How to ‘Pin Down’ Busy Higher Education Students

Student participation is inextricably linked to most educational research and those related to various aspects of teaching and learning. This may involve a single student or many, depending on research focus and intent.

Advantages to using students in research may include the fact that they are easily accessed especially if you are the teacher and are using your students as research participants. There are a number of students in an educational institution, therefore, the opportunity to engage in relatively large-scale research projects. Researching with students in one own class or educational institution facilitate easy follow-up sessions. Students also bring varied perspectives and are from varied backgrounds which could potentially lead to rich data.

Despite these advantages, one key challenge is ‘pinning them down’. By this I mean, not just getting their consent and promise to participate as interviewees or respondents, but their actual involvement. During the data collection phrase utilizing students has participants there are 4 strategies I employ in the pinning down process.

Pinning down strategy 1: Link data collection to scheduled lessons.

A key feature of this strategy involves incorporating interviews or questionnaire distribution and completion during lessons that I teach. I also solicit the help of colleagues to do the same at a convenient time during their teaching/lectures. In using this strategy I plan interviews before or after students’ scheduled lectures. This is especially useful when employing a focus group data collection method. I have found that students getting ready for, or leaving a lesson are in ‘learning mode’ and seem mentally ready to answer research-related questions. It is also important to keep these sessions within the advertised length.

Pinning down strategy 2: Link data collection with students’ availability.

Find out from potential student participants, what time is convenient and schedule the interview as appropriate. This strategy is most important if they are not in your class and also decreases the drop-out or ‘no show’ rate. This, however, must be accompanied by timely reminders. After setting and agreeing the date and time send a reminder a week or few days before the actual event. Use emails, texts, calls, social media (as appropriate).

Pinning down strategy 3: Use an alternate format.

Given the pervasive nature of the internet and online environments and students use of these, the use of an alternate format e.g. survey monkey, or ones built-in the University’s Learning Management System or Virtual Learning Environment is a sure way of getting their actual engagement in the research, not just a promise to do so.

Pinning down strategy 4: Reward participation.

Some students participants like to know ‘what’s in this for them’ so strategy number 4 is to offer an incentive, for example, a gift certificate (if appropriate). However in some of my studies using student participant they were willing to participate as long as I gave clear information about the time commitment and some freely gave of their time because they were contributing to a bit of research that they value.

Open Courses: Changing the Higher Education Scene

Want to take a course from M.I.T., one of the most revered technology schools in the world? You don’t have to have almost-perfect SAT scores, you don’t have to have a 4.0 GPA, you don’t have to pay the $50,000 tuition – in fact, you don’t even have to be enrolled as a student. Sound too good to be true? M.I.T. has put its entire course catalogue online so that anyone who wishes to check out class lectures, class notes, assignments and other materials will be able to via their computer.

Online education continues to change the way educators and students envision higher education and M.I.T.’s open courses are just one of the many ways that traditional ground schools are adapting to advances in technology. Due to the expansion of online education, OpenCourseWare Consortium, a non-profit organization committed to advancing global education opportunity, was created to give students worldwide the opportunity to access higher education courses and relevant material.

M.I.T. isn’t the only prestigious ground school to get involved. Stanford, Tufts, Yale, the University of Michigan and Harvard also offer many, if not all, of their courses online for free. So, why give away something that many students pay so much for? “My deep belief is that as academics we have a duty to disperse our ideas as far and as freely as possible,” says Rebecca Henderson a business professor from M.I.T. and Harvard.

Sharing the world’s knowledge is the goal of OpenCourseWare Consortium. Obtaining copyrights from more schools and then delivering the material effectively as well as long-term funding are issues which are still being dealt with. Initial funding came from the private sector by way of affluent schools and organizations like the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. But, say Consortium directors, “relying on philanthropy is not sustainable.”

To address sustainability, copyright issues, and course effectiveness of the Open Education movement activists, educators, and scientists will converge in Barcelona for meetings on education, accessibility, and trends in Open Education. Open Ed 2011 and the Drumbeat Learning Freedom and the Web Festival will convene to address the future of education and the Web and the “decisions needed to make open education a reality” as well as ‘impact and sustainability.”

Mary Lou Forward, executive director of the OpenCourseWare Consortium is planning to attend both meetings. Unequal access to education is one of the most prominent reasons OpenCourseWare was developed, bringing free education to the masses is a concept that is always on Forward’s mind. “What I think about all the time,” she says, “are ways to bring education to people.”

While open courses don’t provide actual course credit or an eventual degree to students, they are used by many to self-learn or to find areas of study that may interest them in their eventual degree track. Additionally, open courses give underprivileged students or students with traditionally little access who may be incapable of attending college an opportunity to study and learn exactly what their peers elsewhere are studying.

OpenCourseWare hopes to eventually make national and worldwide higher education courses freely available to students and learners across the globe.

The Family University Network: Unplugging Institutional Higher Education

Why not build a Christian family enterprise with the energy, funding, and infrastructure that would otherwise build the state or private educational institutions?

It is common knowledge today that serious moral problems exist in families, churches, schools, colleges, corporations, and political arena. These problems have academic, moral, and philosophical roots reaching back centuries, and have been promoted by the systematic separation of knowledge from faith in God. The significant amount of teaching required to equip people with the ability to discern the times and apply Scripture by faith to all areas of life, requires diligence in all areas of learning, and at all levels of education.

Secular universities are openly hostile to the Christian worldview, and the best of the Christian colleges cannot replicate the family away from home. Nehemiah Institute worldview assessment of 1177 students in 18 Christian colleges over 7 years demonstrated that Christian students are graduating from Christian institutions with a secular humanism worldview, even where their professors have a Biblical Theist worldview. Even the above average Christian colleges are little better than their secular counterpart because the curricula are developed under the same institutional accreditation guidelines, the same text books are used, many of the faculty were trained at secular institutions, and the family learning context is ignored.

Even the best of Christian distance education does not purposefully involve the family in the learning process, nor couple with individual family convictions, nor uses the family knowledge base, nor earns family income. It is time to unplug institutional higher education and bring higher education home.

The establishment of family universities and networks based on the fellowship of the church is one solution. This can help individuals and families implement the Christian philosophy of education through developing their own family university and complementary business as a part of the dominion mandate (Psalm 8).

University education needs to be reinvented with a Biblical understanding to strengthen the family and church. Christian people can easily learn how a family university can uniquely provide the humble, relational, and Spirit led ideal Biblical higher education for their young adults to participate in building a strong Christian family, church and culture.

The benefit of a network for learning was forseen by Ivan Illich, philosopher of the 1970s who spoke in favor of home education. He stated that “If the networks I have described could emerge, the educational path of each student would be his own to follow, and only in retrospect would it take on the features of a recognizable program. The wise student would periodically seek professional advice: assistance to set a new goal, insight into difficulties encountered choice between possible methods. Even now, most persons would admit that the important services their teachers have rendered them are such advice or counsel, given at a chance meeting or in a tutorial. Pedagogues, in an unschooled world, would also come into their own, and be able to do what frustrated teachers pretend to pursue today.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, 1970.

There is only one such family university network in operation at this time, but the time has come for this concept and therefore this is likely just the beginning of home schooling expanding into home college.