Monday, April 1, 2019

Lost in the Clouds

Hello, peeps! I haven't been posting for a long time. This long-form communication seems to have become reserved for those privileged with time and resources to research and think deeply about issues that matter. Certainly many of us have witnessed how this way of navigating the world becomes more and more of a rarity in our lives and those around us. We work long hours, rush to manage the simple daily acts of love and laundry, spend too much time texting, FB-ing, Instagram-ing (so instant!) and worse. Even our president spends hours tweeting instead of reading complex government briefings. We are lost in the digital clouds.

But here in higher education, as we move increasingly more surely into becoming cyborgs, I find that those moving most quickly ask (and are held accountable to answer) tough questions not asked of their seat-in-butt classroom peers.

One question that comes up OFTEN is how to better use discussion boards to create engagement, inquiry, reflection. I love some of the methods my colleagues are using, and I admired the inquiry found in this recent reading I came across that summarized the work of my community of peeps to continue to find better ways to create engagement, learning, student success and path to graduation.

Some of them might even work in the classroom!

Discussion Boards: Valuable? Overused? Discuss.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Change is Gonna Come

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

It's so odd when a song gets stuck in your head. When for no reason, Sam Cooke's voice starts up and it just doesn't stop. Why is that? Even more perplexing, I now find myself asking Alexa to play a song, and as it starts, I wonder 'why that song?' When I'm thinking about 100 other things, making dinner, or checking my email, I ask for a song long in the past and not heard for years. And now, I have to wonder if Alexa hasn't become some kind of therapist, bringing forward thoughts hard to acknowledge in the forefront, but clicking away behind the noise. 

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

I write about change in higher education - what it would take, the post-traditional students, eLearning, analytics, finance, student debt, adjuncts...CHANGE! Whether we like it or not. Whether we're ready or not. I write about it with some urgency, given my role of researching, recommending, cajoling, forcing, and implementing change on my campus. But the fact that Sam Cooke is popping into my brain surprises me, as I usually don't write about it with the heavy heart imbued in his song. 

I think I'm getting tired. I do believe it's coming - that change, that oncoming train, that fierce wind - but as Sam says "a long, long time coming" and so many lives ruined  in the process. 

Student debt$1.4 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers. The average 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year. Graduates today are putting off moving out of their parents' homes, having children, buying a house. They are trapped in a perpetual, grinding adolescence. 

Adjuncts: More than half of US faculty are part-time and even when full-time, ~70% of all faculty are not on the tenure track. We are educating scholars, in a grueling PhD process, for careers no longer attainable. 

Loss of public trust: Not unique to American institutions, where the public has lost faith, partly because of economics, of deep political divisions, and frankly, because large institutions (government officials, higher education, the medical community...) have squandered good will with a recklessness that takes our breath away. We could fix it voluntarily or we can be pushed to the wall. My fingers are crossed we go with the former, but the academy is faculty-governed and what's in their best interests is not beneficial to students, parents, communities, the Boards of Regents. It's a wait and see. 

But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Here's the thing that exhausts me: some of the best minds tackling this problem lay outside the academy, and we ignore them. The ones inside are being shut down, silenced, asked to step down, denied tenure, denied the ability to teach in new formats. On the administrative side, change agents don't stay. They burn out or get pushed out. 

Faculty voices that are rising, asking for an end to the hiring of bureaucrats, aren't complaining about good leaders being hired to do good work. They're pushing back against all the obstructionists settling in for life - still refusing to use calendaring, to return emails, to look at change. Some are pushing back at the endless stream of offices supporting division and identity politics. And thus the sorrowful, Sam Cooke sounds that accompany new research on the state of higher education. 

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

I believe that.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Online Students: What do we know about them?

Interesting report from the 2017 Online College Students survey. Things we should have guessed, but nice to see validated. What did students say? They want an engaging, quality education. They want to be a part of a community, and want their instructor to be accessible. Online students are students first, and want what students have always wanted. To make meaning of the world. And yes, as "non-traditional students" become the tradition, more than 1/4 of the 20 million students now in college are taking some number of online courses. They want flexible, technology-infused choices. 

At UW Tacoma, we're still behind the demand curve, with 15% of our students signing up for all our online courses within hours of opening for registration. They want more reduced seat time options, but not at the cost of quality. The want to love their courses, but they WANT online and hybrid courses. (This summer, a course with an enrollment cap of 30 had almost 80 students put their name on the waiting list, but no one dropped the course. Eight of the top 10 Wait List courses were online. The other two were pre-reqs that students desperately need. We're working on listening to the needs of our students, but change is hard.)

We hear you, students of UW Tacoma and the 5 million+ now taking online courses. We're working on it. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

3 Before Me

The dreary season of 2016 is rushing past my ears, sounding like a hummingbird heading for home. I thought there would be reflect, to learn new tools, to come to conclusions regarding practicing practices and troubling tech. Instead, I ran as fast as I could just to stay in same place.

But I promised a few colleagues that I would document '3 before me' - Academic Technology's ode to setting tech limits in Canvas - in time for Winter quarter. Here's '3 before me!' in micro-content form:

The Practice

Tell you students not to email you, unless it's personal/private/confidential. Tell them you will not answerIf they have a question on the content, others probably have the same question and you don't want to answer it 30 times. Tell them here are 3 places to go before your mailbox. You can do this! 

#1) The course FAQ thread in Discussion Board. Someone will answer it there, often before you, the instructor, even sees it.

#2) The University Help Desk. You're not Tech Support and you don't need to know why their Windows Vista/BB9/IE8 combination doesn't display PDFs correctly. IT is paid to explore those issues, and some of them enjoy working on the problem.

#3) The syllabus. Doh! Time, due date, requirements, process is usually outlined there. If it's about course content issue, they should look there first.

3 before me. Easy rule. Put it in the syllabus and your online teaching becomes easier and your students become less dependent. Scout's honor.

Lots of faculty think they'll be seen as "nice" if they ignore this advice. Do so at your own peril. Online options can grow work at exponential rates when you start obsessing. '3 before me' is especially gold in online teaching. Why?
  • so you don't burn out teaching online
  • so students take ownership of their learning and problem-solving
  • so they form community unto themselves
You can do this. You can set limits, encourage problem-solving, create more collaborations.
3 Before Me.

Living on Hope and a Prayer

Seems every time I opened my Inbox or Facebook page last week, some friend would send me another link from the net telling us how quickly the higher education milk is reaching the smelly moment when you gag. Right now, most brave souls either don't stop to sniff or they think "What the heck. It's still ok. It's...fine." They have hope - and strong stomachs.

We admire people with strong stomachs. The weak and squeamish? Too bad. Let them drink water. Eat dry cereal. Sip black coffee. Dip cookies in Coke. It's good enough. Of course we remind them it would be better to just buck up, suck it up, endure. Like Marines. If the student debt doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger. If the 20th century curriculum doesn't break your spirit, you'll be tougher to kill later on. If the adjunct campus-hopping commute at inconvenient hours doesn't conflict too much with your employer's expectations, you'll make it through another quarter. Until quarter by quarter and deeper in debt, we will give you a degree. That may or may not help you get a job. We make no guarantees. As Rolling Stone magazine points out in their crushing story on Ripping Off Young America,,

Between 1950 and 1970, sending a kid to a public university cost about four percent of an American family's annual income. Forty years later, in 2010, it accounted for 11 percent. Moody's released statistics showing tuition and fees rising 300 percent versus the Consumer Price Index between 1990 and 2011.

But, hey, that's not our fault. When milk spoils, you don't blame the milk. We had to raise tuition rates. We needed a climbing wall and new stadium; a gourmet dining hall for our honor students; ones that look like the Hilton penthouse suites. You made us do it. Remember when the country was spending like mad and we wanted a seat at the party? Still paying the bill.

Plus, everyone reminded students that it was worth the cost: A better life, better job, more stuff. Again, not our fault that this may not be true. Not our fault. No one told you to major in history. Didn't you see the flyer on STEM? Science technology engineering math, dude (and dudettes; especially dudettes!). In a very bad economy, there are still a few good jobs out there. But just in the applied professions. With a history degree, there's a good chance you'll be working retail. Sorry we didn't explain that, but you didn't ask and we don't actually work out there. How would we know?
Not our fault. Happy new year.

Get thee behind us, 2016!

2016. Blech. Feeling inconsolable and thus a bit lazy. Wish I could share some thoughtful, insightful, encouraging words as we wrap up a very perplexing 2016 and inanely place our hopes in a basket for the coming year. I'm writing a 2017 essay for the Evolllution regarding looking forward, not looking back and doing right for higher education with technology. Will pull myself out of the soup, find renewed confidence in my community's ability to do good in the face of...bad, and post when it's published.

Meanwhile, let me instead just send you on in these cold dark and dreary days of December to the annual review of a writer who never loses her spunk and energy to rouse rabble in the face of infuriating odds. One of my favorite hackers, activists, feminists, thinkers: Audry Waters.

Here's her take on 2016. It's in six thoughtful parts on life, ed-tech, staying sane, doing good. If you can't read them all, give up showering for a week and read them all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Meaning of a College Education

Today's reading: A college degree is worth less if you are raised poor. 

My friend Debra, a sociologist dedicated to "doing the work" of social good, would often talk with me about what was broken and what was beautiful in a college education. In this knowledge age where industry jobs are disappearing, the American dream now includes the expectation that college is available to all. Which means higher education is being asked to rethink what we do and who we do it to. 

Many campuses must now change their mission from one of exclusion to something greater where every American who wants to go to college can find a way. The challenge is not to simply expand and admit, but to CHANGE (ouch) and adapt ourselves to the needs of the post-traditional / new traditional learner. 

Debra and I used to talk about what that might look like and what it would take not just to teach history and math and science and lit...but to teach that "je ne sais crois" that allow first generation and socio-economically disadvantaged students to demonstrate what used to present as old-school educated.

The topic, fraught with land mines, was really about class and culture. Which college never taught us. Wealthy students came to college with the trappings of class: how they spoke, ate, dressed, their manners, their confidence with peers and deference to those above them by age, expertise, power.

Coming from an inner city lower middle class, but having traveled all around the world, earned a PhD, lived in France and spent most of my life working at universities, I asked my very-privileged class friend if I had adapted and passed? "Sometimes," she replied. 

Wait, I live a life of privilege and still sometimes I don't pass? WTF?? Debra would say using that acronym is an example of 'where one comes from'. But it's my choice: an acronym I'll use on this blog with you, dear reader, but not in the Board room, classroom, stiff social settings I'm now often and unhappily placed. They are settings still outside my class and comfort zone but I know how to put on class airs to please, to disappear, to pass. Sometimes. 

So what about our students that are now $30,000 in debt for a bachelor's degree? Who have not traveled and tried? Who never realized that their instructors did not dare approach the difficult topic of how to behave in a way that will make student debt a return on investment? 

Not our job, we lofty historians, mathematicians, scientists, scholars. It is a hard topic, easily shunted aside as impolitic as we do what we've always done. But sometime soon when the longitudinal studies show us that we took the money and didn't deliver what the new traditionals needed? When we read that they are no longer young, in debt and not getting out? Will we still be saying "not our job?"

If so, I hope we have the class to show shame and remorse. So, a start at conversation from the Brookings Institution and how next to "do the work" -
A college degree is worth less if you are raised poor.