Thursday, September 5, 2013

The First Two Weeks of an Advanced Administrative Course.


Here's what I'm supposed to learn in the course:

Course Competencies

To successfully complete this course, you will be expected to:

1.     Evaluate the characteristics, purposes, benefits, strengths and weaknesses of research methods.

2.     Design specific, appropriate, and feasible research questions.

3.     Evaluate data collection strategies based on the characteristics of the research design.


There are no prerequisites for this course.


--from the course syllabus. A graduate level course in a mathematics department typically requires 2 years or more of advanced mathematics courses. In Administration, there are no prerequisites for even the most advanced courses. Competencies 1 and 3 are addressed to some extent in many undergraduate statistics courses, and 2 is not much of a competency (essentially, “ask good questions”). With a whole semester to cover these competencies, one might think they’re covered in detail. We shall see.



     Despite the minimal restrictions for entry into this 8000 level graduate Administrative course intended for students about to write their Ph.D. dissertation, I’m given a warning that the course requires approximately 10 hours a week to complete—four such courses (a full time load in graduate school) would be equivalent to a full time job.  That sure seems fair to me, but administrators apparently need a warning if a course might take the amount of time it would in graduate school for any other discipline. Of course, the question is does it really take that kind of time? Let’s investigate further.

     While the course has no prerequisites, there are some pre-requirements. A student must have fairly good computer equipment at his disposal. The course relies on special statistical software (SPSS), and it is made very, very, clear that the instructor will in no way assist the student in learning how to use this software, or deal with any technical issues. This is a bit of a pity, since gaining some technical skill would make the $2000 price tag of the course more reasonable; it’s hard to justify paying this much just for a few graduate course credits. It’s a straight transfer of wealth with no chance at gaining any useful skill…but my research requires it.

     There are two course textbooks that a student must acquire. One of them is a guide to the software you can find at your local bookstore; it’s a very straightforward instruction manual, with solid examples of how to execute most statistical procedures, what buttons to press, what settings to use, and so forth. The other book lightly discusses research methods. There are no explanations of the underlying ideas of statistical procedures, however, which is somewhat odd for what should be an advanced course (the software manual, to its credit, states clearly it’s not about underlying ideas, just about what buttons to press). While advanced degree holders in legitimate academic disciplines know what they’re doing in detail, “know what you are doing and why you do it” is alien to an administrative degree, apparently.

      To use a restaurant allegory, the guy cooking burgers might well only need to know “turn the knob to 9 to cook a burger”, but the manager (or administrator) should know why the knob needs to go to 9---so that an improperly cooked burger doesn’t kill the customer, and doesn’t make the lethal mistake of “6 is close enough to 9.” With so many extensively bad applications of statistics by educationists and administrators, so bad that it’s causing the death of higher education, terminal degree holders probably should be required to know what they’re doing. That would be the point of having doctoral degree holders in administrative position, after all: they know more than just barely enough to get by.

     The course documentation warns me repeatedly that I’m on my own when it comes to figuring out SPSS, but the software guide is very helpful. I can’t help but guess the reason for this “on your own” mentality for the only skills that would be useful is that the professor for the course doesn’t actually know how to use the software.


First Two Weeks


1.      Read and post a reply to the Getting Started-Experience and Goals discussion question. Posting a response will release financial aid disbursements for learners using financial aid.

2. Access Faculty Expectations to read and acknowledge this course's faculty expectations. (You are here.)

3. Click 3 Confirmation accessed through the Required–Start Here on First Day icon on your course's home page to confirm your completion of these three steps. Your confirmation will grant access to all content in this course.
Please copy, paste, and post the following response to this Expectations Message on the discussion board below:
"I have read and understood the Faculty Expectations Message to include:
1. That the due time and day for initial posts is 4AM Eastern Time on Thursday.


--From the first day instructions for the course. Note how step one is releasing those financial aid disbursements. Despite the fact that anyone could look in the forums and see how to correctly respond, 3 of the first 9 respondents failed to follow the instructions of “copy, paste, and post…”, simply responding with “I agree.” Reading other student (I refuse to use the word ‘learner’) posts, it’s clear that open graduate admissions does have some issues in terms of getting students with basic writing skills. At least the general course instructions advise such students to go to the writing center for help, although one would think that help would have been taken before the 4th year of graduate school in a terminal degree. Keep that in mind: this, the most advanced administrative course, still allows for the possibility that the Ph.D. students can’t write at the high school level.


     So now it is time to do some actual work. The course requires weekly reading assignments, along with posting something about those assignments in the discussion forums. The reading assignment for the first two weeks is 35 pages from the main course textbook, and the first 26 pages from the SPSS manual.

     As one might expect, the manual is dull, and very basic. It’s just the first few pages, after all, and like any good textbook it starts by defining terms and notation that will be used throughout the book. Concepts such as “right click” and “taskbar” are defined on page 10, to give an example of how slow and thorough it is. Page 25 wraps up on how to print out and display documents. This is perhaps an hour of reading, though anyone with decent computer skills would find nothing new in these pages.

     The textbook assignment is similarly light, but I’m more motivated to read every word, timing myself. Unlike using software, this is material that should be well outside my experience and knowledge, so it’s best to pay attention. Fifty-seven minutes later, I’m done.

    The book is barely high school level material. For example, I’m told that according to the U.S. Department of Education, the key characteristics of reliable research are that it follows the scientific method, can be replicated and generalized, meets rigorous (but not defined) standards in design and methods, and produces findings that are consistent in various approaches. This description is hardly technical and very reasonable sounding. I’d probably study and memorize it, but there are no tests in the course. Presumably all this information is not important, and the student/administrator will just look it up when need be…why is there a degree for this level of “mastery,” or a charge of $2000 for a course that won’t legitimately certify that I have even this meager knowledge?



“According to my dictionary, an outlier is not in the usual place of business. I asked people that were out on the street, so all my data are outliers.”


--one student’s response when asked to identify outliers in a data set. At least it was only one. I might be working for this person someday.



     I emphasize again how light this material is. “A sample is a smaller version of the population,” says the book, boldfacing the new words (!) the student should learn in this advanced graduate level research course. Any statisticians reading this essay will be, I hope, aghast that this is about as far as the book goes for defining sample (“simple random sample,” a key concept of useful statistics, is not in the book). Correlation Coefficient is also boldfaced, and the book says it ranges from -1 to 1, with no further discussion of anything about it. Granted, these are just from the first 40ish pages, so perhaps the book is just taking a very long introduction.


Me, in 1998: “My computer doesn’t have a CD-ROM drive. Can I get that?”

Administrator: “What is a ‘drive’?”


-          It took a while, but I did eventually get a computer equipped with that space-age technology.


     In addition to reading, my assignments are also to pay for and install the SPSS software. This takes a few minutes, but I suppose someone not particularly computer literate could take an hour on this, calling the provided number for technical support.

     I also must pick a philosophical framework for how I believe knowledge is generated (as one might guess, I go with the quantitative approach), writing out a listing of pros and cons, and enter into discussion with my classmates about those pros and cons. Carefully following the information in the book, and the obligatory Bloom’s Taxonomized rubric, this brief essay takes about 45 minutes. Perhaps another 15 minutes could have been spent exchanging posts with classmates.

     About three hours of effort is all the work of the first two weeks. While I’m told it should take 20 hours, I’m hard pressed to see how anyone could spend any more than 5 hours doing this “work”; my completely ignorant self hardly needs that much time. This supposedly represents the first two weeks of a traditional graduate course in Education Administration, and less time is spent than would normally be spent sitting in a classroom…as an added bonus, I’ll never have to demonstrate I learned anything.

     Granted, the first class meeting in a traditional class is usually a waste of time on bureaucratic needs like syllabus and grading discussion, so perhaps the first two weeks of an online course should go the same way.

     To summarize, I’m effectively two weeks into the most advanced administrative course there is, and I’ve learned less than what is in one week of an undergraduate introductory course in a hard science. Much like in the course, I won’t even ask a question of the reader, as I normally do. Instead of thinking up a question, I’ll use the time to pick up my far-dropped jaw at just how ridiculous this course is so far.

      There’s more to come, I promise.


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