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Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010
With the pension report and its dissent now posted, the California Professor concludes, at the end of a helpful analysis, that "these proposals are an effort to replace the furloughs with permanent cuts in total compensation." The Daily Cal summarizes the decline narrative, and includes the kind of odd sound bites that often emerge from our UC Oakland non-campus.  A Senate friend who helped draft the Dissenting Statement wrote in to explain why some of the presidential pension math I criticized is indeed correct. His comment starts below the jump.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010
UPDATE: The Report of the Post Employment Benefits Task Force has now been posted.
So has the 10-page "Dissenting Statement" (without appendicies).

Mark Yudof has released a statement about the Task Force report on the UC pension system that has itself not yet been make public.   The Yudof  message contains perfectly OK principles regarding pension attractiveness and stability, and also some information about cost issues.  I read through it wondering why President Yudof was jumping the gun.  A paragraph towards the end prompted a theory.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010
by Michael O'Hare, professor of public policy

Welcome to Berkeley, probably still the best public university in the world. Meet your classmates, the best group of partners you can find anywhere. The percentages for grades on exams, papers, etc. in my courses always add up to 110% because that's what I've learned to expect from you, over twenty years in the best job in the world.

That's the good news. The bad news is that you have been the victims of a terrible swindle, denied an inheritance you deserve by contract and by your merits. And you aren't the only ones; victims of this ripoff include the students who were on your left and on your right in high school but didn't get into Cal, a whole generation stiffed by mine. This letter is an apology, and more usefully, perhaps a signal to start demanding what's been taken from you so you can pass it on with interest.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
By Michael Meranze

As some of you may have seen, the Goldwater Institute has issued a new report on administrative bloat in universities.  Not surprisingly, the report points to the incredible growth of administrators (relative to faculty, students, and staff) over the last decade and a half.  But there are several things that should give us pause--especially since their way of framing the subject is gaining traction in public debates.  For one thing, as the chief author Jay Greene has admitted, the report has an extraordinarily elastic definition of administration--to include among other categories: librarians, student counselors, music directors, etc.  More importantly, the report assumes that the reason why there has been administrative growth is because of increased public funding (or "subsidies" as they prefer to call it).  No evidence is provided for such a correlation (and indeed the privates have grown administratively more quickly than the publics) and indeed it seems to have escaped the author's attention that public subsidies per student have been declining in real dollars during the last 15 years.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010
By Michael Meranze

Compared to last year, when the University was mobilized around the issues of furloughs and the President’s emergency powers, this summer has seemed quiet. But this appearance is misleading. If nothing quite as contentious as furloughs has been bandied about, the impulse that underlay the expansion of UCOP’s authority has not diminished. We would do well to focus on this impulse because it will shape the struggle over the future of the University both this year and for the long term.

Two large projects have emerged this summer out of the UCOF process: first the drive towards managerial consolidation and uniformity; second the rush to approve online education. Chris has discussed the issue of consolidation, while Catherine Cole, Toby Higbie, and I have examined the details of Edley’s online initiative. But I want to focus on a separate issue here—the centralization of decision-making, the marginalization of shared governance, and the absence of transparency in the decision making of both UCOP and the Regents. Strikingly, what the Regents and UCOP made clear this summer was that their creature—UCOF—did not deliver what they wanted and therefore needed to be cast off.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Dear Dean Edley:

I've been following with interest what you're saying in the press about UC online education.

I teach Statistics N21, the first online course at Berkeley to be approved by COCI.  It was approved in 2007.  I've been teaching it for four years, this year to 400 students. The current syllabus is here.

Statistics N21 a gateway course: probably one of the first 10 you would want in your pilot. It satisfies major requirements for several departments, and is a "hurdle" course for intended Business majors.

The online course comprises an interactive textbook (SticiGui) that has Java applets to illustrate key concepts, examples and exercises that change when the page is reloaded so that students can get unlimited practice with the material, machine-graded assignments scored using a mastery model, videorecorded online lectures, online and in-person office hours, a discussion board, etc. Every student gets a different version of the online assignments.  The final is administered in person.  Most students take the final on campus, but about 85 will take off-campus proctored finals this summer, in several countries.

SticiGui has been used at other colleges and universities to teach statistics classes and to teach methodology classes in economics (at CUNY) and political science (at Bard).
But it also has interactive chapters and machine-graded assignments suitable for general education classes: Reasoning and Fallacies, Categorical Logic, Propositional Logic, and Set Theory. It has been used to teach linguistics and logic classes at UCSC and SJSU.

The infrastructure, applets, and so on that I have built could be adapted most easily to teach introductory courses in mathematics, economics, demography, sociology, and similar fields.  But I think it would take a considerable amount of work--years of careful attention from devoted faculty--to develop pedagogically sound, interactive content worthy of UC.  Even to build a more advanced statistics class using the same plumbing would take a solid year of full-time work.

It has taken about 8,000 hours of my time over 13 years to develop (what I consider to be) pedagogically effective interactive content and assignments. The materials wouldn't have worked well as an online-only course for at least the first 5 years of development.  I used it to teach hybrid classes while I was developing it, starting in 1997.  Work continues: I'm building a searchable database of lecture "clips" on individual topics, edited from my webcast lectures.  The clips will also be linked to the text where the topics are introduced, and to the glossary.

Tailoring material and pedagogy to online media and creating and honing effective, interactive, online content  is quite challenging.  It requires subject-matter knowledge, teaching experience,  careful writing, programming skills (I've had to learn Java, JavaScript, XML, CSS, and Perl-cgi), seemingly endless debugging on different operating systems, and lots of user testing with students--many cycles of iterative improvement.   Accessibility, especially for blind students, is an issue that must inform design and the choice of technologies and standards.  Technical maintenance is demanding as web standards and browsers evolve.  Developing and supporting a first-rate online course is not easily subcontracted or delegated to GSIs or technical staff: It requires a great deal of faculty attention.  And it is not fast.

In a large-enrollment course like Statistics N21, ensuring that students have up-to-date browsers before the class starts and providing technical support during the first week or two of class are virtually a full-time job. (Those are jobs that GSIs and technical staff can help with.)

The "bandwidth" of online instruction is lower than face-to-face instruction: it takes longer to convey the same information, both from instructor to student and from student to instructor.  One side effect is that online office hours are less efficient than in-person office hours, so more office hours need to be offered.  Online courses therefore need correspondingly more staff, even before factoring in technical support.  To hold online office hours at times that are convenient for students in, say, Taiwan, requires working odd hours.  For reference, here is the office hour schedule for N21 this summer:

I'd be happy to talk to you about what was involved in developing Statistics N21, the resources required to teach it, and what would be needed to do something similar in other disciplines.

Sincerely,
Philip B. Stark
Professor of Statistics
University of California at Berkeley

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010
The Chronicle covers the Senate investigation into the illegal and unethical recruiting practices at for profit colleges and universities. Regulation of the industry was loosened in 2002. As reported by the Berkeley Planet and the LA Times Blum’s firm, Blum Capital Partners, has been the dominant shareholder in two of the nation’s largest for-profit universities, Career Education Corporation and ITT Educational Services, Inc. This blog has discussed the conflict question question with regard to Blum's investments and involvement in upper UC administration. The more we know about the for profit higher ed industry, the worse it looks. And yet, Blum and Edley insist that UC should adopt many of the models for education "delivery" pioneered by the for profits. Just at at time when upper administrators are trying to burnish the UC brand by hiring expensive marketing firms, they are willing to tarnish it by associating it with high level con-games pioneered during the Bush years.