requirements. Therefore many students feel that institutions are wasting their time and money by having these requirements. We all know there are students around the country sitting in Art History classes asking themselves, “why do I need to know the difference between these two cave paintings?” It would be helpful to students to share their learning goals with someone who can guide them to a set of courses that will help them meet those goals.

Do student evaluations help or hurt?

I am commenting on the article “Students evaluating teachers doesn’t just hurt teachers. It hurts students.” which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

I will start by saying that I didn’t realize that this was such a hotly debated topic. Of course, my perspective is biased by the fact that I have only attended institutions in the United States, where student evaluations are standard. It makes intuitive sense to ask students what they are getting out of a course; if we want to know if students are meeting learning goals, why not just ask them if they are?

A major concern about evaluations is whether instructors prioritize good reviews over good teaching. It is easy to say that they shouldn’t, but when these evaluations are one of the ways in which their job performance evaluated, I can see how some people might succumb to that pressure. Another concern is what factors contribute to the evaluations students give. As is mentioned in the article, factors completely unrelated to teaching like “sexiness” can lead to better evaluations which is worrying.

Demand for Higher Education

I am commenting on the article “Higher education is headed for a supply and demand crisis” which appeared in the Washington Post earlier this year.

In the recent past, the percentage of high school graduates attending college in the US has steadily increased, with almost 70% of high school graduates now attending college. This article speculates that, due to projected demographic shifts in the population, in about a decade, this percentage will decrease. Some institutions are already having trouble meeting enrollment goals.

I’m trying to imagine what this future looks like for institutions of higher education. We know that currently, a few institutions close each year. If demand decreases, will we see a slew of institutions closing in a short period of time? How will the change in supply and demand affect the cost of higher education?

Bullying

There was an article published in Nature last week about bullying in science. In several of the cases mentioned in the article, funding agencies revoked funds from the scientists accused of bullying (after they were investigated, of course). This sends a strong message that these funding agencies will not tolerate this type of inappropriate conduct.

It’s also mentioned that 40% of academics have witnessed or heard about bullying happening to other people within the past year. This seems outrageously high to me. Of course, there is some grey area about what exactly constitutes “bullying” so everyone may be defining it a bit differently, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is clearly a bullying problem in academia. I think it’s important for institutions (universities, funding agencies, etc) to have very clear policies against bullying, which includes a clear definition of what they consider bullying, in order to stop this kind of behavior.

What is School For?

Seth Godin poses a question in his TEDx talk that I have been mulling over all semester: what is school for? I think we can all agree that a school isn’t just a building to hold students for the day; although, as Parker Palmer points out in “A New Professional,” “the fact that we have schools does not mean we have education.”

I am inclined to agree with many of the points Godin makes about how education may (should?) change moving forward and with the availability of technology:

  • Making lectures and course materials available online would give students control over their schedules, and the freedom to manage their time as they please. In concert with an expert in the subject matter– available either in person as Godin suggests, or online in real time– to direct questions toward, this seems like a promising model.
  • There may have been a time when memorizing information was necessary, but in a world where we have constant access to resources, this is an outdated idea. It is likely that students will, over time, memorize the important facts that come up repeatedly in their work but requiring memorization and regurgitation is unnecessary and ineffective.
  • Godin mentions “precise, focused education.” Products we purchase are customizable, we have precision medicine (kind of), so why not education too? I have some trouble imagining what exactly this would look like. I think of my undergraduate experience; I completed a degree with an interdisciplinary major, which gave me the ability to select courses that aligned with my interests. On the other hand, it failed to create a cohesive progression in my studies that students in established departments had.

Open Pedagogy

After listening to the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast with Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani, I went looking for a definition of ‘open pedagogy.’ Though I wasn’t able to find one clear definition, it seems to me that the goals of open pedagogy are to engage students in their own learning, and to overcome barriers to education (e.g. cost).

In a TEDx talk, David Wiley says “teachers who are the best teachers, are the ones who share the most completely with the most students.” His point here is that educators should be open in sharing their expertise and experiences. After all, you can “share [your expertise]… without losing it.” Education is about openly sharing ideas back and forth, and collaboratively creating new ideas.

The use of open educational resources (OER), including open textbooks and open access journal articles, can substantially reduce costs of students. Students may find themselves asking: “After paying the high price of tuition, why is the information I’m supposed to be getting still behind a $1000 paywall?” Even worse, the additional cost may prohibit some students from being able to afford to enroll.

Traditional textbooks often get updated every 5-or-so years. Often for introductory textbooks, the new edition of a book might simply rearrange the order of the chapters, or add a few new figures– which probably isn’t worth the $150 price tag. I realize the need for updates can vary by field and sub-field. For fields that are rapidly changing, open textbooks may also be advantageous because they can be revised by experts right away instead of waiting five years for a new book to be published.

 

 

5 Rs of OER: retain, redistribute, remix, reuse, reise

Social Media in Higher Education

There is no doubt that social media has changed the way people communicate. Although the most popular forms of social media may change, it is definitely here to stay. Institutions of higher education have caught on to the fact that they should be using social media to promote their brand and engage current students and alumni, among other things.

According to the infographic above, Facebook is the most commonly used social media platform by institutions. But as Facebook is declining in popularity in younger age groups (including today’s college students), institutions will need to reevaluate how they can best reach their target audience.

Open Access Journals

BMC Physiology is an open access journal that I explored. BioMed Central (BMC) is a part of Springer Nature, is one of the largest open access publishers, and publishes many journals in different fields. BMC Physiology specifically publishes peer-reviewed articles about physiological processes- from the cellular to organismal level. All articles published in this journal “are made freely and permanently accessible online immediately upon publication.”[1]

In addition to open access journals, there are many peer-reviewed subscription journals that give authors the option to publish their articles with open access for a fee. While the open-access model certainly seems to increase transparency in research, it is not perfect. While articles in open-access publications are free to readers, there may be high costs to authors to publish in these journals. Additionally, as authors and readers, we should be aware of predatory open-access journals, which are not reputable and will print any article submitted as long as the fee is paid.

1. https://bmcphysiol.biomedcentral.com/about

The Authentic Teaching Self

When I began reading Sarah Deel’s “Finding my Teaching Voice,” the very first line, in which she says “when [she] began teaching… all [she] knew about teaching came from watching [her] own teachers over the 16 years [she’d] spent in school,” resonated with me. I feel that’s the same mindset that I’m in right now– often thinking about instructors I’ve had in the past, and what they did that I liked and disliked.

I realize that I’m making (at least) two somewhat problematic assumptions in this line of thinking:

(1) That I should emulate those who have come before me.
Sarah Deel’s essay dives into this one. She ultimately comes to the conclusion that your teaching style comes from within. That being said, it can be difficult to sit down and answer, “who am I?” To complicate things further, I (and everyone else, I imagine) can be very different in different contexts. So the real question is, “who am I when I teach?” What parts of my personality do I want to accentuate as a teacher?

(2) That the type of instruction that I responded well to as a student is what others will respond to as well.
What I find most helpful or engaging in the classroom isn’t necessarily what others respond to, so trying to base my own teaching style off of what I like in a teacher may not be the best method. Students have different learning styles, and come from different backgrounds and with different skills. While it’s probably impossible to cater to every student’s style (although that may depend on how many students you have), I try to keep in mind that having some variety is important.

Ethics

As I looked through the misconduct case summaries on the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) website, I couldn’t help but think “these are only the people who have been caught.” In the case of Ricky Malhotra, falsified/fabricated data had been used on 13 different documents in a period of over 5 years. In some cases, results were reported from experiments that hadn’t even been performed.

I also thought of an article I read a few months ago in which the author says “if you keep rearranging, testing, breaking down and putting together over and over, you can generally find something that comes out looking as if it were significant.” This was also referring to a researcher who had to retract several articles after inconsistencies were discovered. Both cases show that unless someone speaks up, incidents of research misconduct can be ongoing for many years. Checks on research findings exist but are by no means foolproof, and there is a general trust that academics report full and accurate information.

1 2