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Do College Professors Work Enough?

In a column for WaPo titled, “Do college professors work hard enough?” arts administrator David C. Levy argues college professors at teaching universities are overpaid because they don’t put in enough hours.

 Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.

Such a schedule may be appropriate in research universities where standards for faculty employment are exceptionally high — and are based on the premise that critically important work, along with research-driven teaching, can best be performed outside the classroom. The faculties of research universities are at the center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits, and there should be no quarrel with their financial rewards or schedules. In fact, they often work hours well beyond those of average non-academic professionals.

Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research. These include many state colleges, virtually all community colleges and hundreds of private institutions. For example, Maryland’s Montgomery College (an excellent two-year community college) reports its average full professor’s salary as $88,000, based on a workload of 15 hours of teaching for 30 weeks. Faculty members are also expected to keep office hours for three hours a week. The faculty handbook states: “Teaching and closely related activities are the primary responsibilities of instructional faculty.” While the handbook suggests other responsibilities such as curriculum development, service on committees and community outreach, notably absent from this list are research and scholarship.

[...]

An executive who works a 40-hour week for 50 weeks puts in a minimum of 2,000 hours yearly. But faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend only 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom. Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation, their workload is still only 36 to 45 percent of that of non-academic professionals. Yet they receive the same compensation.

If the higher education community were to adjust its schedules and semester structure so that teaching faculty clocked a 40-hour week (roughly 20 hours of class time and equal time spent on grading, preparation and related duties) for 11 months, the enhanced efficiency could be the equivalent of a dramatic budget increase. Many colleges would not need tuition raises or adjustments to public budget priorities in the near future. The vacancies created by attrition would be filled by the existing faculty’s expanded teaching loads — from 12 to 15 hours a week to 20, and from 30 weeks to 48; increasing teachers’ overall classroom impact by 113 percent to 167 percent.

[...]

While time outside of class can vary substantially by discipline and by the academic cycle (for instance, more papers and tests to grade at the end of a semester), the notion that faculty in teaching institutions work a 40-hour week is a myth. And whatever the weekly hours may be, there is still the 30-week academic year, which leaves almost 22 weeks for vacation or additional employment.

This is mindnumbingly ignorant, inexcusably so for someone who has spent so much of his life on the fringes of academe. An NYU PhD, he’s spent most of his career as an administrator at such prestigious but nontraditional institutions as the Parsons School of Design, the New School University, and the Corcoran Gallery. While I haven’t the slightest idea how many hours professors at such places teach, I can attest that few at normal colleges and universities put in less than 40 hours a week.

Levy uses numbers very oddly in this piece. First, he uses salaries of senior faculty, which are highly unrepresentative of what most faculty earn, to argue that professors ought to be compared to other white collar professionals. Second, he asserts without evidence or even anecdote that 15 classroom hours translates into less than 30 hours of work. Third, he assumes that, if faculty aren’t teaching, they aren’t working.

Robert Farley, who teaches at UK’s Patterson School, is not amused.

Right; the reason for the increase in college tuition is “insufficient teaching schedules,” not the massive increase in administrative costs. This is helpful; we now know that David Levy is lying about cause and effect, and can adjust our expectations for the rest of the op-ed. This is aggravated by a second (obvious) fallacy; the “insufficient” teaching time is almost invariably made up for by cheap, temporary, low cost adjunct faculty, lecturers, and grad students. Having senior faculty double their teaching load wouldn’t have faculty costs; it would simply push out the very low cost workers we now hire to fix the “shortfall.”

[...]

Okay, so two possibilities. The first is that Levy is too stupid or ignorant to appreciate that faculty positions at most private universities and “state colleges” do in fact include research requirements, and that salaries at institutions that don’t have a research requirement are considerably lower than those at research institutions. I’ll allow it’s possible that the man is either a moron, or is ignorant of the basic structure of the profession. The other (more likely) possibility is that he’s simply lying, and expects his audience to know nary a thing about the actual structure of faculty compensation in the United States.

As I understand it, my contract is fairly common for my field; 40% teaching, 40% research, 20% service. Do the math; this means that 60% of my job performance is evaluated on terms other than teaching. I’m at an R-1 university, but I’ve seen a lot of contracts at other schools that are similar, and at schools where the research load is less the teaching load is heavier. Indeed, at UK it’s not uncommon for non-tenure track Lecturer positions to include service and research requirements, above and beyond a much heavier teaching load.

[...]

In case you’re wondering, 12-15 hours per week is a 4:4 load or a 5:5 load; I have NEVER encountered anyone able to undertake such a load on less than fifty hours per week of actual work. Indeed, I’d guess closer to sixty hours. I simply cannot believe that Levy is ignorant of this; he’s just lying. He wants his readers to believe that an assumption of 1:1 inside-outside the classroom is standard, which is simply absurd, even if faculty do their best to ignore student e-mails and grade completely through scan tron. And it should be noted that research and service requirements are ON TOP OF THIS load.

My own experience is now somewhat dated, since I haven’t been in front of a classroom other than as a guest lecturer in almost a decade. But I taught at a variety of institutions ranging from Alabama ( albeit as a grad student) to Tennessee-Chattanooga to Bainbridge College (a community college with a 5-5 load) to Troy (4-4 load plus summers and overloads). Not only was the pay, even adjusted for inflation, much lower than the $80,000 figure but the expectation was that faculty maintain their classes along with significant office hours for student advising, perform substantial departmental and institutional service, do community service, be active in professional associations including attending and presenting at scholarly conventions, and a maintain an active research agenda.

Yes, the academic schedule has a lot of down time, if by that one means that no classes are scheduled. But most of the faculty I knew, myself certainly included, used our Christmas, Spring, and summer breaks to get our research done because there was no time to do it during the academic year. Additionally, most of us taught at least a couple of classes in the summer to make extra money.

I’d say Levy’s understanding of the academy is skewed because he’s in the arts except that a good friend of mine is a tenured music professor at the University of Minnesota and he’s constantly busy. He uses summers to mentor graduate students, including taking them on group trips around the world, and to write books.

I suppose it’s technically possible to be a tenured full professor at a teaching oriented school, pull in $80,000 plus a year, and work less than full time. Absent any pride or committing transgressions so foul as to constitute a firing offense, there’s little external pressure to do more than teach one’s classes, attend faculty meetings, and hold office hours. But, even though I was at decidedly non-prestigious institutions, I saw almost none of that. Most professors, even those who had stopped pretending to do original research, actually still love what they do and maintain currency in their fields and put in a lot more time than the bare minimum requirement at the office.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. MstrB says:

    I always had engineering and business professors that would do consulting jobs on the side, many times they would put a portion of the funds into a work study program and the students would help with the work as well. It was very common among the new professors since the salary didn’t necessarily fit with the higher cost of living.

    Often the limiting factor for time on campus for my professors was that most couldn’t afford to live near the school, so they would often commute an hour or more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  2. steve says:

    Just part of the general assault on education.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  3. Septimius says:

    a good friend of mine is a tenured music professor at the University of Minnesota and he’s constantly busy. He uses summers to mentor graduate students, including taking them on group trips around the world, and to write books.

    The poor man. How does he manage? Mentoring grad students, trips around the world, writing books. That sounds absolutely horrendous.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 35

  4. @Septimius:

    The poor man. How does he manage? Mentoring grad students, trips around the world, writing books. That sounds absolutely horrendous.

    But, of course, that’s not the point. James is not saying that we should pity him, he is saying that all of the above takes time and work.

    I will be the first to say that life in the academy is a good one. The notion, however, that it is a life of large amounts of leisure time is simply wrong and it is especially wrong to assert that the problem with higher education is that professors aren’t working hard enough.

    And Farley is correct: Levy’s use of numbers in that column is disingenuous at best.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 5

  5. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I can only speak for my own area – accounting. The full time tenure-track folks I know are generally putting in 50+ hour weeks between research, teaching, and administrative time. The only ones I know who aren’t are the ones who have switched over time to mostly just teaching *and* who haven’t bothered to update their courses in years. They tend not to be popular with anyone – other faculty or the students.

    I can only speak for myself as an adjunct with a full-time day job. I generally put in 15-20 hours per week on average during the semester between prep time, grading, classroom time, and office hours/advising, and then about 40-60 hours in between semesters prepping for the next one (assuming I get my contracts enough in advance). That’s for a 2/2 schedule. 15 hours is normal if I have two sections of the same course. 20 is normal for two different courses (even if I’ve taught them before).

    Obviously there are economies of scale, especially if you have three or four sections of the same undergrad course. But if I put in 15-20 hours for 2/2, I don’t see how the average full time faculty is putting in less than 40, especially if they are grading essays or projects or equations.

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  6. Dave Schuler says:

    It appears to me that the underlying question is do the full professors at teaching universities spend enough of their time teaching? I have no idea what the answer to the question is now but my recollection of what things were like when I was in college (before the glaciers descended and dinosaurs ruled the earth) is that they had practically no teaching duties. Most departments had full professors nobody had seen for a decade.

    The question underlying the underlying question may be should tuition subsidize non-teaching activity by professors and why? I think that’s an interesting question and worth debating.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 9

  7. TIm says:

    Even for profs like me who work at teaching-centered schools, adding up our class time, office hours, and teaching prep time does not even begin to account for the amount of work we do. Here’s some other things I have to do just this week:

    (1) Write two recommendation letters (1 hr each)
    (2) Grade 40 papers (15 mins each)
    (3) Write an in-house grant for over-the-summer research (4 hrs)
    (4) Do the reading and prep for an Independent Study I’m teaching (3 hrs)
    (5) Write comments for a paper for an upcoming conference (3 hrs)
    (6) Work on my book (7-10 hours)
    (7) Make a presentation handout for an upcoming conference (2-3 hours)

    This is just for starters, folks! I suspect that with Mr. Levy’s experience he can’t help but know all of this stuff, but he is just arguing in bad faith.

    By the way, it’s nice to be told that when you have the most important job in society–educating our citizenry– you aren’t doing any work at all. Whereas no one ever accuses those Goldman Sachs managers of not working at all, when they contribute nothing to anyone!

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 35 Thumb down 6

  8. @Dave Schuler:

    A question: is the paleolithic recollection in question that of the perceptions of an undergrad? If so, I would submit that it is possible that what seemed to be true to an undergrad may not have been true (although granted not necessarily). Also: what kind of school was it?

    A couple of thoughts/observations:

    1. You raise some interesting questions. In regards to teaching and rank—it clearly matters as to what type of institution one teaches at. I am a full professor and my teaching responsibilities are identical to the assistant profs in my department.\

    2. I would argue that a college professor that does no research is not really a professor. Research is a type of ongoing education that people who are supposedly expert in some area of subject material need to remain expert. I work at a teaching-oriented institution and there is no doubt in my mind that my teaching (my primary responsibility) has been enhanced by my research

    3. The entire academy is predicated on the peer-review process. This means someone has to review journal articles, book manuscripts, textbook updates, instructional material, etc. This takes time and is a non-teaching activity.

    4. Even teaching ends up creating outside-the-classroom duties like student advising, letter of recommendation writing, and the like. (A colleague of mine is the faculty sponsor for the model UN and as a result had to spend the weekend supervising students at a regional meeting).

    5. Service in running departments, colleges, and the university writ large is also very time consuming.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  9. Andy says:

    The Washington Post is doing all it can at the moment to sully the name of traditional higher ed. Oh, I wonder if that could be anything to do with the fact that it owns “for profit” Kaplan University? Hmmm…

    I cancelled my Washington Post subscription. I urge anyone concerned about such abhorrent conflicts of interest in the media to do the same.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 1

  10. Anon says:

    I think it’s possible to get by with less than 40 hours, but most professors I know do not. In my area, computer science, another task that requires a lot of time is preparing assignments. A typical assignment requires a significant amount of support materials, source code, test code, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    1. Undergraduate and graduate. In my graduate department the full professors MIGHT have taught a couple of hours of graduate classes a week each. Undergraduate classes were taught by associates or instructors

    2. Elite private university.

    I’m not raising an all-or-nothing question. I’m asking a question of proportion. If this source is to be believed in private institutions tuitions comprise a healthy proportion of total operating revenue. How much time should be spent teaching (includes prep, support, etc.)? How much time on research? I don’t know the answer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    If I had the inclination I’m pretty sure I could dig up my old syllabuses and identify several professors in most departments that fit my characterization. I can think of two right off the top of my head: Andreas Papandreou and Mircea Eliade. Neither one of them were full professors either to teach or to do research but to grant cachet to the university/department. They were filling that role for a half dozen colleges each. Basically, they were marketing tools.

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  13. @Dave Schuler:

    Thanks for the answers and further questions.

    It does matter when comparing truly elite institutions and the vast majority of schools and what faculty is required to do, senior or not.

    And really, aren’t the marketing tools in question not much more than highly paid adjuncts? I have a hard time thinking that Papandreou was serving on committees, for example.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. SEK says:

    @Septimius: Yes, because as everyone who weighs in this debate always remembers, teaching never involves lesson-planning, office hours, and grading. It’s limited entirely to the number of hours a teacher literally stands before students lecturing. Sorry, but teaching a 4-4 or a 5-5 means you’re working 80 hours a week, minimum. Anyone who says differently is, frankly, a liar.

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  15. Let me sum up my reaction: nobody who spent 5-10 years earning a PhD is going to be willing to become an academic if the “standard” job is to teach the equivalent of a 7-7 teaching load with one month off for $40-50k a year. (I’m sure there are certainly adjuncts who probably cobble together teaching loads like that, but nobody’s expecting them to do the time-intensive non-teaching aspects of the job, and nobody aspires to get a “job” like that.)

    Far be it from me to assume bad faith, but I think articles like this one have a lot to do with deflecting blame for higher ed costs away from the bloat in administration (particularly in student affairs, including gold-plating of student amenities, and regulatory and accreditation compliance) over the past 20 years or so.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 1

  16. @Chris Lawrence: Agreed and agreed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  17. An Interested Party says:

    @Andy: Well said…I wonder how Katherine Graham would feel about what has happened to the Post…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  18. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Chris Lawrence:

    Let me sum up my reaction: nobody who spent 5-10 years earning a PhD is going to be willing to become an academic if the “standard” job is to teach the equivalent of a 7-7 teaching load with one month off for $40-50k a year.

    Isn’t it implicit in this comment that there are a lot of highly qualified and tenured faculty who are being paid a lot and not doing much teaching?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 10

  19. Mr. Levy is “using that thing wrong.” In what class, during his own education, should he have learned to find the appropriate metric?

    In education the focus should properly be in the student, the benefit to the student, and the cost to the student. (Or alternately costs to taxpayers.) Wages may or may not be a large factor in that, but unless you know they are, it’s the wrong place to start.

    You want to break down where tuition goes, and then argue if it is money well spent, or if there were better opportunities missed.

    (As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m with the edu-hackers, the net innovations, etc. None of those rely on a low, or a high, teacher’s salary. They work, ultimately, by changing the student-teacher ratio. An $88K teacher in isolation might achieve a lot, but an $88K teacher whose YouTube has reached 250K views has probably achieved more.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  20. @john personna:

    They work, ultimately, by changing the student-teacher ratio. An $88K teacher in isolation might achieve a lot, but an $88K teacher whose YouTube has reached 250K views has probably achieved more

    There is potentially something to this. However, I can say from personal experience that teaching the student up close and teaching them via YouTube/the techo equivalent is simply not the same thing. And by “teaching” I mean the learning by the student, ultimately.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. @Steven L. Taylor:

    I did frame that as local teaching, or local teaching plus YouTube. So in that form it should be a definite win.

    But in the bigger picture for ‘net learning, I’m aware that three things are going on right now. Some are looking for proper metrics, some are making bold claims to boost new enterprises, and some are circling wagons to protect established hierarchies.

    I trust the first group most.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. dadanarchist says:

    All you need to know about Dr. Levy is that he works for the for-profit educational services company, Cambridge Information Group, and this publication is in the Washington Post, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the for-profit educational services company, Kaplan.

    This is propaganda, pure and simple.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  23. @john personna: For what it is worth, if there is a group in which I reside, it is the first (and have heard plenty from the second and deal constantly with the third). My employer is one of the largest providers of online education in the country in the not-for-profit sector and I have been teaching online since 1999 in addition to my traditional, on-campus teaching. At the moment I teach roughly 125 masters students per year online (~25 eavery 9 weeks). There are pluses and minuses to the entire process and there is room for improvement. However, I still stand by my basic position: that in-class instruction trumps the distance kind. Time and tech may change this, of course.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. @Brummagem Joe: I’m not sure I follow. Most tenured faculty are teaching 3-4 courses a semester (e.g. are in class 9-12 hours/week), in addition to doing probably 20+ hours/week of non-classroom institutional work (advising, office hours, committee service), plus 10-20 hours of preparation and grading for classes averaged over the semester, for somewhere in the $40-70k/year salary range in relatively undesirable parts of the country, even if they are doing no research whatsoever (which most faculty do anyway because it’s part of the job that probably is most interesting to them; sure, there are some folks who do no research whatsoever, but that’s the vast minority, and those who don’t do research are increasingly getting assigned extra courses to compensate as part of post-tenure review procedures).

    The only ways to increase teaching loads to 7-7 are: (a) hire more non-academic staff to do the work that faculty are doing as part of service (advising, curriculum planning, student disciplinary panels, you name it), (b) establish a common syllabus and curriculum so faculty are only responsible for coming in and presenting the approved material (e.g. becoming K-12 teachers), and/or (c) not having any time for research at all. That sort of job is not really going to be appealing to anyone. Indeed the likely impact would be to just import the demonstrably failing K-12 teaching model into college even more quickly than it’s already happening, destroying the one part of the US education system that actually is world-class.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  25. @Chris Lawrence:

    Indeed the likely impact would be to just import the demonstrably failing K-12 teaching model into college even more quickly than it’s already happening, destroying the one part of the US education system that actually is world-class.

    This!

    There is a great bit of misunderstanding in the general public about the difference between higher ed and K-12 and there is an unfortunate push in some quarters of educational administration (and of the type Levy alludes in his column) to push to make the undergraduate experience the equivalent of the 13th-16th grades. One of the ways you do this is by standardizing courses, texts, syllabi and the like–which utterly obviates the notion that college classes are taught by subject experts who are continually trying to become more expert (which is what research is for). It also further degrades the degree to which there is shared governance between faculty and administration in running the academy. Once educrats get to set the curriculum by themselves you get K-16.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  26. Mark says:

    @Dave Schuler: On top of the issues covered elsewhere in the comments, I want to point out that the vast majority of instructors are not full professors (i.e. at the highest rank). They only constitute a small percentage of college teachers. In fact, almost 70% of college instructors today are non-tenure track contingent faculty (that is, they’re not even on the path towards one day becoming full professors; http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/issues/contingent/contingentfacts.htm). So Levy’s use of numbers for only full professors is especially disingenuous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. ezra abrams says:

    1) you allege that administrative costs are out of control; the link you provide talks only about the UC system, and is very poorly written and formatted; not something that the authors can be proud of.
    2) I’ve been following the escalating cost of college with some interest for several years (my kids are 18 and 16 ) and as a parent i am REALLY REALLY frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be a simple (simple- NOT like that stupid UC report) tableor graph or something that explains why costs are rising, as in, this is where the money is going (salary, grounds, healthcare costs) or by program or whatever
    why on earth hasn’t anyone put this together ?
    it say a lot, none of it very complimentary, that with all the college profs, we don’t have a simple, clean set of facts here.
    In fact, the lack of said facts is an indictment of the professoriate

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  28. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Why the heck, with that “trumps” line, would you constrain your view to either-or?

    The future will clearly be a mix, and “unconstrained” thinkers are going to be exploring that mix.

    (The dichotomy might again be the wrong metric.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  29. @john personna: I am simply expressing my opinion based on my own expeiriences of classroom teaching closing in on two decades and over a decade of online teaching. That would seem to give me some grounds for judgment, yes?Am I not allowed to have an informed opinion on the subject? It seems to me tthat I am very much in the middle of exploring this mix on a daily basis, but perhaps I misunderstand your point

    At any rate, II didn’t make an either/or statement–I expressed an opinion about which mode of instruction seems to work better. Overall, though, I thought I was at least partially agreeing with you. I would note that this is one of those cases where I am not entirely sure what your point is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  30. @ezra abrams: The reason that the costs aren’t simply laid out is that there are numerous factors involved. For example, the anonymous community college dean points out that some of the tuition/cost growth has been in non-salary compensation (e.g. benefits, due to health care costs) and information technology; much can be attributed to declining state support for operational expenses in absolute (not even real/inflation-adjusted) dollar terms at public universities – per student state appropriations have declined 50-75% in many states in the past two decades.

    Outside the community colleges, a big cost driver has been gold-plating: athletics budgets, capital expenditures for fancy dorms and student facilities, and the like. At the very top (e.g. at the provost and particularly the president/chancellor level), compensation has skyrocketed. And in some fields where competition with non-academic employment is acute, faculty compensation has grown disproportionately (particularly in professional programs, like business, law, and nursing, although also in the “hard science/STEM” fields that have been the focus of increased attention from government of late) and public schools (in particular) have not priced those programs to match (so the average BA student’s tuition is cross-subsidizing students in programs with greater earning potential).

    Having said all that, if the path to lower costs was standardization and paying faculty to teach classes and do nothing else, then for-profits like Phoenix and Kaplan should be charging a lot less than their non-profit alternatives (public or private), given that part of the hallmark of the Phoenix model is that everyone teaches a standard curriculum developed by a full-time employee and the part-time instructor is more a “facilitator” than a professor. But given that even the people who run Phoenix and Kaplan will admit, in their more candid moments, that they wouldn’t send their own children to a for-profit, suggests that model is dead as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  31. @john personna: Certainly we’re seeing more “hybrid” design of courses, where faculty teach a group of students both on-line and face-to-face; I’ve never taught a class formally designed that way, but I’ve used online resources (particularly quizzes) a lot in support of a traditional class. Much of this is driven by the need to reduce capital expenditures (e.g. to allow student growth to outpace the construction of new classrooms – much as “year-round schooling” is mostly an effort to squeeze more students in existing K-12 facilities rather than being based on any pedagogical benefit to students), rather than a conscious pedagogical effort, however.

    I think there’s also potential in reversing the classroom – using things like problem-based learning, team-based learning, and project-based coursework in preference to the traditional lecture + discussion formats. However, PBL and the like dismisses a lot of structure with it – and could be easily construed by the uninformed as laziness (“you go in and just see if the students have questions about the material? no formal lecture? you’re obviously just being lazy”) even though it’s at least as effective in the hands of a broadly-trained professor who can respond effectively to something out of left field that comes up; of course, this is something that could never work at Phoenix, because it relies on interchangeable facilitators to teach everything the same way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  32. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Look, it seems pretty silly for someone to say “let’s compare a traditional $50K college education to free distance learning, and see what’s better,” but that seems to be the way you are framing the comparison.

    If you’ve got $50K (or whatever), and are in a life phase that allows 4 years of dedicated learning, then sure, you can go for it.

    There are other ways to look at it though. There are people who don’t have $50K, or don’t have 4 years, etc. I expect that many of the 160,000 students who signed up for the Stanford AI course were outside that demographis.

    I am more with this article below, even for it’s fluff, than the idea that those 160,000 should have just raised the money and taken the full course.

    The Stanford Education Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever

    BTW, highest scores in that class were from distance learners, yes?

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  33. @Chris Lawrence:

    The thing about an innovative landscape is that it will produce a lot of clunkers. Your post brings to mind, for me, early auto and airplane designs. There was a lot that was tried and rejected before the groove was found.

    I think we are in a similar era. And sadly we are in an era where more Phoenix has more students than http://www.udacity.com/

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  34. @john personna:

    Look, it seems pretty silly for someone to say “let’s compare a traditional $50K college education to free distance learning, and see what’s better,” but that seems to be the way you are framing the comparison.

    Except that wasn’t what I was comparing. go back and read my comment: I was comparing the general efficacy of in-class and distance education both in the context of an actual degree program.

    Free lectures on the internet, interesting and educational though they may be, are not the same thing as systematic study.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  35. John D'Geek says:

    I need to add a hearty “That depends!” to this discussion.

    When I was teaching Computer Science I spent very little time outside the classroom. Why? Well:
    1) I was teaching C++, something I know very well. I already knew how to teach it (thanks to a prof in grad school), as well as the subject. And C++ doesn’t change that much (though one wouldn’t know that with the new C++11 standard).
    2) I teach (when allowed and where feasible) using a project based methodology. In the end, your code either works or it doesn’t — and, in CS, you learn a lot more (IMHO) by doing than by taking a test. That’s more work at the end, but not much in the middle.

    When teaching things that change rapidly, that require more work, etc., the instructor will not have these options. Other than an intro class, I couldn’t possibly teach Psychology that way, for instance: that would require a lot of papers (research) on the part of my students, and a ton of time for me to read them.

    In general, though, I can’t say professors are overpaid. I mean, I’d have to take a (roughly) 50% pay cut to teach Computer Science at my local community college — maybe only a 40% pay cut if I taught summers — or I’d be teaching. (I have the degree to teach Psychology as well, but they want experience in the field as well as a degree. Go figure.)

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  36. @Steven L. Taylor:

    I was tripping on this sentence:

    However, I still stand by my basic position: that in-class instruction trumps the distance kind.

    And in this you don’t really “fix it:”

    Except that wasn’t what I was comparing. go back and read my comment: I was comparing the general efficacy of in-class and distance education both in the context of an actual degree program.

    What are your unstated assumptions there? That all courses in a 4 year degree would be equally on and off line? That costs per unit would be the same? That students would seek not just equal instruction, but equal return on investment?

    You know, I’ve been thinking more about the “early car” parallel I mentioned above. As I understand it, in the very early days, when people just got “the concept,” the landscape was dominated by blacksmith-built cars. They knew wagons, they could hammer them together. Many of them were proof of concept at best, and few “beat a horse.” I’m sure the horse team “trumped” the blacksmith-built truck.

    But something else happened next. Actual automobile designers emerged, and the field found its grove.

    We are in that transition now for education, as teachers look at teacher-built systems, but at the same time true designers emerge.

    It is a mistake to squint at all this and narrow it to “all else being equal, pretending equal access, pretending equal cost, etc.”

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  37. @john personna:

    I am talking largely about pedagogy and results as I have seen them.

    You seem to be talking simply about dissemination of knowledge–all well and good (and something I am in favor of) but there is a difference between simply a free YouTube video that anyone can access if they so choose and some kind of structured, systematic study.

    I assumed, initially, that you were talking about economies of scale and role technology could play or that you were talking about other models of university education.

    As such, it seemed to me that a comparison of in-class instruction and distance education via the internet was a valid comparison.

    While I get your metaphor in a general sense, I still remained confusion as to your point. Are you simply arguing that there might be some better way to do things and, therefore, we should be thinking about that and not just protecting our parochial interests? All well and good, but the devil is in the details.

    Free online classes are great: but ultimately that is just dissemination of information, it is not structured study. Granted: one can learn, and learn a lot, through that process. However, I am not going to hire a plumber, doctor, accountant, or schoolteacher who simply was able to self-educate with the help of the internet.

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  38. I guess, too, that I am not seeing the system as quite as broken as you do. As Chris Lawrence noted above, the US higher education system is consider amongst the best, if not the best, in world. It has flaws and needs to evolve, but it, on balance, works. You may disagree with that assessment or may assert that Chris and I are simply defending our entrenched interests, but even to make your free online classes work you still need, on balance, formally trained individuals.

    Again: if your argument is that technology allows for greater dissemination of knowledge, I agree. I also agree that technology will have a impact on how higher ed works. I am not sure, however, that we are talking horse and buggies v. the automobile.

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  39. @Steven L. Taylor:

    At some level I read that as “We have the power to make you take that loan, kid.” It is a power dynamic and an agency issue.

    Student-Loan Debt Tops $1 Trillion.

    I wonder how teachers at university internalize that, or just think of it as someone else’s problem.

    I mean, it was one thing back in my day, when that traditional, formal, education was almost fully state subsidized, and most students graduated debt free. Now it’s another. And for me it just doesn’t work to say that the way we’ve done it is good enough, as more and more cost is piled on the student.

    I suspect many teachers they should just keep doing what they are doing, and the federal government should come in and pay more … but I don’t really see that happening.

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  40. @john personna: I concur this is a real problem.

    However, the fact that we have a funding problem does not dictate what methods of instruction are better or worse. You are mixing two different arguments.

    I think that we need more public expenditures toward higher education, but that has nothing to do with whether online or in-class education is better or worse.

    As I have noted repeatedly in these threads, as as Chris notes above: one of the major drivers of the increase in tuition costs has been the diminution of funds from states to public colleges and universities.

    Chris is also right about the drive to improve facilities and the tech costs. A simple example: in 1998 when I started here there were no computers in the classrooms (heck, there was no ethernet in my office). There were only a handful of computer labs, there was no WiFi, the web presences didn’t exists, students were not provided e-mail, the campus network was dumb terminals and unix-based apps that only the staff used. This has changed radically and it costs money.

    We have nicer buildings, sports facilities, dining halls, and dorms.

    All of the above costs money.

    At the same time, we have received less and less money from the state.

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  41. Also: the university is self-insured and we all know what is true about health care costs.

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  42. @Steven L. Taylor:

    However, the fact that we have a funding problem does not dictate what methods of instruction are better or worse. You are mixing two different arguments.

    Wait a second. Did you just stipulate that the current rate of educational costs inflation is acceptable, and funding should just keep up?

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  43. Related:

    Economists predict the cost of attending state colleges will soar to $120,000 by 2015. Currently over $40 billion in student loan debt has forced many former students into financial bondage or even bankruptcy.

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  44. (If you want to reinvent a bare-bones “flesh” university and beat other options on costs or return on investment, go for it. But to say “Hey, we have nicer buildings, sports facilities, dining halls, and dorms” … not so much.)

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  45. @john personna:

    Wait a second. Did you just stipulate that the current rate of educational costs inflation is acceptable, and funding should just keep up?

    No. I didn’t.

    You seem unwilling to have an actual conversation on this topic.

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  46. @john personna:

    But to say “Hey, we have nicer buildings, sports facilities, dining halls, and dorms” … not so much.

    That’s not what I said (and that’s not the point).

    Did you read my posts (and Chris’s?). I am not making an normative claim, but an empirical one (as is Chris).

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  47. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I’ve yet to see a rigorous discussion erupt via distance technology. When I was a student at UTSA, at least one section of each of the upper level business courses were offered via simulcast between the main campus and the downtown campus, and the professors would travel between the two. Inevitably, even though students watching via video *could* ask the professor questions easily, it very rarely happened. And if spontaneous debate broke out, the “virtual” section never participated.

    Perhaps student comfort level with participating in that sort of environment has shifted since 2005-2007, but I kind of doubt it. I think most people are uncomfortable asking questions remotely if they can’t see their fellow students.

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  48. Speaking only for myself (I think Steven might disagree), student loan debt is only a problem to the extent that (a) it’s being incurred for things that are luxuries (fancy single-occupancy dorms, climbing walls) rather than core educational expenses like books and tuition and (b) it exceeds any reasonable ability to pay it back. I think it’s only fair that students pay for some share of their education, rather than having their parents or unrelated parties pick up the full tab. There are financially-responsible ways to get through college without incurring excessive debt, even today, but that means making sensible choices – living in the old dorm without A/C with a common bathroom down the hall, or commuting to the local state college from home.

    There are several separate cost issues here:

    - State appropriations are in rapid decline. In many states, the “state university” is getting 5-20% of its budget from the state, down from the vast majority of its budget a generation ago; the rest is coming in tuition or (at top-tier institutions) research funds. To serve the same number of students, as state appropriations go down, tuition must go up, even if there is no inflation in costs.

    - Many universities are “gold plating” their amenities to attract student tuition dollars, particularly out-of-state tuition dollars that are less regulated. This is crowding out in-state students… which is leading to less state appropriations as the “flagships” no longer serve their state’s population.

    - IT costs have gone through the roof, both in hardware and software. (Open source alternatives to Microsoft and Blackboard could eventually save money but will still require trained support staff even if licensing costs are eliminated.)

    - Library expenses (subscriptions to core databases and periodicals run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year).

    - Administrative overhead and bloat from regulatory compliance and politicians’ pet projects.

    - Increased costs for health care and benefits more generally.

    - Increased subsidy of intercollegiate athletics (partially as a marketing tool).

    - Salary increases beyond general inflationary trends for high-demand fields (STEM, business, law) and top executives (presidents/chancellors).

    - Inflation in the general costs of doing business (energy, paper, etc.).

    - Declining physical plant (much constructed during the boom periods in the 60s and 70s) now functionally obsolete and requiring increased maintenance or wholesale replacement.

    Sure, you can try to establish a new university without some of these problems, but you’ve still got to attract students to attend it, and that means at least some of the above are needed.

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  49. Monica Hughes says:

    Oh, Look, Another Massively Ignorant Article About Academia By Someone Who Hasn’t Taught in 30 Years.

    In no way does Levy’s article mesh with the reality of my life as a professor. First, salaries. This author must have searched the internet long and hard (as in weeks) to find a faculty member in a community college earning more than 60k, let alone 80k. We can find all sorts of insane and out of control salaries in any profession, but it doesn’t mean they’re indicative of reality. Does anyone reading this who is also teaching in community college make that much? Raise your hands, please. Feel free to drop your salary in the comments line. I work as a part-time faculty member (90% of people working as faculty in community colleges do) and I make about 40k per year teaching 12 or more sections a year. When all is said and done, I make about $25 per hour. Wow, I’m getting rich over here!

    I’ve combed through my share of faculty advertisements at everything from community colleges to colleges where graduate degrees are offered. Most are advertising a starting rate of between 37.5k to 48k. (The higher end of the range is for people with PhDs.) People making more than 80k per year are chairs in their departments with more responsibilities, are professors pulling in research grants for summer salary, or are people at top rank universities. Or they are full professors who have been there for 30 years. Such salaries are exceptional. All you need to do to prove it to yourself is to take a look at some job ads on chronicle.com.

    Then there’s the issue of how much professors work. *What* professors? Four year schools, schools offering graduate degrees, full or part time faculty? Apparently, he’s unaware that people in institutions where teaching is done full-time (no research) as *either* a part-time faculty member OR a full-time one (in which some of the work is exchanged for stupid administrative responsibilities but one still has 3 classes per semester) one is teaching 2-3x as many classes as one teaches when one also does research. Because the workload is approximately equivalent (less time teaching means more time doing other types of work), that explains the similar pay rates. There, I just did some simple math. Obviously, the author of the article can’t do that because he’s in the arts instead of the sciences. (Hey-oh!)

    I spend around half my time grading, which the author thinks is “unlikely”. Well, I think he needs some help in, again, understanding MATH. In addition to the 20 hours I spend in the classroom or in office hours every week for my SIX classes, I do spend about 15-20 grading. Believe me, I definitely work a 40 hour week. Here’s how that’s possible:

    *weekly* discussions or question sets (4 hours)

    *weekly* lab quizzes (3 hours)

    There’s 7 hours of grading right there, every week. The on top of this, average over the course of the semester:

    250 lab reports

    450 exams

    450 homework assignments

    There’s the math. Add it up. It’s about 15-20 hours a week. Oh, we haven’t factored in responding to students who expect responses now to every email, text message, and phone call they manage to fit in in a week. (And I can testify to the fact that it’s a lot.) In fact, I do so much grading I’m not even sure how I found time to write this rant on my “day off”.

    Then there’s the supposedly “months off” that faculty get. Of course I don’t work full time during those periods, but also — and this is the case for most faculty — my salary doesn’t get spread over those months. I also don’t know faculty in my field who get paid during summer months when they’re not pulling in research grants. Community college professors? Many of them work during summers teaching so they can earn a decent amount of money. Maybe this is different in the humanities but I find it hard to believe that this author is unfamiliar with the concept of doing work OUTSIDE of the semester to improve courses, respond to students who got incompletes that semester, attend meetings, etc. Oh, but it doesn’t appear as if he’s actually *taught anything in the past 30 years* so then, he would be totally unfamiliar with the type of work that teachers actually do.

    I’ve taught every course I’ve taught now at least once, and up to fifteen times, in just a few years. I’m constantly trying to make things better, so there’s a minimal amount of prep, but for someone teaching a class the first few times, there’s a lot more prep involved. For every class, around 10 hours.

    Even for those of us who are extroverts, teaching is to some extent emotionally draining. You do not expect a concert pianist or a motivational lecturer to be doing concerts or lectures 40 hours a week: a lot of it is preparation, but the time spent in front of an audience, while invigorating, is also stressful to some degree. You would not be able to take your average person and put them in charge of a classroom of people for 20 hours weekly. It takes a lot of focus and training. I’m not complaining about my life or my job. They are fine despite that I work hard and don’t get paid much. But the 2 months “off” a year is a justifiable reward. And NO ONE I know is getting “paid” for that. So, clearly, this guy needs to shut up already.

    I get very, very frustrated with people who are so enormously detached from a profession writing as if they actually know about it. Levy has been working as an art gallery director for the past 20 years. How is this man in any way qualified to assess *anything* about the job of a professor? Let’s dig deeper into his job history. Oh, he worked as a chancellor before that? This explains everything.

    If my experience is any indication, it is the administrative officials like Levy that are the ones who are entitled and out of touch and skim off 50%-75% of research grants in “overhead” to pay for leather furniture and curtains in their offices, while grad students and assistant professors on these research grants doing the *actual work* are eating rice and beans. My thoughts on college administrative officials can be summed up pretty easily: off with their out-of-touch heads.

    *Grumble.* Now I think I’ll go make myself a cup of tea before spending the rest of my day grading 70 exams, 70 question sets, and 25 case studies.

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  50. @Chris Lawrence: While I suppose we might quibble here and there, I think we are in basic agreement.

    Mostly I was just saying that, as an empirical fact (as are you) that these costs have been incurred. The degree to which they should have been incurred is another matter (some are more optional than others, e.g., IT costs v. nicer dorms).

    Setting that aside: I think we are both in fundamental agreement that main driver of cost in higher ed (contra Levy) is not that professors aren’t working enough. Or that if they increased their teaching loads that this would solve the problem.

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  51. @Steven L. Taylor:

    “You seem unwilling to have an actual conversation on this topic.”

    “Did you read my posts (and Chris’s?). I am not making an normative claim, but an empirical one (as is Chris).”

    No, buddy. You are attempting to constrain the conversation, essentially removing the motivation for improvement.

    When you say:

    “However, the fact that we have a funding problem does not dictate what methods of instruction are better or worse. You are mixing two different arguments.”

    You are saying that in 2012 a discussion of education quality should be separate from a discussion of costs.

    To me that removes the point of conversation. If there was no costs problem, there would be no need for change.

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  52. I mean, consider this line:

    I think that we need more public expenditures toward higher education, but that has nothing to do with whether online or in-class education is better or worse.

    Back with the false dichotomy, which is better, and circling the wagons against future innovation and improvement.

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  53. @john personna:

    Yet all you have contributed, in a concrete sense, to this discussion is a vague suggestion about economies of scale with YouTube videos and a link to a very limited set of free online courses.

    Whenever this topic arises you basically just want to say “it is too expensive and we need something new” and yet you never actually engage beyond that point.

    And

    When you say:

    “However, the fact that we have a funding problem does not dictate what methods of instruction are better or worse. You are mixing two different arguments.”

    You are saying that in 2012 a discussion of education quality should be separate from a discussion of costs.

    No, I am saying at least two things. 1) Cheaper doesn’t mean better, any more than expensive does. In other words: evaluating pedagogy itself is not simply a matter of cost. 2) We need to figure out, within reason, educational processes that work and then figure out how best to provide them as cheaply as is feasible.

    You seem to be saying: technology makes information dissemination easier and potentially inexpensive, so that’s the solution. It just isn’t that simple.

    I would note, further, that you utterly ignore any attempt by Chris or myself to discussion specifics. You just like to pretend that any other element of the discussion is an attempt to distract or to protect entrenched interests.

    If there was no costs problem, there would be no need for change.

    Part of what we are trying to tell you is that the instruction model itself is not driving the cost as much as other factors are. You are refusing to even hint at addressing that fact.

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  54. @john personna:

    I mean, consider this line:

    I think that we need more public expenditures toward higher education, but that has nothing to do with whether online or in-class education is better or worse.

    Back with the false dichotomy, which is better, and circling the wagons against future innovation and improvement.

    Where is the false dichotomy? This is one of those cases in which either you simply don’t understand what I am trying to say or I am doing an en exceptionally poor job of explaining myself (or, perhaps, both).

    Part of what frustrates about your assertion that I am “circling the wagons against future innovation and improvement.” is that, as already noted, I am directly involved in trying to develop online teaching, which is an innovation. If I was, in fact, circling the wagons I would refuse to engage in anything other than traditional in-classroom teaching (as some of my colleagues have done).

    What is it that you think I ought to be doing?

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  55. @john personna As @Chris Lawrence notes in a pretty comprehensive run-down of some of the major issues:

    Sure, you can try to establish a new university without some of these problems, but you’ve still got to attract students to attend it, and that means at least some of the above are needed.

    If you want me to take your position more seriously, you have to address this type of issue.

    Again: the only suggestions I really get from you are: things out to be cheaper and a few examples of free online education.

    I would note that attracting students is linked to the types of issues I was noting above in terms of educational effectiveness of different delivery systems. To be clear: I agree that there is room for more than one way to do things (as, I will note again, I do on a daily basis).

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  56. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Yet all you have contributed, in a concrete sense, to this discussion is a vague suggestion about economies of scale with YouTube videos and a link to a very limited set of free online courses.

    Are you attacking me for being general, and for seeking innovation and improvement?

    It would seem that would be an easy thing to sign on to. It’s not like I’ve actually taken the straw-man positions implied by your responses to me. I didn’t say do away with in-person instruction. I didn’t say on-line was always better. I didn’t say that on-line was figured out.

    Whenever this topic arises you basically just want to say “it is too expensive and we need something new” and yet you never actually engage beyond that point.

    Again, that seems something pretty easy to agree to.

    No, I am saying at least two things. 1) Cheaper doesn’t mean better, any more than expensive does. In other words: evaluating pedagogy itself is not simply a matter of cost. 2) We need to figure out, within reason, educational processes that work and then figure out how best to provide them as cheaply as is feasible.

    Normally in a market economy, what we do is evaluate effectiveness using appropriate metrics, and then scale those achievements by cost. There is return. And then there is return on investment.

    You seem to be saying: technology makes information dissemination easier and potentially inexpensive, so that’s the solution. It just isn’t that simple.

    Well you see, that is actually the kind of absolute statement I am not making. I did not say technology makes everything cheaper all the time.

    I will say this though, in the constellation of exercises in education, surely technology makes information dissemination easier and more inexpensive inexpensive in some.

    To ignore that is to leave money lying in the street.

    I would note, further, that you utterly ignore any attempt by Chris or myself to discussion specifics. You just like to pretend that any other element of the discussion is an attempt to distract or to protect entrenched interests.

    What I’m pushing back against is the push-back against innovation and change.

    You have told me several times that in-flesh education just wins, game over.

    Part of what we are trying to tell you is that the instruction model itself is not driving the cost as much as other factors are. You are refusing to even hint at addressing that fact.

    I did actually, when I said that if you wanted to reinvent the in-flesh university, tear it up.

    There are many paths to be explored.

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  57. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Where is the false dichotomy? This is one of those cases in which either you simply don’t understand what I am trying to say or I am doing an en exceptionally poor job of explaining myself (or, perhaps, both).

    In my very first comments I was careful to paint the landscape as changing and without clear winners.

    You are actually the one said “you’ve seen it:”

    However, I can say from personal experience that teaching the student up close and teaching them via YouTube/the techo equivalent is simply not the same thing.

    Really Steven? You know not only the state-of-the-art in this country, but you know where it’s going?

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  58. @john personna:

    I did actually, when I said that if you wanted to reinvent the in-flesh university, tear it up..

    Yes, but that is like saying “I want a more efficient government”–great! but the details matter.

    Just saying you want to tear down the current system and replace it with a better one via exploration of innovation is nice. Who doesn’t want things to be better?

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  59. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Just saying you want to tear down the current system and replace it with a better one via exploration of innovation is nice. Who doesn’t want things to be better?

    I said that?

    Got a link?

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  60. Actually, I called out this same straw-manning above:

    It would seem that would be an easy thing to sign on to. It’s not like I’ve actually taken the straw-man positions implied by your responses to me. I didn’t say do away with in-person instruction. I didn’t say on-line was always better. I didn’t say that on-line was figured out.

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  61. @john personna:

    You are actually the one said “you’ve seen it:”

    However, I can say from personal experience that teaching the student up close and teaching them via YouTube/the techo equivalent is simply not the same thing.

    Really Steven? You know not only the state-of-the-art in this country, but you know where it’s going?

    Things may change in the future, and the ability to deliver this stuff has improved quite a bit in the last several years, so I agree it may improve.

    Why, though, is it so hard to conceive of the fact that my experience has been that in-class teaching is superior to teaching at a distance? I am not saying that distance is impossible (as noted: I DO IT). This is not, btw, saying (as I think you have implied) that I am stating that distance should die.

    Heck, I would also state that teaching a class of 25 is superior to teaching a class of 300. I can directly deal with 25 but not 300. However, to make that observation is not to say that there shouldn’t be large lecture classes. Indeed, it may be (cost wise, for example) better to teach 300 than 25. It may be better to have 750 watching videos of me online for cost reasons.

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  62. @john personna:

    I said that?

    Got a link?

    This seems to be the implication. All you have said is that you want innovation and you want costs down and you want to explore different paths. Plus you made a vague reference to YouTube and linked to a specific example of free courses. This all sums to, as best as I can tell, you want things cheaper and better and you don’t want people simply fighting for their entrenched interests.

    I made a good faith effort to try to address what I thought were legitimate issues, including my own experience with two types of educational delivery. I also tried to talk about where I perceive many of the costs to have been incurred, for good or ill.

    I think we are talking past one another.

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  63. @Steven L. Taylor:

    I only made a vague reference to YouTube?

    I didn’t point to the Wired article or Udacity?

    You have dodged and weaved more than a little here, and of course straw manned me more than once. You actually did it again here:

    All you have said is that you want innovation and you want costs down and you want to explore different paths.

    Do you notice that you make the cheat where you “make it about me?”

    I observe a broad movement, but to make your self-righteous defense, it can’t be about that, can it?

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  64. Here is Hack Education on Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2011

    Should I have to bring that to you? You’re the expert, right? You’ve “seen YouTube.”

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  65. You know, you missed a real serious question in those wired/udacity links.

    That is, why was udacity founded outside Stanford?

    But, I think you actually illustrated it too. Way up top I talked about blacksmiths and cars, blacksmith-built, and then real foundations with real designers.

    I think Thrun need a free run without this kind of bullshit.

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  66. @john personna: I looked at, and have referenced above, the udacity link. I find it to be an exceptionally limited example. Again: if what you are after is simply information dissemination then cool. The question, I thought, was a viable replacement or substantial augmentation of the current higher ed model.

    You may call what I have said BS and you may think you have laid out an argument here, but either I am incredibly dense (and you are free to choose that option) or perhaps you haven’t been as clear as you think.

    I am still vexed that when I made what I thought was a good faith effort to agree with you in part about the viability of distance education that you turned that into some sort of outright rejection. Yes, I said that I think that in class is superior. However, you seem to turn all of that critique into me simply being obstructionist and recalcitrant. You don’t actually address what I say, but rather pick on specific sentences or words and then use that as the basis to make me fit whatever category it is that you think I fit it (and yet I get accused of deploying straw men).

    You could, I would think, directly address at least some of the issues raised. However, I have noted on this topic in the past (as you and I have argued about it before as have you and Joyner, if I recall properly) that you clearly have a point of view, but you only vaguely articulate it. You are vehement in your belief that the current system is broken and too expensive and that technology can help solve the problem but that is about as far as it goes. Links to udacity or to Wired aren’t an argument. (and in re: the Wired piece, I must’ve missed that link–I will give it a look). I mean yes: it is possible to offer free classes that help people essential self-teach themselves and that is easier than ever. But it isn’t new: books allow one to do that, as did audio and video tapes and public access TV, etc.

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding what your goal is here.

    Bottom line: you come across as quite hostile on this topic–even in the face of a good faith effort to have a conversation. My frustration, as has come out a few times in this discussion, is not that you might have different opinions or that you reject mine, it is that you come across as unwilling to discuss things. You seem far more interesting in picking out a sentence that you think confirms your position than you are in engaging. I typically find you to be a reasonable commenter, but you often seem unwilling to engage in a bit of give and take. More than once I have thought that I am agreeing with you, at least in part, and you come back in a rather negative fashion.

    And while I will readily agree that my experiences as a professor are not proof of anything, surely they must count for something. If we were talking computer programming, I expect that you would know a bit more about that than I do (as I seem to recall that that is your field). I can’t imagine you would be persuaded it if I asserted that the entire industry should be designed and my main evidence was predicated on some things I had read and one example of an alternative method.

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  67. @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is actually a tactic used in global warming denial, and evolution denial, to reject outside thought, and say “you must prove it to me here, in this thread.”

    And actually, I’ve had global warming denialists say the same thing to me. They say “you can’t point to experts, you must prove it to me here.”

    I understand that you waved away udacity above:

    I looked at, and have referenced above, the udacity link. I find it to be an exceptionally limited example.

    I don’t really consider those two sentence journal-worthy, nor (and this is important) more important than the opinions of the principals, the educators, involved.

    Think about that. You aren’t battling John on this. You are battling …

    We believe university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Using the economics of the Internet, we’ve connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students in almost every country on Earth. Udacity was founded by three roboticists who believed much of the educational value of their university classes could be offered online for very low cost. A few weeks later, over 160,000 students in more than 190 countries enrolled in our first class, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.” The class was twice profiled by the New York Times and also by other news media. Now we’re a growing team of educators and engineers, on a mission to change the future of education.

    MEET THE TEAM

    Now, do you really feel good about your tactics?

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  68. You say I pick apart sentences, buy ye gods, the dismissal in those two lines!

    I looked at, and have referenced above, the udacity link. I find it to be an exceptionally limited example.

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  69. (Basically, Steven has made the argument that udacity will not work, and the proof is that john is a baaaaad person.)

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  70. @john personna: No, Steven has made the argument that udacity is “an exceptionally limited example.” Proving whether or not it (or anything else) will work will require evidence that it scales beyond a limited trial.

    Case in point: people have been doing on-line, free delivery of coursework for years (MIT OpenCourseware, for example). Yet other than making some famous academics a bit more famous, its effects on the educational establishment have been about zero because the real issue isn’t delivering engaging lectures, it’s finding ways to assess student learning outside the traditional classroom that (a) scale effectively and (b) are fair to students.

    ETS for example has developed technology that can grade essays automatically with something like 90% reliability compared to a human grader, yet has no ability to discern whether the essays actually discuss content correctly, so it’s easy to game the algorithm just by writing a MadLib form essay that wouldn’t fool an actual human being for a second; it scales, but it’s not a fair assessment tool. And there’s only a finite amount of grading a human can do before their brain implodes from the tedium (based on the grading of AP exams, I’d estimate this at about 40-50 single-page essays per hour at the high end), which means to scale beyond a few hundred students you have to use multiple-choice to gain any efficiency whatsoever (which works great, except when it doesn’t, because MC exams require a lot more effort to ensure test integrity and security than written exams).

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  71. 0@Chris Lawrence:

    You know that udacity is just months old, right?

    It is an example not of completion of anything, it is an example of what university professors and domain experts in online learning believe they can achieve.

    Disturbingly, Steven accused me of believing the same things, and then attacked me and my lack of domain knowledge. He used me as a proxy, and attacked the proxy.

    I’d suggest that if you want to attack the competence or experience of the udacity crew, and those at the many similar ed-tech initiatives (MIT’s badge program), you do so directly.

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  72. @john personna:

    (Basically, Steven has made the argument that udacity will not work, and the proof is that john is a baaaaad person.)

    First, while I did say that you come across as a bit hostile on this topic, I hardly called you a bad person.

    Second, I didn’t say that udacity won’t work, I said it was a limited example (and that’s empirically true). You really made no claims about udacity save for providing a link. Not only is that not an argument you are expecting me to figure out what you mean by providing said link. I am nott a mind-reader.

    Third, I am honestly asking what your point is beyond a) that Highert Ed costs too much and b) you think part of the solution is to be found in economies of scale online. That really is vague, yes? You simultaneously seem quite convinced you have at least the start of an answer, but you really don’t provide it. This is not akin of to asking for proof of global warming. It is asking what the person concerned about global warming would want to do about it and have an answer come back about carbon taxes, cap and trade, hybrids, specific green tech, or whatever. That is: some level of specificity about policy prescriptions. I don’t think that that is asking for too much. You have said nothing to date about how something like udacity replaces the current system. That is the goal for you, yes?

    Finally, I remain utterly vexed as to your position that my preference for in-class teaching means that I have rejected online teaching ( especially when I have tried to make clear that that is not my position).

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  73. As an aside I joked about machine grading at Hack Education a while back. I said there that raised “the difference between an A paper, and a paper which was statistically an A.”

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  74. @john personna:

    He used me as a proxy, and attacked the proxy.

    How are I am attacking you or udacity? Seriously: this is why above I said that you don’t appear interested in an actual conversation. I really, honestly am unsure as to what point you are trying to make.

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  75. @Steven Taylor:

    I’m not even getting that you understand the difference between the Stanford experiment and the udacity launch.

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  76. @Steven L. Taylor:

    How are I am attacking you or udacity? Seriously: this is why above I said that you don’t appear interested in an actual conversation. I really, honestly am unsure as to what point you are trying to make.

    I expected more of you. After I dropped the Wired article and the udacity link, I expected you to understand them, and address them on their merits. Did you? No, you hit me up with this:

    You seem to be talking simply about dissemination of knowledge–all well and good (and something I am in favor of) but there is a difference between simply a free YouTube video that anyone can access if they so choose and some kind of structured, systematic study.

    You dropped that after udacity. Probably without understanding udacity.

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  77. @john personna: Okey-dokey. You win. I don’t understand any of this. I am he of straw men and attacks. It is certainly utterly impossible that you have failed to address direct questions and issues and that you really don’t want to/can’t elaborate upon.

    Cheers.

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  78. BREAKING: Sebastian Thrun launches Udacity.com

    That is from January/23/2012.

    You say above “Second, I didn’t say that udacity won’t work, I said it was a limited example (and that’s empirically true). ”

    No, not actually.

    “I am nott a mind-reader.”

    No, and you can’t be expected to follow links and understand them either.

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  79. @Steven L. Taylor:

    I did not follow you to other arguments in which either (a) agreed, or (b) had no interest.

    It is another shallow attack to say that I should have argued something else, on your chosen ground.

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  80. If you just mean “what to I want?”

    I think things are falling in place. I don’t need to ask for anything. Things like all those initiatives listed day in and day out at Hack Education will be tried, and there will be winners and losers.

    I think a lot of those will be high-tech distance learning initiatives, but I don’t have to ask, because I think they’ll win without me.

    I will get up in your face though, when you dismiss a 3 month old initiative like this:

    I looked at, and have referenced above, the udacity link. I find it to be an exceptionally limited example.

    You can make that about me, as you did here:

    And while I will readily agree that my experiences as a professor are not proof of anything, surely they must count for something. If we were talking computer programming, I expect that you would know a bit more about that than I do (as I seem to recall that that is your field). I can’t imagine you would be persuaded it if I asserted that the entire industry should be designed and my main evidence was predicated on some things I had read and one example of an alternative method.

    And you can pretend you are all about metrics, and not circling the wagons at all.

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  81. @john personna: I realize that udacity is only months old. However, as far as I can tell, it’s not all that different (thus far at least) from the “dump a lot of cool content on the web for free” experiments that have been around for years. I can’t get a bachelor’s degree from udacity. I can’t get course credit that will transfer anywhere from udacity. You apparently get a grade at the end of the process and there is some assessment, which is nice I suppose, but this is only feasible because the courses are capped at reasonable numbers for traditional face-to-face courses.

    To scale and persist people are going to have to get paid to do that assessment (I can’t see the professors continuing to do it gratis, because that’s real work, rather than the fun part of teaching), which gets you back to the exact issue that I was pointing out before: dumping lectures online is a solved, easy problem. Teaching an effective online course with 30-60 students is a solved, relatively easy problem. Translating that into a transferable college course like American government or Macroeconomics that 100,000 people, 60-80,000 of whom have no interest in the topic to begin with (but they have to take it because it’s a core requirement and not because “cool, I can learn how to build a robotic car”), can take and receive academic credit for with a single famous professor and get the same benefit out of… not so much.

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  82. @Chris Lawrence:

    Sure, but let’s remember where I started:

    You know, I’ve been thinking more about the “early car” parallel I mentioned above. As I understand it, in the very early days, when people just got “the concept,” the landscape was dominated by blacksmith-built cars. They knew wagons, they could hammer them together. Many of them were proof of concept at best, and few “beat a horse.” I’m sure the horse team “trumped” the blacksmith-built truck.

    But something else happened next. Actual automobile designers emerged, and the field found its grove.

    We are in that transition now for education, as teachers look at teacher-built systems, but at the same time true designers emerge.

    It is a mistake to squint at all this and narrow it to “all else being equal, pretending equal access, pretending equal cost, etc.”

    I certainly did not call this as a done deal, or an end-game.

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  83. (It is a dynamics of innovation thing. I’ve read Utterback and Christensen on that. Many of the patterns they recorded in steam shovels and hard disk drives seem to be in play here. There are “value networks” centered on established customer-vendor relationships, and new openings, which needs-be start with new customers and new relationships. Part of the Christensen observation though, is that those new (small) value networks can grow and disrupt the old.

    It is the “disruptive technology” thing that we in info-tech have been dealing with in wave after wave.)

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  84. BTW, Hack Education has done a number of round-ups on credentialing, but a good recent one was:

    Thinking (Strategically) About Badges

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  85. Oh, I keep forgetting that Christensen himself, having started thinking about steam shovels and disk drives has himself turned to education:

    Disrupting Class

    Christensen says:

    This week, [COURTNEY BOYD MYERS] caught up with Christensen to ask him, “Do you think education is finally ready for the Internet?”

    “I absolutely do. I think that not only are we ready but adoption is occurring at a faster rate than we had thought… We believe that by the year 2019 half of all classes for grades K-12 will be taught online… The rise of online learning carries with it an unprecedented opportunity to transform the schooling system into a student-centric one that can affordably customize for different student needs by allowing all students to learn at their appropriate pace and path, thereby allowing each student to realize his or her fullest potential….”

    That’s the kind of thing Steven might accuse me of thinking ;-)

    But again, it isn’t just me. In fact, it isn’t really about me.

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  86. Why am I reminded of the NewsRadio episode with the “visionary” Tom P. Baxter?

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  87. When you think about it, most ‘visionaries’ in a tech land rush can be wrong. There were many failed or short-lived products on the way to the ipad and iphone. In the end one won and defined the genre.

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  88. (What you and Steven have been describing from personal experience is that not every attempt succeeds, which is hardly surprising. In fact, the lesson that I see emerging is that the skillset for creating new learning paradigms may not rest with every existing practitioner.)

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  89. @john personna: no, what I’m describing is that people have been trying to solve this problem for years and have gotten exactly nowhere new. We’ve had correspondence courses for a hundred years, probably longer. We’ve had the British “Open University” since the 1960s. We’ve had web-based courses since the 1990s. All these things work on human-manageable scales, to a greater or lesser degree. But they work primarily to reduce (but not eliminate) problems of scheduling and geography, not to change the fundamental student-teacher ratio which is the main efficiency issue.

    Nobody has made them work on the scale to significantly cut the instructional costs, because ultimately (a) students will occasionally need a human to help them, (b) human experts are expensive, and (c) human experts don’t scale beyond classes of a few hundred. You can’t turn student learning into tech support, with “level 1 support” being a bunch of drones in the Philippines reading from a manual, level 2 being some ex student on minimum wage in the US, level 3 being a first-year grad student, and then finally level 4 being the professor – it just doesn’t work, because nobody would pay for such a shitty class, and even if they did nobody would accept it for credit. And while I’d love for udacity and Bill Gates and a bunch of other smart people to prove me wrong… I honestly don’t believe you can ever solve the scale problem, if only because students’ accountability for their own learning suffers at large scales where they can be anonymous to their assessors and their peers.

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  90. @Chris Lawrence:

    That doesn’t strike you as a little “one week before Wright Bros.?”

    One thing that strikes me is that any number of bright people made “man cannot fly” arguments. It might of even taken less bright but more persistent people to do it.

    FWIW also, if everyone concurred on “got nowhere” they probably would not be so enthused – the 3rd gen developers.

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  91. And of course there were any number of failed flights attempts to point to.

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  92. FWIW I am a little uncomfortable with the amount of money thrown around for ed-tech start-ups (400M?), and would prefer a stronger OER focus … but that money shold buy something.

    Go get some ;-)

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  93. ezra abrams says:

    @Chris Lawrence:

    uh, there are like a gazillion college profs, each with excel, and a gazillion * X hard working intelligent undergrads and grad students
    So don’t give me this crap about how it’s complicated
    Its a lot of work, but certainly no more difficult then translating the dead sea scrolls

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  94. @ezra abrams: I think you missed the point of what I was saying. At some point in a course, many (if not most) students are going to need to interact one-on-one with an expert to understand the material. Experts are not cheap, and experts have finite time. So while many thousands, even millions, of students could sit down and watch videos of (say) Greg Mankiw or Paul Krugman’s lectures, neither Mankiw or Krugman have the time to interact meaningfully with even a fraction of that number of students. That’s the scale problem.

    (And before you object, “well, that’s what TAs are for!”, if you did take a class with Krugman or Mankiw at their institutions, you would have the opportunity to meet with them in their office hours. That’s what paying the big bucks to go to Harvard and Princeton pays for. And while I love TAs, TAs are not experts and make no pretension about being experts; they’re always checking with the professor to make sure they’re on the same page.)

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  95. Alisha says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:
    When I was in college, there was a professor who actually tried to challenge the students. Of course, the students didn’t like it because they actually had to study. He ended up having to leave after 2 semesters. He was the best professor they had. His courses did not teach the same material as all the other courses. Basically, if you took introductory psych you already knew all the material you needed you any other psych course at the college….no study needed.
    Psych was an easy A. Of course, I didn’t have any problem getting an A in the more difficult courses either. I still don’t understand why so many people received Fs in such easy courses. Come on if a single mother of 4, who also works, can get As why can’t kids who only have me, myself and I to worry about get As too.

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  96. @Alisha:

    I still don’t understand why so many people received Fs in such easy courses

    Funny, I have had the same thought (many, many times).

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