(grad)student-faculty interaction

Notre Dame loves to make videos. They are currently working on a series about graduate students’ experiences on campus and I had a meeting with the production company today to discuss one of the videos, a segment focused on (grad)student-faculty interaction. As great as the meeting was, I left feeling incredibly discouraged about the state of (grad)student-faculty interaction and wondering what, if anything, can be done to change it.

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the chronicle’s wasted opportunity

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a reader contest recently, inviting readers to design their ideal college, from the ground up. The results are here (sorry for the paywall).

This could have been a great opportunity to rethink what’s best and worst about current higher education. (In truth, I thought about suggesting a scatterplot combined entry but didn’t get around to it.) It sure didn’t turn out that way! The five finalists include three that are just silly: proposals like “Costco University” in which “delivery” is the final say and there is literally no institutional capacity – everyone does what she can raise money for and nothing more.

Most importantly, though, there’s no real consideration on the synergies involved in the contemporary university: research and teaching, humanities and sciences, basic and applied, undergraduate and graduate, as examples. The proposals are largely about undergraduate education, isolated from all the other functions of the university. And they are focused on the things that make liberal-arts colleges (justifiably) proud: small classes, global focus, broad thought. But even if these are the kinds of things that make all higher education better (I’m not convinced they are) they’re certainly not feasible on the scale of today’s higher education.

students helping students.

As academics we know that the way that a class goes, how much students get out of a class, and their evaluation of the course or the material depends heavily on the students themselves. How much effort do they put in? Are they prepared to learn? Do they contribute to discussions and take the material and assignments seriously? What are their previous experiences and biases? Despite the student-centeredness of learning, most of us grossly neglect student insight. When we do ask for it, it takes the form of evaluations – of our classes and teaching, which can devolve into fashion critiques – where we (our teaching, our course) are the focus.

I wanted to briefly introduce two way that I turn the spotlight to the students themselves and then use student insight to improve my courses (and students’ experiences in them) without (necessarily) having to make a single change of my own.

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access to what?

As a result of the recession and the Republican takeover of the NC legislature, the UNC system has taken–and is expecting more–major cuts to its state appropriation. Unlike some other public flagships, notably Michigan and Virginia, UNC is very much a state school and we are very dependent on that state money to remain high quality, public, and accessible. UNC tuition remains very low compared to peers, but far from negligible. Continue reading “access to what?”