Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who Gets to Graduate?


According to a New York Times article, it is the rich.  They get to graduate from college.

Those who are less likely to graduate are students from lower socioeconomic areas, less rigorous pre-college schools and whose parents are naive or inexperienced in what they need to do to help their child succeed.   According to the article, only about one quarter of  the students in the lower economic scale will graduate in 6 years.

Compare this with rich students - ninety percent graduate.  Yes, that is 90%.

So, where are we in understanding what we need to do for student success?  We have learned a lot in the last fifty plus years.  As affirmative action and civil rights slowly kicked in, we created an entire new culture of rich.  Rich people became a diverse group of ethnicity as minorities entered into high paying jobs,  per-college schools improved and colleges began actively targeting and nurturing  all smart students.

Ethnicity was once the culprit of preventing students from graduating.  However ethnicity also defined what a population was allowed to do.  We have made a great deal of progress since 1954.

We now realize that ethnicity has much less to do with success as we once perceived.  We can no longer point at a person of color or ethnicity and say they are poor or they have a special way of learning.  Eugenics is out; economics is in.  We can still see differences in ethnic groups, however this gap is closing as more and more make it into the rich category.

The major finding is that students who are rich are more likely to graduate than poor students.  We, as educators, are now able to act on something we can tackle.  Poverty and the lack of educational advantages it fosters.

Read the article, Who Gets to Graduate?,  about one Texas professor who successfully did the numbers and made a difference.

At UTB we have many success stories to share also.

We have fostered first generation, migrant workers, and students from the poorest area in the US and nurtured them on to graduate.

We need to communicate our successful methods to all faculty here and everywhere.

Written by Betsy Price, Director, CTL.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What are you doing with your time?

The stereotype of faculty is often that they are so involved with research, they have little time for anything else.  Students take a second or third seat to more important issues while faculty selfishly slave away in the lab. Weekends, days not teaching and breaks are for lounging in a tan jacket with patches, feet up on the footstool, smoking a pipe and reading poetry.  Ahhhhh.h.h.h

Not so, says a study from Boise State University.  Boise State took the challenge to document faculty's time to learn how they actually spend it.  For those of us already in teaching, we are not surprised when they unveiled their findings.

First we have to look at their days.  The stereotype is correct, faculty do not work five days a week.  They work seven.   Yep, Seven (7).

They also spend much more time with teaching, planning, mentoring, including students in research, creating activities and grading than any
other task.  Boise State is a research university and it is surprising how little time faculty actually devote toward their research.

New teaching interactive teaching styles with many alternative resources take time to create and time to implement.  Class sizes continue to grow as the budgets shrink.  Learning new technology, creating electronic materials, and supplementing over priced textbooks takes time.

Read the article and weep for those of you who went into higher education to do research!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Scoring Students’ Written Assignments: Do They Even Read My Remarks?

During my last ten years in higher education, I have listened to my colleagues consistently bemoan the quality (or lack thereof) of their students’ writing and the time spent providing feedback. As a former high school English teacher, and now as a college professor, I too have spent countless hours reading students’ papers and carefully writing thoughtful comments and suggestions for improvement without correcting their work. 

Yet, I suspect that I spend more time on their papers than they do!

On occasion, I encourage students to revise a written assignment, based on my remarks, and then re-submit the paper.  Nevertheless, frequently the suggestions for improvements that I made have been ignored, overlooked, or misunderstood.  

Recently, with the trend of going “green,” I embraced the challenge of teaching both face-to-face and online courses “paperless.” No, that does not mean I stopped assigning papers, albeit tempting.  I decided to have all of my students submit all written assignments electronically. After reviewing the papers with open track changes and comments, I return them electronically.  Unfortunately, that process has proven no less time consuming, and I am still not convinced that my students read my comments or pay any attention to the track changes.  When I am working harder than my students, I know I need to change something!

How do I save time, trees AND provide more meaningful feedback to my students? Recently, a student in my 100% online asynchronous graduate course suggested using recorded screen captures to provide each
student with verbal feedback on their papers.  Much like a one to one conference to go over a paper, this personalized walk-through/talk-through approach seems to be very well received by my students. 

I am able to explain verbally what I used to indicate with cryptic symbols, proof-editing marks, and vague question marks or exclamation marks to convey my point. Remarkably, it is actually less time consuming!

I have said for years that as educators we need to meet our students where they are and coach them to where we want them to be.  Well, apparently it is time I joined the digital age and meet my digital natives in a YouTube recording!

Check out this YouTube demonstration of how to use QuickTime to record a screen capture of a student’s written work while providing feedback and then upload it to YouTube for your student to view:










Thursday, February 6, 2014

Where Can You Get Information About Your Career?

That is a good question.  


Social media has provided entertainment for our students, but it also provides just in time resources for learning about teaching, grant writing and research.

In our busy lives, career development and goal setting is paramount to keep ahead, but it can be time consuming to take a course or read a book.  Social media provides information in bite sized chunks that will fit into any busy schedule, especially if you are plugged into your mobile device or tablet.

Online Training - YouTube, the time sink for students has many excellent resources that are quick and easy to use.  The Grantsmanship Center provides a five video series on successful grant writing.  Download these videos on your cell or tablet and watch them between classes or while waiting in the grocery check out line.

Online Discussions - LinkedIn has a discussion group for you.  Go to their main page and create an account and complete your profile.  LinkedIn then matches your profile with discussion groups you may be interested in.  Join a couple to learn if that group is right for you.  You also have an option to create your own group.    

Facebook - Like pages in Facebook are for professional use.  Join the UTB Center for Teaching and Learning's Facebook Like page to be updated on what is happening locally and nationally in higher education.

Do you like the information in this blog post?  Look at the left hand corner of this blog.  Put your email into the box.   When new posts are made you will receive a notice.

Don't be the last to be in the know!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Lets Get Flippin'!

No one will doubt that education has always blown with the whim of trends.  Don't believe me?  Try this one.  Teachers have withitness.  Yep, that is with...it...ness.  A less politically correct term is streetwise, except streetwise in the classroom not in the hood.  There is even a large body of research on this.  Go figure.

So here we go again with a new cutely named trend by flippin' the classroom.  Except.  This works.  But we cannot prove it.  So enter the heroes: Harvey Mudd College faculty who have taken on the challenge to measure flippin's effectiveness.  And, who are the funders?  The National Science Foundation.  The organization that has done more for science teaching than any other organization.  Bar none.

Most teachers at any level have gut feelings what teaching trend will work and what will blow away with the wind.  Flippin' the classroom has features that match up with learning theories and fits into contemporary life.

This creates the gut feeling that this will work.


  • Match with student life today.  They are tied to their mobile devices, mostly for social trysts, however they have them with them practically 24/7.  Don't believe me, text one of your students at 3 a.m. and push the button on your stopwatch app for how long it takes him or her to respond.  
  • Match what teachers want to do.  Teachers are generally people persons.  They want to be involved with their students. They want to be just as engaged in learning activities as their students.  Didn't they spend $100,000 or more to pursue their dream in earning their degrees? Pressing buttons on a PowerPoint presentation to sleeping students just doesn't match why people go into teaching.  
  • Match what teachers don't want to do.  We need to get technology into the hands of the users - students.  They are the ones plugged in.  They love it.  Now we need to make technology a learning tool, not a dating service.  


While the research on its effectiveness presses on, so should we.  Lets get flippin'.

The Center for Teaching and Learning, affectionately called the CTL has created a Faculty Support Center loaded with all the tech goodies that create the flippin' classroom.  Come and see us at the Healing Gardens, LHSB 1.704

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

There is a lot to a name of a university



On Thursday, December 12, The University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) and The University of Texas at Pan America (UTPA) will learn its official new name as one university.

For those new to our saga, UTB and UTPA are consolidating to form the largest Hispanic serving institution in the United States.  Our goal is to become a true bilingual and bi cultural University that serves students who want to immerse themselves in a true international experience.  This also provides the UT Systems with the opportunity to build a technological university from scratch.  No holds barred.

It was decided early on that to create one new university out of two old ones, it should not retain the names of either nor be the same university with two campuses named differently.  This is a clean slate.  Well, almost.  Reality is never as easy as theory.  UT Systems used social media to gain a perspective of what people from the Valley wanted the name to be.  A surprise candidate showed up coming in the third most popular.  This third candidate was to keep The University of Pan American as the name of both.

So, I went to the Monitor, the newspaper for McAllen and Edinburg, the home towns of UTPA and the Brownsville Herald for the UTB area to read the comments.  Just as expected, the comments from the Monitor defended keeping the UTPA name and the one comment from the Herald was that it would send a message that UTB was just being absorbed by a larger university.

This is the first official public step (lots have been going on behind the scenes between the two universities to manage the consolidation) to creating a new university.  With all that needs to be planned and implemented academically to create a unique college education, it seems interesting (the dreaded word that hides complex thoughts) that a small issue of name could create more chatter than what programs are going to happen, how the quality of education will improve and what our graduates will look like.

This is to be noted to universities nationally.  As the cost effectiveness of a four year degree is being debated in the press, we find college attendance declining throughout the U.S.  More prospective students and their care givers are preferring programs that will lead directly to a career in the shortest length of time and not put the students into serious debt. Will we be seeing more consolidation of campuses as less students attend and  more emphasis is on jobs, technology and not educational enlightenment?

Maybe this consolidation of universities is not unique, but a wave of the future.  If so, the name will be the first public hurdle.





Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Push to Graduate

California colleges, like all others nationally,  have been pushed to graduate students.  The first thought that most professors have is that not all students are ready for college.  The drop out rate often is the byproduct of our aggressive recruiting because of the pressure to get students into college - if they are ready or not.  Professors are always amazed at the students who come without better reasons than all of their friends are in college, their mother wants them in college and that they will be handed a high paid job the day after graduation.

Those students who are not realistically motivated or mature often do not make it beyond the Sophomore year, hence the large drop out rate happens within the first two years. This happens nationally.  There is little as professors that we can do to reach, or even identify, those students when they are sitting in a classroom of 150 or more students and not interested in seeking us out.

But what about the students who are motivated, mature and intent on graduating.  Not all of them leave college having failed.  Sometimes the system fails students as they try to play the game of getting all the classes they need lined up in a row.   Not getting perquisite classes early in their first years of college can cause them to add on an extra year or more.   Not being able to take upper level required courses for graduation puts them behind also.

To those who do not understand how colleges manage their finances,  it seems simple, just make sure there are lots of course offerings so that students can easily take those prerequisites and required upper level courses.  That would put colleges in the red.  It takes 14 to 18 students in a class for the college to squeak by to cover the cost.  Offering all required courses each semester would break the bank.  In addition, upper level courses most often require full time tenured or tenured track professors, expensive labs, complex assignments and more preparation time for faculty.  Professors that qualify to teach these courses often have a teaching load of one or two classes a semester.  Most universities are not staffed sufficiently to be able to offer all the courses students need each semester.

California legislators have come up with an interesting solution: give students credit  "for faculty-approved online courses".  These courses are Massive Open Online Courses MOOCs.  I think this could work.

The high drop out rate for MOOCs is attributed to students lack of motivation, self discipline and direction, which is the case for most online courses that do not have heavy involvement with faculty and other students.  Also it is thought that a large majority of the persons who enroll do so without the intent to complete the course.  Students who need a MOOC  to graduate and are replacing it with a course they need, will be motivated, have the self discipline and will have contact with their university professor, advisor and other students in the same situation.  Their intent will be to complete the course.

The university will not be losing money when students take the courses because students will be on track for graduation, stay with the university that gives them credit for the course and, frankly, as an employer  I would certainly hire a student who demonstrated that could manage the system of college wisely in a manner that showed motivation, self discipline and cleverness.   

One always hesitates to agree with legislation that legislators dream up, but this one might work.  Often we become so concentrated on the students that come to college without direction that we miss those students who are at risk for leaving because of our own system's lack of ability to provide a timely path to graduation.  In addition, now that Pell Grants have lowered the number of semesters from 18 to 12 the need to provide students with a sure fire path to a four year degree in four years is going to be a necessity unless we want to see more students drop out because of expired funding.