Tag Archives: technology

Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?

Rick Scott.jpg

In the first couple weeks of any survey course in the
principles of economics, students are taught that prices are determined by the
interactions of consumers (demand) and producers (supply). Prices for many
things, such as oil, or of common stocks, constantly change with the frequent
shifts in the willingness of consumers and producers to buy or sell the good or
service in question.

Yet the price of college–tuition fees–seems to be
determined differently. For starters, tuition fees change but once a year, not
constantly. Universities are like restaurants, with “menus” giving prices for a
variety of different offerings, with the menu changing once a year.  For many schools, however, the listed price
is not what economists call an “equilibrium” price–a price equating quantity
demanded with quantity supplied. Rather, thousands are turned away at the
listed price at selective admission universities.  Also, massive price discrimination exists, so
many customers–often a majority–pay less than the stated or sticker price.

Amidst all of this, schools typically charge students the
same regardless of their major. A committee advising Florida Governor Rick
Scott has recommended a move to differential pricing–majors would pay
differing amounts. The goal is partly to entice students into the STEM
disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) on grounds that our
future would be enhanced by having more scientists relative to, say, English
majors or anthropologists. By making STEM tuition fees lower, we will encourage
enrollment expansion in those fields. Ohio University’s Board of Trustees
recently considered (but did not yet adopt) a multiple-price approach, and
other schools are doing so. 

Continue reading Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?

Big Troubles Ahead for Online Learning


recently wrote here about the unwarranted optimism that the dawn of distance
learning brought to higher education in the 1990s. That trip down memory lane
might–and probably should–throw cold water on the enthusiasm about online
education today. Arguably, the troubles with online education now are no
different from those of the old distance learning approach, beginning with the
fact that virtual instruction is still a far more costly proposition than most
people suppose.

To be sure, employing the Internet as a
transmission medium eliminates a bevy of costs associated with 1990s-style
distance education, but these were just the tip of the iceberg. Still required
are expensive and dedicated broadcast facilities, trained technicians, and
camera operators. To the former costs, we must add those of programming,
maintaining, and securing a school’s online presence at a level comparable to a
leading e-commerce site. Worse, today’s “customers” are the product of an
entertainment media explosion that has heightened their expectations of
hypermedia quality. Most universities do not possess the needed expertise – and
it doesn’t come cheap. 

Continue reading Big Troubles Ahead for Online Learning

Higher Ed’s Non-Revolution of the 90s


Think back. What was the revolutionary technological advance of the 1990s that we thought pointed the way to the future of higher education?  It was “interactive television,” of course!

Interactive television was at the center of the revolution in education called “distance learning.”  It would connect classrooms within a city, state, or even (with some delay) across the continent.  Employing satellite technology, it had the potential to change utterly the way students learn. With more students learning at once, one could hire fewer teachers, thus reducing costs. Naturally, schools would have to make substantial technology investments to make distance learning possible, but after the initial cost increases, the savings would kick in.

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Why Many Conservatives Got It Wrong on UVa

uva.jpgBy any ordinary standard, Teresa Sullivan is the kind of
university president conservatives love to hate. In 2010, after the Board of Visitors
unanimously elected her the first female president of the University of
Virginia, one of her first acts was to endorse and publish the UVA Diversity
Council’s statement expressing commitment in–what else?–diversity. Sullivan had co-authored two books on middle-class
debt with none other than Elizabeth Warren, who famously exploited informal
racial quotas at prestigious academic institutions by falsely claiming Native
American ancestry on the sole basis of her high cheekbones. In short, Sullivan
appeared as a diversity hire interested only in campus diversity at UVA and who
has worked with another diversity hire to produce diversity scholarship. It is as if Sullivan was not born but rather fashioned out of the politically correct

The Hidden Cost of University 2.0

university 2.0.jpgWe have entered a new digital era that appears to have made the traditional trappings of higher education–e.g., fixed curricula, going to lectures, even physically attending a college or university–about as necessary to getting a college degree as the telegraph is for sending messages. Out with hierarchy, structure, and the top-down approach to higher education. In with collaboration, more student input, and above all else, greater interactivity.

Let’s call this disruption University 2.0, which promises to be every bit as revolutionary to higher education as Web 2.0 has been to the Internet.

In the old days (Web 1.0), the Internet was largely a passive medium through which users viewed web sites created by others and had little or no input on content or design. In the new era of Web 2.0, users interact, share information, add or modify content, and collaborate in communities, such as social networking sites, blogs, Twitter, and wikis.

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A Major Expansion of Online Courses

MIT and Harvard.jpgHarvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced yesterday that they will partner in a collaborative new higher-education venture, to be called EdX, that will offer a range of online courses to potentially tens of thousands of student worldwide, most of whom will not be enrolled at either Harvard or MIT. The EdX courses, funded with a $60 million joint contribution from the universities, scheduled to begin this fall and using a platform developed at MIT, will include “video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, online laboratories and immediate feedback,” according to a report in the Boston Herald. A nonprofit entity will oversee the operation of EdX and issue certificates of mastery to those who demonstrate that they have learned the course materials.

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The Many Problems of Online Education

Gates Foundation.jpgOne thing we learn from the new Babson report is that the number of students enrolling in online courses continues to grow, and apparently there’s no end in sight. In fact, “the number of students taking at least one online course has increased at a rate far in excess of the growth for the overall higher-education student body,” according to the report, which is based on responses from over 2500 colleges and universities. Another thing we learn is that most chief academic officers have “a more favorable opinion of the learning outcomes for online education” and rate the learning outcomes for online instruction “as good as or better” than face-to-face instruction–67%, to be precise, up from 57% when this study was first conducted in 2003.

That sounds good, but are chief academic officers–presidents, chancellors and other high-level administrators of colleges and universities–in the best position to know that learning outcomes are “as good as or better” than face-to-face instruction?

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More Chicanery from the Department of Education

Last week, voters in my home state of Maine overturned a law passed by the GOP-led state legislature to end Maine’s same-day voter registration, which had been the practice in Maine for nearly four decades. Though polls suggested a close race, the law went down to a nearly 20-point defeat, the margin seemingly fueled by a backlash against the advertising campaign employed by the law’s proponents. In the days before the election, Maine voters were flooded with a TV ad and mailings suggesting that a no vote on Question 1 (an outcome that would have upheld the legislature’s handiwork) would protect Maine “election ethics law”–even though the referendum dealt with same-day registration, not the state’s ethics law. As Portland Press-Herald columnist Bill Nimitz noted a few days before voters headed to the polls, “You know you’re on the wrong side of an issue when you’re afraid to call it by name.”

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About All Those STEM Dropouts…

science_lab_students.jpgThe New York Times proclaimed recently that science educators and others are vitally concerned that high dropout rates of students studying math, science, and engineering (the “STEM” disciplines) will imperil our nation’s technological leadership. There is a shortage of people in these fields, it is argued, and efforts to increase numbers are thwarted by dropout rates that run from 40 to as high as 60 percent (for those originally pre-med majors).

I want to make two points. First, the high dropout rates are not only far from surprising; indeed, they should be expected, and we should rejoice that someone in higher education is trying to maintain standards of academic excellence. Second, for well over half of a century, STEM advocates have cried “shortages of key personnel” and “crisis” when none really existed, showing a lamentable lack of scientific objectivity and intellectual honesty in the process. I fear this may be happening again.

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Romance Hinders Women in STEM Courses?

Another day, another bunch of dollars thrown at studies lamenting “the gender gap in science and technology fields.” The most recent comes from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation.

From its Executive Summary:

Our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce is crucial to America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in STEM jobs and among STEM degree holders despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and half of the college-educated workforce. That leaves an untapped opportunity to expand STEM employment in the United States, even as there is wide agreement that the nation must do more to improve its competitiveness.

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What Happens to the Old Universities?

The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out, by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring, $32.95, Jossey-Bass, 475 pages.

The Innovative University.JPGOnline college courses are a “disruptive technology” destined to drive profound changes in higher education in the United States and around the world. This is not an especially new idea. Management guru Peter Drucker, for example, declared in 1997, in an interview with Forbes: “Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics. […] The college won’t survive as a residential institution.” And a great many others–some enthusiastic, others mournful–have since made similar pronouncements.

The term “disruptive technology,” however, is a bit of a novelty. It comes from the co-author of The Innovative University, Clayton M. Christensen, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, best known for his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. That book might best be thought of as elaborating Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of the “creative destruction” characteristic of capitalist economies. (Schumpeter, in turn, was appropriating and revising an idea framed by Karl Marx.) For Schumpeter, writing in the 1940s, “creative destruction” was mainly a matter of new technologies pushing aside old ones: an essential characteristic of free markets. Christensen added up-to-date examples and some vivid characterizations of how disruption unfolds.

The Innovative University can be read at one level as an attempt by Christensen and his co-author Henry Eyring to fit higher education to Christensen’s template of technological change. The book, however, doesn’t stop there. It is a sprawling army of topics and themes and metaphors. Besides the idea that online learning is the disruptive technology that will transform higher education, Christensen and Eyring are intent on (1) reprising the whole history of Harvard University, (2) narrating the rise of Brigham Young University Idaho from its extremely humble beginning in 1888 as a Mormon elementary school and later as the two-year Ricks College; and (3) detailing the administrative challenges in turning Ricks College into a hybrid residential-online powerhouse, (4) explaining and decrying the 1967 Carnegie Classification of colleges and universities, which fed the appetite of many institutions to move from modest teaching missions to become research-oriented, doctoral degree-granting universities.

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Do Female Students Need ‘Stereotype Inoculation’?


Are you a female STEM student (or wannabe STEM student) suffering from a stereotype infection? Then, according to new research recently described in Inside Higher Ed (“Inoculation Against Stereotype”), you should take a course from a female instructor to inoculate yourself.

The research, based on a study at U Mass Amherst by Nilanjana Dasgupta, associate professor of psychology  and some graduate students there,
found notable benefits for female students (and for male students as well, though to a lesser degree) to being taught by women — and may point to strategies that would keep more women in STEM fields. The idea behind the research is that certain strategies “inoculate” female students against the sense that they don’t belong or are not likely to succeed in math and science courses.
…. Dasgupta said that the evidence suggests that women who are exposed to women doing math and science successfully end up with “stereotype inoculation” in which they gain confidence. The obvious solution from the new research — which Dasgupta said wasn’t realistic — would be to have only women teach introductory STEM courses.

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Woman’s Work

This piece appeared originally in the June 2010 issue of Liberty
Women can’t get any satisfaction these days. Yet another report, this by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), asks why there are so few women in the STEM professions. (For those outside the education community, this acronym refers to the prestigious disciplines of “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”) The putative exclusion of women from STEM fields is a hot topic in higher education; there is even talk of instituting programs such as the federal law known as Title IX, which expanded college sports to encompass more women.
There are no shades of Larry Summers in the AAUW report. It skirts the possibility that something inherent in women, either their brains or the lifestyle they value, leads them to choose other fields. Instead, the report is all about self-esteem and overcoming bias and low expectations. The chapter on “Beliefs about Intelligence” does not discuss research on intelligence per se, but rather how to overcome the “mindset” that one’s intelligence is not as high as it should be.
Yet, as Susan Pinker commented on the Minding the Campus website in April, women are well-represented in science-related disciplines, at least at the university level. She lists “biology, medicine, dentistry, econology, pharmacology, neuroscience, or veterinary science” as “science programs that were mostly male 40 years ago but are now dominated by women on every university campus.” In fact, AAUW’s colorful charts reveal plainly that more women receive bachelor’s degrees in biology and the biological sciences than do men.
Furthermore, there’s something sinister about this report – or at least it’s out of date: STEM jobs are not all that attractive. The Ohio University economist Richard Vedder suggests that the pressure to push people (of either sex) into STEM smacks of scandal – a retread of the post-Sputnik pressures of the late 1950s, with less justification . STEM fields are not that highly paid (which would be a sign of great demand), he says and “it is not uncommon for science graduates to have trouble getting a job in their field.” Nor does the Bureau of Labor Statistics expect the number of jobs in these fields to grow substantially (in percentage terms, yes, but not in absolute numbers.)
Exactly why STEM has fallen out of favor Vedder doesn’t say. Others, however, have pointed to the international outsourcing of such jobs and to the changing nature of technology, which now automates procedures that previously required highly skilled technicians.
Why don’t we just let women do what they want to do? If that means avoiding some academic fields because they like others better or because they envision a life that is more compatible with being a mother, let them. Isn’t freedom what “women’s liberation” was all about?.

On Women, STEM and Hidden Bias

If only Carole Carrier and her peers felt more aggrieved, the new report released by the American Association of University Women on women in science would make more sense. On the day the AAUW report was released, Carrier, a 34 year-old mechanical engineer who works part-time, was walking down the street in early spring with her 20 month old son, Luke, and her mother, Anita. They were on their way to see the spring flower display in the municipal greenhouse when we all stopped for a neighborly chat. “I’ve never experienced bias,” said Carrier, her pale eyes registering surprise when I described the gist of the report. Standing on the sidewalk, I summarized its main points: that women avoid going into STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and math) because hidden cultural signals have persuaded them that women don’t have what it takes to succeed in those fields. The few women who do buck these stereotypes then tend to abandon their career plans due to implicit gender biases and university science programs that make women feel unwelcome. Hence, a ratio of women in physical science and math that won’t budge past 20 percent, and the title of the report,”Why So Few?”
But Carrier, like many female engineers and scientists I’ve spoken to over the past five years, was frankly puzzled about why anyone might see her as a victim. All along she has felt her choices were entirely her own. She always liked math and was encouraged by her parents, especially her father, who also likes numbers, to study Pure and Applied Science. Then she went into a Forestry program, but she switched out of that because “it was too touchy-feely. It was like, is this environment good for squirrels? I needed to go into something where there’s a right answer.” So she transferred into agricultural engineering, and told me she enjoyed it immensely—the university program, as well as the work that came afterwards. So, what about the AAUW’s conclusion that women avoid studying engineering because role models are scarce, and university programs are hostile to women? “Hostile environment? Not at all. We had excellent professors. Many female professors, too.” There were also many other young women in the program, she said, because students could specialize in food or water treatment and most of the women planned to work in the developing world. Not Carole. “From university I went to work at a cement company because of my love of heavy machinery. They have their own open pit mine, and it was fantastic! I loved every minute of it. I loved the work, and the people there. We worked extremely well together. I started out as a mechanical engineer working on reliability issues, then worked on production, then on machinery output.” The company was good at staff development, offering courses and the opportunity to advance, she added, and she “mixed well” with employees, and was well-liked, especially on the shop floor, where she considered other employees’ real life expertise as instructive as her academic training. She even had an octengenarian male mentor. Hers seemed like an unequivocally happy story, so thin on the ground these days.

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The Misguided Push for STEM Diversity

Sometimes it seems as though the most heavily researched, richly funded area of American science today involves studies of why there aren’t more women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and efforts to induce, recruit, and retain more of them.
In her article for Minding the Campus, Susan Pinker deftly punctures the omissions and evasions of the most recent such study, the AAUW’s “Why So Few?”, pointing out how that study’s predictable bogeymen of “stereotyping” and “unconscious bias” denigrate the choices many women freely make.
There is nothing new about this attempt (dare one call it patronizing?) to deny and denigrate women’s choices. A generation ago, for example, in its spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to hold Sears, Roebuck responsible for the “underrepresentation” of women in such jobs as installing home heating and cooling systems, (EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck and Co. 628 F. Supp. 1264 (1986), 839 F.2d 302 (1988)), the EEOC submitted testimony from an expert witness (Alice Kessler Harris, a prominent women’s historian) that discrimination was the only possible explanation for such “underrepresentation” because “where opportunity has existed, women have never failed to take the job offered…. Failure to find women in so-called non-traditional jobs can thus only be interpreted as a consequence of employers’ discrimination.”

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From A Reader

Here’s a letter from a reader addressing some of the travails of technology at her college and the role that they seem to play in the dropout rate:

I went back to college this semester after dropping out 18 years ago for a family obligation.
I came from a wealthy family. My entire family were either professors, teachers or principals, graduating from Washington Univ., Vassar, etc. I strongly believe there are other factors than background. That is too convenient.
This semester, I am still making straight A’s. However, I believe there are other quantifiable factors that force students to drop out, not related to “background”, “race”, “low-economic status”.
I go to a college with a 30% graduation rate who did not give me labs or software that were integral to my classes.

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Creative Destruction In The Academy

At a recent conference on higher education organized by the National Association of Scholars there were several references to Schumpeter’s famous expression “creative destruction”. It was argued that technology was fomenting a change in pedagogy and the delivery of knowledge.
Presumably in an environment of tightening resources, the university as we known it will change and accommodate technologies that alter the university experience. Surely this is occurring to some degree. Computers can be found in the classroom and research has been made easier than the past because of the internet.
But despite an egalitarian spirit on the campus that often puts the instructor in the role of “peer in the rear” or “guide on the side”, or most professors their role is still the “sage on the stage”, standing in front of the room reading from yellowing notes or asking questions Socrates-like to their students.
It is remarkable that the Blackberry, the internet, the cell phone may have changed unalterably social relations and communication, but the university as a system of transmission has remained largely resistant to the dominate themes of technological change. The Academy has certainly not destroyed the conventions of the past, nor created the innovations of the future.

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