All Posts Tagged With: "quality"
See which schools improved and which fell down
The University of Toronto has pulled ahead of McGill University and the University of British Columbia in the 2013-14 QS World University Rankings, one of three major annual global comparisons alongside Times Higher Education’s and Shanghai Jiao Tong’s. Those same three are also gold, silver and bronze in the Medical Doctoral category of the Maclean’s Rankings.
But beyond the top three Canadian schools, there are some big—mostly positive—changes. There is a 38 spot leap for Simon Fraser University, a 22 spot improvement for Montreal, 13 spot jumps for Calgary and Ottawa, 12 spot climbs for Alberta and McMaster and an 11 spot increase for Waterloo. Only three dropped significantly: Western (-26), Victoria (-22) and Queen’s (-14).
Eight universities’ departments among top 50 worldwide
The QS World University Subject Rankings 2013 are out now. The London-based company’s report offers a rare peek at how our school’s history, engineering and law programs—30 subjects in all—are viewed internationally.
Unsurprisingly, the top three universities from the Medical Doctoral category of the Maclean’s University Rankings—the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia and McGill University—are also the top Canadian schools on the list. Those three are top five in Canada in 29 of 30 subjects and top 50 worldwide in many.
The highest ranked Canadian subject is geography at the University of British Columbia, which is tenth globally. There are also several subjects in the top 15: environmental science at UBC along with medicine, philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, sociology, geography, education, English and history at University of Toronto.
Overcrowded campuses should worry about MOOCs
Three out of five. That’s how many of my younger brother’s second-year arts courses at the University of Guelph are online this semester. He would have rather taken in-person classes, but was assigned to make his schedule after most other students and found the offline sections full.
Two out of seven. That’s how many days of the week he bothers going to campus now. With a shortage of study space, like at so many Canadian universities, there’s no point in going to school when he doesn’t have classes. He doesn’t really need the library; the journals are online.
So his $6,500 tuition gets him two days per week on campus. The rest of the time he’s working alone in his townhouse miles from campus because the university doesn’t have the space for him.
Before he informed me of this, I was pretty dismissive of those who argue that cheap or free Massive Open Online Courses, taught by hotshot professors from Harvard to UBC, are a threat to universities as we know them. The argument, made daily it seems by some columnist or another, is that MOOCs are such a good deal that they’ll cause an exodus from residential campuses.
After hearing the frustration of my brother at paying so much for so little, combined with the news that colleges are testing out formal credits for MOOCs, I think universities should be worried.
Prof. Pettigrew: student evaluations won’t help
A recent report from the Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter has got people talking about student teaching evaluations again. Hoo boy.
McCarter is concerned that evidence of teaching ability is not being taken into account when it comes to granting tenure and promotion to faculty. It’s a legitimate concern in theory. The problem is that this report takes student evaluations as a key method by which quality teaching should be measured. That’s trouble.
As the report rightly points out, the research on the usefulness of student evaluations is a subject of much disagreement. In fact, it’s actually even more hotly contested than the AG’s report admits. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) insists, for instance, that such surveys cannot be taken as a measure of teaching effectiveness.
CAUT may be trying to protect the jobs of its members. Still, student evaluations, from the outset suffer from a basic flaw which is that they often fail to meet a very basic standard for any evaluation. That is, an evaluator should be qualified to evaluate. More specifically, the evaluator should be an expert on the subject, should be motivated to take the evaluation seriously, and should be a disinterested third party.
Before judging, please consider what professors actually do
A lot is being written about universities these days and much of it paints a rather troubling picture. Some of the more popular arguments were put forward by Margaret Wente—who seems to write the same column about post-secondary education every few months—this weekend: the system is in crisis, it doesn’t sufficiently prepare students for the job market, the quality of teaching has continuously declined, and overpaid, lazy professors are sitting in their ivory towers denying that anything is wrong.
Universities are facing real and significant challenges, and I agree that anyone who thinks the only problem is underfunding is deluding themselves (that said, let’s not dismiss funding as an issue: across Canada, government funding as a proportion of university revenues has gone from 80.9 per cent in 1989 to 58.3 per cent in 2009. In Ontario, it is down 49.5 per cent! This trend poses myriad issues, including shifting the funding burden to students and creating incentives for universities to boost funding by adding more students.)
Statistics students perform as well in “blended” versions
A study that Inside Higher Education writer Steve Kolowich calls the largest and possibly most rigorous to date suggests “blended” or “hybrid” learning is at least as effective—possibly more effective—than traditional university courses with three hours weekly of face-time with professors.
Blended learning is when some lecture time is replaced with online lessons. There is evidence that it can save universities substantial amounts of money on instructors and buildings, but many academics are hesitant, in part because tech-heavy courses are viewed as low quality.
That’s what makes this study so important. It shows that blended courses—at least the ones tested here—work well. William G. Bowen, the former president of Princeton University and lead author put it this way: “Generalized worries that all kinds of online systems will inevitably hurt learning outcomes do not appear to be well-founded.”
But can we really blame inadequate funding?
In a survey completed by 2,300 Ontario faculty members this spring, 43 per cent of professors agreed that the quality of undergraduate education has declined over the past five years. Only 28 per cent disagreed. Those are worrying figures. It’s no surprise that they prompted headlines.
The survey sponsor, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (a professor unions’ group), was quick to blame a lack of government funding for the perceived drop in quality.
“Universities are straining to accommodate the new students with inadequate resources, and the cracks are beginning to show,” OCUFA president Constance Adamson said in a release.
But wait a minute. Are the resources really inadequate?
Universitas 21 releases first world ranking
Researchers have created what they say is the first ranking of countries from best to worst at providing higher education. The report is from Universitas 21, a network of research-intensive universities whose Canadian members are McGill and the University of British Columbia.
The ranking followed a detailed examination of 48 countries using 20 metrics, including both input and output measures (see below). Each nation’s score is a percentage of the winner’s score, which was automatically 100. Here are the top 20:
Certain private schools may be boosting grades
The Alberta government says it will investigate after the Calgary Herald found wide gaps between final grades awarded by certain high schools and their students’ pitiful exam performances.
The newspaper’s data show that, in most courses, marks tend to drop about 10 per cent after final exam scores, which are worth 50 per cent of the grade, are added to the 50 per cent awarded at the teacher’s discretion. But in some private schools, grades dropped a lot more after the tests.
For example, in one class at the International School of Excellence (ISE), grades fell by 38.9 per cent after an exam, which only two of 19 students managed to pass. Despite the poor exam results, everyone in the class was given their credit on the strength of high marks from their teacher.
An investigation in Ontario last year uncovered apparent “credit mills.” At these private schools, students said it was much easier to get high grades than at public schools they had attended.
The debate over whether to put more lectures online
When Allison Torbiak sat down in her ﬁrst-year psychology class at the University of Manitoba two Septembers ago, she was surprised to hear the woman at the front of the room announce that their Monday and Friday lectures would be replaced by online recordings of two professors talking over lecture slides. The class would meet only once per week, on Wednesdays, for a seminar led by this woman, a graduate student—and not a professor. While many of her almost 200 classmates seemed excited, Torbiak says she was disappointed. “I was looking forward to the big auditorium with lots of kids.” She wondered, “How will I stay motivated without a real live professor?”
Some universities are cutting enrollment
The trend at universities over the past decade has been to pack in as many students as possible.
But this year, a few schools are planning to reverse the trend by cutting enrollment.
Combine that with the fact that the number of applications continues to grow—up 2.4 per cent in Ontario, for example—and 2012 may be a difficult year for students to get their top choice schools.
Alan Rock, the University of Ottawa’s president, announced last week that growth at his school will slow to 500 new students this fall.
That’s after a long stretch during which the campus added 1,200 to 1,500 new students annually.
Survey shows student satisfaction at 25 schools
The annual CUSC survey measures student satisfaction. In 2011, a questionnaire was issued to a random sample of approximately 1,000 undergraduates at each of 25 participating schools. In total, more than 8,500 students responded to questions about everything from academics to support services. Here are the results you’ll want to see if you’re considering one of these schools.
Results from the National Survey of Student Engagement
Click on the charts below to see results from the 2011 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a study that university administrators pore over each year to find out how their students are learning. Both first and senior-year students have answered questions that illustrate how well their universities performed on the five Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice: level of academic challenge, student-faculty interaction, active and collaborative learning, enriching educational experience, and supportive campus environment. You may be surprised about who’s on top. It’s not always the same schools that rank highly in the Maclean’s University Rankings.
Select a chart below. On the next screen, place your cursor over the chart and click to enlarge.
Glen Murray sees dramatic changes ahead for Ontario
Ontarians are busy debating where the province’s three new post-secondary campuses should be, with mayors from Barrie to Niagara Falls holding out their caps. But ahead of that decision, Glen Murray, Ontario’s new Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, says there all kinds of ideas he wants to explore first. Those who lust after future campuses should take note.
Here are 10 things I learned about the future of higher education in Ontario from Glen Murray.
1. Murray’s biggest concern “is how we’re utilizing the existing capacity we have right now.” He thinks more campuses should be using their physical resources year-round, by offering three-semesters, perhaps.
Find out why some students are opposed
Back in first year, I remember realizing that the hardest part of university isn’t the lab reports, the chemistry midterms, or the 1000-word essays.
It’s when they’re all due within three days of each other. Before you can even begin learning the material, you must learn how to juggle five course’s worth material that always comes due at once.
That problem could be eliminated for future students at tiny Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, which is debating switching to a block plan where students would be taught one course at a time, rather than five at once.
The block plan looks like this. A semester’s worth of calculus is compressed into three and a half weeks, with classes taking three or four hours each day, followed by four or five hours of homework. After a few weeks, there’s an exam. Then students move directly to the next course.
Like Harry Potter 101, Superhero Science, Basket Weaving…
Last week, both crusty old curmudgeons and left-wing crusaders received an early holiday gift from Baylor University in Texas: an outrageously named course: Homosexuality as Gateway Drug.
Unsurprisingly, the local TV news played clips of offended students and the blogosphere went wild.
Piling on courses with offensive or trivial names has long been a pastime for those with plenty of time on their hands and not much sense of nuance. But the joke is old—and it needs to stop.
Case in point: Baylor later changed the official title of the offending course to something more generic. Meanwhile, it came out that the “course” in question was not a regular offering, but an independent study being pursued by a single student.
The reasons may surprise you
Alberta is as a maverick when it comes to higher education. The province prepares students for post-secondary better than its neighbors, has some of the country’s most satisfied students and punches above its weight in research.
Now there’s even more evidence that the rest of Canada should pay attention to how Wild Rose Country approaches higher education.
New University of Saskatchewan research, which included 12,000 first-year students, found that grades for Albertans tended to drop just 6.4 points from Grade 12, but fell as much as 19.6 points on average for students from another province. In other words, a student from Alberta who graduates with an 86 average is likely to end first-year as an 80 student, while students from that other unnamed province would average 66.
One reason Alberta’s students are much better prepared is that they study long and hard to pass provincial standardized exams, which account for 50 per cent of their Grade 12 marks. Students in other provinces are graded more subjectively, making it easier for teachers to give high marks.
The higher standards are well-known. In recognition of the high standards, the University of British Columbia automatically raises Albertan students’ grades two per cent when they apply.
But it’s a lot more than standardized tests that make Alberta’s schools succed. Here are six more reasons the rest of Canada ought to pay closer attention to Alberta’s higher education system.
1. Public funding of universities is highest in Alberta.
Statistics Canada says that 72 per cent of funding for Alberta universities came from public sources in 2009. The next highest was Newfoundland at 69 per cent. It was only 49 per cent in Nova Scotia.
2. Albertans outperform their peers well before university.
Alberta’s 15-year-olds came second in the world in reading and fourth in the world in science in the 2009 PISA study, the gold-standard international test. Those were the top scores in Canada.
3. Alberta has two teaching-focused universities that work.
Grant MacEwan and Mount Royal Univeristy have faculty who spend most of their days teaching, rather than conducting research—unlike nearly every university east of Edmonton. And both institutions score exceptionally well on the National Survey of Student Engagement. When asked “if you could start over, would go to the institution you are now attending?,” 50 per cent of Mount Royal seniors and 60 per cent of Grant MacEwan seniors said yes. The average is just 45 per cent.
5. Alberta’s transfer system works.
In Sept. 2009, nearly 12,000 post-secondary students transferred between schools in the province. Many of the transfers are from the provinces’ teaching-focused institutions and community colleges into big research institutions. Harvey Weingarten, then-president of the University of Calgary, told the authors of Academic Reform that transfer students are “academically indistinguishable.”
6. Even with teaching-focused universities, Alberta remains a research leader.
Despite having more students in teaching-only institutions and only 11 per cent of Canada’s population, Alberta holds 17 per cent of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs, which come with up to $10-million apiece. Alberta also has 12 per cent of the prestigious Vanier Scholarships. The University of Alberta has the second highest per-faculty research funding in Canada at $309,332.
Protesters were “masked and hooded”
McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum told the Montreal Gazette yesterday that she is “sorry” to students who were hurt by pepper spray when riot police showed up at the administration building on Nov. 10. Students have called the response to their occupy-style protest heavy-handed. But Munroe-Blum defends herself by stressing that the occupiers were “masked and hooded,” which frightened the staff. She also added, “when you call the police you don’t tell them how to do their job.” The pepper-spraying at McGill came the same day tens of thousands of Quebec students marched in protest to the annual tuition rise of $325, which will bring fees more in line with the Canadian norm by 2017. Munroe-Blum continues to defend the tuition increases as a way to compete with better-funded schools like the University of British Columbia and University of Toronto. Three police officers at the University of California Davis are on leave after pepper-spraying 11 seated students at an Occupy protest Friday. Those protesters were not masked.
Entertaining, if you don’t take it too seriously
Guelph is thought of as the cow college, even though agricultural students comprise only a tiny fraction of the student body.
The University of Victoria has a reputation for attracting laid-back hippies, even though it’s a research powerhouse that ranked second in the 21st Maclean’s University Rankings.
And Queen’s University? Well, its stereotypes are multiple… and legendary. Queen’s has a reputation for being an upper-crust, primarily-Caucasian institution where students drink to excess, have a lot of sex and think very highly of themselves.
Students say prof skipped class for two semesters
Three students at George Washington University allege that their professor skipped two-thirds of their three-semester evidence-based medicine course and then awarded the whole class As, reports WJLA. Venetia Orcutt, who was also chair of the physician assistant studies department, resigned after the university announced their investigation in October. One can only hope that the physician assistants students made up for the eight-months they missed before graduation.