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Cynthia Fernald's List: Education/Teaching

  • Dec 22, 14

    ""Good writing has a musical quality to it, a mathematical quality, a balance and a rhythm. You can feel that much better when it's read aloud.""

    • The release of “Seabiscuit” in 2001 coincided with a shift underway in nonfiction writing. Hillenbrand belongs to a generation of writers who emerged in response to the stylistic explosion of the 1960s. Pioneers of New Journalism like Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer wanted to blur the line between literature and reportage by infusing true stories with verbal pyrotechnics and eccentric narrative voice. But many of the writers who began to appear in the 1990s — Susan Orlean, Erik Larson, Jon Krakauer, Katherine Boo and Nathaniel Philbrick — approached the craft of narrative journalism in a quieter way. They still built stories around characters and scenes, with dialogue and interior perspective, but they cast aside the linguistic showmanship that drew attention to the writing itself.
    • David Grann, the author of “The Lost City of Z,” told me that he makes a conscious effort to avoid stylistic flourishes. “The thing that is most important to me is I want to get out of the way,” he said. “I mean, I am very conscious of that. I’m not indicting people who have great voices, but in the stories I’m writing, the last thing I want is for the voice to get in the way or call attention to the author.” Hampton Sides, who wrote this summer’s blockbuster “In the Kingdom of Ice,” put it bluntly: “This generation has discovered that you don’t have to grab the reader by the lapels if you have a good story to tell.”

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  • Dec 18, 14

    This is what ought to happen at SJSU -- football is a worthless funding suck and should get the axe.

    • schools that have dropped football have lived to tell the tale. In 1995, the University of the Pacific dropped football — the last major school to do so before U.A.B. “Since then, their enrollment has actually gone up,” emailed David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports management at Ohio University.

      “Football,” he added, “doesn’t define a university.”

      Unfortunately, for too many schools, it does.

    • “We could not justify subsidizing football if it meant taking away from other priorities,”

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  • Oct 27, 14

    In effect, the United States has become 19th-century Britain: We provide superb education for elites, but we falter at mass education.

    • The United States is devoting billions of dollars to compete with Russia militarily, but maybe we should try to compete educationally. Russia now has the largest percentage of adults with a university education of any industrialized country — a position once held by the United States
    • A basic element of the American dream is equal access to education as the lubricant of social and economic mobility. But the American dream seems to have emigrated because many countries do better than the United States in educational mobility, according to the O.E.C.D. study.

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    • what used to be a central mission — arguably the central mission — of American universities: to take large numbers of highly motivated working-class teenagers and give them the tools they need to become successful professionals. The U.T. experiment reminds us that that process isn’t easy; it never has been. But it also reminds us that it is possible.
    • Beyond the economic opportunities for the students themselves, there is the broader cost of letting so many promising students drop out, of losing so much valuable human capital. For almost all of the 20th century, the United States did a better job of producing college graduates than any other country. But over the past 20 years, we have fallen from the top of those international lists; the United States now ranks 12th in the world in the percentage of young people who have earned a college degree. During the same period, a second trend emerged: American higher education became more stratified; most well-off students now do very well in college, and most middle- and low-income students struggle to complete a degree. These two trends are clearly intertwined. And it is hard to imagine that the nation can regain its global competitiveness, or improve its level of economic mobility, without reversing them.

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  • Oct 06, 14

    Pushed by its ambitious president, San Jose State is spending $28 million on high-tech communications systems worthy of a campus of the future -- but an investigation by this newspaper shows the project was crafted largely in secret, purchased without competitive bids and adorned with pricey gadgets that many professors may not even use.

    • At a time of tremendous financial pressure for the university and its students, campus leaders bought some of the flashiest classroom, conference room and office equipment available. The Next Generation Technology Project -- built mostly by San Jose-based Cisco Systems, a major university donor -- boasts thousands of videophones costing nearly $400 each, two-way conferencing to beam in experts on giant screens, and systems to record, transcribe and broadcast lectures.
    • But more than two years after the project's launch, the videophones are widely unused, just five of the promised 51 high-tech classrooms have been built, and two of the campus's major experiments in online education have fizzled.

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    • At public colleges, then, the explanation for rising tuition prices isn’t spiraling costs. The costs are the same, but the burden of paying those costs has shifted from state taxpayers to students.

      Given this structure, can a ratings system affect tuition prices at public colleges? Not really.

    • In 1988, state legislatures gave their public colleges an average of $8,600 a student. Students contributed an additional $2,700 in tuition, which gets us to a total of $11,300. By 2013, states were kicking in just $6,100, while students were contributing $5,400; this gets us to a total of $11,500.

      As far as students are concerned, public tuition has doubled. As far as public colleges are concerned, funding is flat.

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    • So my recommendation is something at which we intellectuals excel: a subtle war of passive aggression. Go ahead and include that admin boilerplate, but do it at the end, in six-point type, and label it “Appendix A: Boilerplate”—or, even better, “tl;dr,” since the executive vice dean in charge of micromanaging your syllabus probably won’t know what that means. Make it very clear, simply through the use of placement and typeface, what you think is important for students to read and what you don’t.
    • To facilitate the optimal experience for these customers, administrators began to increase oversight of their faculty, which, with an ever-adjunctifying professoriate unable to fight back, became ever easier to do. And so the instructors—wary of lawsuits and poor evaluations that would cost them their jobs—had little choice but to pass that micromanagement on to the students.

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  • Aug 11, 14

    Why daydreaming is good for you, and the constant distraction of social media is not.

    • If we can train ourselves to take regular vacations — true vacations without work — and to set aside time for naps and contemplation, we will be in a more powerful position to start solving some of the world’s big problems.
    • Taking breaks is biologically restorative. Naps are even better.

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    • But there’s a crucial difference between “access to information” and “education” that explains why the university isn’t about to become obsolete, and why we can’t depend — as Marc Andreessen tells us — on the magic elixir of innovation plus the free market to solve our education quandary.

      Nothing better illustrates this point than a closer look at the Udacity-San Jose State collaboration.

    • Of course, it costs money to provide greater human interaction. You need bodies — ideally, bodies with some mastery of the subject material. But when you raise costs, you destroy the primary attraction of Silicon Valley’s “disruptive” model. The big tech success stories are all about avoiding the costs faced by the incumbents. Airbnb owns no hotels. Uber owns no taxis. The selling point of Coursera and Udacity is that they need own no universities.

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    • even when technology allows us to do more in less time, it does not always foster learning.  Learning involves more than the receipt and the regurgitation of information.  If we want students to synthesize material, draw inferences, see new connections, evaluate evidence, and apply concepts in novel situations, we need to encourage the deep, effortful cognitive processes that underlie these abilities.  When it comes to taking notes, students need fewer gigs, more brain power.
    • When participants were given an opportunity to study with their notes before the final assessment, once again those who took longhand notes outperformed laptop participants.  Because longhand notes contain students’ own words and handwriting, they may serve as more effective memory cues by recreating the context (e.g., thought processes, emotions, conclusions) as well as content (e.g., individual facts) from the original learning session.

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  • Mar 05, 14

    For many American students — who are increasingly diverse, low-income and less academically prepared for college work — an uncritical rush to “online everything” may ultimately only expand their access to failure.

    • He goes on to make another fundamental point that has unfortunately been banished from our national conversation about higher education. He argues that, “We can’t duplicate personal interaction without spending more money. We can scale content, but we can’t scale encouragement. We can improve lecturing through peer teaching, but we can’t scale the timely interventions and nudges by faculty that influence deeper learning.”[2]

      George Siemens, an early developer of the MOOC, made an important argument that should inform our discussion of technology and innovation in higher education. What is valuable in education, he points out, is not “content” or increased access to information. Instead, he argues that personalized assessments, encouragement, active support through complex subject matter and instructor questioning are the factors that make education valuable.[1]

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    • CEOs of public companies are answerable to their shareholders and customers. Not so university fat cats. While academics are audited more than ever before – loaded up with paperwork, expected to make "academic impact" – their bosses enjoy the bare minimum of oversight.
    • with a handful of exceptions, these academics stopped teaching or researching decades ago and now bob about from campus to campus: cutting here, screwing things up there before moving on to the next debacle. And as with fat cats everywhere, these men (and they are nearly always men) have manoeuvred themselves right by the cash till – all the better to dip their paws in.

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    • These underpaid educators are adjunct faculty, who now comprise an estimated 74 percent of America’s college teachers. 
    • even if one assumes that most campus administrators do a good job, why should there be a widening gap between their incomes and the incomes of those who do the central work of the university:  the faculty?

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  • Feb 20, 14

    Why course offerings are declining decline as tuition keeps rising: "Labor Intensive or Labor Expensive: Changing Staffing and Compensation Patterns in Higher Education," says that new administrative positions-particularly in student services-drove a 28-percent expansion of the higher-ed work force from 2000 to 2012.

    • "At what point," he said, "does that ratio of nonacademic staff to tenured faculty become completely untenable?"
    • The report also makes clear that the expansion in wages and salaries derived not from instruction, institutional support, or academic support, but from student services, which can include athletics, admissions, psychological counseling, and career counseling, among other activities.

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  • Feb 19, 14

    I'm luckier than most adjuncts, I know, but I'm tired of always wondering if I'll still have a job next semester -- even after 15 years on the job.
    Now at least I know - I won't have a job next year. So it goes in the land of the expendable adjunct.

    • When people hear the words “part-time” or “temporary,” they usually assume that the worker is simply working fewer hours, for a short, definite term, perhaps to filling in until the employer can hire someone for a full-time, permanent position. But people often do not imagine that such an employee would receive much lower pay and be treated differently in every other way.


      Yet the two-track system in academe does set up two entirely separate, but unequal, tiers in which the upper tier, the tenure track, is treated in a vastly superior manner to the lower tier, the non-tenure track, which is treated as inferior. Contingent faculty are often not temporary, some having worked for decades, and there is no automatic advancement to the tenure track.

    • But it is not simply a lack of tenure that differentiates the two tracks. Virtually every aspect of employment is entirely different and unequal between them. Indeed, many of these professors, given how long they have taught, have been misclassified as “temporary” employees. While such a misclassification has hurt them, the colleges and the tenure-track faculty have benefited immensely.

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    • “In 1970, adjuncts made up 20 percent of all higher education faculty,” the report says. “Today, they represent half.”
    • The adjunct boom has been accompanied by a parallel rise in the number of college administrators.

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    • the movie is an unwitting primer on how to teach disadvantaged students. There are teachers in the movie who know how to connect with their students, and teachers who don’t. Teachers College at Columbia University liked the film so much that it is creating a companion curriculum, so the film can be used to help train teachers.
    • it is the rare film that sympathetically conveys how hard it is to be a teacher in an inner-city school. “The New Public” not only shows what goes on in the classroom — which can be rough if the teacher can’t manage the classroom — but she also goes into the homes of the students she has focused on. There, the odds that the students are trying to overcome are made abundantly clear.

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