Are High Quality Teaching and Research Incompatible?

Are High Quality Teaching and Research Incompatible?

Last month, I wrote a post called 4 Reasons to be Happy about Teaching with No Tenure, about my experience as an assistant academic specialist—a non-tenured full-time faculty appointment—here the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies (CPS).

The controversial topic of non-tenured faculty has recently resurfaced, as the National Bureau of Economic Research released a new study of first-year students at Northwestern University showing that non-tenure track faculty are more effective teachers than tenured or tenure track faculty, especially for students who are the least academically prepared. Predictably, this has inflamed the never-ending battle between those who apparently want to blow up the tenure system and those who want to ensure its primacy and longevity. This conflict has also been intensified by poor reporting in higher education news sources and the mass media alike. Comments on articles summarizing this study are rarely enlightening but do demonstrate that this issue continues to touch a nerve.

To me, this study emphasizes what should be an obvious point: If you want high-quality teaching from faculty, academic institutions need to value teaching as much as they do research. Unfortunately, the current system of rewards and recognition in most research universities values research over high-quality teaching, most

I’m not going to review the study’s research design; it should suffice to say that the Northwestern study was a pretty well designed case study of one elite university. One important point does need to be clarified, though. The study only included full-time, non-tenured faculty with long term contracts and access to benefits. Part-time adjuncts, temporary lecturers and graduate students were not included in the sample. This raises legitimate questions about the role that working conditions might play in explaining the results, but I will not address that here.

The Northwestern study should cause us to reflect on what the mission of higher education is and how to best achieve it. Research universities in particular have what these authors call a “multi-tasking problem.” They are responsible for doing high-quality research and for providing a high-quality college education. I think we can all acknowledge that it is uncommon for an individual professor to do both extremely well, all of the time. This shouldn’t be a controversial assertion. We have all experienced excellent professors from whom we learned a lot and who changed how we understood the world and ourselves. We have all experienced professors who were probably incredible researchers but who couldn’t teach their way out of a box of chalk. And many of us probably had professors who were terrible one term and great in another. Given this natural variation in individual talent, how can universities, as institutions, achieve their dual mission of doing research/scholarship and teaching?

Dr. Estrella-Luna is a faculty member in the Doctor of Law and Policy program. especially in evaluation for tenure and promotion

I believe that the authors’ recommendation of a “research-intensive tenure track and a teaching-intensive lecturer track” (emphasis added) may be a bit premature and distracts from the core issue. It is possible to have both high-quality teaching and innovative research in any individual institution, but it requires that the institution value teaching to a much greater extent. It would also require greater creativity to accommodate the variation in focus on, and ability in, teaching and research among individual faculty members.

Many of my tenured, research-focused friends and colleagues want to teach more effectively (albeit not more often) while others would pay to avoid teaching if they could – and probably should be allowed to. There are also those who love teaching and who do more research and scholarship than you would expect (and could use a lighter teaching load to do more). The question is: How do we structure a research university in a way so that you can reward both teaching and research equally?

In order to create that structure, we must acknowledge that teaching quality is as important as research productivity. Then we need to figure out systems of recognition, reward, privilege and accountability that value teaching and research (and the faculty who do either and both) equally. And once we do that, perhaps the arguments about the issue of teaching versus research and tenure will be moot.

Courting the international student in a fast-spinning world

Courting the international student in a fast-spinning world

In the past several decades, the world has experienced an explosion of student mobility that transcends domestic borders. The United States has benefited greatly from this trend—there were a record 765,000 international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities during the 2011-12 academic year—but this is changing, and quickly. China is spending a quarter trillion dollars a year on its own educational institutions, working quickly not just to keep their own students, but to bring in others from all over the world.

And they aren’t alone. In what may seem to be a strange turn, U.S. students may well find an affordable and high quality alternative—abroad.

South Korea, for example, is in the process of establishing its first “global” university in Incheon. The goal is to recruit 60 percent of the student body from outside South Korea, including a surprising 25 percent of the overall student population targeted to be from the United States.

They are actively recruiting U.S. educational partners to develop the capacity to teach in English and attract non-Korean students, and private and public equity dollars are pouring in, leading to tuition prices that are roughly half of U.S. standards.

And competition won’t just be around price. Indonesia, Dubai, Qatar, Singapore, Turkey and Vietnam are all actively growing programs with academic standards that could quickly rival our own.

So what does this mean for U.S. institutions that have traditionally enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the educational space?

To answer this question, we first need to understand why international students leave their homeland to study abroad. Like students here in the United States, they seek an American-style education because it is currently seen as the most reliable path to better jobs and a better economic life.

The key word there is “currently”. And it is our job to ensure it doesn’t become “formerly”.

One important first step is to stop focusing on just one country. For many U.S. educational institutions, an “international” strategy was little more than a China strategy; according to the Institute of International Education, Chinese students accounted for almost all of the international student growth in the U.S. in the past several years.

In 2012 Northeastern signed an agreement with International University (IU) in Vietnam to offer our Master’s in Leadership at IU.

But Northeastern University has for years been working to diversify our international efforts in the face of the changing environment. We have students on coop in 93 countries. We have grown our study abroad and international dialogue programs. We’ve developed innovative international options such as our Bachelor of Science in International Business and our nationally renowned NUin program. We’ve launched professional doctorate programs in Hong Kong and graduate programs in Turkey, Australia and Vietnam. Our international pathway programs now span Asia and Africa. This is a robust international strategy that serves both international and domestic students.

And at the core of it all is our goal of positioning our students—globally—as the most employable graduates. If, at the end of their time with us, these international students are not better positioned for good jobs and long, productive careers, then we haven’t fulfilled our promise to them—and the prospective students who follow them into higher education will aggressively look for colleges and universities that can help them achieve their goals.

We are soon coming to the day when it will not be enough to rely exclusively on a strong American brand to attract international students. An institution will need to quickly prove itself capable of educating students for the technologically and culturally complex workforce of tomorrow. Otherwise we risk losing these vital future graduates who bring so much to our educational institutions, economies and cultures.

international education

Global Grads: The Changing Face of International Education

The international education business is booming. As you’ll see in our new infographic below, the number of international students at American colleges and universities increased by a remarkable 32 percent over the past 10 years, and this week new data were released by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) that show first-time international graduate enrollments increased by 10 percent this fall.

What is most interesting about the CGS findings is that the largest increase in enrollments came from India rather than China, which has historically been the largest source of international students coming to the United States.

And while this is good news for American higher education, it’s only part of the story. As Northeastern University College of Professional Studies Dean John LaBrie said last week in a blog post, the international education industry is changing quickly, and U.S. colleges and universities must adjust or risk being left behind.

He noted that Northeastern has been working for years to prepare for these changes by diversifying its student population and providing high-quality educational options to students in their own homelands.

“We have students on co-op in 93 countries,” he said. “We have grown our study abroad and international dialogue programs. We’ve developed innovative international options such as our Bachelor of Science in International Business and our nationally renowned NUin program. We’ve launched professional doctorate programs in Hong Kong and graduate programs in Turkey, Australia and Vietnam. Our international pathway programs now span Asia and Africa. This is a robust international strategy that serves both international and domestic students.”

Only time will tell what all of these changes will mean, but if it results in a better education for more people around the world, we’re all for it.

Are you an international student who has chosen to study in the U.S.? A U.S. student who has opted to learn abroad? What value do you think international students bring to U.S. classrooms? Share with us in the comments.


What’s missing from a lot of online education? The education.

What’s missing from a lot of online education? The education.

For years we’ve heard about the capacity of online learning to level the playing field, reduce costs and give people around the world access to a top-notch education. But somehow the technology—and our seemingly endless need to turn everything into a vehicle for celebrities or celebrity-making—has gotten in the way of the most important thing: the learning itself.

Sample just a few of the thousands of available massive open online courses (MOOCs) and you’ll see that many are very engaging and entertaining (and often make star faculty more famous), but often aren’t designed to enhance learning outcomes. The danger is that this could lead people to believe that this is actually quality online education.

To save online education from itself, we first need to define what it isn’t. It’s not about learning management systems or streaming video. It’s not about production values that rival the evening news. And it’s definitely not about asking megawatt A-list celebrities to teach a course on something they know nothing about.

EdX has considered hiring actors like Matt Damon to teach its classes, further disconnecting MOOCs from the goals of online learning. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters vis

So what is online education? The same thing education has always been: great content, strong faculty, solid teaching methods and a deliberate and well-conceived learning plan. That may not sound as sexy as asking Matt Damon to teach Thévenin’s theorem, but that’s what it takes to help students really learn.

In fact, despite the new technology at our fingertips, the principles behind good teaching and learning haven’t really changed. In her book How Learning Works, my colleague Susan Ambrose presents the science behind effective and compelling learning. For example, she makes the point that

goal-directed practice, coupled with targeted feedback, offers students the largest learning gains. This is a human structure, not a technological one.

So how do we apply technology so it enhances learning, rather than simply making it look better? Quality online education starts with an intellectually honest and sophisticated thought process of how to present information. This is hard work. It is not uncommon to have faculty spend months mapping a course: defining the curriculum, and testing ideas, methods and expected outcomes. And because a solid course design can be enhanced by technology, online components and production values are added, but often in the last stages of the process—not the first.

As someone who has been working in online education for a long time, the new technological innovations are a welcome arrival. MOOCs have brought a new level of engagement and interaction with our students that can—and already has, millions of times over—added tremendous value to the learning experience.

However, if we become overly enamored with the technology, flashy production and star-making, we run the risk of forgetting about the art and science of teaching and learning. In forgetting these fundamentals, we will take a step backwards rather than a step forward

How Graduate Certificates Fit Into Today’s Fast-Moving Workplace

How Graduate Certificates Fit Into Today’s Fast-Moving Workplace

With advances in technology, workflow and business priorities, the pace of the workplace is faster than ever—and so is the need for employees to get new skills to keep pace.

This is part of the reason why someone considering going back to school may opt to earn a graduate certificate instead of committing to a two-to-four-year degree program.

Graduate certificates offer the opportunity to get a recognized credential in a wide variety of fields.

With a graduate certificate in the right field, students can quickly demonstrate competency in a specialized area—without breaking the bank. At least according to Stephen Rose, professor and senior economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, who recently completed research on the relevance of certificates in the workplace, both right now and in the future.

“Certificates are the first rung in postsecondary education and the most occupationally oriented; such that students can go through a program, usually in about one year, and will have gained a lot of skills in a very specific field,” he told Evollution.

In Rose’s’s research, Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees, he writes that certificates are are cost-effective, partly because they are the quickest education and job training awards offered by American higher education.

“They often pay off more than two-year degrees and sometimes pay off more than four-year degrees,” the report says.

Kelly Otter, PhD, associate dean for Graduate Academic and Faculty Affairs here at the College of Professional Studies, agrees with Rose’s argument, saying that graduate certificates offer a number of possible benefits to people looking to advance their careers. “In today’s competitive job market, specialized knowledge and skills are at a premium—the more you know and the more you can do, the more attractive you are to an employer,” she says.

Have you been considering obtaining a graduate certificate in lieu of a longer degree program? Share your thoughts.

Obama to Higher Ed: Find Ways to Lower Costs, Maintain Quality

Obama to Higher Ed: Find Ways to Lower Costs, Maintain Quality

Could competency-based education reduce U.S. student loan debt?

That’s what the Obama administration wants to know.

In August, President Obama began encouraging U.S. universities and colleges to innovate around higher education, including challenging colleges to offer a greater range of affordable options, giving consumers clear and transparent information on college performance, and stripping away unnecessary regulations.

Now, according to Insider Higher Ed, the U.S. Department of Education has announced that it’s specifically looking for innovations to increase quality while reducing costs.

“The Secretary is particularly interested in experiments that will improve student persistence and academic success, result in shorter time to degree, and reduce student loan indebtedness,” reads the notice issued by the Department of Education.

What will those experiments look like? The Department of Education said programs could include competency-based education programs, dual enrollment of high school students, and allowing federal student aid to be used for learning assessments, to name a few. There’s a deadline set of January 31st, 2014 for colleges to propose their own ideas.

Do you think introducing more competency-based education will cut down on student debt? Share your thoughts.

year of Mooc

365 Days Later, “Year of the MOOC” Becomes “Year of the Backlash”

A little over 12 months ago, The New York Times famously dubbed 2012 “The Year of the MOOC.” What a difference 365 little days can make. Here at the back end of another calendar year, we wonder if 2013 might come to be thought of as “The Year of the Backlash” within the online higher education community.

Even Udacity’s founder, Sebastian Thrun, one of the entrepreneurs whose businesses kicked off MOOC mania, seems to be getting into the backlash game.

According to Fast Company magazine, Thrun recently made the following observation regarding the evanescent hype surrounding MOOCs and his own company: “We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product.”

Of course, the hype around this category hasn’t wholly abated. Coursera has just announced another $20 million infusion of venture capital. And MIT has just released a report embracing the disaggregation of the higher education value chain fomented by platforms such as edX.

But maybe Thrun is right. Maybe MOOCs are a lousy product – at least as initially conceived. And even if MOOCs are meaningfully reimagined, the mark they have made on the public consciousness to date could have lasting repercussions for the broader field of online learning.

It seems like only last year (in fact it was) that some were crediting elite institutions with “legitimizing” online learning through their experimentation with MOOCs. But what if instead of legitimizing online learning, MOOCs actually delegitimized it?

Perhaps this is why, currently, 56 percent of employers say they prefer an applicant with a traditional degree from an average college to one with an online degree from a top institution, according to a Public Agenda survey undertaken earlier this year.

We’ve been following online learning for a long time, and collectively share experiences in teaching online, earning credentials online, writing about online learning, analyzing the online learning market, and serving as administrators inside a research university with a significant stake in online and hybrid delivery models.

While some MOOC enthusiasts might like you to believe that online learning appeared out of nowhere, sui generis, in 2012, the reality is that we’ve been bringing courses and degree programs online for more than 20 years. Hardly born yesterday, online learning has evolved slowly and steadily, taking these two decades to reach the approximately one-third of all higher education students who have taken at least one online course, and serving as the preferred medium of delivery for roughly one-sixth of all students. The pace of adoption of online learning – among institutions, students, faculty, and employers – has been remarkably steady.

The advent of this so-called “lousy product” – the MOOC – may be triggering a change, however. Indeed, recent survey evidence suggests that the acceptance of online learning among certain constituencies may be plateauing. Is it possible that a backlash against MOOCs could even precipitate a decline in the broader acceptance of online learning?

The long-running Babson Survey Research Group/Sloan-C surveys show relatively little change in faculty acceptance of online instruction between 2002, when they first measured it, and the most recent survey data available, from 2011. The percentage of chief academic officers that indicated they agreed with the statement “faculty at my school accept the value and legitimacy of online education” only grew from 28 percent in 2002, to 31 percent in 2009, and 32 percent in 2011. According to a more recent Inside Higher Ed/Gallup survey, “only one in five [faculty agree] that online courses can achieve learning outcomes equivalent to those of in-person courses.”

We have to be careful making comparisons across surveys, audiences and time spans, of course. But there is a palpable sense here that something may have shifted for online learning in the last year or so, and that as a result of that shift, online learning may be in danger — for the first time in some 20 years — of losing momentum.

In recent months, we’ve witnessed faculty rebelling against online learning initiatives at institutions as diverse as Harvard, Duke, Rutgers, and San Jose State, to name a few. In the latter case, faculty rallied to resist the use of Udacity courses on campus, but other instances of resistance did not even pertain to MOOCs – such as Duke’s decision to withdraw from the 2U-sponsored Semester Online consortium, or the vote from Rutgers’ Graduate School faculty to block the university’s planned rollout of online degree programs through its partnership with Pearson.

Our hypothesis is that MOOCs are playing a role here – chiefly by confusing higher education stakeholders about what online learning really is. By and large, of course, online learning isn’t massive and it isn’t open. And by and large, it does actually involve real courses, genuine coursework and assessment, meaningful faculty interaction, and the awarding of credentials – namely, degrees.

In numerous focus groups and surveys we have conducted over the course of 2013, both prospective students and employers have raised concerns about online learning that we had not been hearing in years past – concerns that have been chiefly related to the level of faculty interaction with students, the relationship between quality and price, and the utility of courses that don’t lead to recognized credentials.

The net contribution of the MOOC phenomenon, for the moment at least, may be a backsliding in the general acceptance of online learning – not least among faculty, who may fear they have the most to lose from MOOC mania, especially in the wake of controversial legislative proposals in a variety of states mandating that MOOCs be deemed creditworthy, thereby threatening further public divestment in higher education.

For those of us that have nurtured the growth and strengthening of online learning over many years, this would be an unfortunate outcome of the MOOC moment.

If there is a backlash under way, and if that backlash is contributing to an erosion in the confidence in the quality of online learning generally, that is something that won’t be overcome in a single hype cycle – it will take time, just as the establishment of degree-bearing online learning programs took time to develop and bolster. Possibly even more than one year.

Note: This article first appeared on Inside Higher Ed. Peter Stokes is vice president of global strategy and business development at Northeastern University, and columnist at Inside Higher Ed. Sean Gallagher is chief strategy officer at Northeastern University.

Higher Education

Top 5 Schools for Higher Education

1. University of Michigan

If you want to still feel a part of a college with a rich history and an even richer, fiercer passion for sports then the University of Michigan might be the best choice for you. This school is in Ann Arbor and boasts one of the best football programs in the country as well as one of the most gorgeous campuses.

If you choose to attend this university for grad school you will be immersing yourself in both beauty and SPORTS.

2. University of Pennsylvania

Again, if you want to go to school on a campus that could potentially put Hogwarts to shame, this East Coast university should be on the top of your list. One of the crown jewls is their library. With its dome ceiling and impeccable hardwood interior, it is the perfect place to get some studying done.

Penn has a great campus and is situated close to a fun area of the surrounding city.

3. Michigan State University

Again, if you’re looking for a university that prides itself on its sporting programs as well as being located in Michigan this university should be on your list of grad schools.

When going to this university you won’t have to lose out on all the tailgating you enjoyed in your undergraduate career.

In addition to having some amazing sports programs, their nursing and medical programs are similarly stellar.

4. Vanderbilt University (Peabody)

If you are looking to enter into a career in education or child development, I highly recommend this college. Their graduate degree programs center around the world of education, children, and diversity.

Located in Nashville, Tennessee you will be both impressed by their degree programs and their campus – which features gorgeous classical revival architecture.

5. Pennsylvania State University – University Park

If you want to go too one of the best research based institutions then I highly recommend looking into this university. They don’t have a specific focus when it comes to what field their graduate programs range in; they have graduate programs in everything from plain old biology to new and interesting Majors like bioethics and BioRenewable Systems.

This university is one of the best and should definitely be looked into by anyone looking to further their higher education beyond an undergraduate degree.

6. University of Southern California

This university is one of the most prestigious in California, which boasts two of the best public schooling systems for higher education.

University of Southern California is one of the biggest sports schools in the state – and that’s saying a lot since this state is very big on their sports teams.

This university offers multiple master’s degrees in every single one of their colleges and is all about promoting both sports and the arts.

7. Purdue University

This university is one of the bigger university systems. On the main campus located in West Lafayette, Indiana a wealth of graduate majors are offered. Additionally they offere interdisciplinary majors, which means you can get a more nuanced education through these programs.