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Anyone who’s ever taught a class knows some students say more than others. And most professors eventually develop some way of encouraging quieter students to contribute. In one more formal discussion-management technique, called progressive stacking, professors call on students who may be -- for a variety of reasons -- less likely to have their say. While every student is different, the reasons typically reflect the implicit biases observed outside the classroom, such as those related to race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability status. So, according to progressive stacking, a professor would call on a black or Latina woman before a white man, for example.
There’s the rub, at least in one class at the University of Pennsylvania. Stephanie McKellop, a graduate teaching assistant in history there, says she is under attack by fringe-right groups for using progressive stacking in her classes and then tweeting about it. Worse, she says, the university is cowing to such groups instead of supporting her. She’s claimed on social media that her classes were canceled this week and she may be asked to leave her program.
Here's some of what McKellop tweeted earlier this week. Her social media accounts are private, but the posts have since been shared by her supporters, some of whom have contacted Penn on her behalf. The trouble apparently began with a post in which she wrote, "I will always call on my black women students first. Other [people of color] get second-tier priority. [White women] come next. And, if I have to, white men." In a later post, she wrote, "Penn thinks I'm racist and discriminatory towards my students for using a very well worn pedagogical tactic which includes calling on [people of color]."
Steven J. Fluharty, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, refuted some of those claims in a statement Thursday, saying that McKellop has not been removed from her program and that Penn has “and will continue to respect and protect the graduate student’s right to due process.”
Penn knows and values the “importance of ensuring that students in groups that were historically marginalized have full opportunity to participate in classroom discussions,” Fluharty added. “Penn is strongly committed to providing respectful work and learning environments for all members of our community.”
Yet Fluharty seemed to validate McKellop’s claim that Penn has taken issue with her teaching style, saying that Penn is “looking into the current matter involving a graduate student teaching assistant to ensure that our students were not subjected to discriminatory practices in the classroom and to ensure that all of our students feel heard and equally engaged.”
McKellop did not immediately respond to an interview request Thursday. A spokeswoman for Penn said that McKellop has not been barred from teaching, but she provided no further details. McKellop’s adviser did not respond to a request for comment.
A number of academics expressed support for McKellop on social media and for progressive stacking. In general, it doesn't mean excluding men or white students from conversations, or forcing underrepresented students to talk. Instead, it means calling on students who want to talk in the reverse order that one might predictably do so, based on social biases.
Jessie Daniels, a professor of sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said progressive stacking has been around at least since she was in graduate school in the 1990s. She still uses it informally, to right her own tendency to call on men more frequently than women.
“If I have a class of 40 students, since Hunter is predominantly young women, I may have four or five young men in class,” Daniels said. “There’s still implicit bias, where we value men’s voices more than women’s voices, or men’s voices are deeper and carry more in a class. So I’m always trying to overcome my own bias to pick on men in class more than the women.”
As to whether purposely asking a woman to answer a question over a man was a kind of discrimination, Daniels said, “That gets it the wrong way around. This is a way of dealing with discrimination that we as professors can introduce into the classroom. It’s a good strategy, if you can do it.”
Daniels said she thought that the online backlash against McKellop seemed ripped from the “playbook” of the far right, which has attacked numerous professors involved in issues of race in recent months. Worse still, she said, McKellop, as a graduate student, is a particularly vulnerable target.
Cathy Davidson, director of the Futures Initiative at CUNY’s Graduate Center, has long advocated for inclusive teaching methods, including via the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory, which she co-founded. Davidson said Thursday that she didn’t particularly like progressive stacking, and that other methods seem “far better to me than making judgments on others’ privilege.”
Davidson instead recommended "inventory" methods that require participation by all students in the classroom, such as thoughtful "exit tickets" from a session, think-pair-share exercises or asking everyone to write down and then share a memorable sentence from a given reading.
Daniels said she didn’t know how pervasive progressive stacking is, but underscored that it’s nothing new. As for the situation at Penn specifically, Daniels said it would be unfortunate for the university to punish someone trying to “uphold its values. It would be a very misguided step on the part of Penn.”Academic FreedomTeaching and LearningEditorial Tags: Academic freedomGraduate studentsImage Caption: Stephanie McKellopIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday announced a proposed settlement with a website whose "military-friendly" rankings of colleges and universities allegedly promoted institutions that paid to be included.
Victory Media runs a number of magazines and websites targeting service members and their families and operates a tool and rankings to help prospective students find the right postsecondary program. But the FTC found that those publications basically functioned as paid advertisements for institutions.
Under the terms of the settlement, Victory is required to prominently disclose to readers that its rankings are paid endorsements. No financial penalty was included in the order, but each violation could result in a fine of up to $40,654.
“Service members and their families put themselves on the line every day to protect our nation,” the acting FTC chairwoman, Maureen K. Ohlhausen, said in a statement. “We owe it to them to make sure that when they look to further their education, they get straight talk instead of advertising in disguise.”
The proposed settlement is open to public comment for 30 days. The commission will decide whether to finalize it after Nov. 20.
Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, said the group plans to monitor Victory Media websites and publications closely to make sure they comply with the terms of the settlement. VES documented the alleged deceptive promotions in a 2016 report. That report found that for-profit colleges, in particular, paid for exposure to service members through Victory's "military-friendly" designation.
Wofford said further steps should be taken by military installations, including the removal of Victory's "military-friendly schools" list and its GI Jobs magazine -- which includes education, transition, and job assistance for veterans -- from bases and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.
"It’s terrible for VA and DOD to be taken in by what FTC has now exposed as a fraudulent pay-to-play scheme," she said.
Wofford also said Congress should take action to reinstate GI Bill benefits for defrauded veterans.
Suzanne Treviño, a Victory Media spokeswoman, said the company had fully assisted the FTC and addressed every concern by the commission.
"GI Jobs readers benefit by learning more about different higher-level educational institutions that can help them transition from military to civilian life," she said. "Victory Media, a service-disabled veteran-owned business, looks forward to continuing to advocate for military-friendly schools and employers because we want to make life better for veterans."Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: Financial aidMilitary educationVeteransIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Robots are taking over the world (and the job market). Majoring in anything but a science or engineering discipline is foolhardy. A humanities or social science degree will get you a great job -- as a barista.
Read enough internet headlines and all of those might seem not only feasible but inevitable. But like many sweeping, future-looking statements, those and other proclamations about the decline and fall of the liberal arts should be taken with a truckload of salt.
George Anders's You Can Do Anything (Little, Brown and Company) is the latest book (others here and here) to make the case that students (and colleges and universities) should not shun the liberal arts. While designed mostly to help students arm themselves for the world of work -- Anders, a contributing writer at Forbes, brings a consumer focus to You Can Do Anything -- the book's use of job-market data and plentiful anecdotes about students, institutions and programs will probably prove compelling to career services administrators, faculty members and anyone else hoping to encourage a liberal arts major they know.
Via email, Anders answered questions about the book, which follow.
Q: You Can Do Anything is among a set of new books that challenge the prevailing narrative that technology and artificial intelligence threaten to make the liberal arts and they skills they build irrelevant. Yours doesn’t run from job or salary data to make that case, but cites them directly to make the case that the “new pessimism” about those fields is “out of step with what broad economic data tell us.” How so?
A: A close look at the data shows good news on two fronts. First, the U.S. economy has created at least 626,000 jobs -- and perhaps as many as 2.3 million -- since 2012 in what I’m broadly calling “the rapport sector” or the “empathy economy.” These arise in areas such as project management, digital marketing, graphic design and genetic counseling. Such work not only pays quite decently; it also requires an ability to solve problems by understanding different points of view. This work is tailor-made for liberal arts graduates.
Second, broad-based earnings data from PayScale, a Seattle labor-research firm, shows that many liberal arts majors achieve strong midcareer incomes even if they start slowly at first. It’s a mistake to focus only on starting salaries, which highlight the short-term value of preprofessional degrees in fields such as nursing or accounting. Take the longer view, and you’ll find that philosophy or political science majors pull ahead after a decade or so. Their midcareer earnings average about $80,000 a year, noticeably ahead of RNs or CPAs.
Q: You compare analysis of the job market in today’s environment to studying the topography of Hawaii’s Big Island, where volcanic eruptions constantly alter the coastline, with new fields cropping up that “prize the strengths that emerge from a robust liberal arts curriculum: curiosity, discernment, adaptability and a prepared-for-everything gusto that can turn chaos into triumph.” You make the case that while technological change may be driving the emergence of these new fields, many of the needed positions are what you call “bridge-building jobs” that marry C. P. Snow’s “two cultures.” Can you explain this phenomenon?
A: The eye-opener for me involved a series of visits to OpenTable, the online restaurant-reservation company. It makes much of its money selling customer-behavior data to restaurants. OpenTable needs only 14 data experts to crunch the numbers nationwide, but getting restaurateurs to accept and embrace these findings is much more challenging.
So OpenTable employs more than 100 restaurant relations managers to fan out across the U.S. with iPads, meeting the proud, prickly people who run high-end restaurants and suggesting ways of putting this data to use. Many of these specialists happen to have majored in English, psychology or similar nontechnical fields in college. Small wonder; the key skill in such jobs involves a knack for lucid communication and an ability to win the restaurateur’s trust. Such jobs are quite new; they didn’t exist a decade ago. And they bear out the notion that rapid advances in software are creating huge demand for people who can humanize tech in ways that make it usable (and even appealing) for the rest of us.
Q: We are in an era in which “success” (for students, academic programs, colleges and universities) is increasingly being judged by short-term job outcomes and incomes. Parents of current and prospective students, especially, seem to be focused on that, to the point that counselors for low-income high school students tell me they often hear parents pushing their children into business and vocational fields over the humanities and social sciences. Yet you advise readers of your book that “the greatest payoff for your college education is likely to be years away, perhaps in your fourth job, perhaps in your seventh.” Will students and parents be that patient? Will the politicians and policy makers who are devising accountability systems (which often focus on short-term outcomes)?
A: This quandary worries me. Other countries admire America’s creativity, which comes largely from giving people room to roam around a lot in their educations and in their careers. Yet we seem to have lost confidence in one of our greatest strengths. We’re wanting higher education to be a source of career stability -- when it’s actually much more valuable as a source of career mobility.
It’s important to acknowledge how much the student-debt explosion has shortened people’s time horizons. A lot of the exciting, meandering career paths that I describe are a lot more feasible if you’re not one missed paycheck away from financial ruin. I’m glad to see that some (well-off) colleges are making it easier for students with limited means to graduate with little debt. A bigger rethink of higher education finances is needed, so that the freedom to explore doesn’t seem like an unaffordable luxury.
Q: Why do defenders of the liberal arts and nonvocational higher education struggle so much to explain the value of terms like “critical thinking”? Can you describe the analysis you undertook to try to improve on those arguments? And in a (partially) related question, do you believe there are labeling problems with terms like that and “liberal arts”?
A: Within academia, critical thinking is celebrated as a process. That resonates poorly with employers -- whose world is defined by results, results, results -- even though they want what critical thinking can accomplish. We’ve got a translation problem on our hands. To illuminate this, and to offer a way out, I rounded up thousands of job ads from big employers (Apple to Allstate) that asked for “critical thinking” and paid at least $100,000. Poring through them, I found five ways that the abstractions of critical thinking get translated into the realities of employers’ needs. The key elements: a willingness to work in uncharted areas, the analytic skills needed to generate strong insights, expert decision making, a knack for reading the room and persuasive communication.
The more that liberal arts graduates can demonstrate that their time with diphthongs or Descartes has imbued them with these five skills, the easier it will be to impress potential employers.
I started this book with the belief that the “liberal arts” name encapsulated so many valuable strengths that recent labeling anxieties could be overcome. I haven’t abandoned that view, but I’m open to alternatives.
Q: Are colleges and universities as a collective group doing enough to prepare their graduates for a life of work? Are they (and should they be) focusing more on long-term rather than short-term skills and competencies? To what extent are the campus career services improvements that you highlight at places like Wake Forest, Brigham Young, Indiana and Rutgers Newark representative of broader trends or outliers? And to what extent is workplace readiness a domain of the faculty (and appropriately embedded in the curriculum) as opposed to a co-curricular matter best left to career services?
A: Each academic department is its own story, but the message from student enrollment trends is stark. Academic disciplines that are seen as career useful will attract more students. Ones that are seen as career useless will atrophy. Fortunately, it’s possible to celebrate learning for its own sake and weave in a sufficient amount of career readiness, too. BYU’s initiatives with Humanities Plus are exemplary. Career services departments alone can’t carry the whole load, but I’m impressed with the way that a single career class -- or more active bridges to recent grads in the work force -- can help current students in any discipline graduate with a good shot at a collegeworthy job.
Solutions are embryonic but developing rapidly. In the book, I chose to highlight schools making rapid progress, with the hope that good habits will spread. We still have a lot of faculty that are puzzled, brittle and defensive about what it takes to get a job in the real world -- and we can’t turn all of them into part-time career counselors. But I came away convinced that young-alumni networks are a vital, untapped resource. Recent grads know how to get that first job, and they’re eager to share. I’d like to see alumni-relations offices spend less time hunting for giant donations and more time fostering life-changing connections that span the graduation-day divide. This can be hugely helpful for first-generation students, who might arrive on campus with less social capital than their peers -- but who shouldn’t leave that way.
Q: Is the current disdain/lack of respect for the liberal arts a momentary or a permanent condition -- and if the latter, is it serious enough to degrade them such that we see them vanish for all but the privileged?
A: Ah, the ultimate dystopian scenario! I’ll take the challenge. Even in the bleakest future, people’s desire to learn can’t ever be crushed. I’m imagining a noisy cybercafé, full of degenerates playing first-person shooter games, in which a few patrons slip into a back room, bolt the door and draw the curtains. They are janitors, hospital orderlies and nannies by day. But at night, it’s a different story. One of them pulls out a tattered copy of Rousseau’s The Social Contract. And the spirit of intellectual discourse takes hold again.Editorial Tags: Liberal artsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
WASHINGTON -- Survivor advocates who have repeatedly claimed they were shut out of a process to shift existing federal policy on campus sexual assault gathered outside the Department of Education's headquarters Thursday to raise their voices on the issue.
Nearly a month after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded 2011 Obama administration guidelines on handling charges of campus assaults, advocates held a vigil to protest the rollback of those federal policies and to show continued support for survivors of assault. A crowd of between 100 and 150 gathered to hear statements from fellow survivors and declare their resolve in pushing back against the new direction under DeVos.
Survivor advocates say the 2011 guidance pushed colleges and universities to take sexual assault seriously for the first time by making clear their responsibilities to investigate and adjudicate claims of sexual misconduct. Jess Davidson, the managing director of End Rape on Campus and an organizer of the vigil, said in an interview that the Thursday event was a demonstration to survivors that advocates would not let the issue fall to the wayside.
"We were really seeing that survivors across the country were just feeling devastated. We were getting calls from clients who didn't know if they should stay in school or what this meant for their cases," Davidson said of reactions to the rescinding of the Obama-era guidelines. "We wanted to take a minute to honor and recognize what survivors are feeling right now."
Davidson said activists have seen success pushing campus leaders to maintain existing policies since DeVos rescinded the Obama guidance and issued new interim guidance to colleges and universities. Davidson said the secretary has yet to seriously incorporate the needs of survivors in her decision making.
"There is a really consistent pattern here where DeVos is locking survivors and survivor advocates out of the room and so they take to the streets," she said.
Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department, said DeVos has been focused on bringing all voices to the table in discussing campus assault policies. "To say that anyone has been kept out of the conversation is just false," she said. "The secretary and the Office for Civil Rights has met with numerous survivors and their advocates."
Hill said DeVos has said repeatedly that campus assault must be confronted head-on but that accused students must also know guilt is not predetermined. "Unfortunately, under the previous administration’s directives, too many students were being failed by the system that was in place to adjudicate these horrific cases," she said.
Laura Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice, one of the group's involved in organizing the vigil, told attendees Thursday night that serious work is ahead for advocates of survivors. But she said they are organized in a way they were not before the Obama administration issued its guidelines.
"I remember distinctly how alone I felt as a survivor on campus," she said. "Look around you -- none of us are alone right now."Editorial Tags: Sexual assaultImage Caption: Vigil at Education DepartmentAd Keyword: Campus AssaultIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Bates, T. (ed.) (2017) Tracking Online and Distance Education in Canadian Universities and Colleges: 2017 Vancouver BC: The National Survey of Online and Distance Education in Canadian Post-Secondary Education.
The anglophone version of the public report, as well as the full technical report, is now available for free downloading (Click on the title above or onlinelearningsurveycanada.ca – you will be asked for your e-mail address and a password).
The francophone version of the public report will be available on October 27 from https://formationenlignecanada.ca
Key findings of the report are:
- Canada is a ‘mature’ online learning market: almost all Canadian colleges and universities now offer online courses and many have been doing so for 15 years or more;
- there is at least one institution in every province that offers online courses or programs;
- online enrolments have expanded at a rate of 10%-15% per annum over the last five years;
- online learning now constitutes between 12%-16% of all post-secondary teaching for credit;
- online learning courses can be found in almost all subject areas;
- online learning is providing students with increased access and greater flexibility;
- two-thirds of Canadian post-secondary institutions see online learning as very or extremely important for their future plans
- most institutions have or are developing a strategy or plan for online learning
- LMSs are used in almost every institution, but no particular brand dominates the Canadian market
- a wide range technologies are being used with or alongside the LMS,the most predominant (over half the institutions) being online conferencing/webinar technologies, video-streaming and print;
- OER are used in just under half of all institutions but moderately and open textbooks in less than 20%
- there was no or little use reported of learning analytics, AI applications or competency-based learning, although tracking such use is difficult, as they are instructor- rather than institution-driven
- hybrid learning (defined as a reduction in classroom time replaced by online learning activities) is widespread in terms of institutions, but low in use in most institutions (less than 10% of classes), although again this is not easily tracked; however, it was reported to lead to innovative teaching;
- MOOCs were delivered in less than 20% of institutions in the 12 months prior to the survey, and one third reported they did not intend to offer MOOCs in the future
- the main benefits of online learning were seen as:
- increased access/flexibility
- increased enrolments
- more innovative teaching;
- the main barriers were seen as:
- lack of resources (particularly learning technology support staff)
- faculty resistance
- lack of government support (reported most in Québec and least in Ontario);
- there were difficulties in obtaining reliable online course enrolment data: most institutions are not systematically tracking this and there are variations between provinces;
- the report ends by recommending a standard system for reporting on digital learning.
The report deliberately does not draw out any implications or make any value judgements. Readers should draw their own conclusions. However here are my personal thoughts on the results, and these do not necessarily reflect those of the rest of the team:
- smaller institutions (below 2,000 students) found lack of resources particularly difficult and were less likely to offer online courses: what could be done to provide better support for such institutions that want to offer more online teaching?
- government support to institutions for online learning varied widely from province to province, and this showed in the figures for enrolment and for innovative teaching: some provinces may need to reconsider their policies and support for online learning or they will fall further behind other provinces in online provision for students
- many institutions are in the process of developing strategies or plans for online learning: what worked and what did not work in those institutions that already have plans in place that could help inform those institutions now still developing plans in this area?
This report would not have been possible without the support of many different organizations which are listed in the report itself. In particular, though, we are indebted to the staff in all the institutions who responded to the survey.
This is the first national snapshot of online and distance learning for both colleges and universities in Canada but its value will be much enhanced by a more longitudinal set of studies. The research team is working with potential sponsors to establish a stronger organizational structure, more secure long-term funding, and a more representative steering committee for the survey. I will be reporting back as these developments evolve.
In the meantime, thanks to everyone who helped make this report a reality.