22 May

When did non-traditional become a dirty word?  Once again it seems that “non-traditional” higher education is regarded as somehow non-acceptable and that only the most rigid and “normal” approaches to education are acknowledged.  What will this resistance to non-traditional education mean for the variety and breadth of higher education. Dr.K

Proprietary College Teaching Demo

13 May

I recently applied to teach at a career college and performed a teaching demonstration to a faculty panel that was disinterested and “had to go to a big meeting right after”. This was my response to a college executive:

On reflection, I have determined that the teaching demonstration was unfair and I am filing a formal complaint.

Having conducted, and observed teaching demonstrations in the past, I found this one to be totally lacking in collegiality and interaction. The evaluators were obviously distracted and had a meeting to attend afterward. They were informed that the demonstration was interactive and did not interact, complete forms, or provide comments when prompted.

There was so much about this teaching demonstration that was just plain wrong, I feel it would be unprincipled and unethical not to call it to your attention. How could anyone be expected to provide a satisfactory teaching demonstration based on a five-word topic description with no additional data and delivered to a non-responsive, distracted panel?

The essence of any teaching demonstration is to welcome the candidate, review the steps in the process, introduce the distinctives of the department, briefly describe the expectations, introduce each member of the panel, and then engage in a Q & A of the candidate. The panel then responds to the demonstration in a cooperative manner, providing interactive responses if prompted, and in general, sets the stage for a collaborative engagement.

In this case, it was never made clear if the teaching demonstration was to be delivered “as if to typical students” or to the faculty group with references to how material would be adapted to typical students. Without instruction regarding the intended audience, the demonstration is invalid.

A reported comment that the candidate “could not hold our students in the palm of his hand for four hours” was outrageous and far too strong a generalization based on far too little evidence. As the principal and main instructor at a college for learning disabled students— and — the principal and primary instructor at a high-risk high school, I was able to hold the attention of students for hours without any difficulty.

Going back to my directorship of the Neurocognitive Research and Training Institute, and my years of clinical work with learners of all ages, backgrounds and dimensions, I have become expert at gaining and holding attention of vastly diverse students and clients. The high-risk high school had a 100% graduation rate, because I gained the student’s attention and maintained it over the course of the long school year.

A remark was also passed on to me that “he doesn’t know what our students are like and that most of them have never had any kind of education like this”. It is disservice to these students, and future students to assume that they are not educatable enough to handle college level content. If you are awarding associate and bachelor degrees, it is incumbent upon your faculty to encounter students at their cognitive and developmental level and deliver them to higher education levels. It is defeatist to simply accept them at their level and teach down to that.

We are all in the practice of educating students to elevate their intellects and train them for job success and fulfilling lives. My students at the College and High School had no more intelligence or educational experience than your students at and many of them have gone on to regionally accredited colleges and even graduate school.

You cannot sell students short until you carefully determine what aptitude they have. As I attempted to explain to the panel, constructivism requires continuous evaluation and assessment, and unless you are continuously evaluating your students and adjusting your teaching to exceed their “zone of proximal development” you are failing to teach, they are not failing to learn.

At ACS, a client population primarily of college students and young and adult blue collar workers, over 99 % of our clients rate our delivery of educational and therapeutic content as superior.

I could not however captivate the 3 panelists for a half hour because they did not pay attention, interact, or respond to instruction. If the approach, and the content was unfamiliar to them, I could have taught it to them in a half hour and they would have been richer for the experience. However, they chose not to make the effort.

I explained immediately that there was one primary objective to my teaching demonstration and that was to demonstrate the principles of self-marketing, and the elevator speech by means of presenting the elements of the elevator speech, depicting my own elevator speech and “talking them through” a worksheet which would have resulted in the development of their own elevator speech and educated them on all of the principles of self-marketing. I could accomplish this objective with a high school group or a doctoral cohort by means of adjusting the language and level of instruction. The failure of the panel to participate in my demonstration or to complete the worksheet caused the teaching demonstration to fail.

It is a sad day for higher education when a panel of teacher demonstration evaluators cause a presentation to fail through lack of attention and collaboration. In a word, there was a total absence of collegiality. Collegiality is the core value of “college” faculty and is what the entire structure of higher education is built upon, a vigorous community of scholars.

I don’t know what distinctives the panel of faculty at prizes (because they did not tell me as they should have), but I know from this panel that it is not collegiality and collaboration. My expectation is that it is rigidity, redundancy and replication, not scholarship and creativity. They obviously are resistant to hiring high quality, scholarly, congenial, collaborative instructors, which reflects upon the overall quality of the faculty.


Dr. Ken Rabac

I do not expect a response to this complaint. However, I think it voices many of the objections teaching applicants have to disinterested faculty panels. I also wonder though how some panelists out there view this, and expect some may defend the panelists, saying they need to be observers and not participants and also to create difficult situations to see if the presenter falters. The broader issue though is the whole context of privately owned “proprietary” institutions that are creating new faculty practice standards. At this school, the faculty all sits at cubicles in a crowded “phone room” environment along with the chairs, and deans. The broader issue concerns what the boom in proprietary education means for education, scholarship and collegiality.

13 May

Blog Bio: AAHEA Executive Editor Dr. Ken Rabac

So let me set the stage. I have had 40 year career in journalism and media and 30 years in counseling and education.  I have been clinical director and supervisor of a educational therapy clinic for 20 years.  The clinic has changed names a couple of times, but it is the same clinic through the years. I recently returned to school to acquire a doctorate in Education to facilitate improved client care at the clinic and to enhance my credentials for teaching college and writing books. I have previous Psych related doctorates, and one in Theology, though I am an avid researcher into religion, I am not religious per se.  I have been buddhist since 1968, consider it more of a philosophy than a religion.

I worked as an operations manager in the College of Humanities at the nation’s (arguably) largest university, and also taught communications and trained broadcasters.

My ten year contract ended in late December.  I have been conducting a job search since then to acquire a teaching position.  I can fully support myself with my clinic salary, but I am determined to return to the college classroom, driven by my love of teaching.

I want to blog about my experiences in job seeking in higher education as well as about accreditation, higher education and convergent media.    I was a dean of Humanities for a distance education university, as well as an online instructor and mentor for over 10 years.  When I first taught distance education, some education took place via email, but mostly it was telephone and mail.

My areas of expertise center on Participatory Action Research, Appreciative Inquiry, and Content Analysis.  In my master’s and doctoral work I dcveloped a mixed methodology  that blended quantitative analysis with qualitative based on these three approaches and statistics.  My research was conducted for eight years at our educational therapy clinic, which specializes in addictions.  I have developed Integrative Therapeutic Instruction and Transformative Self Management in my master’s and doctorate.  My post doctoral work in interdisciplinary, focusing on English, Communications, Humanities and Psychology.

I am developing a book that has a working title of Convergent Media & Interdisiplinary Higher Education, which is slated to be published at Harvard Bookstore through AAHEA.

Another area of expertise is managing  psychopaths, that is coping with individuals whose cumulative psychopathologies outweigh their mental health. I have long been fascinated with predators who subjugate others for their personal gain.  I got to spend ten years working alongside 3 psychopaths, two malignant and one benign in my job at the megaversity.

Dr.Ken Rabac AAHEA Executive Editor

Since I am based in consensual community building and constructivist learning, I want this blog to be participatory and communitarian.

Should teachers be judged on merit?

6 Oct

There is a big debate in the United States about whether we should begin judging teachers by merit instead of tenure. Many of the unions feel they have worked hard to secure positions for teachers based on experience and time in the classroom. They feel there is a certain degree of job security that may not be there on a merit system.
Advocates for the merit system argue that it would improve education by holding teachers accountable for student performance. Most of us agree there are a number of factors that go into student performance. However, the single most important determining factor of student success is the teacher’s ability to inspire them to learn.
Some would argue the tenure system has created lazy teachers, which has trickled down to lazy students. There have been countless stories in the media of teachers who just put in a video and sit back to collect a pay check. Most of us find this image insulting, but sadly we have all worked with people who have exhibited this behavior.
Good teachers seem to be up for the challenge, but we worry about how a merit system would be implemented. Private for-profit colleges have used this system for years to evaluate their teachers. They use “retention” as their method of measure. Retention is crucial to the for-profit school. As the economy changes, the non-profit state schools are facing the same concerns. This may be why they are looking at the merit system.
Even the elementary and high schools get government funds based on student attendance. Uninspired students are not going to show up. Inspired, challenged students with a supportive faculty and staff are going to come more often and see greater success. It is a no brainer for measuring that has been in place for years.
You cannot measure teachers based on student test score. They will just start teaching the test. We already have this problem to some degree. Students are often taught the test, instead of being taught to think. We need to inspire students to think.
We need to look at how the for-profit schools are rating teachers on merit. It is typically based on categories that are heavily weighted in the retention area, but also look at student evaluations, scores, and classroom observation by a supervisor. Teachers are also required to complete a certain amount of continuing education each year. In some instances, they must also publish or show work in the field they teach.
Unions can still protect teachers’ jobs by providing input on the categories used in the merit system. They can help provide the continuing education. They can be a part of the evaluation process. They can help inspire teachers to continue to grow.
How can we inspire other people to learn, if we are unwilling to learn a new way?

A College Education Without Debt

15 Sep

The internet and academic types are all a twitter about new book, Debt-Free U: How I Paid For an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching Off My Parents by Zac Bissonette.  The title really tells you what the book is all about; not catchy but certainly complete.

The book is timely as people struggle financially to make ends meet.  College seems a luxury for the middle class.  The entitlement generation who expected mommy and daddy to pay for their education can no longer count on this support as many parents have lost their jobs, savings, retirements etc.

It is difficult for these parents to even push education, as many of them were very well educated and lost their jobs anyway.  They see less skilled trades still having jobs.  For some, their education may even be a barrier to getting a job as it makes them over-qualified for positions.

So, it is a necessity for students to figure out how to pay for their education on their own.  Most will take out student loans sending them into the real world with a mountain of debt.  Bissonette offers up alternatives for students willing to work hard, but I found most of his suggestions unrealistic.

One of his suggestions was that a student buys a house in the neighborhood, instead of losing money on rent or taking out student loans to live in the dorms.  A loan by any other name is still a loan whether it comes from Sally Mae or Fanny Mae.  Housing loans are often more difficult to get these days than student loans.  So, it is probably unrealistic to believe a student right out of high school is going to qualify for a loan.

Another suggestion he makes is to attend a cheaper two year college, then transfer those credits to the four year college to finish only paying slightly more the last two years.  Well, those two year colleges tend to be more specialized, can cost more than the four year college, and often do not have credits that transfer.  Think about it, the college you are transferring to is the one who determines if the credits will transfer.  They lose money by transferring more of your credits, so in this case less really is more to the college where you transfer.

I do agree with Bissonette’s idea of going to a state school, instead of an ivy league school.  If you go in the right state some of those ivy league professors are likely to be moonlighting at the state school.  You get the same education for half the price.  However, you do miss out on the networking component of college, which can be far more important than the education.  So it really boils down to choosing which gene pool you want to swim in down the road.  College is where we meet the people who will marry us in the future and who will hire us in the future.  Essentially you are investing in your future.

You can find comfort in the fact that ninety percent of students do not work in the field they major in, so if you hate it there is still a chance to gain experience over education in the real world.  One of Bissonette’s practical solutions for leaving college debt free is to work at least 30 hours a week while you are in school.  Those could be some of the most important hours you spend during your academic career, because they will be establishing the building blocks for experience and relationships that will propel you forward financially.  The bottom line; it really is about “who you know, not what you know.”

Regarding Jobs In Higher Education

8 Sep

From time to time we receive letters with comments or asking for advice.  It is often appropriate to answer them here.  Below is one we received and our comments:

I am a Ph.D. student in the Higher Education Administration program at The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.  I am not currently employed in the Higher Education field.  However, I am seeking strategies to make a career change into the field as soon as possible.  I am interested in career change advice and information as well as general employment information concerning the Higher Education field.  I am also interested in Higher Education Research. 

This letter would have been more easily answered if we had known the student’s current profession or work experience.  Trending in higher education is towards people who have practical work experience in the subject matter they will be teaching.  Schools like, the University of Phoenix, will not hire instructors who are not currently working in the field they will be teaching.  So, it is not always a good idea to quit your day job, depending on where you want to teach and the subject area you want to teach.

It is a difficult time to be transitioning into higher education, especially if you have a PhD.  Many colleges, like other businesses, are cutting cost.  One of the ways they are doing it is by hiring instructors with only master’s degrees, because PhDs have to be paid at a much higher rate.  The world of academia generally pays on an education and experience scale in a much stricter way than other industries, especially if it is a state run school.

Lots of instructors get their starts at the community college level or the local business schools.  It is easier to get entry level positions, because they do not have the same large scale infrastructure as the larger universities.  You can often walk right into the office of the president of the college at a business school, which is not available at the large university level.

It is also important to remember at your larger universities different colleges are broken into different sections, like the College of Business, College of Nursing etc.  So, when you are applying for jobs be sure that you are applying to the right section of the university.

As with all jobs, it is easier to get your foot in the door if you know someone.  Start networking now with your teachers, administrators, other students, and faculty organizations.  We cannot stress the importance of networking enough.  You might also join a toast master group where you are volunteering to speak to groups of people to show your skills.

If you are thinking of going directly into administration; think again.  The best administrators come up through the ranks as teachers.  You understand the dynamics of different kinds of students and you learn the frustrations of teachers.  You will also be respected more by the teachers who work under you by demonstrating a work history that reflects an understanding of their issues.  The glitch, some really good teachers never make it to the administration level, because it is hard to be a student/teacher advocate and an administrator at the same time.  This is further complicated if the organization where you work has a union.  You may be a part of the union as a teacher, but you are on the other side of the table as an administrator.

Whether you choose a teaching position or an administration position it is important to be current on trends in education and your field of expertise.  You should be the expert in the field.  Writing academic papers that you submit to print media and internet sources will help you position yourself as an expert in the field.  There are lots of ways to find places to submit papers from entering contests to purchasing “The Writer’s Market”.  Many instructors will establish networks with people working in the media and are often asked to do guest spots on radio and television.

You are probably not going to be “famous” working in education, but you will be important to your students.  You are probably not going to get “rich” working in education, but your life will be richer for the lives you touch and the people you meet.  Think about exponentially how many lives you touch teaching in higher education (30 students X 4 classes= 120 per semester/quarter if you split the difference on the math and give or take for a few students you average around 365 students a year.) That is like impacting the lives of one person per day for the number of years you teach. If you consider those people take the lessons they learn from you and touch other lives that is pretty powerful stuff.  If you keep it in that perspective it does not really matter whether you work at a large university or a small college.  You will be right where you are supposed to be to change the world one person at a time.

Changing Communities One Graduating Class At A Time

1 Sep

When the coalmines started pulling out of little communities small community colleges filled the void. They moved into the economic swath cut through the community by the coalmines trying to gently stitch lives back together with education. The hope was to retrain workers giving them new skills to have new lives. Many of these new students were the first in their generation to attend school beyond the eighth grade.

The country is now facing this kind of mass exodus of big business. The government is using the same approach by lending money to retrain displaced workers. There are grants, low interest loans, and scholarships for workers who have been displaced by these changing economic trends.

Smaller community colleges seem to be thriving with their promise of a two year turn around in high demand fields like medical assisting, paralegal studies, criminal justice and more. Many consider themselves the best value in the market, but are they really?  It depends on the school. Some community colleges are using the same instructors as the major universities in town by attracting them to a moonlighting schedule that also fits that of other working adults. However, some community colleges are using less skilled, lesser degreed teachers in order to cut cost. So, it is up to the accrediting bodies to help students get the best value for their money by standardizing rigorous requirements for educational facilities.

In July the president announced a 12 billion dollar proposal to boost education offered by community colleges as a part of his economic recovery plan. He is hoping to better facilities, online options, retention efforts and flexibility for adult learners. 9 billion dollars of the money would be focused on challenge grants to encourage community colleges to think outside of the educational box in order to create better options for students.

The trick in education has always been for educators to keep up with work trends. This can be difficult when many teachers are not working in the field they are teaching in, so knowing trends can be lost on them. However, community colleges have an edge over traditional colleges, because their hours geared to working adults also allow for hiring working teachers. Colleges with a large online component are even better at attracting teachers working in the field, because they offer greater flexibility in working and teaching.

Most schools have realized the need for an online component in designing new curriculums that are cutting edge, but they do not lend themselves to every learner or every degree program. Imagine having a nurse who had only taken classes online and never really had any patient contact? However, for information technology degrees online programs give more of an opportunity for experiential learning.

Nothing is ever going to be a perfect fit for every learner, every degree program, ever student, or every community. We simply do the best we can with what we have to offer at the time in order to educate the greatest number of people in a community. Teachers truly change lives one mind at a time and community colleges change communities one graduating class at a time.