What is Writing?

Writing is a way to enter into the permanent record everything from your transitory thoughts to your very existence, and no matter how modest a writer may claim his goals to be, on some level he’s doing this for posterity. You write in the unspoken hope that you will become part of the passing parade that was your time. As goals go, you could do a lot worse.

excerpted from Rule #102 from Robert Masello’s Robert’s Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know.

Innovative U: Beginning Notes

Reading The Innovative University by Christensen and Eyring.

I am going to take some notes here.

To a significant degree, colleges and universities have become expensive as a result of attempting to attract the most capable and discerning student-customers, not because of trying to accomodate employees. (xxi) The traditional university is still indispensable. Mastering the challenges and opportunities presented by a fast-paced, global society requires more than just basic technical skill and cognitive competence. Young college students in particular need an environment in which they can not only study but also broaden their horizons and simply “grow up.” (xxiii) [I]t is no longer as important (xxiii) to evidence educational capacity via brick-and-mortar facilities and PhD-trained faculty as to demonstrate student learning. (xxiv)

This last I actually disagree with. I think the argument that this statement alludes to is that PhD folks aren’t important in the new-world-order of higher education. I don’t think that is true–or I don’t think it should be true. I believe that the value-added by PhD professors (folks who have thought long and hard about their fields) is significant, even in an innovatively-disrupted future for higher education.

A disruptive innovation… disrupts the bigger-and-better cycle by bringing to market a product or service that is not as good as the best traditional offerings but is more affordable and easier to use. (xxiv)

Ah, here again, I disagree. I think that online learning (which they reference immediately afterwards) can actually be just as good, even though more affordable. “Easier to use” is a judgment call and I would argue that technology is easier to use in some ways (accessible from even remote areas) but not in others (requires personal discipline that an hour in class 3x a week helps develop).

I also think that some f2f classes (mine, for instance) offers the tutorials and discussion boards that the authors deny match with f2f classes.

[I]nstitutions of higher education must develop strategies that transcend imitation. They must also master the disruptive technology of online learning and make other innovations. (xxvi)

Problem with this statement? I’m looking for rhetorical analysis here. 1. Says cannot imitate. 2. Says must imitate.

What does this mean?

For me, it means the credibility of the authors just dropped a little bit.

…to thrive they must build on what they have always done best. (xxvi)

Two things done well: caring and professional teaching.

What I think that means we need to do is create a system (of online learning, since that seems to be the focus of the book) that takes advantage of those two things.

They (BYU-Idaho) defined scholarship unusually broadly, to include and even emphasize the scholarship of learning. (xxviii)

“competency-based instruction” (xxix)
I like this idea. Students test through subjects and move forward as they learn (or as they show proficiency already obtained). I think our freshman would be shocked–shocked!–by how little they know if we did a proficiency-based movement for classes.

Times of terror and deepest misery may be in the offing. But if any happiness at all is to be extracted from that misery, it can only be a spiritual happiness…-Hermann Hesse

I’ve worried about that possibility myself.

History of movies in the classroom began with German immigrant DeVry (9).

Lectures, for example, were augmented with computer graphics, bu tte lecture itself persisted in its fundamental form. (18)

Podcasts = lectures
Is this bad? Or does the fact that students can download them and listen while they drive or run or play frisbee make a difference?

Until now, American higher education has largely regulated itself, to great effect. US universities are among the most lightly regulated by government. They are free to choose what discoveries to pursue and what subjects to teach, without concern for economic or political agendas. Responsibly exercised, this freedom is a great intellectual and competitive advantage. (19)

I like this. Not sure how likely it is to continue, but I like the fact that they say it is a good thing.

Ideas from Innovative University

“Our challenge is radical reformation” (219).

I am reading through Christensen and Eyring’s The Innovative University. Here are some of the more important notes I took from pages 25-225 and my comments on them.

Innovation: Any student, regardless of classification, could take any course–as long as s/he had prerequisites. (57)

I like this idea. I think that we have mostly moved to this model, but if we haven’t, I think we should.

No Knowledge of Professions:
One iteration of Harvard resulted in students graduating “with no direct knowledge of the professions” (57).

What would work? Internships for writing and research for English? I would like to work on that.

Teaching Instruction:
This would be a good book to have TAs read and discuss prior to teaching.

Westminster (67,68)
compete on basis of quality
raise faculty salaries
add new buildings
student-centered vision of excellence
shifted paradigm from teaching learning using
–measurable college-wide goals
–active, collaborative learning

The president of Westminster, Bassis, said “high-tech/high-touch… is a model that may help many brick-and-mortar institutions increase both their quality and affordability” (qtd 68).

The religious orientation of (LDS) Ricks College led to value-laden curriculum, high social cohesion, and limited discipline problems (79).

I think we’ve been there.

Partial summer opportunity: (at Ricks) led to
more students served
lower cost per student (79)

I like the idea of trying to do summer more.
Block-tuition payment moves us there.
We have to offer required courses in the summer.
Consider cohort effect of summer classes for students enrolling early (summer before fall of freshman year).

“[C]ourse offerings were limited by faculty vacations, making the value of studying in the summer less than advertised” (165).

One issue with Ricks was the professors’ pay. It was held to the same for all professors and so folks didn’t stick around, since they could get better jobs other places. Those who did stay may indeed have stayed for the vacations, since scholarship was not required.

Removing Tenure:
The authors of the book said that Ricks’ lack of tenure led to teaching-oriented faculty, lower costs, and limited scholarly notoriety (79).

I think no tenure leads to instability of faculty, possibility of rapid change (either good or bad), also possible problems with accreditation. (Re: another college I attended and SACS)

President Lowell of Harvard did a research study and found that students were studying less than the faculty thought (81). I’d want to see how the study was done, but it sounds like a good idea.

Lowell recreated collegiality at Harvard by adding dorms and creating “scholars in residence” positions where faculty live in the dorms. This is what UofH has done. I’m not sure I would want to live in a campus dorm, but I think it has the potential to be rewarding.

Extension School: of Harvard
night classes for the community (85)
generated goodwill and incremental income (86)
can be offered online (86)

Breadth in Education:
A liberal [arts] education “aims at producing men who know a little of everything and something well” (Lowell, qtd 88).

This “proved difficult to achieve” (88).

Three challenges to creating breadth:

  1. course creation for uninterested students is difficult
  2. courses were trying to introduce the whole of the discipline (88)
  3. good teachers and scholars did not want to teach the introductory courses (89)

Teaching Track?

“read teaching [was] … delegated to assistants” (82)
This happened at R1s because of the issue of scholarship. Do we want scholars or teachers? We reward scholarship, so we get more scholarship.

How can we reward teaching?

I don’t want online offerings to be “delegated to assistants.” I was thinking perhaps non-tenture track lines, but having more folks who are non-tt means that the tt folks have proportionally more responsibility for committees and service, which also continues to move them away from scholarship.

Idea (written before I went farther in the reading than page 86):
Second track where good teaching is rewarded.
Scholarship of teaching and learning is the focus.
Best practices are shared.
–“Good teaching” cannot be simply defined by student evaluations.

R1s (and scholarship-encouraging institutions) are operating on knowledge discovery “solution shop” AND instruction of students, “value-adding process” (90). “Harvard operates two fundamentally different enterprises under a single corporate roof” (181).

“[T]eaching requires expertise and judgment, it is repetitive, so it can be embedded in standardized curriculum and delivered at reasonably high quality by teachers with less subject matter expertise and scholarly intuition” (90).

This is at least part of the reason why English has non-tt teaching faculty here.

However, it may encourage a two-tier system where PhDs and scholars are at the top and “teaching faculty” are at the bottom. At R1s these are often three-year contracts and those filling these can never become tenured.

Good schools should have a strong record/reputation of teaching.

“the research emphasis… inevitably drew attention away from the classrooms” (115)

“Harvard graduate students and junior faculty, the workhorses of undergraduate instruction, labored under the [accurate] apprehension that, when tenure time came, they would need to find other employment…” (116).

I think summer vacation issues is one reason that creating a “teaching track” might work. Teaching professors would teach two summer classes every summer, but not have any scholarship required. (See p. 165.)

“Because higher pay went to those (at Harvard) with stronger research credentials, teaching and administrative service to the institution could be (and was) seen as financial and even career-threatening liabilities” (175). The parentheses information is mine.

A “culture of tolerance of poor teaching” grew at Harvard (176).

The authors say that the “problem stemmed … from a lack of data on instructional quality” (176). I don’t think this is probably true. I think since teaching wasn’t valued, there was no data on instructional quality.

“divided attention and divided loyalty” due to teaching, publication, grant-writing, service, etc (177)

“By Bok’s time (pres. of Harvard beginning 1971), some scholars considered undergraduate education a diversion from a research university’s central mission” (180).

In the 2005 Carnegie Report, “no attempt is made to measure the quality of what institutions do” (197).

“These schools [those trying to be R1s or move up Carnegie ladder] also suffer to varying degrees from the instructional quality problems… Their undergraduate students encounter more lectures than interactive learning experiences, more part-time and graduate student instructors than tenured professors” (197).

THIS is one way that ACU is exceptional. It is one way that I think ACU’s education is far superior to other universities’ educational offerings. This is something our students don’t necessarily know. (Though I have made a point of telling my freshmen.)

“… the preferred model [R1] … is … encouraged by the … accrediting organizations, academic professional associations, publishers, …” (198).

“Professors originally hired [to teach] … may shoulder more than their share of the teaching load [when the school moves towards a higher Carnegie ranking]” (201).

Lowell (pres. of Harvard) was the one who created the idea of a grading curve where C’s were the predominate grade. (92) And C’s had been the “gentleman’s grade” at Harvard, but that became A’s (93).

Read Excellence Without a Soul by Harry Lewis. Book on grade inflation at Harvard, shows the downsides of promoting excellence through grades.

I believe that the UG Research idea is a move away from promoting excellence through grades.

Spirituality v. Secularism:
Ricks held on to their LDS values. “In this respect, Ricks eschewed an element of traditional university DNA, the tendency to secularism, which first took hold in Harvard in the 1700s” (107).

LDS leading chemist Henry Eyring (great- or grandfather of author) said: “There is a need for added spirituality, of the kind that leads to brotherhood, to go hand in hand with the scientific progress of our kind” (107).

I agree with this.

“The gradual loss of shared [spiritual] values [at Harvard] proved especially costly in the humanities, where knowledge advances via scholarly dialogue rather than the repeatable experiments of the natural sciences” (182).

Ricks’ goal was to “impact the entire Church and its membership worldwide” (225).

“Ironically, a general education curriculum that was too rigid and too difficult to deliver for Harvard students and faculty became the standard for American high schools” (127).

High-growth categories of students:

  1. “at-risk” students (128), needing remediation (204)
    –We have decided not to work with these students much at ACU. We have a one-semester course that is stretched to two semesters for them, but that is all the in-place remediation. We do have the Writing Center and tutorials, etc, but not much in the way of remedial classes anymore.
  2. those paying more than they want (204)
  3. those who can’t afford to go to college (204)

Decisions Harvard made that authors thought were “fateful”:

  1. pedagogy in place that presumes f2f classes (lectures)
  2. abandonment of the confluence of values and rationality (135)

C. Roland Christensen said: “Every student teaches and every teacher learns” (161).
“Because students relate to one another as peers, they can often communicate more effectively than the instructor in class” (162).
“Faith is the most important ingredient in good teaching practice.”
“What my students become is as important as what they learn” (162).


“Even before the market collapse, the university had been living on the edge of its financial means” (189).

“Schools most at risk are the more than 700 … that grant graduate degrees but are not among the 200 elite research institutions identified by the Carnegie Foundation” (195).

“The costs of Carnegie climbing go beyond the loss of unique institutional identity and of focus on the constituencies, especially undergraduates, that institutions were originally chartered to serve” (196).

“[W]hen resources are tight … we must make real, strategic decisions about academic direction” (204).

“institutional and individual frugality … not only financially commendable but also a source of advantage in ‘turbulent times'” (234).

Questions Colleges Need to Ask:
What students will we serve?
What subject matter will we emphasize?
What types of scholarship will we pursue? (198)

Four-year Degree:
Harvard students still get out in 4 years.
Only 35% of students finish in 4 years.
Only 55% finish in 6. (203)

WGU Innovations:
Western Governors’ University

2 innovations:

  1. allows students to learn at own pace
  2. competency-based approach to certification

Full-time faculty specify what a student should know.
Ft faculty develop reliable tests of that knowledge.
Then they license the curriculum from publishers whose support staff help students learn enough to gain certificaton (210).

Ricks College Innovations:

“All students were required to take at least one online class to graduate” (225).

“‘[F]ast track’ majors with emphasis on highly enrolled ones, which would allow a student to make progress to graduation … during traditional summer breaks” (225).

Things I May Not Agree With:
“College education gets more expensive, but it does not get better” (203).
“inherent unprofitability of the collegiate enterprise necessitates restricted enrollment” (134)
pedagogy in place that presumes f2f classes–lectures (135)
The problem of “a culture of tolerance” for poor teaching “stemmed … from a lack of data on instructional quality” (176).

Is this what we want to do?
“Set goals so high that we cannot imagine achieving the results through our existing processes” (Bednar, president, Ricks College, qtd. 225).

Ricks College v BYU

First, I’m obviously not LDS. So I don’t have the respect for their leadership that Eyring does. That may allow me to be more impartial.

Hinckley could have named it BYU-Ricks (227) and gotten all the advantages of the BYU name while keeping the Ricks designation. I think not doing so was a mistake. Who the heck cares if the school is in Idaho if they are doing their classes online anyway?

“The institution will emphasize undergraduate education… Faculty rank will not be a part of the academic structure… BYU-Idaho will operate on an expanded year-round basis, incorporating innovative calendaring and scheduling while also taking advantage of advancements in technology which will enable the four-year institution to serve more students” (228).

“Having considered the full cost of graduate programs and the alternative means for reaping some of their benefits, including engaging BYU-Idaho undergraduate students in mentored research with their professors” meant that they did not add grad offerings to Ricks (232).

They also got rid of competitive athletics (233). (That follows Harvard model, btw.)

We should be excellent scholars, and our scholarship should be focused on the processes of learning and teaching. We will not be a recognized and highly regarded research institution in the traditional sense of that term. We will, however, emphasize a wide range of scholarly endeavors and excel in and play a pioneering role in understanding learning and teaching processes with faith and hard work, and in the process of time. (235)

Harvard has less than 50 majors (235).
Ricks College had 125 associate’s degrees (235).

“undergraduate majors are a powerful driver of increased intellectual and organizational fragmentation as well as financial cost” (236).

They got rid of their athletics department. They added a “student activity” experience. “was funded at one-third the cost of the old athletics budget” (244).

…a student leadership pyramid. …All of the positions would allow students to teach other students. Involving students via what would become known as the student leadership model was significant in two respects. In addition to offering hands-on leadership training beneficial to students in their personal and professional lives, it would also allow for cost-efficient growth. (244)

“internship program created” (245)

“The goals of this internship team were twofold. One was to supplement the new university’s “integrated” bachlor’s degrees. … an integrated degree, one with a major of no more than 45 credit hours, less than the typical 50-plus hours. In addition, the integrated degree required a 24-credit minor or a set of two 12-credit “clusters” in complementary fields. … This would not only solve the problem of limited upper-division offerings but also increase the employability of graduates. The simple, low-cost solution might also be one of higher quality for the ordinary student” (245).

“… seen the value of integrating classroom and workplace-based learning” (246).

Creating internship services for undergraduate students amounted to another alteration of traditional university DNA. … Rather than viewing summers as an opportunity to augment their classroom studies with workplace experiences, they treated them as they did in high school, as vacation time. … recommended that an internship be required as part of each integrated major. Though academic credit would be granted, the requirement would be fulfilled in a student’s semester away from classes. (246)

They also created “an internship office and established formal relationships with major employers” in big cities. (247)

Though valuable to students, the internship program proved expensive to implement. Establishing employer relationships required five full-time administrators to travel heavily… They were often joined by faculty members, who sought to understand what employers wanted and to ensure that the academic curriculum provided it. The university also found it necessary to subsidize students’ travel to the hub cities for hiring interviews. Many students failed to see the value of an internship at all. As the internship program matured, the emphasis shifted from creating new employer relationships to convincing students to take advantage of the opportunities already available. (247)

“learning-driven, student-engaging ethos” (251)

three imperatives of Clark (dean of Harvard Business School, then president BYU-Idaho):

  1. raise quality of student experience
  2. make education available to more students
  3. lower relative cost of education (251)

“Don’t take courses. Take professors.”

Recommendation to create a third true semester.
Three semester calendar created, with faculty teaching year-round except for a short summer break.(254)
–This would only work if scholarship is not required, rewarded, expected.

Lengthened classes to 60 minutes and shortened semesters to 14 weeks. (254)

Six-week block reserved for professional development and personal vacation. (254)
“The faculty would naturally receive a pay increase for the greater workload and the additional weeks worked in what would become the new spring semester” (254).

8 calendars were brought to a faculty vote (254)
Ended with an August break and fall and winter semesters were separated by Christmas/New Year’s break (255).

Faculty was given the option of only teaching two semesters. Most chose to work year-round. (255)

They also added two- and three- credit classes to the late July and early September break times. Faculty (ft or adjunct) were paid per course. “marginal returns far exceeded the costs” (255)

“Incoming students adapted to cohort-equalizing track assignments with little more concern than the faculty had expressed over the year-round contract. It helped that the three semesters were now truly equal in the proffered learning experience” (255).
I think few faculty at a teaching-focused university, as ACU has traditionally been, would balk at a year-round contract, as long as there was a commensurate increase in pay for the additional courses taught.
Learning Model:
5 principles
cycle of preparing to learn, teaching one another, and pondering and proving one’s learning.
“Among the principles that emerged were the simple notions that students are responsible for their own learning and for teaching one another” (258).

“Instructors become responsible for dual competency, master of both the subject matter and the art of conveying it for maximum student learning” (259).

Prepare. Teach one another. Ponder and prove. I like that.

The balance between too much control and too little proved difficult to strike, a problem familiar to those with experience in discussion-based teaching and learning. These challenges highlighted the need for enhanced evaluation of what was occurring in the classroom. … formal assessment of instruction and curriculum had occurred only infrequently. (261)

Comprehensive assessment model evaluation included:

  1. prepared for class
  2. arrived on time
  3. active participant
  4. sought opportunities to share learning outside of class
    The STUDENTS were required to evaluate themselves in this assessment. I like that. I think that is a great method for reminding the students that they are responsible for their own learning.
  5. course provided opportunities to learn from and teach other students
  6. instructor responded respectfully and constructively to student questions and viewpoints (261)

Every three years, the faculty are evaluated three semesters in a row for more information and allowing them to “attempt enhancements” (262).

Students “particularly resist pedagogical changes that create grading uncertainty” (262).
“[C]lassroom learning improved.”

“Effective integration across traditional academic boundaries would be valuable not only to students in their intellectual development and career preparation but also to faculty members in their scholarship” (265).

A Richer World

In this section of Outliers, Gladwell is talking about the fact that public education in the United States WORKS (255-260). 

The public education system is actually quite effective. In our education system, Johnny and Jill can learn to read, if they are in school. 

Based on fairly rigorous research by Karl Alexander, Gladwell says the real problem is our summer vacations. Over summer vacation wealthy students learn a lot. Students in poverty learn almost nothing. Over five years of summer vacation, they don’t even learn enough to raise their reading level a percent. Rich students raise their by 52% over the same amount of time.

I do not believe the answer is to reapportion wealth. But if we are seriously interested in equal opportunity in the United States, then we need to have summer school, at least for the lower SES students–not as a punishment but as a way of enabling them to keep up with the wealthier children.

How are Universities Changing?

Harvard’s President Emeritus has some thoughts on that topic.

1. Education will be more about how to process and use information and less about imparting it. This is a consequence of both the proliferation of knowledge — and how much of it any student can truly absorb — and changes in technology. Before the printing press, scholars might have had to memorize “The Canterbury Tales” to have continuing access to them. This seems a bit ludicrous to us today. But in a world where the entire Library of Congress will soon be accessible on a mobile device with search procedures that are vastly better than any card catalog, factual mastery will become less and less important.

Point 2 is on collaboration.
Point 3 covers technology.
Point 4 discusses why active learning is on the rise.
Point 5 is on globalization.
Point 6 is on analysis of data.

Note that there is nothing here on reading, writing, or memorizing. Do we still need these things? Yes. Our students need to be able to read to access that information from the Library of Congress. Our students need to be able to write to collaborate permanently. Our students need to perhaps not memorize, but to understand concepts and be able to apply them, which sometimes requires memorization.

Overall I would say that the author is correct.

And I would also say that ACU is on track for teaching our students all of these things.

Mirrored from my professional blog, Teaching College English.

Becoming a Genius

In the section of Outliers dealing with KIPP and math, Gladwell says several things which, while they may seem unrelated here, seem to me to imply a quilting of implications.

Willingness to keep working?
First he said that being good at math is a function of success and willingness to keep working (246).

Students who are willing to keep working, trying to figure out what it is that needs to be done, are more likely to succeed. That success makes them more likely to be willing to work on a problem even longer the next time.

Math geniuses, like my eldest son, are folks who are willing to sit and fiddle with a math question for twenty or thirty minutes, trying to figure out how it should work. I know that my eldest does this. I have seen him do it.

A Little Light Reading

Most academics like to read. Most English professors (or those who want to be) enjoy reading and writing about reading and reading about reading and reading about writing… Sometimes the merry-go-round goes round so much you want to puke.

Here is a suggestion for academics that provides a strategy for getting hold of a subject and one which has blessed my life (though it may not be visible in my publications) as you can see on TCE by following old sets of threads.

The post:

Mangojuice, you mentioned that you were going to do some reading over the summer.  Here’s a suggestion (it was one of the most helpful assignments I got early in grad school):

Choose a minor work that you know reasonably well, and read everything published on it in the last 25-50 years (keeping the amount manageable is why you choose a minor work). 

As you read, take note of the following:

What are the major issues that have been addressed in the scholarship?  
What are the major differences in interpretation represented in the scholarship?
What are the major differences in theoretical approach represented?  
What are the trends in interpretation/theoretical approach over the time period you’re reading?
Given what’s gone before, what seem to be the most knotty unsolved issues and the best questions for future research?

In doing this, you’re not looking for specific evidence to support an argument you already have in mind, but getting an overview of the scholarly conversation on the work and seeing where you might usefully enter that conversation.

Also, notice the range in quality of published work.  Which scholars do you admire most, and what qualities does that research and writing have?  How far from producing that kind of work are you right now?

I learned a tremendous amount from this exercise.  It was both humbling (because of the articles I would have given a limb to have written) and encouraging (even early in grad school, I could have written some of the stuff I read).  I ended up both knowing that I could certainly publish someday and knowing I had a long way to go to be able to publish the kind of work I wanted to publish.

caesura. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2454.” 22 April 2011, chronicle.com,www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2445.html.

D = Deliberative Practice

“Deliberative practice is characterized by a high degree of focused effort to develop specific skills and concepts beyond one’s current abilities” (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 39).

Students (and perhaps faculty too) often mistake practice for deliberative practice.

Our memories have limited capacity, so we can’t learn too much at one time. Therefore we need to chunk information–for ourselves and for our students.

“Over time, engaging in deliberative practice changes people’s knowledge organization, making it more specialized for the tasks they regularly face” (43).

That is an interesting aspect of the idea of deliberative practice and may help students understand why they have to have another writing class when they have been writing for the last 12 years in school.

Deliberative practice, however, doesn’t take place during the meaningful activity itself. This means if we want students to practice changing their sentences for style (a fairly basic point), they should be practicing BEFORE they write their next essay. How do we add that to the curriculum?

Obviously exercises, where we provide the sentences and they change them, would work. But then they aren’t their writings.

Maybe start there. Then have students find a paragraph they have already written and have them change it. Then perhaps incorporate the exercise into a standard class exercise, like the four-minute writing at the beginning of each class session.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair.