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19. 12

Programming lab-practicals; follow up

Written by: gcw - Posted in: Uncategorized - Tags: ,

In the end I couldn’t come up with a particularly salient assignment that illuminated mastery of all the course objectives of the programming class so I just lobbed this at my students. It was brutal. No one, absolutely no one, finished within two hours. Half of them didn’t even finish the first phase. One student gave me a look as they were leaving that left me sure I would see this in the hallway:

Now just because it was brutal doesn’t mean it was bad. While I don’t confuse rigor for quality in education, I also don’t believe that an education should be a comfortable experience at all times. And this exam did hit the major learning objectives that I had for the course and that I had tried to prepare students for. Also, I did get a nice spread of grades that correlated well with the student’s other work (the more labs they had completed, the higher they scored on the lab-practical).

But I learned a few things I’ll definitely put into practice for my next class that has a hands-on examination:

  • Lay out the objectives first, preferably in a way that I could share with the students, weeks before the lab-practical
  • Try and figure out a program/application that would need all of those objectives (instead of tacking the objectives onto the scenario)
  • Spend a lot more time thinking about chunking, that is
    • How granular should each task be, preferably one per objective?
    • How should they be ordered so that students have the greatest oppourtunity to demonstrate mastery?
    • How long should each task take?
  • Spend more time in class preparing students for activities like this. I had some in-class programming quizes early on in the semester but that fell by the wayside as we progressed.

It’s not hard to normalize the grades after the fact, and I would still categorize this as a successful lab-practical and a successful semester, but I plan on doing better next time.


17. 12

Economic illiteracy and online education

Written by: gcw - Posted in: Uncategorized - Tags: , ,
So, there is this adjunct problem. Adjuncts are often paid very little and are becoming a larger part of the higher education workforce. Coincidently there is also this dadgummed MOOC revolution, with Corsera and Udacity changing how we deliver eduation to students (or so people keep telling me). So what would it take to bring both of these higher education trendes together? Money.
And in comes StraighterLine where students can sign up for online courses, the teachers of those courses can set their own fees and all is right with the world. Except to adjunct advocate Josh Bolt who considers it a sign of the educational apocalypse. I’m not even exaggerating, he actually said:
Programs like Professor Direct, in their current incarnation, will destroy the greatest educational system in the world if we don’t force some checks and balance onto them.
How an online startup that has been offering 16 new classes for zero amount of time will destroy a 475 billion dollar industry with an established non-governmental regulatory system (which prevents StraighterLine from access Federal monies, most importantly student financial aid) is beyond me.
The gist of StraighterLine is that, unlike the MOOCs,  they will charge money for their online courses and the teachers involved get to set the price. They already have some colleges lined up that will accept their credits. So the promise is that you will no longer have adjuncts being underpaid because they can make more teaching online courses like these, essentially cutting out the middle man of colleges.
Josh is convinced this is a terrible thing because…well because he doesn’t understand economics:
Teachers aren’t setting their own price any more than a dairy farmer sets his own price for milk. Sure, a teacher can value her course at what she considers to be a living wage, but if the consumer isn’t willing to pay that price, then the teacher’s valuation essentially means nothing. In a market-driven economic exchange, the consumer sets the price.
Except no. In a market-driven economic exchange both the supplier and the consumer agree to a price. If the diary farmer wants more than people are willing to pay for milk, they won’t buy it. Likewise if people won’t pay enough for milk to make it worth the farmer’s time, he’ll sell old Bessie as hamburgers and jerky. No one gets to set the price.
StraighterLine isn’t the end or education as we know it or a bold new way to make teachers millionaires.  It’s just another market to sell milk at, and more markets mean more options and that can never be a bad thing.

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