College Writing, Learning, Pedagogy

Writing for College and Beyond Book Site Up

One of the benefits of using Bright Futures Educational Consulting for help with your or your child’s college application process is that I’m a published author and experienced college writing instructor who now has a first-year writing textbook out: Writing for College and Beyond.

Bright Futures Publishing is providing marketing and administrative support for the first-year writing textbook Writing for College and Beyond (Lulu Press, 2019). Contact Bright Futures Publishing for desk or review copies, and check out the book webpages for more information, including links to ordering information, the table of contents, the book flyer, testimonials, and a list of special feature.

Writing for College and Beyond is a new kind of first-year writing text, one that emphasizes connections between the writing students do in typical English composition classes and their future business and professional careers. It’s also fully customizable for departmental or group orders. Contact Bright Futures Publishing for more information.

Educational Consulting, Learning, Pedagogy

Understanding Course Evaluations

At the end of almost every college course, almost all colleges and universities in the United States have students fill out a student course evaluation, in which students fill out a form that gives the school their feedback about the class, the instruction, and the textbook. There are a recent interesting studies out examining their effectiveness, including one study out of UC Berkeley evaluating the validity of student course evaluations in measuring teaching effectiveness. The results are similar to the results of the many other studies conducted in the past: student course evaluations are not reliable indicators of teacher effectiveness:

Student ratings of teaching have been used, studied, and debated for almost a century. This article examines student ratings of teaching from a statistical perspective. The common practice of relying on averages of student teaching evaluation scores as the primary measure of teaching effectiveness for promotion and tenure decisions should be abandoned for substantive and statistical reasons: There is strong evidence that student responses to questions of “effectiveness” do  not measure teaching effectiveness. Response rates and response variability  matter. And comparing averages of categorical responses, even if the categories  are represented by numbers, makes little sense. Student ratings of teaching are valuable when they ask the right questions, report response rates and score distributions, and are balanced by a variety of other sources and methods to evaluate teaching.

What do student course evaluations measure, then? The authors of this study summarize the findings of previous studies here:

  • Student teaching evaluation scores are highly correlated with students’ grade expectations (Marsh and Cooper 1980; Short et al. 2012; Worthington 2002). WHAT THIS MEANS:
    • If you’re an instructor and want high course evaluations, pass out As like candy.
    • Adjunct instructors, having the least job security and the most job retention anxiety, are most likely to inflate grades to get high course evaluations.
    • Net result: over-reliance on adjunct instructors and on student course evaluations to evaluate teachers leads to grade inflation and low course rigor; i.e., poor educational quality.
  • Effectiveness scores and enjoyment scores  are related. In a pilot of online course evaluations in the UC Berkeley Department of Statistics in Fall 2012, among the 1486 students who rated the instructor’s overall effectiveness and their enjoyment of the  course on a 7-point scale, the correlation between instructor effectiveness and course enjoyment was 0.75, and the correlation between course effectiveness and course enjoyment was 0.8.
    • WHAT THIS MEANS: If students enjoyed the course, they will rate it highly. But enjoyment by itself isn’t a measure of learning. The instructor may just be a good performer.
    • Conversely, lack of enjoyment doesn’t mean the student didn’t learn. The types of assessments and activities that promote long term retention, in fact, lead to low course evaluations. The practices that students like the least actually help them learn and retain the most. See the link right above.
  • Students’ ratings of instructors  can be predicted from the students’ reaction to 30 seconds of silent video of the instructor: first impressions may dictate end-of-course evaluation scores, and physical attractiveness matters (Ambady and Rosenthal 1993).
    • WHAT THIS MEANS: student course evaluations are, more than anything else, superficial measures of instructor popularity rather than teaching effectiveness.
  • Gender, ethnicity, and the instructor’s age matter (Anderson and Miller 1997;  Basow 1995; Cramer and  Alexitch 2000; Marsh and Dunkin 1992;  Wachtel 1998; Weinberg et al. 2007; Worthington 2002).
    • WHAT THIS MEANS: student course evaluations are, at worst, racist, elitist, ageist, and sexist superficial measures of instructor popularity.

So how do we rate teaching effectiveness? I’d recommend the following:

  • Worry less about evaluating the teacher for promotion and focus on gauging effectiveness for the sake of seeking out the most effective strategies for that specific student population.
  • Rely in part on peer evaluations — teachers in the field conducting this evaluation. Field specific knowledge matters, as teaching isn’t just a matter of technique, but of careful selection of content.
  • We still do want to hear from students, of course, so use course evaluation tools that focus on teaching effectiveness, such as those provided by the IDEA Center.

Just for the record, I’ve always been an engaging instructor who generally gets high course evaluations, so I’m not worried about myself here. I am, however, worried about how effectively students are being educated. Reliance on student course evaluations, at present, is working against educational quality.

You can read the study below:

Cost of Degree, Educational Consulting, Majors and Areas of Study, Pedagogy, Understanding the Market

Podcast: James Rovira and the Anazoa Educational Project on Punkonomics

I’ve blogged quite a bit about a number of higher education topics, but what’s my own vision for higher education? I spent some time with Dr. Beni Balak, Professor of Economics at Rollins College, on the phone for his Punkonomics podcast to discuss the Anazoa Educational Project and my vision for higher education. Follow the link to listen to the podcast.

Avoiding Student Loan Debt, Cost of Degree, Understanding the Market

How We Used to Fund College

A number of presidential candidates are floating the idea of “tuition-free college.” I’d like to put that into historical context.

My father, who is in his 80s, only had to pay $9.00 a term to attend college at CCNY back in his day. He could easily pay that out of pocket with his part time job. In today’s dollars, that would be equivalent to paying about $90 for a full semester of coursework, or four or five classes. Not $90 per class, but $90 per semester, or about $18-$22 per class.

Do you really think that $9.00/term tuition covered the cost of running the college? Of course not. It was that cheap because the City of New York was funding it.

So when Bernie Sanders says he wants “tuition free” college, he’s just trying to set up the same system his generation had when it went to college. The same system that existed through the 40s, 50s, 60s, and the 70s most places. It’s not about getting free stuff, or not pulling your weight, but about setting up a system that actually works, like the system we had back in the 50s.

Why did the City of New York end tuition free college? Not because it couldn’t afford it. It was a political move. According to The University Against Itself (Temple UP, 2008), New York University, an expensive private institution in New York City, lobbied with city government to end state tuition so that it could be more competitive for students. The issue wasn’t financial, or that the system wasn’t working, or that New York City residents didn’t like it. It was purely political, and the politicians working now to reverse this situation are sensibly trying to work a political fix for a problem that was political to begin with.

If you graduated before college in 2008, you had a lower debt to income ratio than any college student afterwards did. If you graduated college before 1990, it was much, much lower. It’s not just about “individual responsibility” when a predatory system has been set up to trap people doing something they need to live.

Educational Consulting, Learning, Majors and Areas of Study, Return on Investment, Understanding the Market

Podcast: Are College Students Being Prepared for the Workforce?

Have you enjoyed my blogging about workforce preparation and college education? If you like listening to podcasts, I was interviewed by Tim Muma about that topic on LJN Radio.