Sunday, April 26, 2015

Mission: Two ways of looking at it

Being mission-driven is a good thing, or so we are told.  Assuming it is, mission can be framed in two ways:  as transforming a system or facilitating individual change.

I based my dissertation on a social constructionist view of organizations rather than a systems view.  I won't get into a defense of that now, but I think people in the organizations for the most part "create" the organization by their discourse and behavior.

Recently a colleague who is, like me, devoted to faculty development, said that she was all about educational transformation.  I would say I am all about helping other professors be better professors.  I think the difference is this:  I want the professors to develop their own gifts, not change to a different person.  I am not sure, but a faculty developer can have a "I'm going to change people for their own good according to my agenda."  That could explain resistance.

I am working on a paper in this regard.  Faculty are resistant to many things, especially being told they are deficient despite spending ten years in college to be an expert in what they do.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The future of higher education

I spend a lot of time thinking about this topic--it's my job to do so, at least until June 30, when my time as an interim administrator is up.  My convictions.

Tenure will go away.  There can be other, better contractual situations for faculty.  Or at least it needs to be restructured. 

Academic freedom is a word that gets thrown around and is meaningless because of so many definitions for it.  If academic freedom is in any way conflated with "lack of accountability," that needs to go away.  Lack of accountability in the college classroom is unsustainable.  I hear faculty say, "I just want to close my door and deal with students."  I understand that; it's why we chose this work.  But why so defensive?  Why not more open and transparent about what goes on in there?  Not to put the burden of proof on hard working faculty, but I have to wonder about a refusal to let others know what and how you teach.  Where else in the economy is such secrecy allowed? (Other than therapy?)

Publish or perish is a strange model.  Why do we have to pay to get journals that were written by people who were not paid for the articles and who did them while on the public dollar? (at least most of the time, either through grants or through being paid for working in public institutions?)  Our system has a wonderful virtual library where almost everything is available, but not everyone has that.  Google Scholar is helpful at time but most of those articles have to be paid for to access. 

Secondly, a great deal of what gets published under the need for publication is not really of much value, but that is my opinion and I would understand arguments to the contrary.  I also am prejudiced against some fields that seem more to be navel-gazing and political screeds than legitimate disciplines (no names, again).

That said, every faculty member needs to be doing research of some kind because research is learning.  How it is disseminated is another issue, but it should be.   And SoTL is not inferior to other research.

Doctoral education is doing a poor job of preparing candidates for real academic jobs.  Leadership is undervalued, as is collegiality and working in groups.  My program was not like that, but I know others are, especially in the humanities. 

On the other hand, state governments need to have their butts kicked about funding.  The state in which I live is suffering from lack of prioritizing higher education.    It is paying the price.

Open Educational Resources

I was privileged yesterday to attend a summit on Open Educational Resources.  I have a lot of thoughts on this initiative. The keynote speaker was Cable Green of Creative Commons, which was a real treat for me as someone concerned with publishing.  He is a very good presenter and passionate about these projects.

OER is fueled by a number of forces:  the almost totally free distribution power of digital media on the Internet, the rising costs of tuition and textbooks, and the research showing that students are not buying textbooks and dropping courses due to the high prices of them.  Prices are outrageous and unsustainable, and I have empathy of students in this regard.

However, I don't think OER is the only answer to the last point.  That is a course design problem too.  If students can pass a class and meet the outcomes (often not the same thing) without access to the textbook, there is something wrong with the course and the teaching of it.  Assigning a book that is not critical to learning success is nonsense.  Therefore, I don't think that OER initiatives will answer all questions about student success, but it's a start.

I am seriously considering using an OER in one of my classes and am working with a colleague on a grant for another, but I am not entirely sure of the biggest piece:  faculty buy-in.  One thing that was not discussed fully yesterday is that adoption of OER really does entail a big effort in course redesign.  As such, it affects academic freedom (the subject of another post).  Short of a mandate, faculty buy-in will be slow, I think.  First, for multi-section core, freshmen-level courses, there must be agreement on the basic texts, or the college has a situation of either
1.  some faculty using free and others not, which will not be fair to students, and
2.  everyone one using free but different resources.

Second, for sophomore courses and up, there will probably be limited open educational texts.  For example, a marketing or business management course. 

The other downside is that the publishers can get ugly about these things.  Also, one textbook I use has excellent ancillaries and the faculty member might be forced to reinvent the wheel.

A better solution long-term, really, is for publishers to get on board and stop charging so much for books, stop making new editions that are not really new editions, and find low-cost alternatives.  The publisher of our speech text (no names here) was willing to work with us and bring costs down--not to free, of course, but to a more reasonable level.