Blog Archives

Flotsam and jetsam (the very overdue edition)

Darwin speculated that life began in a warm pond on the primordial Earth. Lately other scientists have suggested that the magic joining of molecules that could go on replicating might have happened in an undersea hot spring, on another planet or inside an asteroid. Some astronomers wonder if it could be happening right now underneath the ice of Europa or in the methane seas of Titan.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa prove — not contend — that students are not learning what they should, professors are not doing all they could, administrators are not focused on education enough and, as if that weren’t a glassful, society is and will continue to suffer is something isn’t done about it.

Three hit songs in the last few months have pushed the same message: You are awesome. You’re awesome just the way you are, even –no, especially– if you don’t fit in.

My take on the passage is that it refers to our meeting Christ in the air to welcome him to his earthly rule. If this is a “rapture”, fine, as long as it is not confused with the popular idea.

  • Rod has started what looks like a fascinating series on Firefly & Theology. (If you’re not familiar with Firefly, it was an outstanding scifi series on Fox that sadly only made it through one season, though it was later made into a movie.)

Texting in class

Inside Higher Ed had an interesting post today on the a recent study that was done to measure how much texting takes place in university classrooms. Here are some of the findings that they reported:

  • 95 percent of students bring their phones to class every day.
  • 91 percent have used their phones to text message during class time.
  • Almost half of respondents said it was easy to text in class without instructors being aware.
  • 99 percent said they should be permitted to retain their cell phones while in class.
  • 62 percent said they should be allowed to text in class as long as they don’t disturb their classmates. (About a quarter of the students stated that texting creates a distraction to those sitting nearby.)
  • 10 percent said that they have sent or received text messages during exams, and 3 percent admitted to transmitting exam information during a test.

First, fess up. Have you ever texted in a class? Second, what do you think about texting in class (never, sometimes, who cares)?

I’ll get things started by admitting that I’ve texted in class. And, it was my own class. (The class had just broken into small discussion groups, and I was momentarily free.) And, I’ve sent emails while sitting in a class many times. (Is there any real difference between texting and emailing during a class?)

Flotsam and jetsam (10/27)

They text their friends all day long. At night, they do research for their term papers on laptops and commune with their parents on Skype. But as they walk the paths of Hamilton College, a poster-perfect liberal arts school in this upstate village, students are still hauling around bulky, old-fashioned textbooks — and loving it.

Though I shared some of the frustrations, I came to a place on day five, when I finally realized: We all feel marginalized in some way. That’s the human condition. Extend grace. Move on. At the end of the day, it’s not about you or me. In the church and in ministry, we will all encounter moments when we feel marginalized and unintentionally marginalize others, but we must learning to work and serve together without resorting to the “It’s not fair!” refrain that can divide and undermine our reputation to the world around us. We must learn to display what it means to madly love God and one another in spite of our sense of inequality.

  • Roger Olson answers the question, “What is an evangelical theologian?” offering his usual emphasis on evangelicalism as a sociological  movement rather than some particular set of theological commitments.

Thus, my answer to whether Brian McLaren is an evangelical theologian is: “Of course he is. What else would he be?”  Brian’s whole shtick (I don’t mean that in any demeaning way) is only of interest to evangelicals.  His publishers are mostly evangelical publishers.  He speaks mostly in evangelical institutions.  He pastors an evangelical church.  To a very large extent he has no constituency outside of evangelicalism.  What does it even mean to declare him “not an evangelical theologian?”

As I look back on this book I see both strengths and weaknesses. The epistolary form is a wonderful choice. The tone is humble and helpful. The majority of what Smith teaches lines up well with what I believe. But as a Baptist I had to disagree with, well, a good portion of it. And looking at the endorsements, I can see that others disagreed with him as well. Two of the book’s endorsers, Tullian Tchividjian and Michael Horton offer caveats within their blurbs (Tchividjian: “No one will agree with everything here, but what I appreciate…” Horton: “Most of the time I cheered ‘Amen!’ as I read these letters, but even when I disagreed, I appreciated…”). In fact, conspicuous by their absence from the list of endorsers are any of the Baptist leaders of this New Calvinism.

The Rise and Fall of Accreditation in America

One of the first things that I had to learn about when I became an academic dean was the world of accreditation. What is it? What’s it for? Why do I seem to spend so much time on it? A recent position paper by The Center for College Affordability and Productivity does a very nice job of summarizing the history and purpose of accreditation in America, along with its greatest challenges, most troubling failures, and the likelihood of significant changes in the future. The report, “The Inmates Running the Asylum: An Analysis of Higher Education Accreditation,” is worth at least a quick skim if you want to understand the accreditation world better. And, if you’re involved (or would like to be involved) in higher education, accreditation is something you should know at least something about.

The authors begin with a pretty pointed summary of their view on modern accreditation.

If the nation were starting afresh on accreditation, we predict it would devise a radically different system than the one it has become over the past century. Would we have multiple regional accrediting agencies? We doubt it. Would the accreditors be private entities largely controlled by individuals themselves affiliated with the institutions that they certify? We doubt it. Would accreditation largely be “an-all-ornothing”proposition, where institutions are simply “accredited” or “non-accredited” with few distinctions in between? We doubt it. Would an accrediting mechanism be permitted where key elements of the assessment are not available for public review? We doubt it. Would accrediting that sometimes emphasizes inputs rather than outcomes be permitted? Again, we doubt it. In short, there are numerous characteristics of today’s system of accreditation that are subject to questioning and criticism. (1)

The authors do a nice job explaining the four eras in the historical development of accreditation (pre-1936, 1936-1952, 1952-1985, and 1085-present). The most helpful part here was their explanation of how accreditation shifted from being a largely voluntary, self-governing process in the early years, to one focused on meeting certain standards in order to be eligible for government funding after the passage of the GI Bill (1944, 1952) and the Higher Education Act (1965). The authors then assess how successful accreditation has been in each era with regard to a number of factors:

  • Quality Improvement
  • Quality Assurance (defining appropriate measures of quality, certifying minimum quality, informing the public)
  • Promoting the Health and Efficiency of Higher Education (preserving historical strengths, promoting efficiency)

In each case, they argue that accreditation practices were generally more effective in the earlier years when accreditation was voluntary and not connected to federal funding.

One of the more interesting aspects of the article was their contention that modern accreditation largely fails because it’s trying to serve two, mutually exclusive purposes. First, accreditation tries to promote institutional development. Having just been through an accreditation visit not too long ago, I can attest to the fact that one of the primary emphases is on helping the institution improve at what the institution claims it is trying to do. And, given the diversity of educational institutions, these purposes and goals are determined by each school. So, the school determines the target and the accreditors come along side to help the school get better at hitting its target. Indeed, one of the reasons that the accreditation process is largely confidential is because accreditors want/need to the schools to disclose candidly their areas of weakness so they can facilitate improvement.

That’s all well and good until you realize that a second purpose of accreditation is supposed to be quality control. Quality control isn’t about helping a school improve; it’s about measuring whether a school is performing up to some minimal level of expectation. And, quality control isn’t for the benefit of the institution (primarily), but for the benefit of the public. Quality control serves to determine which institutions are performing satisfactorily so that they should continue receiving government funds for the benefit of society. For quality control to work in this sense, though, it would seem that you need clear standards of acceptable performance that transcend institutional differences and are publicly available.

Somewhat surprisingly (to me), the authors end up arguing that the second function, quality control, is the one that needs to remain the primary emphasis for accreditation moving forward. They make this argument partly from a rather pragmatic perspective. Federal funding for higher education isn’t going away, and as long as it’s around, there will be a need for some kind of quality control mechanism. Since modern accreditation is simply incapable of handling that task, they argue that it needs to be jettisoned and a completely new system put in its place. But, they also think that higher education needs to focus much more on measuring student learning and performance as the primary indicator of success. So, they argue for the creation of clearer, discipline-specific standards for learning that could be used to measure quality across institutions.

Flotsam and jetsam (9/13)

Stephen Colbert “University” and the rise of for-profit higher education

Stephen Colbert has a great (as usual) piece on for-profit higher education. According to Colbert,

[T]he average college graduate earns twice as much as a person with only a high school degree, which in this current job market works out to…zero dollars.

And, of course, non-profit colleges don’t know anything about making money. So, we need to turn to for-profit institutions. Sure, they may use deceptive advertising and manipulative recruiting practices, but they’re profitable. And, students at online schools can stay in bed and attend classes looking like level 55 death knights. Bonus.

So, Colbert is going to open his own for-profit university, which is “open to anybody with an interent connection and a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin or two letters from Ulysses S. Grant.” He proudly states that Stephen Colbert University is where “we put the U in ‘we make money off you.'”

He goes on to interview Andrew Hacker about his book Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It, who apparently thinks that college is good for teaching kids how to become good “middle class” citizens and to reason with the lower class people when they rise up and attack them with pitchforks.

(By the way, does anyone know if you can embed videos from Comedy Central in a blog?)

Flotsam and jetsam (8/9)

Flotsam and jetsam (8/4)

  • Last week I linked to an Inside Higher Ed article on anti-Christian sentiment in higher education. NPR has now produced an article of their own on the subject. And here’s a similar discussion from Christian Post.
  • Gary Cutting discusses the relationship of philosophy and faith by addressing the difficulties that all people face when dealing with arguments for and against the existence of God. HT
  • Out of UR has posted the first two parts of a video discussion between Mark Dever, Skye Jethani and Jim Wallis on social justice and the Gospel (part 1 and part 2). Obviously, they bring very different perspectives to the table, so it’s worth checking out.
  • And, apparently monkeys hate flying squirrels. According to “monkey-annoyance experts,” one of the best ways to annoy a monkey is to place it in proximity to a flying squirrel. The best thing about this article is discovering that there are people out there who make a living out of annoying monkeys. HT