Sunday, August 29, 2010

Items in Mind as the School Year Begins

Building on campus, with canna lilies

Right now I'm trying to organize thoughts and priorities as the semester begins, and I anticipate the following themes will appear frequently in the coming school year:

(1)
The Economics of Higher Education
Even before the financial crisis I was reading that increases in the price of college regularly outpace the rate of inflation, and although the economic landcape has changed in recent years, not much about the cost of college has. I find this surprising because the people I know who work in higher education do not appear to be trying to scam students. The majority of them are smart, hard-working, decent, and more well-meaning than most people. I'm trying to understand the causes and possible solutions to this situation.

On a long side note - As this relates to organizational structure in higher education, I notice a tendency to compartmentalize departments instead of viewing the endeavor holistically. That is to say, Enrollment department=money-maker, while Library department=money pit, regardless of whether students are enrolling because of the great library. There many unfortunate side effects to this mentality, the least of which is that the library feels defensive about being seen as a drain on college resources. Where I work, the library hasn't been asked (yet) to show a ROI, but on the other hand I think it would be a good idea if the library at least tried to offset some of the basic costs of attending school. Thus another reason for the reserves textbook project, which is coming along nicely. / end side note

Some of the reasons for the high cost of college I've heard so far are:
-Most industries experience increased productivity and so increased costs balance out, but this balancing has not occurred in higher education. (I do have trouble understanding this, however, with the cost-savings resulting from the steady decrease in full-time faculty positions.)
-Increased technology costs. Could it be that the relatively low-tech process of educating students has become dependent on technologies that have not paid off?

And some of the solutions I've heard so far are:
-Put education online. Bill Gates seems to think this is the right way to go. Then again, I've also seen online classes called "The Poor White Trash of Education." I'm also starting to believe that a great online class actually involves more work than a great in-person class, but present compensation levels do not reflect this.
-Move away from the non-profit model. However, there's a lot to dislike about for-profit education. And should educators really take notes from the business world, obsessed with cutting costs in order to offer a cheaper product?

(2) Usability
I'm interested in how this relates to information-seeking, but especially as it relates to e-books & e-textbooks. This is nothing new for me, but the topic continues because not much is conclusively resolved.

(3) Pedagogy
In particular, information literacy and library instruction are ongoing concerns, particularly after my crisis of confidence earlier this summer. So far in my experience, the theory and practice of teaching and learning often fail to meet, and I'm still trying to figure out what's effective.