Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You might want to start saving up to send your kids to a private university.

In light of heavy budget cuts and an economy that continues to deteriorate, the Tennessee Board of Regents is looking for ways to save money. Specifically, the TBR wants to change its current business model so that Tennessee's universities achieve "a greater level of productivity" particularly in the way that faculty interact with students. The TBR is seeking ways to save money in the long term by reinventing the way that college instructors disseminate information to their students, and the board recently sent a memo to its university presidents seeking input from the universities on ways to accomplish this goal.

The memo briefly describes the way that the TBR sees the current educational experience and then asks if this model can be changed:

(My questions and comments will be added in bold.)

The faculty is the overseer of the educational process, and the business model for higher education recognizes the importance of the faculty's role. Our current business model (Education is simply a business whose only concern is a bottom line?) has faculty teaching courses populated by students. What are the possibilities for the role of faculty evolving more toward the orchestrators of an educational process to the point they are not directly involved in the dissemination of course material (Is that all that faculty do--simply deliver information?) in a classroom setting? Would such an evolution provide opportunity for a business model that increases efficiency while continuing to improve the quality of students' educational experience?

Within this concept there could be possibilities for productivity and quality enhancement in at least the following five areas: 1) collaboration across a large system; 2) empowering students with technology for understanding a concept and for drill and practice (How does technology replace discussion for understanding a concept?); 3) collaboration among students (Students forming study groups? What a novel concept!) and use of advanced students to assist beginning students (Tutoring sessions? Nothing new there.), along with a similar peer to peer collaboration by faculty (Do the administrators think that faculty do not already share ideas with each other?); 4) focusing by faculty on learning outcomes and using technology to deliver and monitor the learning process (Students already spend enough time focusing on the outcome--the final grade. Most of them don't really care about the "learning process." I guess faculty are supposed to shift their attention away from getting students to learn something and just "teach to the test" so to speak.); and 5) abandoning some of the ingrained structures that restrict our approach to traditional models.

How could these goals be accomplished? The memo goes on to outline possiblities, some of the more "interesting" of which are:

  • Increase the number of students completing on-line courses by taking steps such as
Providing a discounted tuition to students who expect to work online with no direct support from a faculty member except oversight of testing and grading when the student is ready. (So teachers simply post assignments and grade tests. No discussion of concepts.)

Specifying in the curriculum that students must take a defined number of on-line courses in order to graduate at the baccalaureate and associate levels.

Designing master's level degrees and work to be taken exclusively on-line. (Shouldn't earning a higher degree involve intensive discussion of theories and concepts? The collaboration between students that is spoken of earlier cannot take place in an exclusively online setting.)

  • Formalize a system that anticipates even greater use of adjuncts (part-time, low paid faculty--one cannot live on adjunct salary alone) to help in the delivery of education under the oversight of full-time faculty and clearly delineate and expand that relationship (Senior, PhD level faculty spending less time in the classroom where students could benefit from their knowledge and experience?).
  • Build into students' curriculum and into financial aid that advanced students are expected to assist beginning students and financially support the advanced students in that effort (We already do this to an extent with the use of graduate students to teach labs and some beginning courses such as freshman writing or math).

Obviously the TBR would like to see more students enroll in more online courses which are taught by fewer full time faculty. While some courses are perfectly suited for conversion to an online format, others simply cannot make the transition without seriously affecting how much a student comprehends the material. If achieving "a greater level of productivity" means simply reducing the amount of money spent while boosting the grade point averages of its graduates, then the TBR is on the right track. However, if the TBR wants to produce graduates who are knowledgeable in their chosen fields of study, then this is the wrong way to go about it.

I would imagine that this type of discussion is taking place not only in Tennessee, but in many states in our country. I just thought that those of you who have children who may attend a state university sometime in the future may want to be aware of what the bean counters have in mind for higher education.

You can see the entire memo here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I just read a plagiarized essay. Passages were copied directly from Wikipedia.

The ironic part? The topic of the essay is "deception."

Do they really need a handout?

According to a story in the China View news website:

The General Motors Corporation (GM) has decided to invest 1 billion U.S. dollars in Brazil to expand business there, local media reported Tuesday.

The investment was part of a U.S. bailout package and would be used to upgrade car production lines before 2012, said Djame Adila, a GM's official in charge of the markets in Brazil and other member-countries of the South American Common Market which also groups Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Although the company has laid off employees in some other countries in face of the current U.S. financial crisis, it still needs time to valuate the Brazilian market before making any decision, said Adila, adding that a recent announcement of a 3.5-billion-dollar loan plan to automakers by the Brazilian government should boost the car sales in the Brazilian market.

"To withdraw capital from an expanding market is obviously illogical. What we should do is to protect investment to the emerging markets," Adila said.

The company's car sale at the Brazilian market is expected to reach 2.9 million units in 2009, while that for this year is to reach 2.85 million, up 15 percent from last year.

Does this mean that GM is using their part of the $25 billion that Congress already granted the "Big Three" for retooling their factories to make more energy efficient autos and instead using it in their factories in other countries? If GM has a billion dollars at its disposal to invest in Brazil, why is it asking Congress for more money now?

Is there something that I don't understand, or are the American automakers being less than genuine?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Another Gem!

"Plastic is a two faced, backstabbing friend when it comes to being economically friendly."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Covering the (wrong) bases

From a second-year college student's paper:

Physical Activity is one of the most significant aspects of a child's health while their young. A child who doesn't participate in physical activities while there young has a high percentage of becoming obese.

Apparently she wasn't sure how to spell the word, so she chose to use two different spellings in order to cover her bases, but as Husband said when I showed it to him, "She covered the wrong base."

Another gem from the same essay:

A child who is social with friends is more likely to be a more content child and can even avoid a child from becoming obese.

The entire essay was poorly written, and by the time I finished reading it, I was mentally drained and had to stop grading for the night. It would not have been fair to the next student to grade his or her paper when I was in that mental state.

From another student's essay that I had read earlier that day:

" . . . less than five percent of the worlds scientist where present at the meeting."

The sad part about this is that this sentence was part of a direct quote from a source. The student had the correct sentence in front of him but still made mistakes.

Some days when I'm standing at the whiteboard trying to write something for my students, my mind draws a blank, and I can't figure out how to spell the words. And when I'm typing, I find myself spelling even simple words incorrectly. I feel that I'm becoming dumber and dumber with each poor essay that I read. I'm going to have to spend more time reading good writing, or my mind is going to deteriorate. I can see that in order to preserve my sanity, I'm going to have to spend more time on my personal reading.