Wednesday, May 20, 2009

RBoC - mostly education related

I don't have a theme here, just some quasi-random articles that caught my attention over the last few months, none of which rate a full-blown blog. I'll just toss them out here and see what sticks.

This actually does deserve an entire blog response, but I don't have the energy left to engage with it. This has been quite the year for me - not all of it bloggable. What I will say here is that I really like her commentary, particularly the way she starts off by recognizing that we should not change simply for the sake of change. There is a lot that is not broken, and that part needs to stay unbroken! I probably share this view because there is a lot right at places, like my CC and her 4-year regional comprehensive, that serve a wide range of students who might not otherwise be in college. Also a lot that needs work.

I really like her suggestion that we "increase the chances for students - across university types, across backgrounds - to have their minds blown." I've never articulated that, but I can tell when my students really appreciate that they just got EDUCATED in a way they never thought possible.

Now that I am teaching some 75 to 80 minute classes, I suspect that even college students need recess once in a while! That really is the limit. My version of recess is to schedule a Cool Demo (tm) near the middle of class, to change the pace. But this is also a serious issue. Our schools have no recess, and schedule what PE they do have at the end of the day. A friend is convinced this is why his very bright son struggled with attention in school. He didn't need drugs. He needed to get out and run around! Count me in that same group.

Somewhere on the boundary between futurism and engineering is the question about how to remake this country as we move beyond our previous three revolutionary developments: railroads, interstate highways, and the internet. BTW, I love that map, mainly because I've driven on way too many of those blue and red lines.

Isis provides a world-class rant here. The leaky pipeline photo is worth the price of admission. I know one thing: the complaint that got her started sure didn't come from the physics or engineering side of the academic universe. And in chemistry, where there are a lot more women, the pipeline tends to have tap that sends a disproportionate number of female faculty away from universities and over to places like our CC. (The story probably comes from biology. The poor boys might even have trouble getting into med school. I'm not going to complain, because my internist is a woman and a very good doctor.) Along that same line ...
A hat tip to Zuska and her outreach project for this one. I've got to reassess my time (and access to my wife's Kindle) and see if I can read that book in time for her planned discussion. Since the last serious reading I did on this subject would be when I read Kate Millett's Sexual Politics (back when it came out), it could be time to get caught up on the gender culture wars.

Personally, I don't buy that grades are still being inflated. There isn't any room for them to grow! (Well, we could have "weighted averages" like our local high schools, where you get an extra point just for taking a hard class that you should be taking anyway if you plan to go to college.) I've got this in here mainly so I might remember to dig out the data I have from a previous lifetime that shows the grade inflation at Ye Olde Alma Mater. Most of it took place during the Vietnam War, but it does continue. I have some data (well after that time period) showing that the only college that really failed anyone at all was the one that taught science and math classes. No surprise there.

These days, as those data show, CCs seem to be the only place where students are failed for not having the relevant skills ... and even that seems to be too little from where I sit at the end of the math line, trying to teach physics to kids who still have trouble moving symbols around to solve equations. One of the comments pointed to an essay saying that our education system needs more F's (coming out of the K-12 area).

There is a lot of information in this article for a data geek like me. There mere fact that the "catalog cost" (what it costs just to take the classes required by the curriculum in the college catalog) is about 30% more for mechanical engineering than elementary education is a real eye opener. When you look at the "transcript cost" (which includes repeats, courses like pre-calculus that a student might need, and courses taken when a student wanders off the beaten path), the premium for engineering jumps another 30% or so. Not surprising, since I know my pre-engineering students are usually in the CC for an extra year, and I also know that they have 2.5 years of engineering classes to take after they transfer.

I wasn't surprised by the 260 k$ price for an MD, except that I thought it seemed LOW. I looked at university budgets some time ago, and one thing that jumped out at me was the massive costs of running a medical school. I suspect that some costs have been put into the research area that are really part of the cost of any graduate program. I don't quite buy the "full cost" analysis, where you spread the cost of failing students over the ones who pass, but I can see it from the point of view of a legislator. And it also makes sense based on the "more F's" argument above: the quality of the person who graduates is partly a result of the selectivity of the process that produces that graduate. You don't want engineers who design bridges that fall down.

I find this interesting for many reasons. Two of them are the article that follows (accreditation) and my own college's attempt to reach into some really bad local high schools, but also the fact that much of the attrition at our CC is by students who have no idea how weak their HS education actually is. (See my old article on orientation and advising.) A college class could engage them in a way that HS does not. The fact that you don't need an ed degree to teach that college class, pointed out in one of the comments on that article, can only add fat to the fire of some other discussions. But what really interests me is that I think the best way to assess the "outcomes" of a school is to look at what happens next. Are HS graduates ready for a job or for college? Clearly not, as our placement tests prove every fall. Are our CC grads ready for the university? Not always. And we need to look at that. I am told (all in the form of anecdotes) that mine are, but I'm not satisfied by that kind of "data". Time to make the trek to Wannabe Flagship and see what I can learn.

I have to include this, and I have to bury it at the end of the list. Why? Because I have been through the "Quality Improvement" plans and know that "Outcomes and Assessment" will be the fashion the next time around ... and I have serious doubts whether most of this is only for show. Paper to file and boxes to check off. Our plan looks great on paper (really great, actually) but we have heard nothing at all about how we have progressed on it. I can guess that ideas X and Y have not worked at all, because they have been de-emphasized ... but results have not been reported and they have not actually been eliminated. I think the people behind them have too much invested to admit they did not work, so they just move on and jiggle the key, hoping it will start. See also what Dr. Crazy wrote, in the article linked up at the top, about keeping the focus on students.

1 comment:

Doctor Pion said...

One update to items 4/5 on "too many girls in science".

IHE had an article Friday on "Lost Men on Campus". Consider the following from that article:

“It was not manly to put a lot of time and effort into academics," said Edwards. It’s not cool to study, to read the book: “Sometimes it’s not cool to even buy the book. But you’ve got to ace the test. You’ve got to make the grade,” continued Edwards, who described male students studying on the sly, telling their buddies they were spending the evening with their girlfriends and then hitting the books instead.That would be funny if it weren't so true.