A snapshot of faculty teaching in 2014

What do we know about how American college and university faculty are teaching undergraduates?  The new HERI study (pdf) offers some fascinating insights into instructors’ practices.

Caveats: the report covers full-time faculty, not part-timers*.  It’s also based on self-reporting.

In the digital realm, the majority of faculty (circa 83%) have not taught an online class.  But that number is declining, and is unevenly spread across institutional type:

Faculty teaching online

Generally speaking, academic rank is a useful indicator of online teaching.  The lower one’s rank, the likelier to have used videos in class, taught entirely online, and used discussion boards.

For example,

faculty teaching online by rank to 2014_HERI


Regardless of their technological habits, college and university instructors are increasingly using student-centered practices, especially in historical context: Continue reading

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Thoughts on Interstellar

Looking up at the EarthI just watched Interstellar with my son, and wanted to share some reactions.

Overall, I was very impressed, and moved on a personal level.  The story was emotionally powerful, epic in ambition.  As science fiction, the movie crammed in far more scientific information and sf genre work than most mainstream films would ever attempt.  Personally, the father-daughter narrative hit me hard, and I enjoyed watching a pro-space exploration film with my similarly pro-NASA son.

Why blog about this science fiction movie here?  I’ll answer that question at the end of this post.  First, let me dive into details.  Please be aware that Interstellar is very plot-driven, so there are many spoilers ahead.  These notes aren’t ordered by consequence; this isn’t an essay.





Go! Continue reading

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Conversing with COIL

COILPenn State’s splendid Center for Online Innoation in Learning (COIL) hosted me for a campus visit this September. There they interviewed me about higher education’s near- and medium-term future.

Larry Ragan and I touched on alternatives to higher education, collaboration technologies, lobbying legislatures and would-be students, the college premium, advice to campus administrators, and some of my scenarios.  Don’t miss our discussion of the importance of social media and the global stage for college and university leaders.

Embedded here:

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Two Pennsylvania campuses sacrifice the queen

Pennsylvania State System of Higher EducationTwo Pennsylvania State System of Higher Ed institutions ended several academic programs and fired their faculty.   This RIF-fing of eight professors looks like another example of what I’ve been calling the queen sacrifice: a campus cutting full-time instructional staff and programs as a survival gambit.

At East Stroudsburg, two music professors were advised on Wednesday that their jobs will disappear, along with all music courses as well as the university’s choral program and orchestra, at the end of the year.

Those two faculty members are – were –  tenured.

At Cheyney, faculty union President Ken Mash said on Thursday six faculty members were told they would be without a job at the end of the academic year – one in biology, two in business, one in education, one in fashion merchandising and a librarian.

Money plays a huge role here, of course. Apparently the Cheyney move was motivated by financial pressures.  Those may have been caused by racially-motivated unequal distribution of resources within the Penn system; so argues a new lawsuit.

The financial aspect to the East Stroudsburg cuts is less clear.  ESU doesn’t seem to be suffering general economic problems, at least according to one source in the linked article.  The university’s president argued that music programs weren’t eliciting private donations:

“We talk about people not donating to the university anymore. If we had significant donations to the music program, we would be in a different place.”

If ESU is not suffering overall financial problems, and this specific program cut is aimed at the department’s own donation score, then perhaps we’re seeing a new aspect to the queen sacrifice.  Institutions will weigh individual programs for their fund-raising achievements, then reshape their staffing accordingly.

Also unusual are the cuts to a STEM field (biology) and the usually very popular business department.  The humanities reductions (music) and education are more the norm.

Cheyney is also an HBCU, one of the first ever established.  That sector of higher education has been experiencing financial and enrollment challenges since 2008.

(via Recession Realities in Higher Education; thanks to George Station and Chris Millet for editing assistance)

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When a liberal arts college starts teaching online

Steve Taylor, Vassar CollegeHow can a traditional liberal arts campus practice distance learning?  Vassar College launched a pilot program to take face-to-face learning from a residential setting into cyberspace, and its academic computing director, Steve Taylor, tells the story at the Academic Commons site

The program addressed a non-residential, non-face-to-face need: the summer reading assignment for incoming first-year students.  Vassar set up a Moodle course management system instance, and faculty created discussion-provoking videos.  Contents went live, and students were able to access them after physical copies of the book (Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (2006)) arrived.

A few key points:

  • The faculty involved were from multiple (if quite complementary) disciplines.
  • A librarian played a key role.
  • Video content was significant in terms of resources (time) and instructional design.
  • The use of Moodle and YouTube enabled some data analytics work, like this analysis of discussion forum writing:

Discussion forum participation data.

Another interesting point, crucial for small institutions like Vassar, was making a shift in scale.  As Taylor points out,

for a college that typically has an average class size of about 17 and a maximum class size of about 42, this was possibly the largest scale of learning experience the college has ever offered.

The incoming first-year Vassar class in 2014 number 670.

Vassar’s 2014 pilot represents another example of small, liberal arts institutions expanding their teaching online.  Let’s see what happens next.

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American social media, mobile device use in elections rising: Pew study

Pew Internet logoAmericans are using mobile devices and social media for election purposes more than ever before, according to a new Pew report.  This is a useful observation about how Americans use digital technology, with implications for teaching and learning.

You should read the report, which is concise.  But I’ll pull out a couple of details.

First, increasing numbers of people use social media to learn about election issues.  We do so for a variety of reasons, which map nicely on to our general online (and offline) behavior: to compete with other people, to get information beyond traditional outlets, and to connect with campaigns.

Second, mobile phone use just keeps growing and deepening.  Note the demographic breakdown here:

mobile phones_elections_2014-11-03 Pew

The report’s author, Aaron Smith, emphasizes the huge increase in the 30-49-year-old population’s use of mobile phones.  I’d add to this the big disparity in mobile habits between the under-49 group (nearly one half using phones) and the 50+ set (less than a quarter, heading towards 10%).  The overall picture is one wherein we can no longer see teenagers as sole tech gurus – I suspect a big part of that is aging, plus the oft-ignored technological fluency of my generation, the first “digital natives”: Generation X. Continue reading

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Academia tries out open in response to Ebola (UPDATED)

Ebola MOOCHow has academia shared its resources openly in response to the Ebola crisis?*  Have we used technology to make a difference?

Here are some examples:

“Working with a team of 10 volunteer designers and developers, UNC assistant professor Steven Kind launched ebolainliberia.org on Monday to help Liberian officials make better-informed decisions to help contain the spread of Ebola while providing the public with view of the country’s Ebola statistics.”

What other examples of Ebola information and discussion openness are now emerging from American colleges, universities, libraries, and museums?  Alternatively, how much Ebola work is being done being paywalls and learning management systems silos?

These examples offer a snapshot of where academic institutions stand in terms of openness and public scholarship in 2014.  A MOOC from a commercial provider is one way forward, apparently.  Scholarly publishers can selectively release content from their hoards, or elicit free content from their contributors.

Meanwhile, the Wikipedia entry is rich and rigorous.  Even the New York Times noticed.  And beyond that there is the sprawling world of academics using social media to share their thoughts.  For example, many Ebola-related posts and discussions occur on Scienceblogs.  The Crooked Timber group blog has some thoughts about politics and policy.

What else is happening in the open world with the Ebola crisis?  What can we learn about higher education?

(thanks to Amber Rmt, the EDUCAUSE Leading Change list, Jamie Oberdick on Twitter, and Amanda Sturgill in a comment on this post for contributions)

*I’m not going to discuss Ebola itself in this post, nor the political, policy, and cultural dimensions of the outbreak.

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