The Netflix Effect: An Article I Can’t Stop Thinking About

You may have seen this article on computerized suggestions for students about classes they might want to take in The Chronicle–it’s been on top of the “most read” list for a while now. When I first heard of Netflix, most of the talk revolved around their amazing recommendation service. I never thought about using the kinds of algorithms used for advertising on web sites and recommending newspaper articles to readers to drive traffic for student advising. I’m intrigued.

When I read about that Netflix advising, I thought that I’d probably hate it; typically I bristle at any suggestions–following Emerson (in “Gifts”) and Dostoevsky (Underground), I find them to be insulting because of the predictability they imply (I’d rather be almost anything than be predictable, which, ironically, makes me predictable (sigh)). Not so. I don’t always follow it, and I sometimes look at things (or sign up for movies) that I’m really not interested in to try to confound the programming (how dumb is that?), but more often than not, I end up pleased that I was encouraged to see something that I would not have chosen for myself (most often because of a lack of awareness of it). I think I’d like to see it. Am I goofy?

Philosophers Take Up The Treatment of Serial Sexual Harrassers

There’s been some interesting conversation (I first read about it on The Leiter Report) this past week about what philosophers should do to make their discipline less hostile to women, that has raised the cover on the depth of the problems and challenges women face through their involvement in the pursuit of wisdom.

The article linked to above has links to a couple of great philosophy blogs, that focus on feminist theory (like this and this–as a digression, the latter raises an interesting question of advising responsibility–I feel like part of my job is to inspire enthusiasm in the discipline for anyone interested, particularly for women given the scholarship need and relative dearth of women in the field, but if the field is out and out hostile to women, I can’t justly send them off to the wolves without informing them, right? But informing them will likely dampen their enthusiasm, and then…well, you can think through the rest. So what should I do when I have a woman sitting in a chair in my office asking about what it’s like to be a philosopher, do I give her a link to “What Is It Like To Be A Woman in Philosophy?” knowing that it’s likely to turn her away? What are the responsibilities of advisors for these sorts of fields–math and physics, inclusive?)

Lots of interesting reading and thinking.

Perceptions of Placement

While thinking about Reinvention, I saw this piece on Inside Higher Ed, about recent research related to students’ perceptions regarding placement exams.

It reminded me of some of the ideas that were presented by the guy from Columbia’s Teacher’s College (can’t remember his name…Jenkins! Something Jenkins) about placement. The article says:

While still in high school, the students interviewed said that they did not think they needed to “do anything extra” to prepare for community college. In other words, most thought “graduating from high school” was enough.

With this in mind upon enrolling at community college, many students said they thought the placement tests were meant to capture them “at a point in time without the benefit of studying.” This is a clear misunderstanding, as California community college officials note that students should review for these tests.

And this part was interesting, too (it reminds me of exactly how I thought going into the SAT and my first go around with the GRE):

“Normally I don’t really like to prepare for anything that has to do with things like placement tests, because in a way it feels like I’m cheating myself a little,” said one student quoted in the report. “I’m thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t know these concepts before the test, and all of a sudden they tell me that I have a test coming up. So let me prepare for that.’ And it feels like I’m sort of cheating.”

What if the orientation happened before the placement exam, with a mandatory study session or even optional one during a kind of required preparation period (48 or 72 hours)?

I’d venture to say that if the college were interested in improving the retention and success rates rightnow, one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective things they could do would be to not register students in the week prior to classes starting. Rushing through the placement exam, taking any classes that are open–these are not conducive to college success.

Just an idea…

Registration highs and lows

So here I am, rather, here we are, once again, registering students at the college. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with several colleagues and the consensus is that we can be more efficient with this registration process or, we can be doing better things with our time, such as working on syllabi.

On the one hand, I like and appreciate the opportunity to be in one room with all of you.  Sure beats DWFDW.

On the other hand, I am concerned that while we enjoy the company of each other (a priceless experience, if you ask me) we may be doing ourselves and our students a disservice. I feel that we’ve all been reduced to being gears of an antiquated or archaic system. I’m talking about both students and teachers.

I know this is old news so, here’s my question:
What can we do and what should we do to transform this registration experience?

One idea that Chris (Sabino) and I brainstormed was to take faculty out of room 404 and just have students register online. (Wasn’t this the reason for going to PeopleSoft? To automate the enrollment system? And yet we are still enrolling as if we are using SPAS?)

Faculty could then be in their offices working on syllabi and meeting with students that  have specific questions about our respective programs. Yes, we’d all have access to quick enroll.  This would be a better use of our time (teachers and students).

I believe students keep depending on faculty because they know come rain, shine, sleet, or snow we will be at the college to look-up courses on their behalf. Why are we reduced to typists? I’ve simply been a query specialist or a U-Pass magician these past few days and it must change.

How shall we institute change so that next year at this time we are truly serving our community? I’m left wondering.

Think, Know, Prove–Registration Training

So I don’t think anyone would deny that there is precious little training (other than trial and error) received by faculty on how to register students for classes. New folks sit with some more experienced folks for a couple of days and then, once they know how to use PeopleSoft with some comfort, they start advising.

In the past few years there have been a couple of training sessions available to faculty during Faculty Development Week, but the general presumption is that faculty know what they’re doing and provide accurate and good advice to students looking to register for classes. Or, maybe I should say, the system operates as if that were the case.

Yet, in conversations with administrators about advising, they consistently talk about errors by faculty advisors, and, with but two exceptions, the same goes for what is said by faculty about other faculty. Most faculty I know and talk to, even the two exceptions, would, I think, suggest that faculty are ill-prepared at best to advise the plurality of students we get during the Peak Registration period. The vast majority are undoubtedly knowledgeable in advice about some area or other, but few, if any, are ready to advise anyone who sits down in front of them, yet the system suggests they are (with the exception of brand new students) and that they do a great job with them.

Our most recent Humanities Department assessment suggested otherwise; we found that somewhere around 10% of the students in our Humanities 201 and 202 classes do not have the pre-requisite for the class they took the survey in, and that’s NOT including all of the students (of which there were many) who self-identified in the first week or two of class (through writing samples and/or fear after hearing about the course requirements. That’s a lot of mis-advised students.

This past week, Faculty Council met with the Student Services honchos to discuss some FC concerns about registration and advising, and the discussion eventually turned to the possible benefits of an advising protocol, at least, and/or training session for faculty members–something more rigorous than sitting next to another person or two. It would be deadly, though, if it turns into an exercise of the useless sort. So, when it comes to advising students, what are your consistent concerns? What are your consistent challenges? What sorts of things do you want to know more about and what sorts of things do you want everyone else to know about your classes and programs?

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

A New Study on Transfer Acceptance

Check it out here. Interesting info here that might be useful for advising students who are thinking about transferring.

The overall figures suggest that most students who apply to transfer are admitted and most of those who are admitted actually enroll (the figure known as yield). Over all, 64 percent of transfer applicants are admitted — a little less than those applying for first-time admission (69 percent).

Asked to identify factors that would make candidates more or less desirable for admission, those evaluating transfer applications were generally neutral, suggesting a focus on individual qualifications. The factor that was most likely to be viewed as “positive” was prior attendance at a highly competitive four-year institution, at 50.0 percent. In contrast, only 39.5 percent viewed earning an associate degree as a positive, as opposed to neutral. The factor most likely to be viewed as negative — at 10.6 percent of admissions officers — was a plan to enroll part time.

Where the public/private differences show up is in the factors that admissions officials say have “considerable importance” in admissions, with public institutions focused largely on grades in college generally and grades in transferable courses. Private colleges care about those things, too, but are more likely to care about a range of other factors.

Advising Model

I thought this was an interesting article on a different advising model for students.

I’m not totally clear on how it would work in, say, Illinois, but I like the idea of their being a team of advisors whose knowledge of the different state colleges is much more specialized than my own.  Failing the creation of something of this sort, I’d like to, at least, find some really good resources for giving students a sense of the strengths of different transfer possibilities (and the difficulties–particularly for transfers from a city college). The truth is that I don’t even know what life is now like at the college I went to. I know what it was like 20 years ago when I arrived on campus, but that was 20 years ago. Pretty sure some stuff is different now. I know a little about a few different places (UIC, DePaul, and Chicago State) through a select few former students, but not much.

I would really, really, really, like to see some surveying done of transferred students, post transfer, about the institutions they chose to try to get a sense of where I might direct students to (or away from) in the future.

I’d guess a lot of folks are looking for something like that (especially the students), and if it were an easy thing to make or find, it would be out there already and we’d know about it. I still can’t shake the feeling, though, that there has to be more info out there somewhere. There has to be a better resource (or model) than me making largely uninformed guesses about schools on the basis of things I’ve heard or surmised here and there.

Any ideas?

Tuesday Teaching Question

Yesterday was the last day to drop a course. Henceforth, they are stuck with you and you are stuck with them (and I say that in the lovingest way, possible).

I thought about announcing it to my classes–some years I have, some years I haven’t. I had a few students sidle up before and after classes to ask if I thought they could pull out a B or a C from the course, and I am pretty sure that they had dropping on their mind. Still, I didn’t generally announce it, nor send out any sort of notices to students who haven’t shown up or haven’t done crucial assignments or the rest that they OUGHT to drop the course since they don’t have a realistic chance at passing it.

Sometimes I think that I have a responsibility to do such things. Yesterday, at least, I felt like the responsibility to know their own status is their own, and I’m not doing them any favors by acting in a paternalistic fashion in regard to something that should be treated by them with a certain degree of urgency, in my humble.

I’m wondering what y’all do. Do you announce the drop date? Have you ever told a student that s/he should drop your course? Do you tell them without being asked? Should we?