NH to make $35 million in state agency cuts [Healthcare vs. Higher Ed., Again]

NH to make $35 million in state agency cuts [Healthcare vs. Higher Ed., Again]

After last Spring’s cuts, the State of New Hampshire provides only 5% of our operational budget at Keene State College. The word on the street is this new round of cuts will reduce it to 3%. 

A lot of this is just due to garden variety political nuttery, but even so it is interesting that in every round the spending questions have pitted the state’s higher education system against health care cost pressures. 

The current crop of politicians may go soon, but the health care disaster has just started, and when it comes to paying for education vs. helping someone in medical need, medical need [quite rightly] tends to win.

No matter what happens politically, doing more with less is going to be part of the educational landscape until health care costs stabilize. 

Scholarships Go Disproportionately To White Students

Scholarships Go Disproportionately To White Students

From Yglesias, today:

The issue here isn’t racial discrimination, it’s a symptom of the fact that the incentive structure of American higher education is totally screwy. Schools want to produce two things. One is rich alumni who give them money, and the other is high ratings from US News and World Report. Both goals can be pursued either by investing resources in recruiting better inputs or else by investing resources in doing a better job of teaching. It turns out to be more cost-effective to invest in recruiting better inputs.

Healthcare swallows everything

Healthcare swallows everything

Government spending as a percentage of GDP

This is basically the story all over America:

John Arnold, director of the Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, said that Medicaid and other health-care expenses are predicted to grow to as much as 40 percent of the state budget by 2015. That will force the state to cut higher education funding because there are few other options, he said.

And that’s just at the state level. Take a look at the chart at the top if you want to know where Pell Grants are going to go…

It’s maybe fun to talk about why costs of college went up, and about whether we are bloated or starved to death. It’s fun to take a stand and say — look, we should just hold out for the money we need to keep things operating this way, there is no problem.

But it’s all pretty irrelevant. I’m about as progressive a person as one gets, and I’ve been in the trenches fighting for change. But the economic dynamics of the coming health care crisis mean we will have to spend less per student in the very near future, period. There’s not a believable scenario where that doesn’t happen. The question is only how fast and what the change looks like.

A while back, the meme that Broadband Swallows Everything was floating around the ed-tech world — I think that’s looking the wrong direction. It’s healthcare and an aging population that’s going to bring state-funded education to its knees in the next 10 years; every other influence is trivial by comparison.

The Edupunk’s Guide to a DIY Credential: A Review by Someone Else

Part of the reason I started Hapgood was to try to break the habit of wasting time engaging in Big Rhetorical Debates about Stuff That Capital-M Matters. Hapgood is largely about me getting back to the research and implementation focus that grounds me, and keeping the rhetorical stuff intermittent and focused on pressing concerns.

I’m not aiming for 100% success in that, but so far, so good.

So, having consciously avoided these debates, I was upset last week when I finally got around to reading the iDC mailing-list archives people had been telling me about and found the extent to which my name had been tossed around as a sort of plug for the Edupunk’s Guide. I stand by the things I’ve said, but my point was never to defend the Guide per se, but to simply argue that middle-aged educational technologists are not the only audience that people write books for, and a book that is reductive to us might be enlarging to someone else. I feel instead I’ve been pushed into a position as the token supporter of this.

I’m not. I really don’t want to write another word about Edupunk, never mind the guide. And post-iDC reading I’m not feeling very charitable to the Guide or its author at this particular moment. Actually, angry is closer to the truth, at least for the moment. 

But I find I have to post on this one more time. And the reason has nothing to do with Anya or Edupunk or EDUPUNK or iDC but with my high-school age niece. A while back, my brother had told me my niece (a junior) was struggling with the question of what she would do after high school. And seeing an opportunity there, I suggested that if she wanted to read the Edupunk’s guide and write up a review for me that I’d post it here. Real data from a real high-schooler. Win/win.

Due to a communication glitch, that review didn’t arrive until today, at a point where I’m sick of the whole drama. But it’d be unfair to everyone involved not to post it.

Here’s the upshot: My niece, Emma Caulfield, really liked it. you can read the full review here (which, keep in mind is written by a high-schooler, and sounds a bit book-reporty), but I think the crucial graf is this one:

I am currently a junior in high school, everyone knows one’s junior year brings a lot of academic pressure: the PSATs, the SATs, hard classes, high expectations, and looking into higher education. Stress sets in junior year—it’s well known. It was really refreshing for me to [read] this book, to see that not everything is as cut and dry as it is made out to be. It is easy to look at the future in black and white, but that makes things both more scary and less realistic. This book helped me to see that, to understand that it’s okay to be a little bit of an “Edupunk” to think a little out of the box. To read this book you don’t have to be dead set on a plan for the future, in fact maybe it’s better that you go into it with a totally open mind—it has a lot to offer, for anyone.

I honestly didn’t talk to Emma at all about this review (just passed the request through my brother) but this was my point, I think, about books like this. If they enlarge a high school junior’s conception of education I’m not entirely sure how important it is that it’s reductive for us. 

And probably the best comment came from my brother who has been a bit worried about Emma’s sense of life direction, if only in the way that all parents of high school juniors are worried about their kid’s sense of life direction. He said simply:

You know, I think it actually helped her.

That’s it. And if you are a Dad of a teen or tween you know that that’s a pretty good plug. Your toolbox for helping teenage girls is woefully small, every little thing helps.

In any case, I hope if people want to quote someone about the Guide they can quote Emma, or my brother, and I can maybe get out of this discussion. But I want to leave it with my point understood — it’s not what your words say, it’s what they do, and I think this book will likely do some good. 

As far as the larger Edupunk discussion, I’m out of it. Please batch replace all quotes of mine on the debate with the word “meh”. I’m sure it will add exactly as much to the discussion.

[P.S. I did promise my niece I’d put the whole review somewhere up under her byline, I’m still figuring out where the best place to do that is — if it ends up being here, that’s why the duplication.]

Increased Course Structure Improves Performance in Introductory Biology

Increased Course Structure Improves Performance in Introductory Biology

Lots of interesting (and maybe dubious?) methodological stuff in this. Its primary value for me was articulating a complex structured design fully, and testing that full design (rather than one or two smaller interventions). If you want to restructure your class like this, you could do it directly from the descriptions in this article, which is normally not the case with these things.

Of more immediate use to my own work is this: 

Without reading quizzes or other structured exercises that focus on acquiring information, it is not likely that informal-group, in-class activities or peer instruction with clickers will be maximally effective. This is because Bloom’s taxonomy is hierarchical (Bloom et al., 1956 blue right-pointing triangle). It is not possible to work at the application or analysis level without knowing the basic vocabulary and concepts. We see reading quizzes as an essential component of successful, highly structured course designs.

Do pre-tests boost achievement in online courses?

From an older paper which found that online courses involving pretests outperformed F2F instructions, but that online courses with no pretest showed no difference:

There exists a possibility that a pre-test works as a moderator affecting teaching and learning processes of ODE settings. For example, a pre-test might provide information for the online instructors to understand students’ academic ability to adjust the level of difficulty of the course content and offer appropriate feedback. Unlike F2FE settings where instructors gather information about student levels of understanding from facial expressions with direct communication, one of the biggest limitations of ODE was identified as a lack of information about students (Harasim, 2003). With regards to a self-learning perspective, a pre-test could help students recognize their own academic strengths and weaknesses. As Kozma (1994, p. 8) stated, “learning is an active, constructive, cognitive and social process by which the learner manages available cognitive, physical, and social resources to create new knowledge”, the self-recognition might work more positively in ODE settings in terms of individual and participatory learning.

There’s also, of course, a chance that a pretest in online instruction is a marker of a certain level/type of course design…

Informal Statistical Inference

What we are trying to do in our Stat Lit class is to develop good intuitions about data, rather than create mini-statisticians. Our belief is that everyone, in almost any job or civic task, has to make inferences from data without having access to complex data crunching tools or methods, and, as such, it is this “skimming data” approach that is most useful for students to acquire.

This paper introduces me to the useful term Informal Statistical Inference. The informal part is obvious enough — the statistical inference piece requires:

  1. A statement of generalization “beyond the data”
  2. Use of data as evidence to support this generalization
  3. Probabilistic language that expresses a level of uncertainty around the generalization

That’s narrower than Statistical Literacy, but still provides a nice skeleton for some meaningful Stat Lit outcomes. Worth passing on, I thought….

Openness and Analytics

I am sure someone has already commented on this, but it occurs to me that openness and analytics have a problematic relationship.

For instance, in the Intro to Psych course we are developing on several campuses, we’d like to use analytics to do things like nationally norm percent correct on questions. So you answer a question, and I see as a teacher what percentage of students nationally got that answer correct, and what other questions students that got that one wrong tended to also get wrong (or what support they found helpful).

That’s trivial to do in a centralized system. In a distributed world where everyone is working off of copies, and locally revised copies at that, it gets difficult — local alterations to question phrasing will corrupt your data….

AASCU, Red Balloon & National Course Collaborations

So this is really neat. I’m on the phone here with some American Association of State Colleges and Universities people on a conference call, and we’re hammering out how multiple state colleges and universities can best work together to build fully articulated blended and fully online courses that we share with one another.

The basic (proposed) organizational structure looks to be to nominate an e-course national coordinator and a scholar chair to work together to produce a course with a committee of scholars managed by the scholar chair. Students would buy into the course as if it were a textbook at a nominal fee that would be pumped back into a course account.

This would allow the funding of a 501(c)(3) general services unit which could be used run analytics on the data and coordinate the iterative improvement stuff based on that data. [There’s a bit of a sticky wicket there technology-wise, but let’s leave that aside for a minute].

 It’s not open, certainly, but it’s a massive step towards seizing control of our own destiny as institutions and realizing if we are survive we are only going to do it through collaborating and promoting inter-institutional reuse.