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Podcast - Interview with an Expert

Student Motivation with Don Fraser

Don Fraser is one of North America’s leading authorities on student success and retention. A professor at Durham College for the past 30 years, Don publishes the national best-seller Making Your Mark, which has sold over one million copies. Don has delivered student motivation seminars to over 17,000 college staff at various conferences and at over 300 colleges across North America. In this podcast Don talks about student motivation.

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US News

Inside Higher Ed

Higher Ed Summer Camp

It’s camp season in New England.

My 9 year old son, Jack, went to sleep away camp for two weeks in early July - Camp Hale in New Hampshire. Days after he returned, I left for Camp IEM in Cambridge, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Summer camp for 9-year-old boys consists of swimming, hiking, kayaking, camp fire songs, talent shows, hot dogs, and s'mores.

Summer camp for higher ed vice presidents/associate vice presidents looks a bit different but I think the process and outcomes are more alike than I would have initially anticipated: building teams, sharing stories, taking time to reflect, and highlighting what you have in common with others to create a pivot point in your life and inspire you to live a more meaningful life of greater impact.

My summer camp included 110 vice presidents, associate vice presidents, and even a few presidents. We were corralled by incredibly generous and inspiring team leaders committed to building leadership capacity in higher education. Stories were shared - in small groups, in large groups, by inspiring presidents such as Juliet Garcia, Beverly Daniel Tatum, and Larry Bacow. Instead of learning to tie knots and build fires, we learned to appreciate the power of shared governance, to be adaptable to change, and, perhaps most importantly, we learned how to lead in the midst of a sector-wide crisis that seems to be getting worse rather than better.

Although we were inspired and the general mood was uplifting, there was a sobering tone throughout the time we spent together and on the last day, many of the men (and some of the women) openly cried. Leadership is easy when you're winning. Right now, no one in higher ed is winning - not the students, who face rising tuition costs in the face of decreasing employment opportunities, not the faculty, who are seeing the erosion of tenure, academic freedom, and full-time employment, and, contrary to popular belief, the administration and staff aren't winning either - as we are forced to balance budgets by closing programs, cutting jobs, raising tuition, and, in some cases, by merging with other institutions or even by closing our schools. These are tough times and, for many of us, one of the best parts of coming together with 109 others was the realization that we are not alone.

A few left this summer camp counting down the days to retirement or vowing to look outside of higher ed for their next career move. Others were reinvigorated and found a renewed sense of mission and purpose, with a recurring theme - IEM made us realize that we are exactly where we need to be and doing the work that needs to be done.

Several of our colleagues came from community colleges and all of us recognized that they are the ones doing the heavy lifting in our world - never enough money, way too many students to serve, and a day-to-day environment where every decision is a lesser of two evils. Others came from across the globe, leading teams that are building universities in remote areas - universities that will become the economic catalysts for their regions - building capacity through education.

I was thoroughly awed and inspired and I also realized that I am very grateful to be doing the work I am doing at a public institution that prides itself on serving first-generation working-class students and on supporting the faculty who are also committed to serving these students. This is where I need to be and this is the work that I need to be doing today.

Not only was I inspired to give more and to do more today, I was also inspired to have greater aspirations for the future. Everyone had a favorite session at IEM and mine was Jim Honan's session on Collaborating for Collective Impact. Jim opened a window into my future. He made me realize that this is where I want to go.

When I originally made the move from faculty to administrator it was because I wanted to have a greater impact. My students were facing challenges that were beyond the scope of my Social Movements course. Unfortunately, many of those were directly related to outdated and unreasonable rules at my institution. I realized that if I moved into administration, I could help the 40 students in my class and also the hundreds in my department and, eventually, the thousands at my institution. At IEM, Jim shared a case study that focused on collective impact, the Achieving the Dream initiative, that includes more than 200 institutions working together to improve the lives of over 3.8 million community college students. Now that’s IMPACT!

So, one personal takeaway from summer camp --- I’ve refined a future goal: collaborating across institutions and sectors to impact millions of students and working together to build a better future.

This morning I’ll begin by catching up on laundry, figuring out how to to creatively cook up my accumulated CSA produce and taking my 9-year-old to his piano lesson - one day at a time!

Salem, Massachusetts in the USA.

Mary Churchill is Associate Provost for Innovation and Partnerships at Salem State University. Find her on Twitter @mary_churchill.







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Ask the Administrator: Teacher or Instructor?

A new (and fortunate) correspondent writes

I am writing to ask your advice on teaching at a school and teaching undergrads. I have job offers from schools and an offer to work as an instructor at a university. I need to make a choice [soon].

I want to work as an instructor but I also feel I should work as a school teacher to catch them young and make a positive influence on students from diverse backgrounds.

As far as salary goes, it is not very different. But school teachers have a good retirement plan. The instructor position is not tenure track but i am inclined towards teaching undergraduate Chemistry in a place where there are chances that I will have like minded colleagues. I am married and have 2 pre-school children. So I would want to spend not more than 50 hours a week at work.

I would sincerely appreciate your advice on the pros and cons of working at a school Vs as an instructor.

First, congratulations on having multiple good options.  Many people don’t.

Context matters, so it's hard to say with any certainty what you should do.  You know the intricacies of your context far better than I could.

That said, "instructor" positions off the tenure track (at colleges that have a tenure track) tend to be unstable, and often isolating.  Most of the time, you wouldn't know until the last minute whether you could return the following year.  (That's somewhat less true in unionized contexts, depending on the specific contract.)  What looks like a good choice now could vanish next year, or the year after that.  In the high school setting, you will probably have pretty good security from the start, and significantly more in a few years.

Since you mention retirement plans, I'm guessing that you're interested in some level of stability of employment.  Based on that, I'd recommend the high school route.  That route would also give you a better chance to "catch them while they're young." 

You'd be much more integrated into the life of the school at the high school level, in most cases.  Instructors at the college level tend to be treated largely as independent contractors, rather than as colleagues.  In most settings -- again, context matters, but I'm speaking to the typical case -- you'd basically be on your own.  At the high school level, you'd be a presumably permanent member of a standing faculty, so you'd have colleagues. 

High schools have issues of their own, of course.  Leadership quality can vary widely, and facilities are often less advanced than you'd find at a typical college.  You'd also have to work with more mandates, whether from the district or the state.  And, of course, dealing with 15- and 16-year olds is different from dealing with adults.  Whether that excites you or makes you roll your eyes is a question only you can answer.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, what would you suggest? 

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Ask the Administrator: <br>Teacher or Instructor?

Dedicated vs. Centralized Teams

Tomorrow I'll spend an hour with my former colleagues at Dartmouth’s Master of Health Care Delivery Science (MHCDS) program.

We will talk about where the College is going with online and blended learning, and brainstorm opportunities to extend what has been learned in the MHCDS program.

The question that I am puzzling with has to do with the trade-offs inherent in dedicated vs. centralized teams.

I’m hoping to learn from your experience on campus with your online / blended programs.  What is the ideal balance between focus and scale, specialization and flexibility?

The MHCDS program is a low-residency 18-month graduate degree program, with six weeks spent studying on campus (spread over 4 sessions), with the balance of the coursework completed online.  

There is a dedicated MHCDS team that works with faculty to design and run the online (and residential) courses.  

This is the same team that provides learning and technical support for the students during the online portion of the program .

The team works on one program, with one group of students, and one group of faculty.

This specialized approach, with a dedicated team, results in a very high quality program.  

The learning designers and curriculum specialists develop deep subject matter expertise and strong relationships with the faculty.  

The technical support team gets to know each student in the program, and is able to provide personalized technical support.

The question is whether or not to retain a dedicated team model for other low-residency degree programs?

A dedicated team model is, I think, the best model to ensure a high quality program.  This is especially true when online learning is new to the institution, and when the online degree programs are small and mission driven. 

This dedicated team model, however, does not scale very well.  

Should a dedicated team be created for each small low-residency degree program?

Or would it make more sense to centralize some functions in an office (or department) of online / blended learning?  

A central online group can specialize in learning design, technical support, and platform innovation. 

Building a central online / blended team would enable small low-residency degree (and non-degree) programs to spin up quickly, carrying with them lower costs and lower levels of risks.

I like the quality of the dedicated team model, but I recognize the limitations in efficiency and scale for this arrangement.   

Are the quality gains in building dedicated teams for small online / blended programs worth the trade-offs in scale?

Are the ways to create a centralized online / blended learning team that will allow for a preservation of focus on the students, the faculty, and the learning goals of each program?

What is the critical mass of programs, or students, in online / blended programs that would justify a centralized team?

Does it even make sense to create a separate central team for online / blended learning when all courses are moving towards some degree of digitally enabled (i.e. blended) teaching?

How are the online program teams organized on your campus?

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Getting the Most from a MOOC

When MOOCs are contrasted with traditional residential courses, such comparisons are often based on individual components (video vs. live lectures, online forums vs. classroom discussion, multiple-choice tests vs. graded papers, etc.).

While such comparative analyses are worthwhile, they may miss the most important element of learning success: the motivation level of a student.

A personal analysis of this phenomenon derives from my Degree of Freedom project, which involved an attempt to learn the equivalent of what a student would get from completing a four-year liberal arts BA program in just twelve months using only MOOCs and other forms of free learning. This required taking over thirty courses to completion over the course of 2013 and (critically) attempting to get the most out of each individual course.

Because MOOCs can vary widely in terms of level of demand (some of them did their best to transfer as much syllabus material as possible from an existing classroom-based course to the screen, while others taught a subset of what might be included in a full-semester class), getting the most from a MOOC can involve a number of strategies.

In addition to watching all lectures, completing assigned reading, and putting best effort into graded quizzes and writing assignments, other means of maximizing learning include:

  • Treating each course with the same level of seriousness one would if sitting in the front row of a traditional classroom with the professor three feet in front of you. This means taking careful notes during video lectures, not multitasking while the professor is talking, and only pausing to look something up relevant to the subject being discussed (not checking e-mail or Tweeting).
  • Understanding and aligning yourself with the mission for a course. Professors create MOOCs for a reason, often revealed during a course’s opening lecture. For example, HarvardX’s Ancient Greek Hero is built around Professor Greg Nagy’s desire to teach students how to read out of, rather than read into, ancient Greek texts. And by dedicating time to figuring out what that meant and internalizing such a mindset, I found myself not just informed but transformed by the experience of taking this popular edX Humanities MOOC.
  • Completing optional as well as required assignments. For example, in one course where passing required scoring well on eight peer-graded essays, I completed an optional ninth writing assignment (created to give students the chance to make up for a low-scoring previous essay) despite having already gotten past the threshold for a passing grade.
  • Finding your own (often ungraded) ways to put learning to work. In one of my philosophy MOOCs, for instance, grading was based entirely on a four short quizzes and a lengthier final exam (all multiple-choice and all relatively easy). In order to add my own writing component to the course, I used a weekly requirement to contribute to the discussion forums as the framework for writing and submitting short essays vs. quick comments or replies.
  • Speaking of essays, a set of course reviews I wrote and published (which served as an important component of this portfolio) also turned out to be an effective (albeit ungraded) capstone assignment for each completed class.
  • Putting extra effort into creating a community of learners. It’s all too easy to get lost in the crowd in a MOOC, and I’ll admit that my frantic course schedule left me little time to contribute enough to forum discussions or create my own live or virtual learning groups. But on those occasions when I did participate in online forums, the level of conversation was remarkably high (reflecting the high educational levels of many MOOC participants). And in the one course where I managed to pull off some face-to-face meet-ups, the chance to talk out rather than type up thoughts was a powerful reminder of how much of learning is social.

Because most MOOCs are pass/fail with relatively low cut scores (60% will often get you a certificate), it’s easy to do the minimum and still obtain a passing grade. But for a committed student, passing is just a byproduct that comes automatically to anyone who makes a goal of maximizing their own learning.

At the end of my project, I provided both prosecution and defense arguments over whether my One Year MOOC BA should be considered the equivalent of a four-year residential one. And regardless of the ultimate verdict, there is no question that earning my original residential degree years ago and last year’s program of intense online learning were two distinct educational experiences.

But one thing unites them and all learning programs whether parchment-, blackboard-, or Internet-based: the student willing to put the most into a course will always get the most out of it.

Jonathan Haber is Chief Learner at Degree of Freedom. His book, MOOCs: The Essential Guide, will be published by MIT Press in October. (Note: A version of this blog first appeared on edX.org.)

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Hawaii-Manoa Chancellor Reportedly Will Lose Job

Tom Apple, chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, is reportedly losing his job after only two years, The Star-Advertiser reported. The university is not confirming the reports and denied that a change had been made, but the newspaper said that sources had done so, following widespread rumors in recent weeks. Facing shortfalls of funds, Apple has made unpopular moves in recent months, including a two-year hiring freeze, and announcing that departments that overspend this year will have the extra funds count toward next year's allocation.


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