Fighting Fake News in Finland via Schools

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We have witnessed years now of conventional and now digital media being manipulated to confuse, misinform and mislead the public of all ages round science of climate change or global warming, politics and campaigns, immigrants and population growth, vaccinations, natural disasters, religion and minorities etc.

Like some states in Australia used to teach critical thinking to high school students in the 1970s, since been ’embedded’ and/or disappeared, Finland has taken the lead in developing skills at primary school age dealing with Russia especially, and global warming denialism.

From The Guardian:

‘How Finland starts its fight against fake news in primary schools

Country on frontline of information war teaches everyone from school pupils to politicians how to spot slippery information

You can start when children are very young, said Kari Kivinen. In fact, you should: “Fairytales work well. Take the wily fox who always cheats the other animals with his sly words. That’s not a bad metaphor for a certain kind of politician, is it?”

With democracies around the world threatened by the seemingly unstoppable onslaught of false information, Finland – recently rated Europe’s most resistant nation to fake news – takes the fight seriously enough to teach it in primary school.

In secondary schools, such as the state-run college in Helsinki where Kivinen is head teacher, multi-platform information literacy and strong critical thinking have become a core, cross-subject component of a national curriculum that was introduced in 2016.

In maths lessons, Kivinen’s pupils learn how easy it is to lie with statistics. In art, they see how an image’s meaning can be manipulated. In history, they analyse notable propaganda campaigns, while Finnish language teachers work with them on the many ways in which words can be used to confuse, mislead and deceive.

“The goal is active, responsible citizens and voters,” Kivinen said. “Thinking critically, factchecking, interpreting and evaluating all the information you receive, wherever it appears, is crucial. We’ve made it a core part of what we teach, across all subjects.”

The curriculum is part of a unique, broad strategy devised by the Finnish government after 2014, when the country was first targeted with fake news stories by its Russian neighbour, and the government realised it had moved into the post-fact age.

Successful enough for Finland to top, by some margin, an annual index measuring resistance to fake news in 35 European countries, the programme aims to ensure that everyone, from pupil to politician, can detect – and do their bit to fight – false information.

“This affects all of us,” said Jussi Toivanen, chief communications officer for the prime minister’s office. “It targets the whole of Finnish society. It aims to erode our values and norms, the trust in our institutions that hold society together.”

Finland, which declared independence from Russia in 1917, is on the frontline of an online information war that has accelerated markedly since Moscow annexed Crimea and backed rebels in eastern Ukraine five years ago, Toivanen said.

Most campaigns, amplified by sympathetic far-right, nation-first and “alternative” Finnish news sites and social media accounts, focus on attacking the EU, highlighting immigration issues and trying to influence debate over Finland’s full Nato membership.

Resistance is seen almost as a civil defence question, a key component in Finland’s comprehensive security policy. Toivanen said: “We are a small country, without many resources, and we rely on everyone contributing to the collective defence of society.”

The programme, piloted by a 30-member, high-level committee representing 20 different bodies from government ministries to welfare organisations and the police, intelligence and security services, has trained thousands of civil servants, journalists, teachers and librarians over the past three years.

“It’s a broad-based, coordinated effort to raise awareness,” said Saara Jantunen, a senior researcher from the defence ministry who has been seconded to the prime minister’s office. “Like virus protection on your computer: the government’s responsible for a certain amount, of course, but ultimately it’s up to the individual to install the software.”…

…..He wants his pupils to ask questions such as: who produced this information, and why? Where was it published? What does it really say? Who is it aimed at? What is it based on? Is there evidence for it, or is this just someone’s opinion? Is it verifiable elsewhere?

On the evidence of half a dozen pupils gathered in a classroom before lunchtime, it is an approach that is paying off. “You must always factcheck. The number one rule: no Wikipedia, and always three or four different and reliable sources,” said Mathilda, 18. “We learn that basically in every subject.”….

…..Part of that continuing education is also provided by NGOs. Besides operating an effective factchecking service, Faktabaari (Fact Bar), launched for the 2014 European elections and run by a volunteer staff of journalists and researchers, produces popular voter literacy kits for schools and the wider public.

“Essentially, we aim to give people their own tools,” said its founder, Mikko Salo, a member of the EU’s independent high-level expert group on fake news. “It’s about trying to vaccinate against problems, rather than telling people what’s right and wrong. That can easily lead to polarisation.”

In the run-up to Finland’s parliamentary elections last April, the government went so far as to produce an advertising campaign alerting voters to the possibility of fake news, with the slogan “Finland has the best elections in the world. Think about why”.

Similarly, Mediametka has been developing and working with media literacy tools since the more innocent days of the early 1950s, when its founders were motivated mainly by fear of the irreparable damage that comic books might do to the minds of Finnish children.

These days, the NGO, part-funded by the culture ministry, organises ed-tech hackathons with inventive Finnish startups in a bid to develop “meaningful materials” for schools and youth groups, said its executive director, Meri Seistola.

“We work with pictures, videos, text, digital content; get our students to produce their own; ask them to identify all the various kinds of misleading news,” said Seistola: from propaganda to clickbait, satire to conspiracy theory, pseudoscience to partisan reporting; from stories describing events that simply never happened to unintentional errors of fact.

Finland has something of a head start on information literacy, ranking consistently at or near the top of international indices for press freedom, transparency, education and social justice. Its school pupils have the EU’s highest PISA score for reading.

“The level of trust in national institutions, in the media, in society as a whole, does tend to be higher in the Nordic countries than in many others,” said Faktabaari’s Salo. “But that means we really need even greater vigilance now, to prepare ourselves for the next phase. Because we have more to lose.”’

 

For more articles and blogs about younger generations, critical thinking, climate change and curriculum click through.

 

E-Learning for University Students in Africa

E-learning maybe the solution for increased affordable access to effective education across the world as an organic extension of distance learning, open university and on campus study using ‘FLIPPED learning model’, dependent upon digital resources and communication.

Parts of Africa, and the world, can use e-learning for access.

African University Study via E-Learning (Image copyright Pexels)

For many parts of Africa it is a solution to limited or no access, from Deutsche Welle:

The importance of studying at home for a degree: E-learning in Africa

Many young Africans dream of a higher education. But they often don’t have the means: colleges are often far away and accommodation is expensive. Online universities and e-learning may provide a viable solution.

Lectures with compulsory attendance were not an option for Alida Tapsoba. The 29-year-old from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, has to earn a living and therefore needs to be in control of when she works and when she studies. With this in mind, she decided to take an online course. “But I was also afraid. I wasn’t sure if I could do it,” the journalism student told DW. “You have to be well organized to deliver the assignments on time — especially if you work extra hours.”

Alida Tapsoba said her choice is rather expensive. She spends a lot of money on internet access. She needs to download large files, which is time-consuming and costly. Rebecca Stromeyer knows the problem well. She said that in many African countries, internet access is considerably more expensive than in Germany. Stromeyer is the founder of e-Learning Africa, an annual conference which attracts experts in the field to network and exchange information in a pan-African context.

No digital infrastructure

Internet access varies much across the continent. “Kenya is a pioneer, even in rural areas,” said Stromeyer. In the Central African Republic, by contrast, only a few people can accesss the internet. “Conditions are not yet so ideal that everyone in Africa can complete an e-learning program,” said Stromeyer. She adds that governments need put more efforts into developing the infrastructure.

“Nevertheless, the need to develop e-learning was much stronger in Africa than in Europe,” said the communications technology expert. And it is not restricted to university studies. The school system often does not work, especially in rural areas. There is a lack of teachers and textbooks. Stromeyer advocates using the internet for education in schools as well, although she believes that students learn better at school than they do online.

Flexible and individual

Tony Carr, from the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, begs to differ: “Sitting in a lecture hall with 600 other students is much like taking a degree by correspondence. Online interactions can be much warmer and personal. They can bring students closer together than a course requiring attendance.”

Flexibility is another advantage. Young people can also save on accommodation costs by staying at home and not having to rent a room in another city. They can tailor their studies to fit their needs, focus on the skills they believe to be most important and take courses they would not otherwise have access to.

Alida Tapsoba is a case in point. She dreams of working abroad as a journalist. She could not find the master’s course she was looking for in her home town. But a renowned journalism school in Paris had just what she wanted.

South Africa’s pioneers

The University of South Africa (UNISA) pioneered distance learning on the continent. When it was founded in the 1940s it offered only degrees by correspondence. Today, it is on its way to full digitalization. By its own account, it is Africa’s largest distance learning institution.

Tony Carr refers to a research paper into online studies in Africa, which compared different countries between 2011 and 2016. It showed that South Africa was the pioneer in e-learning, followed by Angola, Nigeria and Tunisia. According to Carr, this growth goes hand in hand with internet access, income levels and the increase of the middle class in the countries mentioned.

Generally speaking, Anglophone countries lead the field, Stromeyer said. But there is a growing number of initiatives in French-speaking West Africa. Ivory Coast founded the state-run Universite Virtuelle de Cote d’Ivoire four years ago. “An outstanding institution,” said Stromeyer. “It had the advantage of being able to learn from the mistakes of others.”

High demand in African countries

Many employers still believe that online studies are worth less than degrees that require a physical presence. “They believe that the courses are shorter and that less content is conveyed,” said Stromeyer. “This is not true. The need for e-learning is great in Africa, where an above-average number of young people live. Traditional universities and student accommodation are often overcrowded.” Stromeyer recommended a mixture of online and attendance studies, since young people also have the need to socialize and be part of a community.

The main thing is to gather in-depth information about online courses and providers, Tony Carr pointed out. An online university can be located anywhere, and can circumvent the national accreditation system. Experts recommend asking precisely which degree can be obtained and whether it is recognized in your own country or abroad.

 

For more articles and blog posts about adult learning, andragogy, business training, course design, CPD Continuing Professional Development, e-learning in higher education, ID Instructional Design, international students, MOOCs, Online Education, Pedagogy and Program Design, click through.

 

International Education – Foreign Student – Value

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The value of international education and international students, tangible and intangible, is egregiously under – estimated by the application of a narrow ‘white nativist’ or politically opportunistic prism that ignores inconvenient facts and dynamics.

Many Australians of Anglo Irish heritage focus too much upon international students described as ‘immigrants’, their potential for permanent residency (with significant hurdles) and demands for same ‘foreign’ students to return home in support of their home country.

Conversely same qualifications are used by Australians internationally, many of the same gain other residency or even dual citizenship, yet there are no demands for the same e.g. to return home and/or pay back fees?

This dynamic is simply a reflection of increasing geographical and social mobility (taken for granted in the EU) for all in the developed and many in the less developed worlds for whom higher education and/or technical skills and languages improve their lives and others’.

Meanwhile too many narratives from our mono-cultural political, media and social elites seem about creating ‘us vs them’ for voters, and worse, deep seated Nativist or colonial ideology.

Global population is expected to peak mid-century whereby there may be increased competition for people, with sub-Saharan Africa being the only place with population growth and significant younger demographic cohorts.

Late news: The U.K. has announced the re-introduction of post graduate work visas for international university graduates.

Australia should try to keep more international students who are trained in our universities

Jihyun Lee – September 13, 2019 6.02am AEST

Australia’s education system takes almost one in ten of all international students
from countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD).

That’s according to the latest Education at a Glance report from the OECD.
But Australia should do more to retain some of those students after graduation or it
risks losing good talent overseas.

A degree of talent

The OECD report says Australia’s higher education sector is heavily reliant on international students. They represent about 48% of those enrolled in masters and 32% in doctoral programs.

This is partly due to a lack of interest among Australians in pursuing higher-degree study compared to other countries, about 10% in Australia versus 15% across OECD countries.

International students make up 40% of doctoral graduates in Australia, compared to 25% across OECD countries. That’s higher than the US (27%) and Germany (18%), the other two popular destinations for international students.

Australian students are not choosing some STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects as much as those in other OECD countries. For example, only 17% of adults (aged 25 to 64) with a tertiary degree had studied engineering, manufacturing and construction.

Other comparable industrialised countries such as Sweden (25%), Korea (24%), Japan (23%) and Canada (21%) are obviously doing better.  This trend appears to be getting worse because the proportion of new students entering STEM-related bachelor degree programs is lower in Australia (21%), compared to 27% across OECD and partner countries.

While the government here provides for up to four years of post-higher-degree stay for international students, it is inevitable that Australia faces a drain of foreign-born specialists who were educated in Australia.

In 2017, the Australian government granted permanent visas to only 4% of foreign students and temporary graduate visas to only 16% to live in Australia after completing their study. It is obvious then that many international students return home after they study in Australia.

What can the Australian government do?

We need to provide better incentives for those who complete a higher-degree program, especially in the STEM areas, to stay on in Australia.

The OECD’s report says people who studied information and communication technologies (ICT) and engineering as well as construction and manufacturing will continue to benefit greatly from strong labour-market opportunities everywhere in the world.

Australia can do better in attracting younger generations to be trained in the STEM area at higher degree levels. We then need to try to retain more of the foreign-born higher-degree holders rather than sending them back home.

Being afraid of an influx of Chinese or Indian students who will contribute to development of innovation and technological changes in this country should become a thing of the past.

Good news for Australia’s education

The Education at a Glance program aims to give an annual snapshot of the effectiveness of educational systems – from early childhood to doctoral level – across all OECD and partner countries.

At almost 500 pages, the 2019 report does contain some good news for Australia. Australia spends a higher proportion of its GDP (based on public, private and international sources) on education, 5.8% compared to the OECD average of 5.0%.

The Australian education system strongly promotes compulsory education. Our 11 years of compulsory education is the longest among OECD countries. That means each student gets 3,410 more hours over the period of compulsory education.

When it comes to people going on to further studies, the proportion of tertiary-educated Australians has increased over the past ten years. It is now 51%, compared to the OECD average of 44%.

On graduation, the average debt for Australian students is US$10,479 (A$15,243), one of the lowest among OECD countries. It’s about half that of New Zealand US$24,117 (A$35,080), which has similar tuition fees and financial support systems.

Education pays off

Australian young adults with vocational qualifications have a higher employment rate (83%) than the OECD average (80%).  Although earning power is still greater for those with a higher level of educational attainment, the financial return from more schooling is far smaller in Australia.

Compared to those with upper secondary education, full-time tertiary-educated Australian workers earn 31% more, compared to 57% more on average across OECD countries. Adults with a master’s or doctoral degree earn 52% more, compared to 91% more on average across OECD countries.

The OECD attributes this trend partially to good labour-market opportunities for those with upper secondary vocational qualifications.  The OECD also notes that the average employment rate for Australian tertiary-educated adults is 85%, only two percentage points higher than the 83% for those with a vocational upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary qualification. This is one of the smallest differences across OECD countries.

For more articles and blogs about international education, immigration, population growth and white nationalism click through.

Detection of Student Plagiarism Ghost Writing Contract Cheating

Recent media news stories and documentaries have highlighted perceived issues of international student plagiarism, collusion, ghost writing and contract cheating.

Most institutions have systems and processes in place to deal with, or at least ameliorate the impact of sub-optimal academic integrity, including higher language requirements (and level testing at enrolment), Turnitin and other duplication detection software, in class assessments, assignment workshops, feedback and monitoring.

Issues of plagiarism, collusion, ghost writing and contract cheating at university by students.

How to stop or limit ghost writing and contract cheating (image copyright Pexels)

However, like other sectors, education is prone to only lip service being paid by some commissioners, owners, shareholders, management, academia and related; rather than enforcement of minimum regulatory compliance it’s viewed as a voluntary code by some.

The following is summary of an article about the issue and how to deal with it, in an American context which has recently seen SAT and related corruption for entry to top universities.

Detecting and Deterring Ghostwritten Papers: A Guide to Best Practices (from The Best Schools website)

By David A. Tomar

1 Introduction For ten years, I made my living helping students cheat. I worked as a professional ghost writer, completing homework assignments, producing essays, and composing senior theses for alternately desperate, lazy, or disengaged college and graduate students.

I worked as an independent contractor affiliated with various online paper mills and, between 2000 and 2010, spent nearly every day of my life immersed in academic research and compositional writing. Writing as many as 5,000 typewritten pages a year, I earned as much as many professors.

In November of 2010, I announced my retirement in a tell-all article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Using the pseudonym Ed Dante, I covered what was, for many, a first glimpse into the shadowy underworld of academic ghostwriting.

 

2 The Ghostwriting Business. Before it is possible to prevent and police ghostwriting, one must understand the industry. Though many educators are well aware of ghostwriting, how it happens and that it most likely has occurred in their own classrooms, just as many others have a limited or non-existent sense of its impact.

Quite to the point, of the many reactions that greeted my original article in The Chronicle, doubt and skepticism were among the most common. Some truly dedicated, earnest, and otherwise astute educators refused to accept not only that wholesale cheating of this sort could be perpetrated but that it could be done so consistently and effectively without detection right under their noses.

 

2.1 Prevalence….. Still, we may be able to deduce a great deal just from the accessibility and ease-of-use of ghostwriting services. According to an article in the New York Times regarding rising rates of student cheating, “research has shown that a major factor in unethical behavior is simply how easy or hard it is.”

We can say with great certainty that it is easier than ever to employ an academic ghostwriting service. If a student has the money, he or she has the means.

The vast majority of students locate these services simply by doing a Google search for “Custom Paper Writing,” “essay help,” “term papers,” “homework services,” “essay writing services,’” or any number of other pertinent word combinations. Each of these terms will ultimately return dozens of pages of relevant search results.

From what is immediately apparent though, we can conclude two things about the prevalence of ghostwriting:

  1. The inquiring student will find it easy to locate a desired service and begin using it; and
  2. The enterprising freelancer will find it easy to locate an employment opportunity and begin earning income from it.

 

2.2 Pricing and Structure Most companies operate using a similar pricing spectrum, charging between $10 and $50 per page depending on proximity of the deadline. For instance, Mypaperwriter.com prices its custom writing services between $17.55 and $45.85 per page. This is in line with the pricing spectrum and structure of the industry’s more lucrative companies.

The variance is usually determined by deadline. This is the measure used most frequently to dene an assignment’s price. Papers due in a week or more are typically bound to the low end of the pricing spectrum. For anything due in less than a week, the cost per page will go up as the number of days goes down. A paper due in less than 24 hours will fall on the highest end of the cost-per-page spectrum.

 

2.3 Clientele The ghostwriting industry enjoys a customer base comprised of three primary demographics. These are the likeliest perpetrators of ghostwritten plagiarism:

2.3.1 English Language Learners: International students often arrive at American universities without a background or meaningful support in English composition.

2.3.2 Composition/Research deficient students: A startling number American students—for whom English is a native language—will actually suffer from many of these exact same deceits

2.3.3 Lazy students: Some ghostwriting clients simply lack the motivation and interest to complete their own work, a condition that Farnese et al. (2011) call “academic moral disengagement.”[7] In many cases, a perfectly capable student will utilize an academic ghostwriting service as a way to cut down effort or improve his or her chances of receiving a better grade.

 

3 The Ghostwriting Conundrum…… However, the web has proliferated and simplified cheating, dramatically expanding the accessibility, visibility, and ease with which students can lift, recycle or otherwise claim authorship of work that is not their own. Consequently, the growth of this industry helped to provoke the growth of the plagiarism-detection industry of which Turnitin is a leading example.

Other notable sites include Viper, Plagscan, Plagtracker, Grammarly, Small SEO Tools, and Plagiarism Checker.

Turnitin represents the gold standard in plagiarism detection. Even so, given the limitations inherent in plagiarism detection, even Turnitin has no way to bring its extensive empirical data to bear on ghostwriting.

With these conditions in mind, we point to a handful of detection and deterrence challenges that are unique to ghostwriting:

3.1 Original, non-plagiarized content: Most ghostwriting companies are faithful to this service guarantee and will terminate independent contractors for failure to comply.

3.2 Low likelihood of raising suspicion: Ghostwriting places the onus on the educator to have initial cause for suspicion. This requires the individual grading a written assignment to sense a disconnect between the student and the assignment, which of course requires some initial familiarity with the student in question.

3.3 Difficulty of translating suspicion into proof: Cheating is, of course, a serious allegation and students have a lot riding on the completion of their education. So obviously, the average student will go to great lengths to deny any such allegations. Students are not afraid to get litigious if need be. The point is, as an educator, one must be very careful about levying the accusation without hard evidence.

 

4 The Four D’s of Ghostbusting

4.1 Design Design refers to the way a professor constructs assignments, course materials, tests, classroom time and the semester-long curriculum. This is an area in education where quality control runs the gamut from excellence to criminal incompetence. There are plenty of professors who work tirelessly to tailor assignments, materials and examinations to remain in-step with constantly evolving subject matter, student culture and best practices. But there are also plenty of professors who recycle old materials without scrutiny and who depend wholly on text-based content which most students could acquire without professor mediation.

4.2 Deterrence Deterrence refers to ways of diminishing the inclination, motive, or desire to purchase a ghostwritten paper…..That is, students at least believe that they are cheating out of ease, normalcy, or necessity. The study finds that the onus falls on instructors to live up to certain student expectations regarding clarity and engagement of course content. The study identities this as the best route to deterring the rationalized impulse to use a ghostwriting service.

Practical Strategies

4.2.1 Individualization: Individualization of the educational experience can instill in the student a greater sense of commitment to course materials and to the knowledge and career opportunities thereby implied. Large lecture halls and online courses can create a sense of anonymity for the would-be cheater.

4.2.2 Conferencing: One thing that large universities and online courses have in common is that, if one desires, one can go an entire semester without ever once personally meeting a professor. There is comfort in this anonymity. Removing this comfort creates a deterrent that does not otherwise exist.

4.2.3 Emphasis on in-class participation: Mandatory class participation heightens the imperative for students to become familiar with course content. Mandating contributions to class discussions gives students a strong incentive to establish a consistent voice and perspective on course subjects.

4.2.4 Student engagement: This one is really and truly up to each individual educator. It is within every educator’s power to be as creative, energetic, inspiring, original, unpredictable, and engaging as he or she wants to be….Many students feel no remorse about cheating in a course from which there is a feeling of disengagement. Uninspired lectures, standard texts, and generic assignments serve as great ammunition for a student who wishes to rationalize his or her detachment.

4.2.5 Miscellaneous strategies of deterrence: Course discussions where students are invited to share research experience and knowledge Professor lectures based on and attributed to content drawn from student assignments A requirement for students to occasionally present research findings or other written work to the class or professor.

 

4.3 Detection Detection is both a manual process driven by professorial experience and a technology driven process with continued room for growth and improvement.

Practical Strategies

4.3.1 Assignment exit interviews: Standardizing one-on-one conferencing with each student following assignment submission requires each student to defend his or her writing.

4.3.2 Manual literary fingerprinting: Of the many strategies outlined in this account, this may well be the most readily adaptable to any context where writing forms a portion of the coursework. Here, the orientation process for any writing intensive course will begin with an in-class writing assignment.

4.3.3 File properties: One way to improve the chances of detecting ghostwritten work is to simply be a savvier user of technology than the average cheating student. It’s easier than one might think.

4.3.4 Computational literary fingerprinting: Based on the effectiveness and value of Turnitin.com as a strategy for plagiarism detection of the non-ghostwritten variety, this strategy may best predict the future of ghostwriting detection.

 

4.4 Dedication Detection is all well and good, but let’s face it, people good at detection are more likely to join a police force than a teachers union. Teachers are in the classroom to teach. This is where the fourth “D” comes into play. The instructor must be dedicated to the education of his or her students, not just to punching an academic time card.

Practical Strategy

4.4.1 Identify struggling students and see that they get help: These are the students who are by far the most likely to employ a ghostwriter. In order to reduce the presence of the ghostwriter in the classroom, educators must take pre-emptive steps to identify those who are most likely to need his services.

 

For more blogs and articles about international students, academic integrity and international education click through.

University Education – Student Teacher Tutors or Professors?

Interesting article from The Conversation regarding university tutorial teaching or tutoring quality, students or academics?  The glib answer would be neither form of pedagogy, in fact ‘andragogy’ for adult learners shows that many should be learning together as students, not through teacher centred direction.

Can students teach as well as professors?

Student Tutorial Teachers or Professors? (Copyright image Pexels)

Research shows students are as good as professors in tutorial teaching

February 19, 2019 5.23pm AEDT

Professors and graduate students are at opposite ends of the university hierarchy in terms of experience, qualifications and pay. But at many universities, both do the same job: they teach tutorials offered in parallel with lectures.

Our research explores whether it makes sense for professors to teach tutorials – and we found it doesn’t. They are no more effective as tutorial instructors than students.

This finding implies that universities can reduce costs or free up professors’ time by asking students to teach more tutorials.

Measuring instructors’ effectiveness

We conducted a survey about tutorial instruction in OECD universities. Our results show that tutorials are used in 63% of OECD universities. At 25% of these institutions, tutorials are taught by students, 29% by professors and 46% by a mixture of the two.

Using professors to teach small groups is expensive, and reducing costs is a central concern given the increases in tuition fees and student debt.

We have studied the costs and benefits of using tutorial instructors with different academic ranks, using data from a Dutch business school that offers four key features. First, tutorials are taught by a wide range of instructors, ranging from bachelor’s students to full professors. Second, the school’s dataset is large enough (we observe more than 12,000 students) to give us enough statistical power to detect even small differences between instructors.

Third, at this business school students are randomly assigned to instructors of different academic ranks, creating a perfect experiment for seeing whether academic rank matters. Finally, we were able to supplement these already excellent data with measures of students’ satisfaction with the course, and students’ earnings and job satisfaction after graduation, for some of these students. This is important since instructors might matter in many ways and we need to cast a wide net to capture a range of student outcomes.

Students just as effective

Overall, our results show that lower-ranked instructors teach tutorials as effectively as higher-ranked ones. The most effective instructors – postdoctoral researchers – increase students grades by less than 0.02 points on a 10-point grade scale compared with student instructors. The differences between all other instructor types, from student instructor and full professor, is smaller than that.

Full professors are also no better than student instructors in improving students’ grades in the next related course or job satisfaction and earnings after graduation. We do, however, find that higher-ranked instructors achieve somewhat better course evaluations, but these differences are small.

These findings are counter-intuitive. Yet they are consistent with the general findings in primary and secondary education that formal education does a poor job at predicting who teaches well.

What could be the reason why all the extra qualification and experience of professors does not translate into better results for their students? The content of tutorials might be adjusted in a way that students can easily teach them. Further, lower-ranked instructors may compensate for their lack of experience by being better able to relate to students and being more motivated.

Key implication

The implications of our findings are obvious. Universities can free up resources by not asking their most expensive staff to do a job that students can do equally well. We show that the business school we study can reduce the overall wages they pay to tutorial instructors by 50% if they only employ student instructors.

There are, of course, reasons why universities might not want to exclusively rely on student instructors. Students might not be able to teach some more technically advanced master’s courses. There might be some research-inactive but tenured professors whose most valuable use of time is tutorial teaching. And, as with other research that rely on data from one institution, future studies need to show whether our results hold in other universities as well.

But even if these studies uncover some benefits to students of being taught by a professor, we would be surprised if these are worth the extra costs.’

 

Unclear what is quality teaching and learning? Higher education or universities put great importance upon narrow and high-level specialised knowledge exemplified by a doctorate, i.e. content or subject matter expert. Further, the vocational Certificate IV of Training & Assessment TAE40116 is included on many job descriptions as a desirable teaching qualification and meanwhile ‘real world’ experience can be ignored by institutions and/or embellished by the beholder (unlike the ID points system, all factors are not taken into account).

Related issues here, theory of teaching and learning, pedagogy (for children) is cited but for adults we should be speaking about andragogy.  Andragogy of adult education focuses upon adults’ need for knowledge, motivation, willingness, experience, self-direction and task-based learning.

Good instructional or learning design for adult centred learning:

  • broad and deep needs analysis based on learners’ knowledge, expertise and real skill gaps
  • motivated when they have input and some control over learning, activities and outcomes
  • participate in learner centred activities, interaction and social learning
  • opportunities to contribute knowledge, expertise and reflect on their business practice
  • contribution to and management of learning activities through tasks and problem solving; post course too.

A more complete qualification is the UK Cambridge RSA CELTA or TEFLA, especially behavioural theories fitting ‘andragogy’, including teaching skills, and dealing with significant numbers of adult students for whom English is not their first language.

Another issue to emerge has been that of ‘ID Instructional Design’ on behalf of university teachers, but not based upon subject matter or teach/learning skills (when ID is implicit for any competent teacher).

Finally, explaining in terms of cost (cutting or savings) may seem mercenary when high fees are now the norm for most students.