I had the chance at lunch just now to talk to our faculty chair, Jim Postma, about this question of workload and deep learning. In the “Academically Adrift” zeitgeist, one could wonder whether the CSU even has the capacity at this point to do more than skim. Sure, we want the experiences of deep learning, of high-impact practices, of meaningful faculty-student interaction toward shared educational goals. But at the sheer volume of students we serve, is that remotely within reach?
He took the point, and added that the CSU’s growing section caps (maximum enrollments allowed in one scheduled offering of a course) are recent. In one budget downturn faculty are paid more to teach extra students, realizing efficiencies for the physical plant; and the next downturn the extra pay goes away but the classes stay big.
He added another wrinkle, connected in particular to our hopes to embed deeper learning and “high-impact” educational practices into lower-division GE: those courses are disproportionately taught by adjuncts, who are spread even thinner. It’s hard to imagine them having any more time-per-student to devote.
And, so the observation goes in Academically Adrift, that reduced bandwidth-per-student creates an incentive for an inadvertent, unspoken deal between the teacher and student: don’t expect too much of me, and I’ll return the favor. So that’s grim. If we’re going to go all-out for high-impact practices, do we first need to re-engineer the business model?
The silver lining came with a discussion I had yesterday on this with Wayne Tikkanen, who directs the CSU’s Institute for Teaching and Learning. He knows of a CSU campus that wanted to adopt “writing across the curriculum,” assigning (and therefore reading and grading) routine writing assignments into more courses, not just those in English departments. To incentivize that, they created prestigious certificates for faculty trained in writing-intensive teaching. Certification qualifies you for courses with lower section caps. Cool, huh?
Jim liked that idea. I was wondering if we might also eventually certify in other high-impact practices, like undergraduate research and service learning. Among other benefits, the act of certification could provide structure for ongoing faculty development. Say it expires every two years. That gives you the chance to check in, maybe norm some rubrics, have faculty across disciplines talk about what they’re doing.
That’s the update on the workload and incentives front.