Friday, August 23, 2013

The odd bromidular emissions of community college “experts”

From "What students say they need."
 "We accept the diagnosis that a self-regulating professional community does not exist in education."

     I love my cat Teddy, but sometimes I wonder if I’m doing a good job taking care of the boy. What are his needs? Am I satisfying them?
     I decided to get scientific and just ask him what he needs. I mean, science is about cutting to the chase, isn’t it? And who would know better about Teddy’s needs than the Tedster himself?
     That's logic!
     So I went right up to Teddy and asked, “What do you need, Teddy?”
     Naturally, he said nothing. That’s ‘cause he doesn’t speak my lingo. Adjustments were in order.
     To make a long story short, I started to listen to what Teddy was telling me in cat, and it’s clear—from his consistent felocutions—that he is plainly of the opinion that he needs constant food and play and brushing.
     If you want his opinion, anyway, those are the things he needs.
     Hence, those are the things he needs. Now, I'm feeding him all the time, playing with him all the time, and brushing him all the time. Sheesh.

     THE LOGICAL LEAP. I know what you’re thinking. “Hey,” you’re thinking, “that’s not scientific or logical! You’re assuming that Teddy knows what he needs, or at least that his opinion about what he needs is relevant to a determination of what he actually needs! How can you justify the logical leap from ‘he wants X’ to ‘he needs X’?”

     BEHOLD THE EXPERTS. Well, gosh, I think I’ve got an answer for you. Essentially, it's an appeal to The Experts. The community college Experts. And such fine Experts they are.
     As you know, officials and hired experts in the state community college system are paragons of scientific competence and integrity. It's well known. I mean, they’re all about data and evidence, man. Don’t you doubt it, cuz they throw those words around constantly.
     So if they do something, it's ipso facto scientific.
     And, as it turns out, the Experts just did a study that’s a lot like mine! The name of the study report is: What students say they need to succeed – Key themes from a study of student support.
     Let’s call it the “STN” study (for “say they need”). Check it out! It's official!

It can't be stopped. Resistance is futile.
     WE'RE JUST SAYIN'. At first, the title mystified me. Why should we care what students say they need? We want to know what they need, right? Why assume that the students know what they need? Prima facie, it would seem more reasonable to assume that they don't.
     On the other hand, the second part of the title emphasizes, not what students say they need, but what students need. It is, after all, “a study of student support” not a study of “what students think or say they need for support.”
     It's a report motif: switching from "what students need" to "what students tell us they need" and back again. Plus a persistent delightful obliviousness to this phenomenon as any sort of problem!

     THE EXPERTS EXPLAIN. Here’s how the RP Group—the clever bastards who conducted the study—explain their study:
…[W]e gathered students’ feedback on what generally supports their educational progress as well as their perspectives on the relevance and importance of “six success factors” to their achievement. We derived these success factors based on a review of existing research on effective support practices and interviews with practitioners and researchers.
     Here’s what I get out of this particular cluster of words:
• They zeroed in on some students, 900 of 'em.
• They got the students’ feedback on what “supports their educational progress.”
• They also got the students’ “perspectives” (their ranking, I guess) on the importance of each of the “six success factors.”*
     Just what are these "factors"? And where did they come from?
• They consulted the available research on “effective support practices.” [Gosh, I wonder if they asked themselves about the quality of this research? (See Re the quality of research in education.) Is that an uncivil question? I bet it is.]
• They interviewed the researchers and “practitioners” (teachers?).
     But wait! Presumably, the STN study seeks to identify ways to give students what they need. Or do the RP folks really care, not about that, but about what students “think” or “say” that they need?
     Gosh, that would be odd.
     But since these success “factors” are supposedly research- and practioner-based, and since RP didn’t ask the students whether these six factors are true factors (they only asked them to rank them, I guess; the factors as genuine factors were a given), it appears that this whole study presupposes a big chunk of [alleged] knowledge of what supports success and what doesn’t.
     So this isn’t a study to find out what students need after all. We already know that, evidently (namely, the six “factors”). It’s a study to find out what students think of these allegedly proven factors—i.e., how they rank them!
     But of course!
     Gosh, "science" sure can be deep. And puzzling. (Or maybe just fucked up.)
     So, already, I see that I made a mistake in my own study re Teddy. I shouldn’t fret about the link between what Teddy thinks he needs and what he in fact needs. Gosh, no—plus I already know what Teddy needs just by hanging around. I should just consult my inner genius whilst engaging in pseudo-research, sitting in my armchair, recalling buzzwords.
     The only thing to do now is to determine Teddy’s opinion of my list of Teddy’s needs. Yep.
     SUCCESS FACTORS. Let’s return to STN. Just what are these “success factors” that have been gleaned from research? Here’s the list ranked by the students:
Directed: students have a goal and know how to achieve it
Focused: students stay on track—keeping their eyes on the prize
Nurtured: students feel somebody wants and helps them to succeed
Engaged: students actively participate in class and extracurricular activities
Connected: students feel like they are part of the college community
Valued: students’ skills, talents, abilities and experiences are recognized; they have opportunities to contribute on campus and feel their contributions are appreciated
From RP Group's website:
the wheel of need
     (When I first encountered this list—presented with hoopla during a Flex session about a week ago—I thought the speaker was kidding. But no! My manifest incredulity notwithstanding, everybody nodded and stared. Seemingly awestruck, they beheld these curious profundities, strewn across a whiteboard in the dark. "Guess so," I thought.
     (Still, I was puzzled. "How," I asked myself, "can 'directed' by a factor? I guess they mean to say that a student's being directed contributes to success. Oh. They found that to be true whilst doing empirical research, did they?")
     So I gather that, based on research and practitioner advice, we know that, to help students, we need to make sure they’re directed, focused, nurtured, engaged, connected, and valued. (It’s a good thing I’m a trusting soul; I don’t doubt the high quality of research that yielded this list of “factors.” Only a lout would raise questions of quality!)
     (And isn’t it amazing how closely this list resembles the list certain people might pull out of their asses, sitting and thinking in their armchairs?)
     So here’s the news bulletin: our students ranked these research-identified factors. Yes! They put “directed” on top and “valued” on the bottom. Wow. Thank you, RP Group. A good day's work!

     ACHIEVING SUCCESS FACTORS AT SCALE. Let’s return to the RP Group’s account of their study:
… During this literature review [their survey of relevant research, I guess], we paid particular attention to the outcomes different strategies and approaches intend to accomplish with students. By exploring what outcomes these practices aim to achieve—rather than simply documenting how structures like learning communities or student success courses are delivered—we intend to begin shifting the conversation away from how to replicate entire programs to how to feasibly achieve these student success factors at scale.
     Here’s what I get out of this:
• Whilst surveying the research, we focused on the intention (goal) per strategy.
• By focusing on these intentions/goals, we intend to shift (completion efforts) in the direction of “how to feasibly achieve” the “success factors at scale.”
     I wonder what these RP folks mean by “strategies”? These darned researchers tend to be abstruse.
     Well, in context, it appears that “strategies” refers to “effective support practices”—those (allegedly) identified as effective by research, I guess.
     So, again, we see that this study presupposes knowledge of what works and what does not work in fostering student success. There are those “success factors,” plus there are the “effective support practices” that, somehow, connect with those factors. (I guess I’m too dumb to understand the connection. Anybody got it? 'Splain it to me, please.)
     So what then is the point of this study? It’s to determine what students think about that list of, um, factors.
     No, that can’t be right. They just said that they want to “shift the conversation” to achieving these “success factors.”
     Gosh, this sure does seem complicated. That’s because “it’s science”!

     ABSTRUSITUDE. Let’s return to the RP Group’s account of their report:
     As California’s community colleges … respond to the state’s Student Success Task Force recommendations, many constituents are considering how student support can be implemented to improve completion. College practitioners, policymakers and advocacy groups are all exploring how to preserve delivery of existing supports, while at the same time, rethink ways to effectively engage more students with the assistance they need to succeed.
     They must be seriously good thinkers, this RP crew. Their language is so technical, so delightfully convoluted! I wish I could be just like them. I think I’ll start by using the phrase “preserving delivery of existing supports” at the next School meeting.
     Now, despite what your college writing instructor told you, it is in fact a good idea to highlight all the good stuff you’ve got to say with italics or something. Use lots of exclamation points and coloring, if you’ve got it.

     BROMIDULAR PUKITUDES. Essentially, that’s just what the RP crew did in their report. Here are all the sentences that they put in bold face. As you read these Bold Remarks, allow the wisdom and sheer bedazzling scientificness therein contained to ooze all over you. Imagine the unfathomably elevated perch necessary to arrive at these penetrating bromidular pukitudes.
  • …while many students arrive to college motivated, their drive needs to be continuously stoked and augmented with additional support in order for success to be realized. [I.e., when it becomes clear that college entails sustained discipline and hard work, many students lose interest.]
  • …students spoke of their struggles to understand what they needed to do to succeed in college. [I.e., Some students are unprepared for college.]
  • These findings imply that colleges should educate students about how to navigate their community college and thrive in this environment. [I.e., colleges must teach their students how to be students.]
  • … students described how different factors interacted with each other to contribute to their success. [This is flat bullshit.]
  • …they also identified relationships between the factors and noted how experiencing one factor often led to realizing another, or how two factors were inextricably linked to each other. [Good Lord what bullshit.]
  • …colleges should consider investing in structures that connect more African-American, Latino and first-generation learners to existing services. [Structures? —Programs.]
  • Colleges must find a way to provide a significant proportion of these student groups with comprehensive support—at scale. [Big programs.]
  • These findings underscore the importance of colleges promoting a culture where all individuals across the institution understand their role in advancing students’ success. [How 'bout a culture where students do their homework? Promote that.]
  • At the same time, students most commonly recognized faculty as having the greatest potential impact on their educational journeys. [Students see that teachers can help guide them. I did not know that.]
  • This research indicates that because faculty are at the center of every student’s educational experience, they have a significant opportunity and ability to influence their students’ success not just in, but beyond, their own classroom. [Tell 'em "carpe diem." Follow 'em home and say it again.]
  • …now is the time for colleges to redefine support in a way that aligns with what students say they need. [They tell me I'm too hard and demanding, so....]
  • We encourage colleges to use the results from this research when reimagining student support and working to advance the completion of all learners. [I'm beginning to feel the urge to break things.]
  • The RP Group recommends that the primary ingredient for productive discussions is the inclusion of people who interact with students at all points in their college journey…. [Who writes this shit?]
     I want to know. Do others share my, um, bedazzlement?
     And why do I feel such utter despair?

     Scientific Culture and Educational Research (Michael J. Feuer, Lisa Towne, and Richard J. Shavelson, 2002)
     *I've long felt that people who insist on using the word "factor" should receive the death penalty.


Anonymous said...

The RP researchers left off an obvious and very important category from their list of "success factors": Easiness. All students (and a few counselors) know that success is accomplished by taking easy classes, doing minimal work and getting maximum credit. They would have surely ranked that as the number one "factor". These RP researchers failed to incorporate the vast amount of research data available at RMP.

Roy Bauer said...

Yes, the skill of avoiding hard work or high standards whilst maintaining a high GPA. But that only gets you so far. —Unless, of course, you seek a degree in "education." If so, you're set.

Anonymous said...

So, basically, students need help and guidance and their instructors are the best people in the institution to help them? And this was presented as some sort of ground-breaking research? How embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

When I ask students if they want me to provide them a grade they did not deserve--say an A when their work was C+--they tell me they want me to be honest. We have this chat early on in the term: very few have indicated they want what they didn't earn.

Saddleback prof

Roy Bauer said...

Gosh, students often complain about their failure to receive a higher grade. We tend to have that chat toward the end of the term.

IVC Prof

Anonymous said...

At what point in a young adult's life does the hand-holding end and personal responsibility begin? It will be interesting to see the amount of resources deemed necessary to provide, enhance, monitor, and force student success. Because, damn it, students will be my definition of successful, and I'll make sure they feel warm and fuzzy while becoming so.

Anonymous said...

After reading your compilation of this ambiguous twaddle, my head hurts. I'm assuming somebody was paid to write this crap, or at least it's part of the process of keeping one's position in which compensation is a factor. "See what I did! I comprehensive analysis of student facilitation!"


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that one of the "six factors" is not "Challenged." After all, isn't education about moving beyond one's intellectual comfort zones, expanding one's perspectives, throwing into question all the crap that young people take for granted? These institutional reforms under the banner of "student success" at every step seem designed toward producing populations of docile, isolated, obedient service-sector workers, unable or unwilling to think for themselves. Look at that list! Nurtured? Directed? This is subjugation, not education.

Roy Bauer said...

12:20, it is indeed twaddle and, yes, I'm sure they were paid for producing it. Learn more about the twaddlers here.
12:21, I don't necessarily disagree. But if you read the report, you'll see that the "six success factors" are gleaned from "research" (about which I am dubious). And the ranking of the six, allegedly, was provided by the 900 students who participated in the study. Supposedly, then, these "factors" (I do hate that word) reflect research in the field.
My problem is that I believe that the fields that engage in this research are substandard. And it is likely that the "experts" who did this particular research are not among the best of that bad lot.

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