Thursday, April 7, 2011

Course Redesign: Who's Behind It?

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I'm not about to go on a long, conspiracy-filled rant about who is attempting to take over American Education.  I won't even mention George Saros.  However, there are a few organizations behind the current trends in course redesign that I would like to highlight.

The National Center for Academic Transformation
The NCAT is a non-profit organization that:
... provides leadership in using information technology to redesign learning environments to produce better learning outcomes for students at a reduced cost to the institution.
That quote is from their website.  Two of my coworkers went to a workshop hosted by the NCAT this February in Orlando.  One coworker said that the information in the workshops was already available from their workshops.  The emporium model was featured heavily.

In my opinion the NCAT mentions cost savings too much.  Often class sizes or teaching loads are increased.  My concern is that the academic support/pressure for course redesign is motivated more by cost savings than student learning.

The student learning improvement statistics that are sited are usually about course pass rates.  Many redesigns incorporate mastery learning, which means that students must pass every unit with a given percentage to move to the next unit.  Mastery learning muddies the pass rate measurement for self-paced classes, making them an inaccurate measure of long term learning.  Unfortunately, testing true mastery takes more time than is available during one semester.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
The Gates Foundation is the philanthropic organization run by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.  The Gates Foundation partners with the NCAT, and the Gates Foundation funded the NCAT's Changing the Equation Program.

My concern with Bill Gates is that he has a world view that computer technology can solve all of the world's problems.  The emporium model may (or may not) work with adults, but the natural progression will be to incorporate it into classrooms for younger and younger students, where it is no longer developmentally appropriate.  Gates has shown his support for the Khan Academy, which is aiming for an audience younger than adults.  I like the Khan Academy videos as a resource, but not as an entire curriculum.

Textbook Publishers
Textbook publishers are becoming to teachers what the pharmaceutical industry is to doctors.  I like our textbook publishing representative, but I would like to have a redesign meeting without him.  The emporium model makes heavy use of computer homework systems, like MyMathLab by Pearson and MathZone by McGraw-Hill.  That means that a textbook publisher will get a licencing fee from every student enrolled in a redesign course.

I realize that textbook publishers are fulfilling an need, and I have no problem with that.  Unfortunately, they are starting to drive academic policies instead of serving the needs of students and educators.

These are the players in the course redesign trend that I feel deserve some attention.  My advice to departments who are considering course redesign is to look at the needs of your student bodies, and remember that the solution that worked for one college may not work for your students.

P.S.  Glenn, I would have used "Youth Movements" to get the "Y" you needed for "OLIGARCHY".  You're on your own for the "C".