Saturday, July 23, 2016

We can be replaced, quatre cinq

No, I'm not reporting the the lack of buoyancy of a certain feline. I'm just unsure of how many posts we've had recently on the subject. Let's see: there was
Making the best of Clinton's new higher-ed plan from Frankie,
Our robo-proffie replacements: What could possibly go wrong?
also from Frankie (perhaps I sense a pattern), so that's un et deux, and there was possibly a third or fourth in there somewhere but I'm too lazy to find it (them), so mine is, well, you know, but it's not even a link to an article, it's to another blog (!) that's how fucking lazy I am right now (and pressed for time, but l prefer to think of myself as lazy than having the busiest summer of my life, because that would just be depressing).

The article: Meat Widgets and the End of College

Flava: This, in short, is a lousy idea.

Commentary: I agree. Good post!

---from OPH (almost too lazy to sign, but not quite)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The linked article makes a very good start on taking apart the plans it reports on, but it doesn't laugh quite enough at the people who suggested the idea.

    The deleted post above, was my immediate reaction to the line "Because skills are only meaningful in social context [...]" which always pisses me off, because while hiring engineers is a social construct, their ability to not kill people is based on understanding objective principle that describe how nature works, and people in my field are in the business of learning and refining those principles. That, too, happens in a social context but it has corrective mechanisms which have historically corrected missteps in very reasonable amounts of time.

  3. Great post. I don't think there's anything wrong with using competency-based checklists, but as a supplement to ensure that we're all covering a basic minimum, not as a replacement for our entire enterprise. And I don't think employers are clamoring to hire people who have bypassed postsecondary education and simply passed a test. In fact, I daresay even the most ardent disruptistas would balk at being cared for by someone who passed the NCLEX-RN but didn't attend a day of nursing school.

  4. I'll start by noting that the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation paid for me to go to grad school, because at the time (mid-late 80s) they were convinced that there would be a shortage of humanities professors starting sometime in the early 90s. I think we all know how that worked out (shortage: not really; jobs: not packaged quite the way they assumed, see the first word of my handle).

    Admittedly, this time it sounds like they're trying to shape policy rather than predict the future. That's probably a somewhat safer endeavor. Nevertheless, I'm still skeptical, for a whole bunch of reasons, many of which have already been covered in the linked article. I'll add the following (which I don't think have been covered yet, but I admit I skimmed a bit):

    --It strikes me that Levine and Smolenski have the problem backward:the problem is not that we measure education by the credit hour. While some of the x-hours rules for mastery guidelines have been debunked or at least questioned, I think we can agree that developing a skill takes practice, usually with some guidance/feedback from a more skilled person (directly, or, yes, maybe, at least at the elementary level, via a computer program that conveys that person's knowledge). The problem, as we often discuss here, is that students aren't being required to put in enough hours (in the classroom, in the form of actual, regular attendance, or outside the classroom, in the form of reading, writing, problem-solving, and other prep/practice) to actually acquire the skill, but are being issued the credential nevertheless. There definitely are some problems with the butts-in-seats measure of learning (including that the butts often aren't in the seats, or they're there, but the attached minds are wandering elsewhere), but a system that further devalues/diminishes/denies the role of time/practice/feedback in creating mastery isn't going to solve those problems. Also, having people learn at their own pace, with individualized programs and feedback, probably would be an even better approach, but doing that well (either directly or at a distance) would be much more expensive than our current more-standardized model.

    --This also strikes me as yet another model that shifts the most visible (and definitely the more decently-paid) labor of education to supervisory functions. They apparently envision investing lots of time and effort (and, of course, money) in coming up with standards -- the DSM-like thing -- and, presumably, ways to test them. Though they don't seem to be acknowledging it, they'll also need to be constantly updating those standards, because they're so closely tied to job skills, and jobs and the skills they require, especially if you define those skills at a micro-level, are changing very rapidly. All of that sounds like yet another huge, unwieldy assessment bureaucracy, a la the ones that are already eating up an increasingly-large piece of the shrinking higher-ed pie (and of course some of this may be outsourced to for-profit businesses, but somebody's going to have to pay for that). I'm seeing very little attention given to how the candidates will actually acquire the skills. This, of course, is the hard part. And it leads me to my third point:

  5. --Smolenski appears to assume that the greater prestige of an Ivy-League degree results from better teaching at the Ivy-League institution. This, of course, is ridiculous; Ivy-League institutions produce impressive graduates by selecting students who are very bright, *and* have learned how to learn, and by providing them with lots of resources but nowhere near the degree of pedagogical structure and support that students who start with fewer advantages do. This, of course, is true of many edureformers/edupreneurs: they assume (because most of them have never taught) that everyone learns like them, more or less independently, with little support, as long as content/equipment resources are available. So they have no idea what the real work of higher-ed teaching, in average conditions -- at a community college, or a directional state u -- actually entails. They either assume it's very simple and predictable (so simple a well-programmed robot could do it), or that it's just a matter of getting the right resources in front of the students (computers, content, etc.) and letting them go (a la what worked for them, and for most of the people they knew in college, before they dropped out of Harvard and made a billion dollars). They have no idea of what the work of teaching average students, with the dizzying variety of strengths, deficits, abilities, disabilities, experiences, gaps in experience, etc., etc. they bring to higher ed, entails. It's fascinating, worthwhile, work, and fortunately there are a reasonable number of us willing to do it, *if* so many resources haven't been siphoned off into assessment, credentialling, and other administration-type activities that (a) there's no money left to pay us a living, maybe even professional-class, wage, and (b) we're expected to do it for so many students at once that we can't possibly deal with the complexities named above, and have to resort to a lowest-common-denominator approach ourselves, or collapse from exhaustion.

    1. And "do"at the end of line 4 above should read "require."

  6. I didn't realize the "Curmudgucation" guy had put out a book. Will have to get a copy.