Applying to uni via video

Better than qualifications?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting story on the use of videos in university applications. Whilst some institutions have been encouraging students to submit videos as supporting information, it seems at least one has now gone further and is offering students the opportunity to provide them as the primary selection tool:

Ever since George Mason University started inviting prospective students to send in videos as part of their application materials, Matthew P. Boyce, the interim admissions director there, has seen applicants try to prove their mettle in some odd ways.One young man wrote and performed a rap about why he wanted to go to the university, featuring a cameo by his grandma. Mr. Boyce recently watched footage of another candidate biting into an Indian “ghost pepper,” one of the world’s spiciest varieties. The footage was presented as evidence of the applicant’s resiliency. “It was kind of goofy,” says the admissions director, though certainly memorable.

All you need to apply to university

All you need to apply to university

George Mason is one of a handful of universities that, several years ago, gave prospective students the option of submitting short “video essays” as part of their applications.The videos were meant only as supplements to the required materials, which include standardized-test scores, grade-point averages, and recommendation letters. “It’s never going to make or break their admission to Mason,” says Mr. Boyce of the videos. Last week Goucher College announced that it was taking video submissions to the next level. Prospective students will have the option of making two-minute videos the centerpiece of an application to Goucher. If they submit a video, plus two samples of academic work, then they will not be required to send in a transcript or letter of recommendation.

Whilst the variety and opportunities for applicants may be seen as welcome it is difficult to imagine how it might be possible to ensure consistency and equity across a range of applications. Also it is not clear here what is being judged: originality, creativity, personality, film-making skills? All a bit tricky therefore and probably not something that is really going to take off.

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Excess Baggage

Luxury Transport for Students

Just land it in the quad

Just land it in the quad

Lots of coverage in the media for this new service offering Luxury Transport for Students. New students are urged to become VIFs – or Very Important Freshers – and take advantage of these new ways of getting to university:

We are stepping up the game, we are changing the way students travel to University and from September we will be offering the UKs first luxury student transport service.Freshers now have the option to travel to their first day on campus by luxurious and bespoke transport options, through the new ‘Very Important Fresher’ service.Transport options for Freshers to choose from include: a private jet or helicopter, Rolls Royce Phantom, a Mclaren P1, a Ferrari F430 and many others. All with the aim of providing an action-packed James Bond style expedition across the country, to arrive in style and make an entrance enviable of movie stars and premiership football players. Uni Baggage will also transport the students belongings separately so they have everything they need to start University.

It does seem like excellent publicity for a company which is aiming to sell its more mundane transport services to students. Will anyone take advantage of these VIF opportunities? Not many I suspect as none of this seems like a good way to make new friends in freshers’ week.

I’m tempted to book the horse and carriage…

The new University of Life

Some people are just too smart for university

uncollege

Must admit to being immensely irritated at the so-called ‘UnCollege’ proposition> And, having seen Dale speak recently at Going Global my annoyance has not decreased. This seems to be the story of UnCollege:

 

Dale was unschooled for grades six through twelve and enrolled at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas following “high school.” He was frustrated with some aspects of his college experience and spent much of his first semester thinking and writing about what could be done to address his concerns.

Over winter break, Dale talked with Rebecca Goldman, a fellow unschooler who left Dartmouth College, about his frustrations with higher education. They found that they had precisely the same frustrations about college, even though they had attended different institutions.

After pondering this conversation, Dale came to the conclusion that their frustrations with higher education stemmed not from the specific institutions they had attended, but rather from their common experience: unschooling. They threw around some ideas via email, and Rebecca suggested, “we should just start our own college, à la the movie Accepted.

”Dale decided that as a former unschooler, he could make Rebecca’s unschooler college a reality.

Dale launched UnCollege.org on January 21st, 2011.

I’d never heard of the movie Accepted. This from IMDb

It really is this easy.

It really is this easy.

Bartleby (B.) Gaines is a fun loving slacker who, unfortunately, gets turned down for every college he applied for, much to the chagrin of his overly expectant parents. So, with a little cutting and pasting, he creates the South Harmon Institute of Technology, and lo and behold, he is accepted (along with his friends Rory, Hands, and Glen, whose college plans were also all but dashed). However, his parents want to see the website, the campus, and the dean. So now he has his other friend Sherman (who has been accepted to the prestigious Harmon College) build a web page, they lease out an abandoned psychiatric hospital, and they hire Sherman’s uncle Ben to be the dean. Problem solved? Not quite. The web page was done so well, that hundreds of students show up at the front door, all of which were turned down by other colleges. Faced with no choice, Bartleby decides to proceed with turning South Harmon into a real college, and sets about figuring out what to teach and how to teach it. …

Sounds terrific. No wonder everyone thinks it’s really easy to set up a university.

I’m really not that concerned about entrepreneurial individuals setting up new organisations to challenge traditional universities. I’ve go no problem with that kind of competition. However, the casual dismissal of all formal education as somehow bogus and irrelevant which underpins this particular development I do take issue with. It’s just all too easy.

Most serious league tables of the year?

League tables of choice

All rankings have their shortcomings. Some though are perhaps even more methodologically questionable than others. I was struck recently by two league tables which seemed to be even less credible than this very important ranking of universities based on the length of their name.

First up is the ranking of the most influential UK universities on Twitter. This appeared recently in Times Higher Education but has since sunk without trace. The methodology, if it may be called that, is simply to use a site called followerwonk which magically creates a ‘Social Authority’ score for institutions based on some combination of followers, and number of retweets etc. It doesn’t get much more authoritative than this.

 

influential on twitter

Meanwhile, at the slightly more salacious end of the league table spectrum we have the University Sex League 2014. Nothing dubious about the scoring method here. It’s a self-selecting survey in which there is a slim possibility that respondents might be less than entirely accurate in their recall:

unisexleagueThe bottom 10 has not been reproduced here for obvious reasons.

Anyway, there you have it, two league tables which if they achieve nothing else manage the remarkable feat of making other rankings look pretty credible and methodologically robust.

 

Universities gripped by puppy mania

 Puppies for relaxation

It’s exam time and I’ve written before here about the advent of the puppy room as a means of addressing exam stress. All parts of the media seem to have got rather excited about this and other stress-busting approaches as this  BBC News story demonstrates:

 

Can be used for other purposes too

Can be used for other purposes too

University students have ordered hundreds of metres of bubble wrap to burst as a way of relieving exam stress.

The University of Leicester students’ union is planning “bubble wrap stations” where students can relax by popping the packaging material.

Puppies will also be brought in to soothe stressed-out students.

Michael Rubin, president elect of the students’ union, said “mental well-being is a top priority” during exams.

The students claim that the instant gratification of popping bubble wrap is a better relaxant than meditation or yoga.

Petting zoos

There will also be a more traditional form of emergency support, with free tea on offer.

“We know how stressful exams can be,” says Mr Rubin.

Nia Phillips, a media and sociology student, says many students “may feel too ashamed to speak out about exam stress”.

And she says that public events aimed at reducing stress can help students “without having to announce to anyone how they’re feeling”.

Petting zoos have become a feature of stress-busting during university exams.

 

puppies

Whilst there is perhaps an element of faddishness about this there is certainly a lot to be said for the approach and it does seem popular with students. Be prepared for the backlash though. It’s likely that for every student looking to relax with a puppy there will be another one outside demonstrating against animal cruelty.

Still, it’s something for the media to focus on before it’s time for the traditional A level fuss.

For straightforward (animal free) exam advice there is plenty about such as this University of Nottingham page.

 

 

A stimulating new degree course

A Degree in Coffee?

Inside Higher Ed has an entertaining piece on the advent of a new degree in the critical area of coffee:

 

A_small_cup_of_coffee

Many students and faculty members consider coffee to be essential to their daily existence. The University of California at Davis could be moving toward offering a major in coffee, The Sacramento Bee reported. The university, already known for its research and teaching on wine, has created the Coffee Center. Faculty members will conduct research on such topics as as the genetics of coffee and sensory perception of coffee drinkers. A long-term goal is establishing a major in coffee.

 

About time too.

Earlier posts have covered similar educational innovations, including the following degrees:

  • Viticulture & Enology: Grape Growing and Winemaking
  • Packaging
  • Puppeteering
  • Comic Art
  • Bowling Industry Management and Technology
  • Bagpipes

A previous post on the provision of bonkers degrees and earlier items covered similar ground including a zombie course at the University of Baltimore and a course covering Lady Gaga together with a study of Beyonce. Also we previously looked here at the launch of an MA in Beatles Studies and the offer of a degree in Northern Studies as well as offering a podcast on “bonkers or niche” degrees and an MA in horror and transgression at Derby.

But this coffee development seems particularly well-timed.

Trademarking the obvious in Higher Education

You might be sued for using some pretty common HE phrases

Slate has an amusing piece on universities and colleges which have trademarked seemingly everyday Higher Education phrases such as “student life” and “fast-track MBA”.

According to the piece various institutions have been granted federal trademark registrations on the phrases, presumably to stop other people from using them in any context remotely related to education. At least in the USA. The key terms to avoid:

  • first-year experience has been trademarked by the University of South Carolina

  • fast-track MBA has been trademarked by Eastern University

  • be the difference has been trademarked by Marquette University

  • cure violence has been trademarked by the University of Illinois

  • student life has been trademarked by Washington University in St. Louis

  • students with diabetes has been trademarked by the University of South Florida

  • one course at a time has been trademarked by Cornell College

  • touched by a nurse has been trademarked by the University of Colorado

  • we’re conquering cancer has been trademarked by the University of Texas

  • working toward a world without cancer has been trademarked by the University of Kansas Hospital

  • imagination beyond measure has been trademarked by the University of Virginia

  • tomorrow starts here has been trademarked by East Carolina University

Don't even think of copying this strapline

Don’t even think of copying this strapline

And it does seem that some are not afraid to go after those who use their trademarked property:

The University of Alabama has made legal threats against a cake shop; East Carolina University sued Cisco; West Virginia University sued a company selling blue-and-gold shirts (they said “Let’s Go Drink Some Beers!”—which WVU claimed was too close to their trademarked “Let’s Go Mountaineers!”).

Bizarre. Some of these are such everyday phrases it is difficult to imagine not using them on a regular basis. Although it is a struggle to imagine a context in which “touched by a nurse” might be deployed to positive effect. It couldn’t happen in the UK, could it? (It probably has.)

Surviving an avalanche

The avalanche came. And went?

avalanche cover

It’s just about a year since the publication of the IPPR report  ‘An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead‘. It really was a stirring waning to the future:

‘Our belief is that deep, radical and urgent transformation is required in higher education as much as it is in school systems. Our fear is that, perhaps as a result of complacency, caution or anxiety, or a combination of all three, the pace of change is too slow and the nature of change too incremental.’

‘Should we fail to radically change our approach to education, the same cohort we’re attempting to “protect” could find that their entire future is scuttled by our timidity.’ David Puttnam, MIT, 2012

It was supported by a really cool video which was as insightful as it was comprehensive:

Anyway, this cataclysmic offering aimed “to provoke creative dialogue and challenge complacency in our traditional higher education institutions”.

‘Just as globalisation and technology have transformed other huge sectors of the economy in the past 20 years, in the next 20 years universities face transformation.’

With a massive diversification in the range of providers, methods and technologies delivering tertiary education worldwide, the assumptions underlying the traditional relationship between universities, students and local and national economies are increasingly under great pressure – a revolution is coming.

In summary, the case seemed to be that the future was not great for those institutions which did not adapt to the new thinking.

Private Frazer scenario

To save you the trouble, the piece really does not bear re-reading. Rather you might prefer to revisit the coruscating WonkHE piece from the time by David Kernohan which helpfully demolishes most of the arguments in the Avalanche paper as the following extract nicely demonstrates:

The education ‘revolution’ that Barber, Donnelly and Rizvi are such keen advocates of is a comfortably fed one. This is not a cry from the barricades – not a populist movement of grass roots activists. The hand-wringing citation of unemployment statistics and rising student fees comes not from the unemployed and poor, but from the new education industry that wants to find a way into the marketplace.

And this is the underlying impression one takes from this report. The citations are shoddy, the proofreading abysmal – it reads like a bad blog post. Or a good Ted talk. It’s a serving of handsome slices of invective which would leave anyone sick to the stomach. Falling graduate wages. The lack of good “quality measures” for universities. A neatly formatted table of annual academic publication rates – in 50 year slices from 1726 onwards – labelled “The Growth of Information over 300 years”. (but “citizens of the world now cry out for synthesis”!!)

Again and again we, as citizens of the world, are encouraged to rail and protest about the broken system that somehow seems to have educated world leaders, scientists, lawyers, engineers and senior staff at academic publishers with pretensions at “thought leadership”. A system which anyone would admit has problems; problems caused by the imposition of a wearying and inapplicable market.

Section 6 of the report, “The Competition is heating up”, retreads familiar grounds concerning the all-conquering world of the MOOC – that well known reheating of early 00s internet education hype flavoured with a rich source of venture capital. But this is situated within a wider spectrum of globalised private for-profit providers – the lot of whom (poor reputation! high drop-out rates! difficulty in gaining degree awarding powers!) is bewailed at some length.

It is a thorough and quite devastating critique. Yes, there has been change in the past year and of course institutions have had to adapt. MOOCs will continue to have an impact in the longer term. But this is not a revolution. Or an avalanche.

More Problems for MOOCs

More gloomy news for MOOC enthusiasts

MIT Technology Review has a striking report on how some data mining has exposed a few embarrassing problems for MOOCs. The research confirms earlier reports about low continuation and completion rates and, perhaps surprisingly, notes that teacher involvement really doesn’t help:

But this new golden age of education has rapidly lost its lustre. Earlier this month, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reported that the online classes it offered had failed miserably. Only about half of the students who registered ever viewed a lecture and only 4 percent completed a course.binary

That’s prompted some soul-searching among those who have championed this brave new world of education. The questions that urgently need answering are: what’s gone wrong and how can it be fixed?

Today, Christopher Brinton at Princeton University and a few pals offer their view. These guys have studied the behaviour in online discussion forums of over 100,000 students taking massive open online courses (or MOOCs).

And they have depressing news. They say that participation falls precipitously and continuously throughout a course and that almost half of registered students never post more than twice to the forums. What’s more, the participation of a teacher doesn’t improve matters. Indeed, they say there is some evidence that a teacher’s participation in an online discussion actually increases the rate of decline.

Filtering out the small talk from discussions is identified as one way forward but whether that will improve things remains to be seen. And there will still be some way to go to raise those completion rates. But there is plenty of scope for improvement.

(with thanks to Gerry Webber for alerting me to this piece)

Celebrity tutors

Hong Kong’s got (teaching) talent.

Following a recent post on Oprah in the classroom, the New York Times has a great piece on Celebrity Tutors in Hong Kong:

Advertisements for star tutors in Hong Kong can be seen all over here: on billboards that loom over highways and on the exteriors of shopping malls. Invariably, the local teaching celebrities are young, attractive and dressed in designer outfits befitting pop stars. But beyond the polished shine, the advertisements also claim that their celebrity tutors can help students ace Hong Kong’s university entrance exam.

“From a marketing perspective, every company wants to present their products with good packaging,” said Antonia Cheng, a celebrity English teacher at Modern Education, one of the city’s largest tutorial chains. “I believe, very simply, that this is a business principle.”

Although Ms. Cheng’s Web site features photos of her in various poses, including in a red cocktail dress with a flash of leg, she maintains that “the quality of lessons is most important.”

According to the piece many of the city’s celebrity tutors have their own music videos, Facebook fan pages and products including stationery. It has also been reported that some tutors can earn more than 10 million Hong Kong dollars, or around £800k each year. That’s a pretty good rate. Will it attract others to set up shop there? We’ll see.

Brian Cox

Not going to Hong Kong

Oprah in the classroom

I’m a Celebrity – get me in there

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a diverting article on the appointment of celebrities as visiting academics at US universities. Celebrity adjunct culture as it is described brings many challenges, not least of which is the resentment of existing staff at the pay and perks afforded the star academic. But it can be positive too:

Celebrity hires can work out well, says Cary Nelson, a former president of the American Association of University Professors, but institutions must be more open about their motives. “Universities have tried to find pedagogical cover for their publicity ventures,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with trying to attain publicity for your school, but there needs to be more truth in advertising what these positions are all about.”

Celebrity professors, says Stephen M. Walt, a Harvard professor of international affairs, can be particularly helpful for lower-profile institutions that want to improve their name recognition. When the University of North Florida hired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African social-rights activist, as a visiting scholar in 2003, for example, the institution was not shy to publicize its professorial catch.

As the article notes, there were positives and negatives with a number of celebrity hires, including:Oprah Winfrey

David Petraeus

Eliot Spitzer

Michael Dukakis

Arnold Schwarzenegger

and, most strikingly

Oprah!

Meanwhile, back in North Florida:

Earle Traynham, the university’s interim provost, says he recalls university officials asking Archbishop Tutu to participate in a handful of fund-raising events while he was on campus. During his single semester at North Florida, Mr. Tutu led several noncredit mini-courses, as well as one semester-long course titled “Truth and Reconciliation,” focusing on his time heading South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a post-apartheid restorative justice body.

It is not uncommon, some administrators say, for institutions to pay more than they would ideally like to hire a high-profile adjunct professor if they perceive a potential payoff. That payoff, says Richard K. Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, may come through things like positive publicity or fund-raising opportunities.

So, pluses and minuses. But you are unlikely to get much in the way of a REF return out of them.

Badges, badges, badges

Earn your first badge now!

I’ve posted before about this nonsense but then I heard the exciting news about how you can bypass all that messy unpleasant formal education stuff and get straight on and get some real recognition for your achievements via this super Open Badges concept:

Want to get started? Earn a Mozilla Webmaker badge.

Or set up your Mozilla backpack to start storing, collecting and sharing your badges across the web.

Earn a badge from one of these members of the Open Badges community.

Need a demo? Take the badges 101 quiz, and earn a badge in the process!

Get recognition for the things you learn, online and off

 Not an accredited qualification

Not an accredited qualification

Open Badges includes a shared technical standard for recognizing your skills and achievements. Badges help make them count towards an education, a job or lifelong learning.

Earn badges from anywhere. Then take them everywhere. Collect and store your badges in your backpack, sort them into categories and then display them across the web — on social networking profiles, job  sites, websites and more.

Prove skills. Employers, organizations and schools can explore the data behind each badge issued using Mozilla Open Badges to verify your skills, achievements and interests.

Knit your achievements together. Whether they’re issued by one organization or many, badges can build upon each other, joining together to tell the full story of your skills and achievement.

And if you go to this site you can make your own badges. It’s all a bit Blue Peter really. I made my own:

Badge-1

Still struggling to see any merit in any of this. Also I really can’t take claims of shared standards at all seriously. And which employers are treating these kinds of things as comparable to formal qualifications.

Badge

Another amusing attack on administrators

Flipping administration. Clever.

An entertaining piece on another splendid idea by Benjamin Ginsberg. A previous post noted his recent book The Fall of the Faculty had a distinctive analysis of the process of strategic planning as a tool for power-hungry administrators.

This time, it is suggested we “forget MOOCs” and use MOOA instead (it really doesn’t make a lot of sense).

Studies show that about 30 percent of the cost increases in higher education over the past twenty-five years have been the result of administrative growth,” Ginsberg noted. He suggested that MOOA can reverse this spending growth.  “Currently, hundreds, even thousands, of vice provosts and assistant deans attend the same meetings and undertake the same activities on campuses around the U.S. every day,” he said.  “Imagine the cost savings if one vice provost could make these decisions for hundreds of campuses.”

This is a completely different MOOA.

This is a completely different MOOA.

Asked if this “one size fits all” administrative concept was realistic given the diversity of problems faced by thousands of schools, Ginsberg noted that a “best practices” philosophy already leads administrators to blindly follow one another’s leads in such realms as planning, staffing, personnel issues, campus diversity, branding and, curriculum planning. The MOOA, said Ginsberg, would take “best practices” a step further and utilize it to realize substantial cost savings.

So, massive open online administrations. It’s good to see that the whole idea has been thought through in real detail and that the MOOA will be offering a strategic plan for lots of institutions early in 2014. With the exciting title of “administeria” it really sounds like a winner.

Eau de HE: the Smell of Success

A new range of fundraising fragrances from Notre Dame.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has this entertaining piece about the very serious business of making money from smells:

The University of Notre Dame has long been known for its enthusiastic sports fans. Now, the South Bend Tribune reports, all of those rabid supporters will be able to show their commitment in a new way—with perfume and cologne. But don’t worry: They won’t get the chance to smell like Manti Te’o on game day.

The fragrances will be available in his and hers versions, to be called ND Gold Eau de Toilette and Lady Irish Eau de Parfum. Fighting Irish fans will be able to purchase official scents from the university starting this fall.

Notre Dame will be joining several other universities, including the University of North Carolina and Pennsylvania State University, in selling official fragrances. Notre Dame’s scents will be produced by Steiner Collectibles and the Cloudbreak Group, which has some experience in using smells to entice sports fans, having previously produced fragrances for the New York Yankees.

Ideas for a UK equivalent #HEperfume have included:

  • Tweed (for older academics)
  • Pedagogy
  • Corduroy (for academics who don’t have to try too hard)
  • Stacks (for that traditional librarian scent) or, better still, Smell of Books
  • Selectivity (for that post-REF feeling).

(with thanks to @jpdale  @wynmorgan8 and @AlisonMcnab for those excellent pitches)

So, what would your university’s fragrances be? Will the mission groups pitch in? Will BIS seek to control the market? Does anyone else think that Notre Dame’s nickname is just a bit inappropriate? Who is Manti Te’o?

#HEperfume – for all your academic odours.

Measuring Collegiality

Can you test for academics’ collegiality?

And would you want to?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece on the launch of a new test to help determine academics’ collegiality or,as they put it, whether a faculty member is “a bully or a jerk or an all-around pain in the neck.”

Two higher-education consultants believe they have an instrument that does just that. They call it the Collegiality Assessment Matrix, and they are promoting it to colleges as a tool for both professional development and faculty evaluations.

9910web

“I’m more collegial than you lot”

The two consultants, Jeffrey L. Buller, dean of the honors college at Florida Atlantic University, and Robert E. Cipriano, a professor emeritus of recreation and leisure studies at Southern Connecticut State University, say the test offers something colleges have long needed: a reliable means of identifying good and bad behavior in the academic workplace.

The instrument is objective enough, they say, to enable colleges to weigh collegiality as a distinct criterion in making decisions related to faculty members’ reappointment, promotion, or tenure. By using it, the consultants say, colleges can confront faculty members over actions that vex their colleagues and either coach them on how to behave better or, if necessary, show them the door.

It’s not clear to me why you would want to do this or why such a test would substitute for simple awareness of behaviour and sensible day-to-day management. Really can’t see it catching on.