Higher Education – A Different Standard.

I began the masters’ of educational technology program at a local post secondary school in September 2006 after receiving pamphlets from them illustrating their course and program offerings. I had read through other pamphlets and researched other schools, of course. After a few weeks’ deliberation, I decided that this school was the one for me. The main reasons for my choosing:

  1. Cost – they were a bit cheaper because…
  2. Number of credits to earn masters – was less than other universities.
  3. Location – the cohort group met only 25 minutes from home.
  4. Campus – closer than other places
  5. Reputation – I had close relatives who had gone through the program.

I honestly deliberated this for 2-3 weeks. It was not a spur of the moment decision. In fact, I entered the program a bit late because of my need to research the best option. Hey, I care where I spend my $10,000 on higher education.

I began the program with a course in Educational Telecommunications. (Again, I missed the first course in the string because I joined late). This course talked about new web tools (blogs, wikis, etc.) as well as the history of the Internet and its application in schools. My main project for this one was a video that illustrated school application of Web2.0 tools. I was pleased with my work for this. In fact, part of the video can be viewed at: TeacherTube.com

Another course I took talked about hardware of computer systems. And, while I think this is useful on some level, I doubt that an entire three credits should be spent learning about hardware in computers. I don’t know of any school that allows its teachers to tear apart computers on a routine basis… I think this is a topic that could have been skimmed over in an hour or two within another course in the string. However, I did learn a bit during this course.

The second-last course I took before dropping out of this program was “Action Research.” And though this class looked the most daunting at first, it was the most beneficial. I think the reason it was so good for me was because the expectations were a bit higher than for the rest. In the others, it was assumed that class members were “doing our best” – I mean, we were learning some heavy duty programs like Photoshop and Dreamweaver in a couple hours. We can’t expect everyone to suddenly create masterpieces – and I wouldn’t expect to be assessed on that.

So the difference with Action Research was that we could create our own problem/situation and then go find some research on it, then do our own hands on research in the classroom. I think it’s something that teachers should be given time to do at least once a quarter while assigned to classrooms. Otherwise, we don’t really have any proof that our work is improving the knowledge/learning capacities of our students (unless you trust the Fed-mandated bubble assessments…).

The last course I participated in was an “online-only” course.  I really liked that format – the flexibility was great, and I prefer my discussion to be in writing rather than in person.

All in all, no major complaints about the content of the individual courses.

However, during the 4 short months I was enrolled at this college, I realized that, for the most part, the expectations of the professors were not all that grueling. As a matter of fact, that feeling is what drove me to request an “Accelerated, Individualized Program.” I wasn’t feeling challenged in most courses. I was hoping to come away with so much more than I did.

Now, I’m going to once again write a disclaimer here because I know that there are a number of educators who have benefited greatly from this program. I just didn’t.

And when I tried to do something about it, I was shot down.

I created a plan such that I would most benefit from my time at this institution.  Here is the real plan (names removed to protect reputations): Malcore Accel Plan for Masters

If you’re not into the attachment, here is a highly-simplified summary of my plan:

  • Squeeze 18 months worth of coursework into about 6 months
  • Take all courses at whatever location I can (there are several spots where cohort groups can meet in the area), based on possible conflicts
  • Pre-pay for all courses
  • Do any extra work they feel necessary to prove my understanding of curriculum beyond any doubt

If that summary makes little or no sense, please open and read the sterilized version linked above.

The response from the lowest on the totem pole was “like the idea but probly not much we can do…independent studies are frowned upon…policies…”

I understood his hands may have been tied. Next on the list was only one step up on the pole – I think the director of the EdTech program. I sent the same request – same document – and received a more lengthy response:

While I don’t doubt that you have the ability to complete this program in this accelerated mode, I cannot approve it for several reasons.

First, we do want students to stay with their cohort group whenever possible. While we do make a few exceptions, when students jump around we end up in situations where we have cohorts with classes that are under the minimum allowable enrollment causing faculty to receive less pay and then have other classes that have more students than what we normally allow. In some cases we have even ended up with more students in a class than computers. I have not been as flexible on this as I was in the past because of these problems – I try to meet the needs of one student and it ends up negatively affecting staff, faculty, and many other students.

Secondly, we do not allow Independent Studies anymore. This is not my decision but a decision made by the Vice President of Academic Affairs last year. This option is no longer available except with special permission from the Academic Affairs office for rare exceptions – like when the program is no longer being offered and there is one or two students who still need a few courses to graduate.

Another reason I cannot approve it is because we have Policies and Procedures within our School of Education that I must adhere to – in this case, the number of credits that you can take in a semester and the number of months it takes to complete a degree granting program. These rules are in place to make sure that students get the most out of their learning experience here at Marian. Again, while I do not doubt you could complete an accelerated program – if we allow one person to do it, we are opening the door to let others do it as well – thus policies and procedures are born. These policies and procedures also reflect the requirements that are placed on us due to our accreditation. We are accredited by both North Central Higher Education Commission and NCATE which have certain rules and guidelines that we must adhere to or risk losing our accreditation.

I certainly hope you can continue in our Ed Tech program but if you decide not to continue based on this decision, I certainly understand that as well.

I have an interpretation that may or may not fit perfectly with that response:

Sorry, Matt. College is an institution that doesn’t have to meet the needs of its students. We set the policy and even though you as a teacher are required to differentiate to meet the needs of all learners, we don’t have to. If you don’t fit our program, find one that will. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The part that bothers me the most is the fact that I spend my hours every day finding creative ways to get students to access curriculum (or at the very least, put up with coming to school). But when I make a request to have some concessions made (well, I was actually asking for more work and less time to do it in), I get shot down because it doesn’t fit the mold.

Furthering the contradiction are concepts brought up in class. We are learning about integrating technology to try to reach all the varied types learners with different tools. Well, I think I’m different and aren’t going to learn along the same lines as every other member of the cohort, so there was my plan.

I’m wondering if others have had similar experiences with graduate schools. Do you think this is okay? Am I in the wrong mindset – should graduate school set the program and all students should fit?  Why would an institution of higher learning hold itself to a lower standard of individualization?

I welcome your thoughts and experiences below.

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