Houston Chron Round-Up: Higher Ed preferred target of budget cuts, “godless, left-wing radicals” in the university

Two important pieces in today’s Chron:

  • According to a recent poll, Higher Ed was the preferred target for budget cuts, out of a list of options that included cuts to K-12; “no cuts,” however, was equally popular at 28%
  • According to the Chron’s Texas Politics blog, State Board of Ed member Don McLeroy addressed a Tea Party group in Bastrop, and warned of “godless left-wing radicals” who have taken over the government and universities.  Here’s McLeroy’s characterization of college teaching of American history:

Sadly, instead of teaching our children historical facts, many professors indoctrinate them in the social history of race, class, and gender. And, if they teach the Constitution, the Declaration, and the arguments of the Federalist Papers at all, they teach they are obsolete,” McLeroy complained.

McLeroy had been Chairman of the Board that most recently rewrote the Texas social studies curriculum, and lost a reelection bid in a Republican primary to Thomas Ratliff.


via WSJ: Putting a Price on Professors

Here’s another account of the A&M accountability system, this time from the WSJ.

A 265-page spreadsheet, released last month by the chancellor of the Texas A&M University system, amounted to a profit-and-loss statement for each faculty member, weighing annual salary against students taught, tuition generated, and research grants obtained.

So what would be the impact of such initiatives be on instruction on campus , if such statements began to determine the curriculum available to studetnts at the undergraduate and graduate levels?


Thanks to all who attended our Teaching Large Sections Brown Bag Discussion

Thanks to Dan Wells for organizing what seemed to me a very successful brown bag discussion.  I am including links of the handouts and movies, for anyone interested in following up our discussions.

For those interested in a very readable synthesis of current learning theory, try M. Suzanne Donovan, John D. Bransford, and James W. Pellegrino, Editors, How People Learn (1999), which is available at this link for purchase or as a free pdf.


via Schoenfeld and Burkhardt: Improving Educational Research

Since one of the questions that came up at Friday’s R&D workshop was how various disciplines outside of education could draw upon existing educational research, I thought I would offer up this interesting essay by Hugh Burkhardt and Alan Schoenfeld.  These writers present a number of different models of how educational research might be translated into practice, before settling on their own recommended “engineering” approach.

The CTE needs to be agnostic at this point about these models, though I think we are very conscious of the need for teaching faculty to draw upon at least the findings and “best practices” found in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  Nonetheless, these authors do provide a useful overview of the three main traditions of educational research: humanities, science, and engineering.  Here are brief excerpted definitions of each:

The humanities approach to research is the oldest tradition in
education.It may be described as “original investigations undertaken
in order to gain knowledge and understandings; scholarship;
the invention and generation of ideas . .. where these lead
to new or substantially improved insights”(Higher Education
Research Funding Council, 1999, p. 4). There is no requirement
that the assertions made be tested empirically. The test of quality
is critical appraisal concerning plausibility, internal consistency
and fit to prevailing wisdom. The key product of this
approach is critical commentary (5)

The science approach to research is also focused on the development
of better insight; of improved knowledge and understanding of  “how the world works,” through the analysis of
phenomena; and the building of models that explain them. However,
this approach imposes in addition a further essential requirement-
that assertions be subjected to empirical testing.
The key outcomes are again assertions-but now with both arguments in support and responses to key questions that are built
on empirical evidence.The common products are research journal
papers, books, and conference talks. Such research provides
insights, identifies problems and suggests possibilities. However,
it does not itself generate practical solutions, even on a small
scale; for that, it needs to be linked to the engineering approach.

The engineering approach to research is directly concerned
with practical impact-understanding how the world works and
helping it “to work better” by designing and systematically developing
high-quality solutions to practical problems. It builds
on insights from other research, insofar as they are available, but
goes beyond them. It can be described as “the use of existing
knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products, and processes,
including design and construction”(Higher Education Research
Funding Council, 1999, p. 4). It combines imaginative design
and empirical testing of the products and processes during development and in evaluation. Key products are tools and/or
processes that work well for their intended uses and users, with
evidence-based evaluation.

After hearing our discussions at Friday’s workshop, I think that the CTE could support faculty in each of these traditions, which to my mind include both those who simply need to draw upon existing scholarship of teaching and learning to improve their own teaching, and those who are helping to produce such research and scholarship for others, including those on those campus, to draw upon.



via Inside Higher Ed: Preparing Professors to Teach

On the day that our own Division of TA Training (DTAT) was presenting to the CLASS Chairs and Directors, we saw this article in Inside Higher Ed about similar initiatives getting developed at a variety of institutions, notably Berkeley, MIT, and Brown.

One of the most interesting things to emerge from this report is what I’d call the “knock-on” effect that occurs when faculty begin to teach grad students about teaching, and engage in the necessary discussion, explanation, and mutual learning on the subject of teaching within their discipline:

Takayama says the program unites participants into a community of peers, regardless of discipline or stature. It trains them to think about learning contextually, beyond the course materials. What exactly is learning? How do you assess students? How do you make teaching accessible and effective? Certificate programs “really are important not just for students, but also for faculty members and postdocs,” Takayama says. “The faculty are looking for thinking about their teaching in a scholarly way. They became faculty because they got degrees in their discipline, but they never thought about their process of teaching in a formal way.” And, of course, the programs teach graduate students these skills before they have the chance to realize they never learned them.

As a number of people observe in this article, this process benefits everyone involved: grad students, participating faculty, and the student populations they both teach.


via the Texas Tribune: A&M System examines Professors’ “Revenue Generation”

[thanks to Gordon Johnson of EPSAC for passing this along]

More on the “Revenue Generation” accountability system devised at A&M, through this article by Reeve Hamilton.  The impact of this kind of system on educational values could be drastic, since it counts only formal instruction hours, and externally funded research:

some research never registers. Hugill has authored five books and has two more on the way — none of which would be captured under the proposed measurements because they weren’t externally funded. He guesses that the study only logs about “40 to 50 percent” of what a professor actually does. Ashley agrees: Professors are only given credit for time spent in front of a class, though plenty of teaching happens elsewhere. But, he says, those are the only figures publicly available.


Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board–Higher Education Cost Efficiencies (draft report)

I think we should be prepared to begin hearing about this very soon.  What impact would these recommendations have on our teaching and research missions?