Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review: Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs

Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs by Lauren A. Rivera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you work in higher education and believe in any kind of social justice mission that higher education is to fulfill, then this book is worth picking up. Furthermore, if you plan any role in hiring employees, it would be equally important for you to check out this book. Rivera explores and deconstructs the "magic" of job hiring to illustrate how social and cultural capital often allows for more privileged people to acquire prestigious jobs, regardless of their actual skill and ability. She shows how low and working class students who do attend prestigious and ivy league institutes are still significantly disadvantaged when going into the job market. The implications of her book are something we all need to consider when we consider how education and employment relate to achievement in our culture.

View all my reviews


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Degrees of Angst: Where Massachusetts Institutions Can Grow

This is a follow up post to a recent post I had on OnCampus with regards to state higher education in Massachusetts.

If the previous post seemed a bit dark, this one will provide some guiding lights for success and improvement in the overall quality of Massachusetts higher education.  The following suggestions offer ways of breaking down artificial barriers to improving success and attracting students. 
Image of a broken chain.  Source: http://pixabay.com/p-297842/?no_redirect

Break the Semester

If a student takes a course in the spring semester and must withdraw by mid-February (e.g. a new job, a family crisis, illness), it is a failure of the traditional semester structure that in some instances, the student will not be able to take that course again for six-months to a year.  How does putting a students’ academic careers on hold for four months to a two years make sense?

Transparent Costs

It can take less than five mouse clicks on Amazon to get the full price including tax and shipping of any purchase.  There is no equivalent for colleges.  Never mind that navigating college websites are endless labyrinths, but no state institute empowers students to know quickly and clearly exactly how much they will pay in anything less than twenty mouse clicks (if not more). 

Stop Pretending Fees Are Different

Higher education should quit playing the used car salesperson when it comes to the costs of education.  Breaking up the cost to students with “tuition” and “fees” is often unnecessary noise to the student.  Typically, “fees” elsewhere are relatively small (e.g. A.T.M. fee, overdraft fee, etc), but when fees exceed tuition several times over, it is not only confusing, but produces skepticism about the practices of higher education.  Students are left wondering what exactly they are paying for and why.  Colleges should provide a single clear calculable cost to education and when possible, a clear itemized explanation of the catch-all “fees.” 

Stop Externalizing Costs

Image of books with "Open Education Resources" on the cover.  Source: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/sites/default/files/oer.jpg
The average community college student will pay $1200 a year for their textbooks.  Therefore, by graduation, they will have paid for nearly a semester’s worth of education on books or resources that they might not even be able to access afterwards (especially as publishers switch from ownership to access models with ebooks).  Because such costs vary widely from semester to semester, it means students are incapable of knowing the full cost of a semester often until they are within weeks or days of the start of the semester.  Unstable and costly additions to students’ education, especially when the Open Educational Resources movement increasingly provides highly comparative material seems like an opportunity to

Transparent Learning

Colleges still cling to the course catalogue, an antiquated resource for course information.  In no other context, would someone willingly fork over hundreds of dollars based upon a five hundred character description of a three-month commitment.  This generic explanation of a course cannot provide students with any real understanding of their commitment in a specific section, when there are at times well over one hundred sections of a course.  The description as it currently stands does little to prepare students for learning nor does it resemble any respectable business practice.  That every college does not allow or require more information about specific sections seems a tremendous waste in the digital age especially when students are registering more online than through mail-in or face-to-face registration. 

Though faculty lament the use of RateMyProfessors.com, students use these sites because colleges fail to provide accurate and timely information about their courses.  When faced with one hundred sections of Composition 101, how does the student determine what is the best fit for his or her learning beyond what fits into a schedule?

Flex The Course

Brick and mortar colleges need to think about what they can do that that online colleges or MOOCs cannot.  In particular, colleges need to ponder how students can have more flexibility.  For instance, allowing students to move from an online course into a face-to-face course or from one course section into another could improve completion and student success.  This is something that the MOOCs and the online colleges cannot replicate—flexibility and seamlessness across platforms of learning.   

State institutions provide innumerable services to their students and communities.  They have helped many improve lives and achieve dreams.  The Degrees of Urgency report coupled with the overall trend of declining support for public higher education paint a dark picture for the future of state education in Massachusetts and elsewhere.  Colleges and universities that wish to avoid the ensuing turmoil would do best to incorporate some or all of these practices.  Their students will thank them for it. 


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Recent Blogpost on NSCC LETS Blog: Instructional Technology: The Green Solution

This is a blog post, I wrote for the NSCC LETS Blog.  

An often unrealized potential of instructional technology is the ways it can benefit the environment and reduce waste.  Here are some of my favorite ways to reduce waste through technology.

Online Readings

By providing readings online and allowing students to bring digital devices to class to use when we are working on the class readings, means that students are less likely to print it out.  However, even if they do, I provide them with instructions on how to get the most out of printing by using double-sided and depending on their viewing preferences, possibly 2 pages per side of paper (therefore a 60-page document is reduced to 15 pieces of paper).  Particularly in courses that have massive (and often, overpriced) texts that have lots inside that may never be read, I like that I can provide just the necessities. And with a growing assortment of Open Textbooks that are online for free, it makes it even easier!

Read the rest of the blog post on their website.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

10 Ways Running Reminds Me of Learning

Let's set the scene.

Here's me on Sunday, September 16, 2012.  I'm in the midst of running my first 30K Race.  That's right, I decided that what better way to spend the weekend just after my 33rd birthday, chugging over 18 miles on a warm Sunday afternoon.


Keep in mind:

  • There were no zombies chasing me.
  • There was no grand prize for coming in among the last 1/3 of the herd.
  • I had plenty of other things to do that Sunday.
  • I paid to be here.
Now, let's go back 15 months to June, 2011.  There are no pictures of me running.  Because up to that point, that is, the first 31 years and 9 months of my life, I did not run.  Let me rephrase that I ran only when ultimately forced to.  You know, like at gun point.  The fact is for 31 years, 9 months I had a HATE-HATE MORE relationship with running.  It didn't like me and I sure as hell didn't like it.  Like the student in class I repeated to myself and everyone that would listen, "I'm just not meant to be run.  I'll stick with other things."

But that clearly changed.  Indeed, last year, I ran a marathon and this year, I'll run several more.  Along the many miles I've run over the last few years, I learned to love running a whole lot to the point that I've spent thousands of hours running and thousands of words writing about running.  


In this evolution from non-runner to enthusiastic (almost obsessive, I'll admit) runner, I realized that there is a lot that I've drawn from running that helps me think about learning because somewhere along the line, I learned to run in a way that worked for me.  Here are the 10 ways that running reminds me of the challenges of learning.  

1.  I started slow and I am still slow and that's ok.

I have to run at a pace that works for me.  I can't worry about how fast other people are running.  Sure, I can sometimes look at it as motivation to speed up a little but the focus must be on me and what my body and mind are telling me.  This rings true for learning.  We are often disenchanted with our progress because someone else gets a subject matter much better than we do because it's not our forte or we don't have the right background to approach it as skillfully as others.  

2.  I had to figure out what worked for me.

There's lots of different methods to approach running out there.  Prior to my experience, people told me all sorts of ways to do it.  But I had to figure out what worked and what didn't work for me.  This meant a lot of trial and error.  In fact, this is where many people will abandon running because they can't seem to find the right way to approach it that works for them personally.  In this vein, I think learning is quite similar particularly around certain subject matter.  How some people learn a subject matter is going to be dependent on trying and finding different ways to approach the subject.  

3.  I set a range of goals to indicate levels of success.

Run!  Or even "run a marathon" are way to big for me to tackle.  I had to chunk them it all into manageable pieces.  When I started out and just wanted to get to be able to run, I found a place I could run at (Lake Quannapowitt) and set markers for running such as
  • Run for 10 minutes.
  • Run until you make it to this marker.
  • Run as far around the lake as you did yesterday and 100 feet further.
As I made progress, I set new goals and made sure to have a range.  That might include having a range within a race (my low goal is 30 minutes, my high goal is 25 minutes) or a range over a particular season (run at least 6 half-marathons or longer and 1 full marathon).  The goal was to make sure I had different ways to measure success.  This was helpful because it connected with #2 in that, I needed to see what goals were more motivating for me.  Similarly with learning, if you set to task, "I'm going to learn math."  You're setting up a massive goal.  So why do that or at least consider it a large goal with a long-term plan composed of smaller goals and objectives.  What are the smaller goals that can be stacked to get you to the larger goal?

4.  I set time aside to both think about (write) and do it (run).  

It goes without saying that you need to set time aside to achieve the goal.  That was obvious--though not without its challenges.  Eventually, I went the route of buying a treadmill so that in the harder weather I didn't have to rely on going to the gym and such.  It saved time to have easy and unlimited access to it.  Besides setting aside time to do it, I also made sure to think a lot about the running.  Visualizing myself running the race at top speed in perfect form has contributed to some great breakthroughs in my performance.  For learning, this means you have to set time aside and that time can't be the very last minute.  You have to incorporate it in some clear ways into your life's routine and you also need to think about it.  You shouldn't be thinking about "I need to do it" but you should be engaging with the content in your head--even when you don't have to.  This is where learning can take place through reinforcement.  

5.  I kept track of my progress because nobody else would.

I initially kept track of my runs on my Fitbit monitor but then moved into DailyMile, which has been fun and adds a nice social element to it as well.  I also continued to keep track of progress on this blog of course.  Keeping track is important because so often, we are looking forward and seeing the end goal still rather far away, but we need to look back and appreciate how far we have made it.  It's also important because if I'm trying to get somewhere, I have to know where I am within the big picture, right?  With learning, looking back is also important because it can provide you with a means of reflecting and appreciating where you are within the subject matter and how much progress on the subject that you've made.  

6.  I hit walls; I asked for help.

I most definitely hit some walls and places where I needed help.  I asked for help.  I had no shame in asking for help and encouragement from my friends and social-networks.  My friends and family want me to succeed and want to help me if they can.  The same holds for learning.  When you hit walls (and you will hit walls), reach out for help from friends, family, or people more versed in the subject matter.  Largely, people like helping others--especially if it is something they are vested in.  

7.  I was overwhelmed at times by it all; I wrote about it.

There will always be times when I think about running and am overwhelmed by it.  Overwhelmed by what I've done, overwhelmed by what I'm trying to do, overwhelmed by the mere idea that I am doing it.  Hell, I could even brim with tears at times.  That's all good!  That's a reflection of investment.  If you're so vested in learning something that you're emotionally moved; that's not a bad thing.  It shows how important it is to you.  For me, writing about it helped a lot because it allowed me to sort things out and to stay on focus.  Writing may not work for you (especially, if you're trying to learn writing), but find an outlet to channel the emotions and ideas about the subject matter.

8.  I talked about my running (sometimes, quite excessively).

If running was important to me, then I should be talking about it just like other things that are important to me.  This served two purposes.  
  • It had me talking about running--which is something runners do.  Talking about running reinforced the fact that I ran and was continuing to run.  I had never thought of myself as a "runner" but sure enough, I found that I was.
  • By sharing with other people in my life, it became a point of conversation.  We would talk about running or friends would ask me about my most recent race.  The most amazing moment of talking about running came when people started asking me for advice or told me that my actions were inspiring them to run.
When it comes to learning, the more you talk about and engage in the topic, the more likely you are to think about the subject matter and even gain mastery over it.

9.  I owned my accomplishments and gave room for others to acknowledge them too.

I took pride in what I was able to do.  I won no races, but I had victories at all of my races.  Every time I had a personal best or was just damn happy I showed up, I made note of it.  I blogged about it, I posted in FB and Twitter about it.  I celebrated my progress.  In sharing my victories, many others also provided congratulations which added to the positive feelings I had about running.  I also made sure to give thanks to those who helped.  You need to celebrate the victories that you make--regardless of where others are in their learning.

10.  I valued the experience for the internal value; not just the external benefits (though they were nice).  

I came to recognize that running provided me with many internal benefits that were useful.  The mental health benefits of running are many to count.  The better health reports I get from my doctor are also important.  The respect and admiration I get from friends, family, and colleagues--that's nice too.  I run for me--but that respect and admiration has proven a powerful tool to get me to that point.  For learning, this is the big challenge: the crossover.  That is, the moment when learning the subject is internally valued (you want to learn because it helps you understand your life more) more than extrinsically valued (you want to learn because you want an A on the examine).  

Those are my top 10 ways that running reminds me of learning.  What about you?  How else does running remind you of learning?


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hybrid Fluxed #03: It Sure Is Easy to Bash the MOOCs Part 1

A colleague brought this article to my attention on the concerns about MOOCs as apply to teaching history at the college level (and more than likely extend to many of us who teach in the Liberal Studies/Arts).  This article like so many written by people concerned about MOOCs are poorly constructed and limited in its value to the discussion.  While some of their claims are things we should be concerned about, others illustrate a failure to think flexibly or understand what they are actually discussing but feel more like reacting for the sake of reacting.  Such articles provide great opportunities to malign these new forms of technology and their impact on education, but do little to actually improve the situation.  In short, these articles are masturbatory acts that help no one when actually considering how to respond to the MOOCs.

The initial problem, I see is that the author, Jonathan Rees conflates the profession of history with the profession of teaching ("To me, Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) represent the potential for the Taylorization of the academic workplace and are therefore a threat to the “rule of thumb” judgments upon which the historical profession depends.").  These are two different things.  Yes--many historians teach, but others do not, and still others consider it secondary or even a necessary evil to what their primary work is.  Also, if teaching was considered a serious part of the historical profession, why is there so little official training for it within history programs?  (More on this later.)

His critical assessment of unbundling seems to undermine or ignore what is par for the course for the majority of courses and the practice of history in general.  He asks, "Why should anybody provide content for their classrooms, they ask rhetorically, when the best professors in the world can be piped in via the Internet?"  Isn't the logical extension of this concern making sure all content of the course is solely from the instructor?  That is, are instructors performing an act of unbundling every time they use outside textbooks, articles, documentaries, etc?   Furthermore, then should we not expect historians to use technology to locate and collect the best materials possible when conducting research?  Why should we expect a world-wide scouring of solid evidence and resources when composing a history article but when it comes to students, assume that the instructor knows all and sees all despite having a limited and almost-singular focus on history (that is, a specialization)?  Unbundling is what all of us do every time we select materials that we ourselves did not create such as textbooks, journal articles, or documentaries.  Pretending that using video lectures from others who may have a better capacity to present the material is different is making a false distinction.  

His assumption that "there are very few history MOOCs compared to the number of MOOCs in other disciplines" because "many other history professors with the opportunity to teach MOOCs have been scared off by the pedagogical sacrifices this kind of teaching would require" is an inaccurate claim with no research.  That would be akin to assuming that since the earliest of films were largely documentary and depiction of the world as it is, it must be because storytellers saw nothing to be gained from storytelling in the cinematic form and never would.  He also seems to imply that no one is interested in doing history MOOCs and yet there are currently over 70 history MOOCS being offered (http://www.mooc-list.com/tags/history).  Maybe that is "few...compared to the number of MOOCs in other disciplines"--but his implication that this is a pedagogical choice is poorly researched and understood.  MOOCs started in the sciences which is why he offhandedly notes, "Computer scientists, for example, seem to love them."  In part because that's where MOOCs started in these disciplines in the late 2000s and took time to make the transition into other disciplines.  Yes, there aren't as many but there are clearly more and more coming.  

He describes "flipped classes" as "Loading them [students] down with taped lectures." Again, this appears poorly presented in that if he had researched flipped classrooms or enlisted the aid of an instructional designer, he would discover that when done with pedagogically sound methods, flipped classrooms are not merely "taped lectures."   Believing that a flipped classroom is just "taped lectures" is like believing that watching a recorded theater performance and watching a cinematic adaptation of a play are the same thing.   

He laments that "Unfortunately, any other historian making use of their content will have to adapt to their particular historical content preferences. I can’t help but wonder whether students will understand who their real professor is in this situation."  Well, here's a question: how often are instructors confused for the authors of the textbooks they use in the course?  How often is the instructor confused for narrator or host of a documentary watched in class?  The answer is probably never or so rare that, the question is silly.  

He also grows concerned about the potential use of celebrities in MOOCs.  Well, if using Matt Damon for the lectures (and in truth, this isn't much different from when an instructor uses a documentary with a famous actor narrating it) can show improved student learning and retention, should we not consider using it--just as we have used celebrities to endorse and encourage other beneficial content and behaviors?  Isn't part of what learning is about emotional connection and if an actor can help one emotionally connect, why is that not a legitimate consideration for learning?  How much training of faculty is there before they step into a classroom about emotional connection and engagement?  Unless you have acquired it outside the discipline through out means or training, there's little guarantee that you have this skilset for the classroom.  

I've listened thousands of audiobooks in the last two decades and professionally reviewed well over 800 of them.  Without a doubt, the professional narrator always does better than author who narrates his or her own book.  There are definitely exceptions, but on the whole, the professional narrator is better at communicating in his or her professional endeavor.  Wherein the author usually does exceedingly well is when he or she has a background in broadcasting already.  The fact is, training someone for years in researching, writing, and professionally presenting historical research is poor training for communicating and engaging with a lay audience (i.e. college students who have little to no interest in history).  How often have we been bored to death by a professional presentation or fought our weighted eyelids as we tried--TRIED--to get through some journal article?   

The real thing that scares the author is:  "Yet such sacrifices are only one way that MOOCs could de-­professionalize, or even de-­skill, large segments of the professoriate. Historians who do not select their own content or write their own lectures could easily be replaced by personnel with less training, perhaps graduate students or people with no training in history at all. Or perhaps the schools that license history MOOCs will hire no onsite teaching help whatsoever and simply let students fend for themselves."  

This brings us back to the earlier point about history as a trained discipline.  Rees is largely scapegoating technology for the actual threat: the history discipline.  How many master and doctorate programs are geared towards producing historians (not including those focused on creating middle and high school history teachers) actually spend any programmatic time on exploring pedagogy for teaching at the college level?  And assistantships do not count--given they are working with live specimens, have inconsistent levels of supervision, and largely are thrown into classes without any training about teaching.   The MOOCs are not de-professionalizing anyone; the discipline is doing so if it isn't actively and consciously training historians as educators (if in fact that is part of the purpose of the history discipline).  Yes, history programs often do well at training the historian to study history but studying history and teaching history are about as far apart as being a mechanic and being a race car driver.  Yes, there is bound to be some overlap but the history discipline largely leaves it to chance that the mechanic is interchangeable with the race car driver.  Pretending that one goes hand in hand with the other is a failure to understand that learning is not the same as teaching. 

Here's a great example:  The very university that Rees teaches at has a Master of Arts in History.  
  • How many courses are required by Masters' students on pedagogy to complete the degree?  Zero.  
  • How many courses on pedagogy or instruction are offered even as electives within the history discipline?  Zero.  
Yet, a graduate with an MA in History can often start teaching at the college level.  If Rees is bemoaning the loss of professionalism within the history discipline, he would do better to actually establish professionalism around instruction within the discipline .  With that in hand, maybe MOOCs wouldn't be as big of a threat as he poses them to be.  

However, he is right.  There are many concerns to MOOCs, though most of them are a matter of time and tweaking.  He points to optional readings as a concern or "sacrifice".  That's not a real concern.  One can require readings--they just need to be accessible to students and not externalized costs at the student's behalf.  If he considers this a "sacrifice", then may he should reconsider why he is critical of the idea that using other professionals' resources in his classroom since the books he assigns for courses are just that.  

What I find most damming about the article is that as a leader, he offers poor leadership in this regard.  He bashes the MOOCs (with poor arguments) but offers nothing in contrast.  He agrees with Aaron Bady that MOOCs "could be done well, I think, but it won’t be."  However, rather than identify and paint a pathway towards how it could be done right, he simply condemns the MOOCs and says that MOOCs are something that "no credit-­awarding university should tolerate."  

Whether it's MOOCs or some other use of instructional technology changing the standard way of things are to be questioned, but they are also to be considered for the ways in which they can improve current teaching and learning.  They are an active conversation happening on campuses across the world and Rees (at least in this article) appears to be saying, don't engage in the conversation.  Stick your head in the sand and wait till the threat passes.  I'm sure history abounds with examples of how well this strategy has worked.  

If Rees and others are truly concerned that the MOOC will create a poor product and potentially deprofessionalize instruction in higher education, then it's time to up the game.  If MOOCs are as true a threat as Rees wants us to think, then we better damn well have alternatives in place when administrators come knocking at our colleges looking to implement MOOCs for credit.  It then becomes our imperative to leverage technology, where professionally relevant, to improve and enhance the experiences of our students.  

In the next post, I intend to do just that: identify different ways we can enhance students experience, maintain professionalism, and save money.  In the end, I agree with Rees that we should be skeptical of new methods but that skepticism needs to be more than just disregard.  We have and create a lot of unnecessary roadblocks and tediousness for our students and as other colleges and alternative to colleges remove these roadblocks, we owe it to our students to make things more streamlined, accessible, and engaging.  


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Recommendations on Learning, Education and Academia Books

Given that I work in higher education, have accumulated a handful of degrees, and have taught about 100 college courses, I've spend a good amount of time about learning, education, and academia (yes, those are largely different things with overlapping commonalities) and having just finished a Master's in Education, I thought I'd take a walk down book memory lane to see what are those different books that impacted my thoughts on learning, education, and academia.

Like I warned in this post on social media books, I don't necessarily agree with everything said within these books, but they build an interesting conversation around ideas on learning, education, and academia.  Again, feel free to ask questions or leave comments about your favorites or those you really dislike.

Recommended Books for Learning, Education, and Academia

Book cover: My Word! by Susan Blum.  Image Source: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/sites/default/files/book-image/my-word-plagiarism-college-culture.png
  • Anderson, Chris. Free: The Future of a Radical Price. New York: Hyperion, 2009. Print.
  • Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. New York: Hyperion, 2006. Print.
  • Anderson, Chris. Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. New York: Crown Business, 2012. Print.
  • Arbesman, Samuel. The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date. , 2012. Print.
  • Ariely, Dan. The (honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-Especially Ourselves. , 2012. Print.
  • Bauerlein, Mark. The Digital Divide: Arguments for and against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2011. Print.
  • Berger, Jonah. Contagious: Why Things Catch on. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. Print.
  • Bilton, Nick. I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted. New York: Crown Business, 2010. Print.
  • Bissell, Tom. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2010. Print.
  • Blascovich, Jim, and Jeremy Bailenson. Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution. New York: William Morrow, 2011. Print.
  • Blum, Susan D. My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009. Print.
  • Botsman, Rachel, and Roo Rogers. What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. New York: Harper Business, 2010. Print.
  • Boyle, James. The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2008. Print.
  • Brafman, Ori, and Rom Brafman. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. New York: Doubleday, 2008. Print.
  • Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, Minn: Hazelden, 2010. Print.
  • Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print.
  • Chabris, Christopher F, and Daniel J. Simons. The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us. New York: Crown, 2010. Print.
  •  Chatfield, Tom. 50 Digital Ideas: You Really Need to Know. London: Quercus, 2011. Print.
  • Chatfield, Tom. Fun Inc: Why Games Are the 21st Century's Most Serious Business. London: Virgin, 2010. Print.
  • Chatfield, Tom. How to Thrive in the Digital Age. London: Macmillan, 2012. Print.
  • Chertavian, Gerald. A Year Up: How a Pioneering Program That Teaches Young Adults Real Skills for Real Jobs - with Real Success. New York: Viking, 2012. Print.
  • Christakis, Nicholas A, and James H. Fowler. Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. New York: Little, Brown and Co, 2009. Print.
  • Christian, Brian. The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive. New York: Doubleday, 2011. Print.
  •  Collins, Gail. As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda. New York: Liveright Pub. Corporation, 2012. Print.
  • Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. New York: Penguin Press, 2009. Print.
  • Dewey, John. Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1938. Print.
  • Diaz-Ortiz, Claire. Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.
  • Dick, Walter, and Lou Carey. The Systematic Design of Instruction. Glenview, Ill: Scott, Foresman, 1978. Print.
  • Donovan, Jeremey. How to Deliver a Ted Talk: Secrets of the World's Most Inspiring Presentations. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace, 2012. Print.
  • Drout, Michael D. C. How to Think: The Liberal Arts and Their Enduring Value. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2013. Sound recording.
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Book Cover:  Brain Rules by John Medina.  Image Source: http://buildingcreativebridges.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/medina-brain_rules.jpg

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Hat Trick: 3 Masters Degrees

I just submitted my final project for my last class for my third (and probably not final) master's degree.  Funny enough, it is just under ten years ago that I started my first Master's Degree.  Having accomplished the aforementioned hat trick, I thought I would discuss a bit about the experiences and kernels of wisdom gleaned about the process.

Degree Breakdown

First, I should clarify what I have gotten.  Mostly because the first issue I'll be talking about is that not all Master's Degrees are equal in a variety of ways and it's important to note that my experience is not likely the same as other people who are pursuing degrees that are substantively different from the ones I've earned (e.g. biology, geography, etc).  Here they are:
  • Masters of American Studies at University of Massachusetts in Boston with a focus on gender and sexuality and popular culture.
  • Masters of Public Administration at Suffolk University with a focus on nonprofit organizations.
  • Masters of Education at University of Massachusetts in Boston with a concentration on Instructional Design

What led me down this course?

Most people go for a single Master's Degree, while others may end up with two by odd circumstances.  Yet I'm signing off on #3.  What am I thinking and why don't I just get a doctorates? All great questions and none of which I think I have a good straightforward answer.  To understand the Master's Degrees, one needs to understand the rest of my educational background.

When I entered into college, my plan was to become a high school history teacher after my mentor and all-around favorite teacher, Mr. Metropolis.  He was an inspiration to many and his class was intellectually intriguing.  In fact, that's what drew me to become a teacher was the draw to ideas, discussing them, relating them, and figuring them out.

Statue of Woman in Thinking Pose: Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/81/A_woman_thinking.jpg
A chance conversation with my adviser in the Honors Program, Dr. Pat Ould made me rethink the plan to go back and teach high school.  "You need to get your doctorate's degree," she declared with a sincerity and matter-of-fact tone that I still hear in my head today.  She quickly explained what it was all about and that given how excited and engaged I felt with the academic nature of college, that more degrees seemed obvious.  This made a lot of sense to me and thus, I re-shifted my focus toward attaining a doctorate and most likely teaching at the college level.  However, by the beginning of senior year, I was facing a bit of burn-out as a result of lots of work on my Honor's thesis and personal drama.  I realized that I wasn't ready for grad school and needed time off, so I got a job in the interim.

One side benefit of this job was tuition assistance for employees enrolled in a degree program.  The money would barely be enough to cover one or two courses a year in a graduate program at most.  However, if I took courses at my local community college, the money could go far.  I decided that since I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do for graduate school, I would go to community college and get an associate's degree (in criminal justice).  This choice did several things for me.  It staved off paying school loans (so long as you are enrolled in two courses or more, you do not have to pay your loans) and it helped me stay in an academic mindset until I was ready for graduate school.

Eventually, I realized that I had several different areas to pursue:  Media Studies, Writing, and Sex and Gender Studies.  Thus I applied to programs at Emerson College, Salem State College, and University of Massachusetts-Boston.  I got accepted to all three but for financial and just driving interest at the time, I went with UMASS Boston's Masters in American Studies, where I would focus on gender and sexuality.  It's still definitely one of the best decisions I made in my life.  The program was hard and kicked my ass regularly, but made me a much better critical thinker.

I barreled through the program in two years (which I did with all three degrees) and by the time I was finishing, I had shifted away from my first college job in an online retailer to working in youth residential programs.  The shift was significant especially as I thought about my next move.  I learned a lot about gender, sex, and sexuality over those two years and it had me thinking about how and what I could do with that learning.  Another degree made the most amount of sense because while the program was fantastic, it was also largely cerebral and abstract so I wanted some good technical skills to balance it out or at least apply what I learned in the program.  I applied to Suffolk University for a Master's in Public Administration and either Northeastern or Boston University for a Masters in Sociology (I forget which one).  I got into Suffolk University but not the other, so I went to Suffolk.

By contrast to UMASS, Suffolk University was disappointing.  It lacked the rigor and intellectual complexity that I was used to from UMASS.  However, I figured I would at least have a better sense of ways of how to work with the different systems in society to advocate for better understanding and appreciation around gender, sex, and sexuality.  While working this Master's Degree, I was witnessing another shift in my career.  Over the course of two years, I had turned into a full-time  part-time instructor at several colleges and universities in the Greater Boston area.  My involvement with this grew enough that by the time I was done with my Master's at Suffolk University, I turned to focusing on teaching and writing for a few years.

Then, I became the Coordinator of Instructional Design at North Shore Community College.  In acquiring the job, I realized that though I was qualified, I still needed a stronger background in education.  That is, there was much that I intuited from my experiences as instructor and student, but needed a bit more formal training and technical background to fill in gaps.  In looking for graduate schools this time around, I did not bother to search much.  With the new position, state colleges and universities were the best bet in terms of affordability and UMASS Boston has a Masters in Education with a concentration on Instructional Design that fit.

I do plan on getting a doctorate's degree, but I will start the search process next year with the goal of starting in 2015.  I have a few projects to get off the ground in the interim.

Professional vs. Academic Master Degrees

As I mentioned above, my American Studies Master's Degree was much more challenging than my Public Administration master's degree.  My Instructional Design master's wasn't much more challenging than the Public Administration degree.  The reason is that there tend to be (at least) two kinds of Master's Degree:  the Academic Master's Degree and the Professional Master's Degree.

A good way to contrast this different is in the total work per course one expects.  In an academic program, a course usually has at minimum five or more books, minimum reading of 200 pages a week, and requires at least two papers, one of which is likely to be fifteen pages or longer.  The professional program typically has at most two books, requires less than 100 pages a week, and rarely includes more than ten-page paper.

Lance Eaton - Zombie version
Sometimes, this is what it takes to get through
an academic Master's degree.
The professional degree is typically easier and demands less of students, which for some is a winning endorsement.  However, that's where the degree is at its weakest.  In both professional programs, what I found most disappointing is the level of feedback.  If we take that term "Master" to mean anything, I would think it meant mastery of said subject matter.  But mastery is something that takes a lot of work and since we're talking about intellectual mastery, then it should follow that there should be intellectual rigor.

One's brain should get a serious workout.  However, that workout comes in two forms.  It comes in the form of being exposed to new information (reading, viewing, discussing newly exposed content) and it comes in the form of critically revising prior understandings about the content.  The key to this happening is offering up one's take and having it evaluated and criticized.  That is, critical feedback about how the student is making sense of the new content and progressing towards mastery of the topic is needed.  To some, this can feel like a brutal process wherein one funnels their energy, mind, and heart into (what he/she believes is) an awesome paper, only to have it returned with ample feedback that can feel negative (and even petty--and sometimes, that is true).  But the criticism feedback loop is essentially to pushing thinking and understanding of the subject by the student.  And it's this element--critical and articulate feedback--that I've found most lacking in professional Master's degrees.  It's just not there to the degree that I experienced it in the academic degree.

Why I found that so irksome is that particularly the contrast in what I was paying for my first Master's Degree (the academic one) and my second (the professional one), was substantial.  I paid triple the cost for a professional Master's Degree that gave me 1/3 the quality and intellectual return.

Thus, if I have one nugget of wisdom to bestow upon people looking for Master's Degrees, it would be to spend some time thinking about what kind of degree do you want.  Are you looking to be fundamentally challenged on a subject matter or merely for more professional opportunities?  More than anything else, that could significantly help you find a program that fits your needs most.

What have been your experiences with your Master's Degrees?  What did you like or dislike about them?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.