Link: The Fundamental Way That Universities Are an Illusion – The New York Times

Here’s a provocative essay on the illusion that is the modern university.

Kevin Carey suggests that universities cannot guarantee overall excellence in their academic programs because professors are more like independent contractors than anything else. Academic freedom plays out as “you can’t tell me what to do.” So higher ed pedagogy is much harder to correct than K-12 pedagogy (which I would argue is making greater strides toward excellence, despite the destructive effects of the assessment craze).

An interesting short read.

When college leaders talk about academic standards, they often mean admissions standards, not standards for what happens in classrooms themselves.

via The Fundamental Way That Universities Are an Illusion – The New York Times.

“Adjunctification” is a sign of dehumanization

Here’s the post that sparked my thoughts below – a discussion of the precipitous rise of adjuncts in higher ed, from 25% just a few years ago to 75% now in some places.

At Colleges Across the Country, PhDs Join the Ranks of Low-Wage Workers.

The devaluation of the teacher (who is the core of any educational experience) is a serious danger in all education, both K-12 and higher ed. I’m stunned that it’s so hard for politicians and consumers within the system to see that and/or care.

Faculty quality matters. Teacher experience matters. Being trained in pedagogy as a higher ed professor matters. Quality of life for faculty matters. Enabling faculty to have the space and time to mentor students and build relationships matters because education is, at the core, a relational endeavor.

What’s really in play here is that we’re seeing a result of dehumanization within the higher ed system — both of students as “education” has become a commodity to be traded, a transfer of information or skills in direct exchange for “immediate employability” (a concept which itself does damage to the ideas of vocation and calling and a well-lived life), and of faculty, who in this kind of system are of little value beyond quantity of information they can spew to the most students in the least amount of time.

And the colleges are not the only guilty ones here. Families make the college decision based greatly on bottom-line cost, without considering that pound for pound not all education is the same. Two years at a community college are NOT the same cognitive or social experience as a baccalaureate college environment. But because as a society we’re willing to let the “bottom” of the economic strata get by on underfunded community college educations, we’re now seeing the diminished value of education creep up into the middle class.

Understand, I’m not blaming families for making economic decisions – college is expensive. I’m also not blaming colleges for responding to the strident demands of current families and students to be presented with top-notch, brand-new dorms and classroom buildings and entertainment complexes as part of the college experience. The market has spoken.

But the market isn’t our god, nor should it determine our ethics.


via At Colleges Across the Country, PhDs Join the Ranks of Low-Wage Workers.

We Need Better Teaching with Tech in Higher Ed

I’ve developed a greater interest in recent years in how pedagogy works at colleges and universities. While student loan debt and the value of a liberal arts degree in a STEM world are topics on everyone’s minds (so the media would suggest), a deafening silence surrounds the question of whether faculty in higher education are effective teachers.

My gut feeling, based on my own experiences with higher ed plus some very limited observation and basic reading, is that higher ed pedagogy is very broken.  Subject specialists with PhD’s in research fields may have little to no aptitude for teaching, while qualified educators who’ve honed their craft (usually in a secondary classroom) are often barred from higher ed because they do not possess a doctoral degree (an expensive and time-consuming credential).

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently released a report on Faculty Trends. There’s much to discuss there, but I want to focus on the question of technology in the classroom.  Inside Higher Ed offers a great piece that sums up the report’s findings and offers some counter conclusions. Take a moment to read:

Take-Away From the Gates Report on Faculty | College Ready Writing @insidehighered.

In brief, the Gates Foundation reports that the rate of tech adoption in colleges is very low, as expected. Faculty are aware of innovative teaching methods, like flipped classrooms or hybrid courses that incorporate online discussions with face to face teaching, but the majority of faculty aren’t using them.

The Inside Higher Ed article highlights two important reasons why higher ed faculty are not as innovative as their peers in K-12:

1. Faculty are far more influenced by their peers in the discipline than anyone else, and some disciplines are less open to technological innovation.

2. Campus infrastructure tends to devalue anything that isn’t STEM or business, so many faculty in other fields are teaching in outdated classrooms.

My own classroom experience was located in a small school with few resources. I didn’t really mind the challenge; I think scarcity can breed creative problem solving. But the technology roadblocks were maddening.  If I had a dollar for every time my attempt to take students into the computer lab to do some research turned into a frustrated pile of kids and teacher clustered around the only working computer, I’d have a retirement account.

Higher ed pedagogy is under-addressed.   While I’m not a fan of the pressure coming from the DOE on universities toward outcome-based assessment, perhaps one upside will be attention on professional development for all college faculty.


Link: How Engaged Are Students and Teachers in American Schools? | MindShift

Unfortunately, most teachers are not in a position to share excitement with students. About 70% are classified as disengaged, which puts them on par with the workforce as a whole. This is surprising in some ways, because teachers score close to the top on measures that indicate that they find meaning in their life and see work as a calling. Unfortunately, the structures that teachers are working in–which may include high-stakes standardized testing and value-added formulas that evaluate their performance based on outside factors–seem to tug against their happiness. “The real bummer is they don’t feel their opinions matter,” Busteed says. K-12 teachers scored dead last among 12 occupational groups in agreeing with the statement that their opinions count at work, and also dead last on “My supervisor creates an open and trusting environment.” via How Engaged Are Students and Teachers in American Schools? | MindShift.

Wish List: Piecing Together an Ideal School From the Ground Up | MindShift

Wish List: Piecing Together an Ideal School From the Ground Up | MindShift.

Couldn’t have said it better myself! This is a great, short piece at Mind/Shift about inquiry learning, interdisciplinary teaching, trusting students as active participants in their learning process, assessing through multiple means, investing in teachers through professional development, and not locking in too quickly on how to use technology in a classroom.


Beyond The Great Teacher Myth | Practical Theory

As long as there is little to no time in the high school schedule for teachers and students to see and celebrate each other’s shared humanity, too many students will feel that school is something that is done to them, that teachers care more about their subjects than they do about the kids. As long as teachers have 120-150 kids on their course roster, and there is little continuity year to year so that relationships cannot be maintained, too many students will be on their own when they struggle. If we build schools where teachers and students have time to relate to one another as people – if we create pathways for students and teachers to know each other over time, so that every child knows they have an adult advocate in their school, we make schools more human — and more humane – for all who inhabit them.

via Beyond The Great Teacher Myth | Practical Theory.


Time to realign professional development

Design thinking is a buzzword these days, but don’t let that discourage you from discovering this great trend in thinking and researching.

Stanford is a leader in developing design thinking across many disciplines, including in education.  One of their research fellows, Melissa Pelochino, is working to improve one of the un-blessings of a teacher’s life.

You’d think “professional development” would be awesome — I mean, who doesn’t want to spend time investigating their professional field and deepening their skills? But so often, PD sessions are pretty dull. Pelochino writes,

PD is still being delivered in a 20th-century lecture style, and most of it looks the same: teachers sitting in rows, staring at computers or cellphones while a person at the front of the room talks at them and refers to a computer screen from time to time. 

I was recently at an “innovation conference” where someone taught a lecture called “tyranny of the lecture” — in a lecture format. Uhhhhh. So, when I tell teachers I am working on redesigning professional development, they often cheer and say, “thank you.”

 ~Designing what’s next in teacher’s professional development

It makes sense that a teacher great at her craft would assume that structuring professional development like a great classroom lesson — project work, collaboration, deep inquiry — would make for a fantastic PD session.  But…. it didn’t.

Pelochino realized instead that very short PD videos, which she calls “Two Minute PD” sessions, could be far more effective for busy professionals. Teachers have the time to invest two minutes on watching a topic that will immediately be relevant to their classrooms.  It’s a great application of design thinking to a basic workplace problem.

Thinking in Grace-based ways about teaching and learning demands that we recognize the humanity of the teacher as much as the student. Ironically, in some circles, it’s easy for school personnel to develop creative and constructive pathways for students to learn, but that very creativity drains those teachers from investing the time and energy in their own development.

Relational teaching requires not only an engaged educator; also our schools must ensure their faculty have the mental, emotional, spiritual, temporal, and physical space to learn and grow themselves.

A few practical suggestions for small schools and busy teachers to improve professional development:

  • Administrators and Boards:  Build PD time and money into your budget as an investment in your faculty.  A healthy, engaged faculty leads to a healthy, functioning school. Ignore the development of your teachers, and you endanger your school.   Build a fence around this time and money and don’t let it be overrun by even “good” pressures that would divert that time or money to other causes.
  • Principals: Guard your scheduled time for observing your teachers and mentoring them as teachers.  This is vital to building solid relationships between staff and administration and for making sure you have the right perspective when planning PD opportunities.  Ask teachers how they would like to further their own development….and listen to that feedback.  Oh and do what you can to keep PD relevant to your situation, your school … and away from latest fads. 
  • Professional development committees:  Consider facilitating two minute PD sessions at weekly faculty meetings. Whether you use Pelochino’s videos or simply ask faculty to take 2 minutes to share a technique or activity that worked well last week, build some PD discussion into each faculty meeting.  And consider free time for your teachers a priority in your PD plans — for thinking, learning, collaborating, and just recharging.  
  • Teachers:  Tell your administration what would genuinely help you be a better teacher.  Really. You might not have much control over what PD sessions are forced into your schedule, but make sure that’s not because the administration isn’t aware of what would actually be useful to you.  And insist that you get time in faculty meetings to hear from your colleagues about their best practices in the classroom — your fellow practitioners are a gold mine.
  • Parents: Be an advocate for your kids’ teacher(s).  Insist that teachers get the time and space to refresh and learn.  Don’t condemn teacher workdays as wasteful or irrelevant.  Teaching is a demanding profession, far more than you might realize, and we need time for our brains and emotions to recover throughout the school year. 
I’m glad people like Melissa Pelochino are trying to improve PD.  Props to her.  Maybe I’ll submit a two-minute video for her channel … 😉