Professor Gingrich Goes Online

From Inside Higher Ed, comes this interesting but almost frightening electionland news...
Of all the campaign promises made so far in the Republican primary, one of the most unexpected has come from the former speaker of the house, Newt Gingrich: If elected, he will teach a free online course from the White House, returning to his roots as a college professor.

With two weeks remaining until the first votes are cast at the Iowa caucuses, it’s unclear how long Gingrich will maintain his status as front-runner in the topsy-turvy campaign for the Republican nomination -- let alone whether he will serve as professor-in-chief.

Still, Gingrich is unusual in the Republican field in his ties to academe and his choice to emphasize his academic background. He is the first major candidate from either party in decades to hold a Ph.D. His history dissertation, written 40 years ago, has attracted a spate of media attention. A supporter of expanding federal spending on scientific research, Gingrich has already proposed a few specific, if perhaps far-fetched, ideas for reforming higher education nationwide.

“We're at the beginning of a period of disruptive reform, and one of the disruptive places will be education,” Gingrich said at a College Board forum in October.


Somewhat related to my previous post...

For now, it looks like accrediting agencies have been given a reprieve because the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity has passed on any decision to break the connection between accreditation and federal funding. Those accrediting agencies very much want to maintain their role in determining a colleges’ eligibility that allows them to receive federal student aid programs.
But just how much the committee on accreditation, which was charged with the broad task of recommending how the nation’s accreditation system should be reshaped when the Higher Education Act is revised in 2013, will suggest changing the status quo was still somewhat unclear after two final days of discussion here. While committee members, under pressure from accreditors and colleges, agreed that the agencies should retain their role as the primary determiners of eligibility for federal financial aid, they still considered -- and many supported -- a host of other, smaller changes.
The committee’s draft report, published in October, presented a series of options and scenarios rather than making concrete recommendations. At its outset, two of three possible recommendations involved reimagining how accreditation works: separating accreditation from the eligibility process for federal student aid, or modifying the link between the two to create an “either/or” system wherein colleges would have to meet baseline criteria established by the government and then could pursue either accreditation or governmental certification.

Read more:

Will MITx Be MIT 2.0?


MIT announced this week a new interactive online learning program, internally called MITx. I think it's important initiative to examine. I think it is a start towards the university 2.0 of this century. And I think MIT's efforts may be misinterpreted.

They want to build a virtual community of online learners and that sounds fine, and not that innovative. What is getting attention is that they also want to allow students to earn certificates for demonstrating mastery of MITx subjects at modest cost.

It gets confusing because MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) which offers free access to course materials is part of the new effort. MIT says that OpenCourseWare will continue to be a free and open way to share MIT course materials. They will also create new materials for the MITx initiative and add those to OCW and it will be built using open-source software.

MIT also says that everything on MITx except for the credentialing will be free of charge. MITx will exist as a nonprofit apart from the university.

I have been saying for several years that education from primary to higher education (but especially the traditional university) will look very different in the next few decades. Those changes will include the fading of tenure and the further rise of online courses. But I really think that a major change will be that the value of a college degree will have fallen. This is especially true of liberal arts degrees and programs, undergraduate and graduate, that do not lead to employment and include employment skills.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offering their prestige courses to another group of non-traditional students and giving them MIT credentials is a good start down that road.

Do I think it's bad? To me, it's not a question of good or bad. It is inevitable.

The issue I wasn't to know more about from MIT is what will be their basis for certifying "mastery” of MIT-grade coursework.

MIT has been important for a decade in fostering open educational resources (OER). It is a movement I believe is important. I have used their materials as a lifelong learner and to help build courses I teach. Other colleges have joined the effort from universities like Stanford and my own NJIT to private efforts like Khan Academy.

Does MIT see an opportunity in the gap between the way we perceive traditional higher education and the tuition-free alternatives?

Would the general population and especially employers feel more comfortable with a student trained by MIT but without a degree than one who had learned independently or used a free form of "higher education?"

The student would receive an "institutional credential" (not from MIT proper but from MITx).

Very few people in or out of academia would claim that this new university is better than the traditional residential education that has been around for a few centuries. MIT is not shutting down its campus in Cambridge.

When I spoke to the faculty at Seton Hall University back in 2009 about redefining universities, I was more focused on how pedagogy would change they ways we teach. I still believe that universities are changing and need to change. But now, more than ever, schools are having change thrust upon them.

Keep your eyes on the road ahead.

Questioning the Socratic Method and Academic Integrity

SocratesAfter I recently read an article on, I started wondering about the state of the Socratic method in American classrooms. The article chronicles the case of Professor Steven Maranville at Utah Valley University. He teaches a capstone business course and his style is to ask questions even if students don't volunteer to answer.

It seems that students complained about that (and pedagogical choices) and that those complaints contributed to the university denying him tenure.

I won't attempt to judge his employment status or his classroom teaching, but the article points to other cases where the power of student evaluations and opinions on faculty rehiring was significant. Professors at Louisiana State University and  at Norfolk State University are noted.

Maranville's style of pedadgogy is described as Socratic, "engaged learning" in which he "pushed for students to go beyond lectures" and created teams for assignments outside class. I don't hear anything very radical in any of that. If done well, it sounds quite admirable.

The Socratic Method as a style of teaching is named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates who used this method of inquiry. It is covered in chapter one of the textbook I use in my critical thinking course, and I can't really imagine teaching a class face-to-face or online without using some form of this questioning technique.

This kind of inquiry and debate between individuals is popular in law schools and probably used more in the humanities and the social sciences. Using opposing viewpoints and asking and answering questions stimulates critical thinking and often illuminate ideas.

It is a dialectical method, and so it can often generate oppositional discussion and the defense of one point of view is up against the defense of another. I suppose that opposition can, if the discussion lacks discipline, lead to out and out arguing.

Maybe the Socratic method seems negative because it uses a method of hypothesis elimination. The stronger hypotheses are found by identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions or that cannot be defended.

As the article points out, one advantage of this kind of teaching is that it challenges students "to learn how to think on their feet." In general, I find that students at the undergraduate and graduate level don't like that challenge, especially if they have been not been asked to do it in other classes.

I also have read a number of online posts recently about an article headlined "NYU Prof Vows Never to Probe Cheating Again—and Faces a Backlash."  It wasn't Socratic teaching that got the NYU prof in trouble. It was his attempt to be more aggressive about cheating and plagiarism in his introductory information technology class.

Perhaps feeling safer because he had tenure, he decided to use the Blackboard course-management system and Turnitin's plagiarism-detection software together for the first time. Those integrated software packages allows assignments that are submitted to be automatically checked for matches to materials online.

He found that plagiarism was "pervasive" and 22 of the 108 students admitted cheating by the end of the semester.

The connections to the earlier Socratic case? Students, especially those in certain majors, are simply not asked to do much writing. (It is one of the reasons the Writing Initiative at PCCC that I direct was launched.) And faculty in those disciplines often feel unprepared to evaluate writing "as writing" as opposed to grading based on subject matter content. Students have not been asked to do this kind of writing, and instructors are not prepared or unwilling to "police" writing for plagiarism.

Introduce some powerful software that detects it automatically, even on papers or students that you would not have suspected, and an ugly truth is revealed.

Of course, the other connection in these two cases is that the teachers paid for their actions with bad student reviews. Professor Ipeirotis dropped to a below-average score of 5.3 (of 7.0) from his usual 6.0 to 6.5. He claims that "The Dean’s office and my chair ‘expressed their appreciation’ for me chasing such cases (in December), but six months later, when I received my annual evaluation, my yearly salary increase was the lowest ever, and significantly lower than inflation, as my teaching evaluations took a hit this year."

As anyone who has pursued an academic integrity case at a college with the administration probably discovered, it can take up many hours away from your actual teaching or research. Sadly, when he posted on a blog that he had decided to no longer pursue cheating instances, that too was met with a backlash.

Lesson learned? Well, I completely agree with what he says: "Rather than police plagiarism,
professors should design assignments that cannot be plagiarized."  I am actually presenting tomorrow at a writing across the curriculum faculty roundtable at PCCC on just that topic. I hope to get a positive response from faculty, and will report back here soon.

This is a cross-posting from the Writing Initiative blog at PCCC.