» Going the Distance News, Opinion, Analysis and More For the Adjunct Faculty Nation Wed, 28 Sep 2016 15:46:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Arizona State University Partners With Poynter Institute to Offer PT Journalism Faculty Certification Wed, 27 Aug 2014 00:23:57 +0000 The Poynter Institute and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University will launch an innovative online certificate program for adjunct faculty and others who teach journalism and mass communications classes at universities and colleges around the country.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is widely recognized as one of the nation’s premier professional journalism programs. The school, which was named in Cronkite’s honor in 1984, prepares the next generation of journalists in both the time-honored fundamentals embraced by Cronkite and the multimedia skills necessary to thrive as journalists in the digital age. Housed in a $71 million state-of-the-art media complex in downtown Phoenix, the school has been featured in both The New York Times and The Times of London as a leader in 21st century journalism education. It is the home of the Carnegie-Knight News 21 initiative, the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, Cronkite News Service, Cronkite NewsWatch, the New Media Innovation Lab, the Cronkite Public Relations Lab, Cronkite Sports and the Public Insight Network Bureau.

The training builds on ASU’s subject matter expertise and Poynter’s highly successful e-learning platform, News University, and will cover five key areas: building a syllabus and course schedule, preparing for and measuring teaching success, new teaching tools for the classroom, student engagement and participation, and grading and evaluation.

The Poynter Institute for Media Studies is an international leader in journalism education, and a strategy center that stands for uncompromising excellence in journalism, media and 21st century public discourse. Poynter faculty teach seminars and workshops at the Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., and at conferences and organizational sites around the world. Its e-learning division, News University,, offers the world’s largest online journalism curriculum in 6 languages, with more than 400 interactive courses and 290,000 registered users in more than 200 countries. The Institute’s website,, produces 24-hour coverage of news about media, ethics, technology, the business of news and the trends that currently define and redefine journalism news reporting. The world’s top journalists and media innovators come to Poynter to learn and teach new generations of reporters, storytellers, media inventors, designers, visual journalists, documentarians and broadcast producers, and to build public awareness about journalism, media, the First Amendment and protected discourse that serves democracy and the public good.

The program will be offered to journalism and mass communication programs that are seeking training for their adjunct faculty as well as for their new full-time faculty and other faculty members who want to refresh their skills. Others who are interested in improving their classroom teaching techniques also may register on an individual basis.

Registration for the program will begin in early 2015 at Poynter’s NewsU. Individuals may complete course modules at their own pace, and they will receive feedback from educators at the Cronkite School and will be assessed on what they learn. Those who successfully complete the training will receive a certificate of proficiency.

Tim Franklin, Poynter’s president, said, “Poynter is committed to excellence in journalism education, and I am delighted to partner with one of America’s best and most innovative journalism schools. It’s one more example of how Poynter continues to find new ways of teaching teachers.”

The new training initiative comes at a time when universities are increasingly utilizing adjuncts for course instruction. Part-time faculty members made up more than half of the nearly 1.5 million educators in degree-granting institutions of higher education in 2011 and are the largest and fastest-growing segment of the postsecondary instructional workforce in the United States, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.

“Many of the adjuncts teaching in journalism and mass communication programs come from the professions and are highly valued at our institutions,” said Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan. “They bring real-world experience and up-to-date skills into their classrooms, but few are trained as teachers. By giving them the tools they need to be successful in the classroom, we can meet the high expectations of journalism and mass communications programs and strengthen student learning.”

Two surveys conducted by Poynter and the Cronkite School in late 2013 and early 2014 revealed strong demand and support for this type of certificate program among educators and professionals. When educators were asked whether they knew of “adjunct faculty who could benefit from training in effective teaching skills,” 80 percent responded in the affirmative. When professionals were asked whether they believed “a training program to prepare professionals to teach is needed,” 87 percent said that a program was “needed” or “extremely needed.”

For more information about the online certificate program, contact Vicki Krueger, Poynter’s director of interactive learning, at 727.553.4316 or, or Kristin Gilger, associate dean of Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, at 602.496.9448 or

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MIT Summit Looks At The Future of Online Learning Fri, 08 Mar 2013 11:00:08 +0000 On March 4, 2013 at the MIT Media Lab, MIT and Harvard University, the founders of the online-learning initiative edX, convened a group of academic leaders and other online-learning experts for a daylong summit meeting titled “Online Learning and the Future of Residential Education.” On hand were, among others, the presidents and provosts of MIT and Harvard; the provosts of the University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University, Carnegie Mellon University and McGill University; Anant Agarwal, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and president of edX; Daphne Koller, a professor of computer science at Stanford University and a co-founder of the online-learning company Coursera; and, videoconferenced in on a huge screen above the stage, MIT alumnus Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, a popular online-learning site.

The conversation was broken into three keynote addresses and three panel discussions. But while the panels were organized around different topics, several themes recurred across all of them.

edxOne was a questioning of the pedagogical efficiency of lectures. During the first panel, “Blended Models of Learning: Bringing Online to On-Campus,” Eric Mazur, a professor of physics at Harvard, cited a study (see PDF) by MIT professor of media arts and sciences Rosalind Picard and her students in which subjects were fitted with wristbands that measured skin conductance as an index of the “arousal associated with emotion, cognition and attention.” Mazur presented a figure from the Picard group’s paper showing wrist-sensor readings for a single MIT student over the course of week. The sensor recorded regular, strong spikes during periods of study, lab work and homework, but the readout flatlined during two activities: attending class and watching TV.

During the second panel, “Online Learning: Today and Tomorrow,” Khan echoed Mazur’s point. In 2006, Khan — then a hedge fund analyst — began posting video lectures on YouTube in order to streamline his efforts to tutor friends and relatives in math and science. The ensuing popularity of the videos led to the founding of the Khan Academy and Khan’s appearance on the cover of Forbes and on Time’s 2012 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Nonetheless, Khan said, “This is coming from a guy who’s made, I think, 3,400 videos, but I don’t think they’re the most important part of what we’re doing.”

This time is different

As several speakers pointed out, however, the advantages of interactive learning over lectures have been well-documented for decades, if not centuries. Indeed, Mazur referred to Samuel Johnson on the inefficiency of lectures. Johnson wrote, well over 200 years ago, “I know nothing that can be best taught by lectures, except where experiments are to be shewn. You may teach chemistry by lectures: You might teach the making of shoes by lectures!” One audience member, a classicist, went back even further, citing Plato’s mistrust of books and his attempts to impress upon his readers the importance of dialectical engagement as the pathway to true knowledge.

Given educational researchers’ longtime advocacy of interactive learning — and given a history, nearly as long, of unfulfilled predictions that new technologies would revolutionize learning — then, as one audience member put it during a question-and-answer session, “What’s different this time?”

One clear answer came from Clayton Christensen, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, who gave the summit’s third keynote address. Christensen is known for his theory of “disruptive innovation” in business, which holds that upstart challengers usually displace market incumbents by first establishing a toehold with low-cost products in markets that the incumbents are willing to cede. Over time, the challengers manage to increase quality while still keeping costs low, taking over successively higher-margin markets until they finally dominate the market as a whole.

As Christensen argued in his talk, that pattern has played out in the steel industry, in the automotive industry, in the computer industry — and is now playing out in the cellphone industry. But, Christensen explained, it has never occurred in the hotel industry, because challengers cannot compete for high-margin business without adopting the cost model of the incumbents: If Holiday Inn wants to compete against Ritz-Carlton, it has no choice but to hire concierges and put in marble floors. What challengers in the hotel industry lack, he said, is an “extendable core” — a new technological approach that can be steadily improved at low cost.

Higher education has been in the same boat, Christensen said — until now. The suite of technologies that edX and others have introduced — video lectures, online discussion boards, automated grading algorithms, communal text-annotation programs, virtual labs and the like — constitute education’s extendable core. These technologies are now in their infancy, but like the steel produced in “mini mills” that displaced integrated steel mills, they will only improve in quality.

Constant conversation

As Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’ foreign-affairs columnist, put it during a wrap-up session at the end of the day-long summit, elite institutions like MIT and Harvard will have to respond to the democratization of education by “upping their game.” And that means, among other things, testing pedagogic theories that have been kicking around for some time.

Another theme of the meeting was how online-learning tools could — and have already begun to — make education more interactive. Several panelists pointed out that recording lectures — and thus turning them into another reference material that students could consult on their own time — freed professors to engage with students more directly. Mazur said, for instance, that in recent years he has adopted an entirely project-based approach to teaching introductory physics classes: Students spend the semester building devices and developing systems that address real-world problems, learning principles of physics as the need arises.

Online tools also mean that interactions between students and professors need not be confined to a few assigned periods each week. Eric Rabkin, who has joint appointments as a professor of English language and literature and of art and design at the University of Michigan, said that he reviews students’ online discussions of assignments and, if a particular question arises frequently enough, will record a quick video response on his computer and post it to the class site.

Similarly, Mazur said that he has begun using a system called NB, developed by MIT’s Haystack Group, which allows communities to collectively annotate online texts. Students can tag sections of the text that they find unclear, posing questions that either their peers or teaching assistants can answer. For the students, coaching their peers can be a good way to master the material themselves. And professors who review their students’ annotations, Mazur said, come to class already aware of the areas of greatest confusion, and ready to address them.

Educators are only beginning to scratch the surface of the possibilities presented by online-learning technologies. As Philipp Schmidt, director of Peer 2 Peer University and a fellow at the Media Lab, put it during the first panel, the field is now at the stage where film was when the first movie cameras became available and people immediately mounted them at the backs of theaters to record stage plays.

But the mere fact that the rapid proliferation of online-learning tools has forced universities to reexamine their pedagogical assumptions may be a step forward in itself. As MIT President L. Rafael Reif said after the conference, “I couldn’t have imagined circumstances in which you could get all these communities together to discuss education.”

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Campus Threats Made in Online Courses—What’s A Faculty Member To Do? Thu, 07 Mar 2013 11:00:44 +0000 by Kate Mangu-Ward

If a student threatens to shoot his classmates (or himself) on the online message board for his physics class, does that count as a campus threat?

That’s just one of the many questions purveyors of massively open online courses, or MOOCs, are asking themselves.

Universities have traditionally been asked to play many roles, and as the functions of those universities are disaggregated, the question of who picks up which pieces is a tough one. In truly massive online courses, like those offered by Coursera, Udacity, and huge public universities experimenting with online learning, teachers are not expected to read all the postings in a class message board. But students still act like students—fighting, falling in love, chattering about emotional problems, and generally acting in ways that would be considered inappropriate in other parts of grown up life.

Inside Higher Ed talked to some experts:

Scott Plous, a psychology professor at Wesleyan University, is preparing to teach more than 70,000 students who signed up for his class through Coursera, one of the popular MOOC providers. Plous, who worked at a Los Angeles suicide hotline before graduate school, is now trying to figure out how to monitor the message boards and deal with students who post hate speech or are threatening violence or suicide….

Plous is partially counting on self-policing by users, something he may talk about in his introductory lecture. For instance, if someone in a remote village in India is talking about suicide, Plous hopes other users from India can suggest places to go for help.

But some students (and parents) want more than that. Can online schools provide traditional student mental health services? Should they?

One thing I’m looking forward to is a disaggregation of the babysitting and educating functions performed by schools at all levels. If parents want someone to step in in loco to keep an eye on their volatile teenager, why not let them pay for that service separately?

For all the same reasons that it seems silly to pay someone with a master’s degree $80,000 a year to supervise 5-year-olds at recess, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to build psychological supervision into the job of a P.hD. economist trying to impart the principles of supply and demand to tens, hundreds, or millions of students. Why not try a model where 18-year-olds who want to get out the house while they pursue a degree shack up in hostels with cooks and counselors while getting their intellectual jollies from an entirely different purveyor?

One bonus: Older students who want to enroll will not have to put up with the meddling of traditional campus institutions.

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Almost 70 Percent of Classroom Faculty Fear The Growth of Online Learning Mon, 09 Jul 2012 17:56:50 +0000 Over six million students are now taking at least one online course, upping the rate of online enrollment to 10 times that of traditional higher education. Yet, while the world is reveling in free online classes, faculty members are frightened by the Internet’s growing popularity, according to a survey by the Babson Survey Research Group.

The report, which polled 4,564 faculty members, reveals that 58 percent of respondents described themselves as filled with “more fear than excitement” over the growth of online education. However, about 75 percent of the respondents were full-time faculty members, “many of whose teaching careers predate the online boom.”

Nearly 70 percent of the respondents who taught solely in the classroom said they feared the online boom, which doesn’t come at much of a surprise. The traditional lecture might not be dead, but it is severely flawed, and the professors who don’t incorporate some alternative, whether it be peer learning or an online component, won’t be able to keep up. Online education will turn from a supplement into a replacement, and that’s where the fear is leaking in.

But will the replacement be reputable? Sixty-six percent of respondents said the learning outcomes from online courses were inferior to that of traditional courses. Yet, the future still looks promising. Nearly 40 percent of full-time professors said “online learning has the potential to match classroom learning,” while another 14 percent claimed to have a neutral opinion, “putting the naysayers under 50 percent.”

Much like the traditional classroom environment, online courses will be dependent on the quality of the instructor. When speaking with local educators about the future of the MBA, many were optimistic about where online education could play a role. John Gallaugher, a professor of information systems at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, admitted, “New learning tools will allow us to outsource lecture time spent on rote work, so we can have more applied learning by doing.”

What online education is forcing schools to do is revamp and modernize their curriculum. As Babson’s Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Dennis Hanno said, “It has pushed schools to come up with a value proposition.”

Companies like 2tor have tried helping universities adapt by partnering with them to build, administer and market online degree programs. To 2tor co-founder Jeremy Johnson, “The 21st century will largely be dominated by the schools that go online first,” and those “who embrace technology and change are going to have an oversized advantage.”

If anything, this survey’s highlighted what teachers can’t afford to continue — fear this change. The longer educators go without embracing online education in their traditional settings, the quicker online education will consume them. Argue all you will, but the sooner faculty members hop on board, the sooner they can make a meaningful impact. If they want to keep control of their classroom, they’ll need to gain control of online education.



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What Online Students Say About… Assessment Wed, 27 Jun 2012 16:01:16 +0000 by Diane J. Goldsmith, Ph.D.

Feedback. Feedback. Feedback

• Feedback needs to be timely: “Personal communication and
prompt feedback on assignments are essential for any course to
be a success.”

• Feedback should include grades: “Feedback in the form of
grades is essential, and it should come to students frequently!”

• Feedback needs to be helpful: “Instead of just marking answers wrong, she would also give a brief explanation as to what
the correct answer was and why.”

• Feedback needs to be personal: “I would personally like to see
teachers send a one or two line email to students each week
about their work-be it their writing or quality of comments.”

• Good feedback is motivating: “Whether I posted an assignment at one o’clock AM or PM, I received grades, answers to
questions, and responses to my work within twelve hours at the
very most. This is extremely gratifying and motivating.”

• Good feedback inspires more learning: “I would challenge him
with a question and a half hour later be able to sign on to my
computer and not only would the question be answered, but he
would challenge me to a question.”

• Feedback can come from classmates: “One of the things that
helped me the most is the fact that I received feedback from all
my classmates not only the teacher.”


• Students want to know up front what is required of them, what
deadlines they must meet, and how they will be graded. “She
set expectations right up front so there was no question about
when something was due or what I was supposed to do next.”

• Students want assignments to be clear, “The professors should
write more extensive, detailed instructions when they give assignments simply because of the awkwardness of the online

• Instructors should be willing to clarify assignments: “It should
be easy to correct and rewrite instructions for the benefit of the


• Students prefer a variety of smaller assignments, “Have smaller
and more assignments on which to base the course grade. Only
3 assignments and a final exam aren’t fair.”

• Students want an acknowledgment that their assignment has
been received.

Threaded Discussion

• Deadlines are important, “Professors must post deadlines for
threaded discussion…Once a deadline is established the professor must follow it also i.e. if the deadlines for TD are weekly or
biweekly, the professor must post grades after the deadline.”

• Faculty need to be present in the threaded discussion, “He was
always there in the threaded discussion.”

• Students appreciate well thought-out discussion assignments,
“I truly enjoyed the conference forum. We really have to think
about our responses before we post them.”


• Students find timed testing difficult, “Timed testing is very
difficult. I would much prefer testing that is not timed.”

• Students with disabilities who are accommodated on campus
with more time for testing want the same accommodations in an
online class.

• Students don’t just want their grade, they want feedback: “I
would have liked to have seen the correct answers to the questions I got wrong.”

• Students want to be asked to think: “The grading structure and
format is set up so that all he wants is you to regurgitate information from the text. There is no higher thinking involved.”

• Testing for online classes should be online: “I feel that comprehension of the material can be assessed through the virtual
classroom and do not see the need for a proctored exam.”

Group Projects

• Many students find group projects difficult, “People don’t follow through with their commitments and you’re left hanging.”

• Others enjoy them: “I didn’t think I would like working in
teams, but I enjoyed it very much.”

• How group projects are graded may present difficulties for
some students: “I thought it was unfair to ask students to complete a project with other students and get one grade for it. Other
students were in a hurry to get it done and didn’t want to do

• Coordination can be a problem for some students: “Teamwork
was difficult to complete. Everybody had different schedules,
and it was difficult to ‘chat.’”

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Study Concludes Online College Enrollment Growing Exponentially Faster Than Student Population Fri, 11 Nov 2011 11:00:48 +0000 by Joe McKendrick

More than six million college and university students took at least one online course during the fall 2010 term, an increase of 560,000 students over the previous year.  This almost 10 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the less-than-1 percent growth in the overall higher education student population nationwide.

These are some of the findings from the recently released 2011 Survey of Online Learning, a collaborative effort between the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board. The survey, based on responses from over 2,500 academic leaders, reveals that nearly one-third of all students in higher education are taking at least one online course.  This is up from 10 percent of the total student population in 2002, the first year the survey was conducted.

The percentage of institutions that agree ‘‘online education is critical to the long-term strategy of my institution’’ reached its highest level in 2011 (65 percent) — up from 49 percent in 2002.

While online learning keeps growing, there was actually a bit of a slowdown over the past year, the study’s authors also note — the 10 percent growth rate for online enrollments is the second lowest since 2002. As study co-author Elaine Allen, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group and Professor of Statistics & Entrepreneurship at Babson College, put it:

“The rate of growth in online enrollments is ten times that of the rate in all higher education. While growth rates have declined somewhat from previous years, we see no evidence that a dramatic slowdown in online enrollments is on the horizon.”

Allen also observes that “there is a wide variety in rate of growth of online enrollments among different colleges and universities, and also among different programs within the same institution. For example, fully online health sciences programs show higher growth than online programs in other disciplines.”

Online learning is now mainstream, for all intents and purposes. Survey respondents believe that the level of student satisfaction is equivalent for online and face-to-face courses, and 65% of higher education institutions now say that online learning is a critical part of their long-term strategy.

However, there continues to be a consistent minority of academic leaders concerned that the quality of online instruction is not equal to courses delivered face-to-face.  About a third still consider predominantly online course delivery as inferior to face-to-face interaction, though this is down from 42 percent in the 2002 study.

Of course, much of today’s learning occurs in blended settings, where there is often both online and face-to-face interaction. The Babson study defined online courses as “those in which at least 80 percent of the course content is delivered online.”


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Promoting Collaborative Learning in The Online Environment: How Can Faculty Overcome Challenges? Fri, 19 Aug 2011 05:05:04 +0000 By Nancy A. Walker, Ph.D.

How do adult students benefit from a collaborative learning environment? As an online facilitator/faculty member, we are to foster and support collaboration between students. Needless to say, there are always challenges to this collaborative journey due to the online learning/teaching format.  How can we lessen these and have a smoother collaborative application?

Collaborative learning is learning and working toward a common goal in peer group facilitation. Learners are normally at different levels taking responsible for their own learning, as well as the learning of others in the group. Adult students in particular benefit from a collaborative environment with empirical evidence showing that cooperative peer groups attain higher levels of cognition with retention that far surpasses an individual learner (Bruffee, 1983). Collaboration and course design encourages interest in subject matter and advances higher-level critical thinking skills. The distributed learning model prompts adult learners into joint discussions, supporting the learner to develop critical thinking skills.

As faculty, we are to foster and support collaboration in the online course room by encouraging and prompting peer discussions on topics related to the course. We necessitate prompting discussion on topics that are associated with the course topic in promotion of the student’s use of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation for incorporation in the learning environment, and daily life (Bloom, 1956). Using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a standard model classes is pertinent to effective and progressive collaboration between students. It necessitates to be used for implementation to aid students in order to facilitate engaging the student in the online format in a shared effort, in nurturing a successful learning community, and in alleviating any fear or frustration the students may have in dealing with the course topics themselves. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy allows encouragement of the student and promotes teamwork through the student using the model as a cognizant guide. As well, the students are able to use the model in application to relevant “real-world,” professional scenarios via prompting and evaluation from the instructor.

There are many benefits to online collaboration and team building. Some benefits include though are not limited to:

  1. Promoting critical thinking skills.
  2. Promoting creative thinking through social stimulation and sharing of ideas.
  3. Requiring active student involvement in the learning process. Students increase preparation and practice working with one another.
  4. Providing a safe place for questions.
  5. Creating more personal environment in large classes.
  6. Providing a social support system for students.
  7. Building diversity understanding among students.
  8. Allowing version control management with the creation of a central folder or location where recent versions are saved.
  9. Developing team skills used on the job and beyond.

Challenges in promoting and supporting a collaborative learning environment online may simply be the personality and learning styles of the learners. While collaborative learning is extremely beneficial to adult learners via aiding in personal and professional growth and development, the human collaborative effort is never flawless. A main key is building collaboration through community.

Bloom B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Bruffee, K.A. (1983). Collaborative learning: Higher education, interdependence, and the authority of knowledge. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

About the Teacher in Pajamas: Dr. Nancy Walker earned a BA in Liberal Arts/Psychology from Saint Vincent College, and a BA in Elementary Education K-8 with a specialization in Spanish from Seton Hill University. She earned an MS in General Psychology with specialization in Educational/Developmental Psychology from Capella University. She has a Ph.D. in General Psychology with specialization in Lifespan Development from Capella University. She has a wonderful husband and two, older daughters that share in the love of learning and helping others to learn and grow, too. They spend most of their time involved in community and church outreaches that are foundational in education, social service, and missions work. They also enjoy traveling and playing basketball and softball.

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The Future of Online Education Parts I & II Tue, 01 Mar 2011 04:00:00 +0000 By Rich Russell


PART I: The Machine Never Stops

My mom said to me recently, “In twenty-five years, none of this [waving arms about to indicate college building] will exist.” We were sitting in her office at the place where she has taught for twenty-five years now; where I have taught, as an adjunct, for four. She paused to look out the window at a lone student smoking, another relic of a former time. “In twenty-five years, all of this will be online. Administrators will realize (if they haven’t already) that it’s much cheaper to have everything online rather than to have to pay to heat and maintain buildings; much easier than having to provide classroom space. I’m sure some private universities will still exist (in the future): the Harvards and the Yales, for research and for the children of the super-rich. But for the rest of us…” — gesturing then towards her computer. “I’m glad I won’t still be teaching in twenty-five years to see that…” And then my mom smiled at me and asked, “Wanna go to lunch?”

When I later told an administrator at another school of my mom’s bleak prognostication — in a tone of I mean, it’s crazy, right? — he just sighed, “Your mom may be right” — as if plans were already in the works, the banners being delivered this afternoon, proclaiming, “Ok, Computers!” Or maybe these acclamations already festoon the hallways of our campuses.

In his short story “The Machine Stops” (1909), E.M. Forster writes of a world in which all human interaction is mediated through the Machine: everyone lives life in a solitary cell, from which one interacts with the rest of the world, with people contained to parallel rooms where all of their needs are similarly met. As Forster notes, this new civilization was in the business of bringing things to people rather than people to things: it was much more efficient this way. Rather than go the mall, order something online and have it delivered. Rather than hang out with friends, chat with them on Facebook. Rather than drive to class, log on to your course from home in your pajamas. It sounds convenient and, for the most part, inexpensive.

The inciting moment of Forster’s story is when Kuno asks his mother to come visit him, in person. “I want to see you not through the Machine,” says Kuno. “I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine.”

His mother responds: “You mustn’t say anything against the Machine.” And so, for the most part, we haven’t.

Now, as we enter these dyspeptic winter months, and I remind my traditional students to sign up for “text alerts” in order to be immediately notified of school cancellations, my online students know that the machine never stops: online classes prevail no matter what the weather. As the snow begins to fall and I look up from my computer at home, I shake my fist and scorn, “Do your worst, Mother Nature! You shall not deter us from our stated [online] course!” This, too, makes my life more convenient/efficient if a bit less exciting; after all, as a teacher I still long for at least one or two snow days myself. But just as the snow begins to fall, the green “snowflake” notification lights up in Blackboard indicating new mail. “Back to work,” the Machine demands. So I close the window blinds, shutting out the distracting scene…

(In Forster’s future, people grow intolerant of looking outside. Everything important is contained on a screen, they believe. They come to believe in the Machine above anything else…)

When I returned to a real-life classroom last week for my first face-to-face class this semester, my mom’s words still echoing in my ears (the ones about all colleges will be online), I imagined all of the desks and chairs replaced by aisles and aisles of cold, clean, uniform computer servers, blinking and clicking away in the darkness. Perhaps this seems an inevitable if somewhat unenviable future for us… (Lunch, anyone?)

PART II: Life Inside the Machine

“Inside the Machine,” in Forster’s short story, Kuno’s mother Vashti is a lecturer on music history. Here, where every individual is confined to a separate room — where all needs are met by the Machine — Forster writes, “The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. Seated in her arm-chair she spoke, while they in their arm chairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well.” Although each individual is “connecting” to Vashti’s lecture individually, this is done in a synchronous order: everyone logging on at the same time to hear her. Forster makes no mention of discussions occurring between lecturer and student (let alone student to student). Like a TED talk, students log on, they listen, they absorb, and then they are dispersed. Like an online model of free (or alternative) schooling, students move from lecture to lecture, learning what they like and avoiding anything that might not interest them: remembering, understanding, but often little else. The disadvantage, then, is that these objectives fall very low on Bloom’s revered taxonomy that we as teachers have been encouraged to follow. (And just to be clear, I quite enjoy a good TED talk myself from time to time.)

Even though most online education is not synchronous these days, I feel that discussion is essential to every online class, regardless of discipline: not only so that I know students are achieving those higher level thinking skills, but also so that I see them forming connections with each other. That social component — feeling like you are part of something larger than yourself, an online community of learners — I have found to be essential for the retention of students; for myself included. (For I have been a student in online classes where there was no interaction whatsoever with other students, and I have lost interest and stopped logging in.)

But it is not convenient, maybe, this creation of an online community. In order to have a class of twenty or so students, all participating in a shared experience, a common goal, you have to maintain the semester system: specified start times in the year when everyone will commence learning. As we see with for-profit colleges, why only have two semesters and a few summer sessions when you can start online, open-entry courses every few weeks — or even every day? This approach augurs the “death of the semester” as reported in The Chronicle this past October: “self-paced” courses where students submit work to the professor but are never required to discuss the information with a student cohort, because that cohort does not exist. For these courses, if students are assessed solely by self-grading, objective quizzes and tests that can be scheduled by the Machine to open and close based on the student’s progress, the teacher merely exists as an IT assistant; and we have IT assistants to be IT assistants; thus, in such classes, the professor would become entirely redundant. This is distance education as a T.V. Guide correspondence course. This is the “fast foodization of higher education” that Dr. Nicholas Burbules (Prof. Of Education, University of Illinois) refers to in the Frontline documentary College, Inc. (May 4, 2010; if you haven’t seen this program, take an hour to watch it; it’s available, of course, online).

Vashti one day receives a message from her son: “The Machine stops,” he says. In the case of the for-profit (largely online) colleges profiled in the Frontline piece, it looks like greater federal regulation might be coming. At the same time, the president calls for more students to graduate from college — and, as the program notes — community colleges (the better alternative to the for-profits) are stretched to their limits. The community college where I teach has not had to shut its doors and turn away students — yet. But if it does, where will the students who can’t be taken in go?

They will go to the Machine. They will have no choice.


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Don’t Poke Me: Professors’ Privacy In The Age Of Facebook Mon, 01 Nov 2010 04:00:00 +0000  

By Rich Russell

Before seeing the new movie The Social Network this past weekend, I first read the article on co-founder Mark Zuckerberg in The New Yorker. His own Facebook profile is quoted in the piece: “I am trying to make the world a more open place.” But an open world does not necessarily mean a more connected one. I had my two face-to-face classes of College Writing this semester read and discuss a recent report that social networking might be impairing the ability of college stuonline dents to empathize; of course, my students’ first complaint was that it is not just college students who have lost a secure (human) connection in this constantly connected world. Unlike my students, I remember a world without social networking. And then I remember Friendster. And I joined Facebook back before moms did: when it was still the semi-elite space of college students. Now it’s a place for everyone. (Although still not my mom. My mom doesn’t even have a cell phone yet, bless her.)

Colleagues on this site have written about Facebook before, but I thought I would offer my brief note on the matter when it comes to the 21st century dilemma of to friend or not to friend one’s students. I do not: not current students anyway. If a student requests to be my “friend” after grades have been entered for the semester (the word friend itself seems odd: are we friends? As Henry James would offer, “We are not enemies”), then I might accept, because my own page is rather tame/boring; mostly I post nothing more than links to articles (often about Facebook; how meta of me). And it is natural to feel responsible for one’s students long after the term expires. It seems a good way to continue that advisory role we must undertake as educators. But while the students are still in my class or have registered for one of my classes again — why Facebook (verb) then?

Inevitably when we discuss social networking in my classes, students will ask, “Are you on Facebook, Professor Russell?” I answer, “Yes, but — do you really want me knowing what you’re doing on the weekends when you should be writing papers for my class?” (Most agree not.) And while it has become selfish to want a life of one’s own these days, I still do want one; does that make me a bad person, a bad professor?

I remember reading D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow as a graduate student; I felt a great swell of empathy for the character Ursula, the schoolteacher. Ursula becomes covetous of her weekend mornings when she sits cross-stitching at home. She cannot go into town, because the students heckle her and throw stones at her on her way home. Is it so much for me to imagine the stones cast against Ursula becoming incessant pokes on Facebook?

The New Yorker article cites Zuckerberg’s affection for The Aeneid; he even quotes in the English the part about Aeneas building an empire without boundaries. But I choose to also remember Robert Frost: “who doesn’t love a wall?” Is it ironic that, in maintaining my mending wall (good fences make good students), I deny current students access to my Facebook wall? But this is what I feel is appropriate; this is what I can handle right now. I leave it to others to negotiate their own privacy settings.

Originally posted to the “Teaching in Pajamas” blog.


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New Data Reveals Sky-High Default Rates at Career Colleges Fri, 01 Jan 2010 04:00:00 +0000 by Stephen Burd

A day after the U.S. Department of Education released three-year cohort default rates for federal student loans, for-profit college leaders and lobbyists are breathing a sigh of relief. Apparently their investors are too, judging by the rise in some of the education companies’ stock prices yesterday. While the news was certainly not good, it wasn’t as bad as most of them had feared. After all, few of the largest publicly traded for-profit school chains (besides Corinthian Colleges, Kaplan University, and a couple of others) had campuses with default rates high enough to eventually put them in jeopardy of losing access to federal student aid.

But policy makers should not take false comfort in these numbers, as they clearly show the serious risks that many low-income and working-class students are taking by enrolling in for-profit colleges. Many of these students are left with little to show for their effort but a heap of debt that they can’t pay off.

Here’s a look at some of the most disturbing default rate numbers that were revealed yesterday:

  • 21.2 percent: The proportion of for-profit college students who entered repayment on their federal student loans in the 2007 fiscal year (beginning in Oct. 2006) and defaulted within three years. That’s compared to 6 percent of students who attended private colleges, 7 percent who attended public four-year colleges, and 16 percent who attended community colleges.
  • 44 percent: The proportion of borrowers who defaulted on loans that entered repayment in the 2007 fiscal year after attending for-profit colleges. In other words, proprietary schools account for an incredibly disproportionate number of defaulters, considering that they enroll only 7 percent of all college students. In contrast, community colleges educate almost 40 percent of all students but account for only 20 percent of those who default on their federal student loans, according to an analysis of the data conducted by the Project on Student Debt.
  • 65 percent: The proportion of proprietary schools that have three-year default rates of 20 percent or more, according to an analysis of the data by Student Lending Analytics. That’s compared to 4 percent of private colleges, 3 percent of public four-year colleges, and 22 percent of community colleges.
  • 16 percent: The proportion of for-profit colleges with three-year default rates of 15 percent or less. That’s compared to 86 percent of private colleges, 74 percent of public four-year colleges, and 36 percent of community colleges, according to the Student Lending Analytics’ analysis.
  • 75 percent: The proportion of the approximately 315 colleges that had three-year default rates of 30 percent or more that came from the proprietary school sector. These schools could face sanctions in several years if they do not improve their rates.
  • For-profit college lobbyists argue that their institutions’ high default rates have little to do with the quality of the schools or the way in which they are being managed. “The only thing that explains default rate is the socioeconomic background” of the student, Harris Miller, the president of the Career College Association, told The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this week.

    While socioeconomic factors have a strong correlation to a student’s likelihood of defaulting on a student loan, it is certainly not the only factor. Otherwise, all colleges serving the same demographic of students would fare poorly. But they don’t —not even among Miller’s proprietary school members.

    The three-year default rate data show that some for-profit colleges are doing a better job than others. None of Career Education Corporation’s schools approached the 30 percent default cut-off rate, and many of them fell far below it. The once-troubled corporation is under new management, which genuinely appears to be trying to clean up the company’s act.

    Unfortunately, the improvements that CEC is making seem to be more the exception than the rule—as the three-year default rate data shows that many of the largest proprietary schools continue to load up their students with unmanageable levels of debt for training that will leave them stranded. Hopefully, the Education Department and prospective students can use this data to do a better job of sorting out which schools improve people’s lives and which ones do damage to them.

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