Monday, January 30, 2012

Which "high touch" practice would you kill?

Campuses love to tout their high touch approach to education--the small class sizes, one-on-one interaction between faculty and students, mentoring, academic advising, etc. Students and parents seem to like them as well.

But beyond their virtues, there are five problems with the typical list of high touch educational interactions:

  1. They are expensive.  Faculty time spent one-on-one with students costs more than faculty time with a bunch of students. 
  2. They are not well integrated into faculty workloads.  Faculty work is designed around hours in the classroom (and preparation for those hours).  Some institutions add research expectations, and most add governance work as well.  But how does a campus account for and compensate outside the classroom interaction with students?  Hardly at all, much to the chagrin of faculty.
  3. They are not equally distributed among students.  Some faculty are open to lots of high touch interaction; many are not.  Some students take advantage of the opportunities; many do not.  And among those who do not are often students who need it most.
  4. High touch practices are not always high impact practices.  George Kuh and the NSSE folks have studied which practices lead to higher student engagement, and by extension better learning. Most of them are curricular reforms (learning communities, freshmen seminars, capstone courses, etc.) Some have high touch as a by-product, but few high touch practices are, in themselves, high impact practices.
  5. Most campuses don't align high touch practices with their missions.  All types of schools tout small class size, for example, regardless of whether small classes are more likely to help their particular students learn, graduate, and become who they wish to become. And few campuses ask which practices their students need for success.
So given these problems, it seems like schools ought to be willing to cut out certain high touch practices for providing less benefit than their cost implies.  One could study this question, but I think most of us could come up with a few that we would kill right away.

My first choice would hours. Few students use them, many faculty ignore them, and the benefit to individual students is marginal. 

Which would you kill?

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