Archive for August, 2011

Two New WWC Blogs

August 28, 2011

WWC has always been about Innovation, but the amount of traffic devoted to innovation in higher education has grown over the last two years.  In fact, the most popular articles are the ones that talk about how to transform colleges and universities. I’ve tried to categorize the posts accordingly, but it now seems like a good idea to create separate WWC sites, one  devoted exclusively to innovation in education and the other devoted exclusively to private sector innovation.

Of course, I am not taking  the term “exclusively” too seriously, so you will still find comments, articles, and feeds that relate to both.  But for the most part, the worlds of execution and innovation will be bouncing off each other at a new site called Innovate.WWC.  It can be found at

http://innovate-wwc.com.

Meanwhile all of the inconsistencies that make universities such interesting places will be colliding at Innovate.EDU which is located at

http://innovate-edu.com.

Regardless which site you visit you’ll find all the old posts, and I will keep them on this site as well.

So now HP is dropping webOS, mobile, and

August 19, 2011

So now HP is dropping webOS, mobile, and PCs altogether? http://bit.ly/oa7D92 Follow the bouncing ball, folks.

The Factory Model of Higher Education

August 18, 2011

There are a lot of reasons for thinking that higher education has been on a wrong track for the last fifty years or so.   I have mentioned some of them here and here for example.  As I discuss in my book, current thinking about how to manage a university (particularly a large one) is driven by an industrial model.  It’s not an idea that I invented.  Fifty years ago, Frederick Rudolph, the great historian of universities, talked in pretty explicit terms about the “assembly line”:

On one assembly line the academicians, the scholars were at work; from time to time they left their assembly line long enough to oil and grease the student assembly line. . . . Above them . . . were the managers—the white- collared chief executive offi cers and their assistants. . . . The absentee stockholders sometimes called alumni, the board of directors . . . the untapped capital resources known as benefactors . . . the regulatory agencies and commissions in charge of standards.

You can understand how all of this got started at the turn of the last century.  The great benefactors of higher education were  industrial leaders like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.  They wanted the fairly chaotic system of schools, colleges and universities to establish ground rules.  What constituted credit?  How were students defined?  Where was their money going to go?  The only real models they had to rely on were the brand-new manufacturing models that valued high quality at low cost.  In these models, variance is the enemy.  These were the models that were imposed on American higher education.  We can still see their echoes in testing and accreditation bureaucracies.

But Carnegie-era industrial policy had no way of foreseeing the explosive growth that the last half of the twentieth century brought to American institutions.  I am not alone in thinking that 19th century industrial policies  are at a dead end in higher education.

The Prezi presentation at the start of this post, is an overview of how badly the factory model has led us astray over the last generation. Maria Andersen — a community college professor —  has been cannily accurate in her portrait of modern higher education practices, and I have become a fan of her analysis of the state of our systems.

There is no sound for this video clip unfortunately.  The clip below has sound but the video is pretty bad.  I don’t know what to tell you about how to watch these presentations.  If you have two computers you might consider using one for audio and the other for video.

What is a MOOC?

August 17, 2011

Yesterday’s post prompted questions about what exactly a MOOC is.  It even prompted a note or two about why anyone would choose a stupid name like MOOC.  I can help with the first question.  Here is a video explaining the concept.  I can’t help with the second question, but if you have a better term please let me know.

“I’ll see your 10,000 and raise you….

August 16, 2011

In “Dancing with the Stars” I talked about what a classroom with 10,000 students might be like. The transformation of higher education has begun, and the pace of that change is accelerating.

Dick Lipton’s blog Godel’s Lost Letter has since attracted tens of thousands more.  It is a virtual seminar that, for example, coordinated a global effort to referee an important paper in the theory of algorithms.  At times, the number of viewers topped 100,000. Now Stanford’s Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun are offering an online course in artificial intelligence that will enroll 58,000 students.

On September 12, I will join with 60 or so colleagues to offer a MOOC for tens of thousands of students.  Georgia Tech  students will get credit, and others will get badges that could be convertible to credit if they ever enroll at Tech.  Other institutions will announce their approaches to certifying achievement in the course. A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course, a style of college-level teaching that was pioneered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. The first MOOC, offered in 2008 by George and Stephen was devoted to the subject of their research, a style of learning called connected connectivism. It attracted 10,000 students.

The 2011-12 MOOC is all about transforming university learning and the organizers hope it will attract a much wider global audience.  They are calling it the Mother of all MOOCS.

The course will also be a C21U experiment on self-certification, a concept I discussed in my book. Where will this all lead?  It’s far too soon to predict an outcome, but within the last year, the number of experiments in higher education has exploded.  If you believe like me that innovative change is just what traditional colleges and universities need, that’s a good thing. The way to innovate is to try out lots of ideas.

SmartMoney’s “payback” survey of 50 t

August 12, 2011

SmartMoney’s “payback” survey of 50 top-priced schools shows which alumni are reaping rewards in the job mark… (cont) http://deck.ly/~U7fPG

Another View of Faculty Productivity

August 4, 2011

Crazy claims about faculty productivity are bouncing around like ping pong balls.  Public research universities in Texas are getting more than their fair share of attention from agenda-driven politicians because their professors are not spending enough time in class.  They’ve even invented a classification system based on this one-dimensional view of academic life:

  • dodgers
  • coasters
  • Sherpa
  • pioneers
  • stars

I don’t think I’d want to be a coaster, but to be honest, I wouldn’t want to be a Sherpa, either.

CCAP’s Richard Vedder has looked at the same data through a conservative economic lens and concluded that significant costs savings can be found by adjusting teaching loads — upwards, of course. Like CCAP I think there needs to be more emphasis on undergraduates, but just lopping off a part of an institutional mission is not the way to do it.  Unless, of course, you are of the opinion that everything outside the classroom is overrated in American universities.

Maybe I travel in different circles, but the faculty workday appears to me to be an already overstuffed suitcase.  Anyone who wants to cram in another sock needs to take a look at what’s already there. Mission creep, bureaucratic bloat, crushing compliance requirements, and the willful bliss with which research universities give away research time have filled every nook and cranny.

I talked a few weeks ago about how research is given away, and it’s a topic that always draws phone calls and email.  But let’s take a look at the same data that CCAP uses.  The John William Pope Center recently published a national analysis of teaching loads.  It should come as no surprise that they have gone down over the last twenty years, but more interesting is the trend.

The decreases virtually track the increased workload by program officers at Federal funding agencies. But since staff spending at agencies like NSF has been stagnant for twenty years, program officer workloads really just measure proposal submissions.

Why the decrease at Carnegie Research and Doctoral institutions?  According to an NSF study the tendency in most NSF program offices is to deliberately underfund project proposals.  Over half of the researchers surveyed reported that their budgets had been cut by 5% or more and that their grant duration had been slashed by 10% or more.  There is little room for padding an NSF budget, so these are real cuts in funds that are needed to successfully complete a research plan. One more sock stuffed into the productivity suitcase.

What does a winning proposal cost?  The same study reported:

…PIs’ estimate of the time it took for them and other people—for example,
graduate assistants, budget administrators, and secretaries (not including time spent by
institutional personnel)—to prepare their FY 2001 NSF grant submission was, on average, 157
hours, or about 19.5 days. It should be noted this is the time for just one proposal that was
successful.

Since the NSF success rate is currently around 25%, that’s about 80 days just to prepare a winning proposal.  Add to that the time needed to conduct the research that goes into every proposal submission, and you get a rough idea of what needs to be funded just to make research pay for itself.  This is lost productivity, and it shows up in reduced faculty teaching loads.

The trends at Comprehensive, Liberal Arts, and Community Colleges measure something slightly different: each of these institutions sees climbing the Carnegie hierarchy as important to their missions.  For example, NSF awarded $350M to community colleges last year.  The lions’ share of these funds went to worthy projects to train technicians, broaden participation in the sciences and support research experiences for returning veterans.  Individual awards for some of these programs start at $200,000 and solicitations for larger, center-scale proposals are encouraged. Like their research cousins, Community Colleges reduce classroom productivity to compete for federal research awards. An institution with an undergraduate research mission can easily get drawn into a system they cannot afford. And the data supports the claim.  For the period covered by the Pope Center report, proposal submissions from these institutions have increased almost in lockstep with lost classroom productivity.

Measuring technical productivity is not a job for the faint of heart. You have to take into account all uses of time, and outcomes that are often unpredictable events influenced by factors beyond an organization’s control. Modeling productivity is complex and frequently contentious, but I have yet to find anyone who seriously proposes measuring engineering productivity by the amount of time spent at a single activity.  Outside higher ed.

There is an easier explanation for the disturbing downward trend in teaching loads. It is mission creep.  There is really only one way out, and it has nothing to do with cramming more into a Texas-sized suitcase.  How about if everything from sponsored research to intercollegiate athletics had to pay its own way?  The academic suitcase is full of stuff already.  Let’s figure out where to put everything else one sock at a time.