Taxing tuition waivers

One of the provisions of the Republican tax bill as presently configured would eliminate the forgiveness of a tax on the money graduate students receive as tuition waivers. I understand this is but one of the perks the proposal wants to remove and there are many things on this list that are considered loopholes.

Let me explain this issue from my perspective of working with graduate students and being an administrator in a program and attempting to attract the highest possible quality of students. The meaning of “graduate student” covers a lot of territory. The group of students I have in mind are full-time students spending 4-5 or so years in graduate school after completing their undergraduate studies. Start with a recognition that this is what it takes to make yourself employable in many fields. After 9+ years of education, it would not be unusual for a PhD to start as a junior faculty member making say 60k a year. If full-time graduate students are lucky they are paid as teaching assistants or research assistants. The value of this job (considered 1/2 time employment) could be 15k-20k in many fields at many institutions. Additional employment is strongly discouraged and keeping an assistantship may be a competitive process so it is risky to try to double dip. It is pretty difficult to live on this salary and certainly not possible to offer much in support of a family.

The tuition waiver is offered as a way to sweeten the pot. My interpretation would be that most departments make no effort to meet the cost of instruction based on the income from graduate courses. Depending on the program, working with graduate students is very much a mentoring and craft business. For example, I oversaw a graduate program in clinical psychology. This program was limited by the accrediting agency to taking 1 student per licensed clinical psychologist per year. My department made a very heavy faculty investment the training of clinical psychologists (7 of 18 faculty were clinical). You don’t much tuition money out of 28 clinical students (4 years x 7 students) and the number of courses that are involved requires that some of the student time be used to support undergraduate instruction (mostly laboratories and discussion sections to lower class size) and research activities to bring the budget down to a reasonable level.

So, why is the tuition waiver an issue. So students are paid say $18,000 a year – this is taxed. The cost of tuition is higher for graduate courses and out of state students could be charged say $40,000 in tuition (in state could be much lower, but remember the goal when you take few students is to get the best students you can). So, a student with an income of <20,000 and high student debt would be expected to pay taxes on $60,000.

Because this would be an impossible burden for so many students, many public institutions would be forced to raise additional money to attract quality students and still be not really improving the situation with departmental budgets. Or, students with more money and not necessarily more talent would be the only students capable of affording graduate education in order to compete for those $60,000 starting academic jobs.

This becomes an inflationary spiral. Aside from funding the most qualified students, higher education in many smaller institutions would have to come up with more than $60,000 to find future professors. The only way to do this would be to raise tuition on undergrads, etc., etc., etc.

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Twitter offers a character limit extension

OK – Twitter has doubled the number of characters that can be included in a tweet. You now have 280 characters. Two hundred and eighty characters is still not much, but it offers the opportunity to offer more complete thoughts and it is well within the limits of what I would consider a microblog (this used to be a thing – it is difficult for me to regard Twitter as any kind of blog).

Some Twitter users evidently feel that they have been betrayed. They threaten to abandon the service, to unfollow followers who are wordy, and to use extensions that automatically truncate or ignore tweets that extend beyond 140 characters. This all seems silly to me and I have trouble understanding why these folks are so put out. Given all of the inane things that appear on Twitter, the ads, the cat images, and the images of text offered in a way to get around the 140 character limit, these folks are enraged by the limited number of tweets that will be a bit longer. Flexibility is evidently not a virtue to these folks and the split second it takes to scroll on down the list must be a significant intrusion into their very busy lives.

 

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Magic of Google Photos

I am a long time user of Flickr, but I have been cross-posting images to Google Photos. I am also starting to go through my old machines and storage media to find other photos I can load to Photos. I originally uploaded my best images to Flickr so there were many images available that had not been stored in the cloud. You get old and you begin thinking about passing photos on to friends and family.

Google Photos does not store images in the original quality as captured by a high-end camera unless you pay for storage. At this point, I do not. Photos has some other very interesting characteristics. It works on images you upload to offer you things you may not bother to explore on your own. It edits images in different ways. It combines sequences of images to create simple videos. It creates slideshows and photo books.

The feature that I find most fascinating is various ways in which I can search my thousands and thousands of photos. Traditionally search would require that I add tags to my own images. Some tags such as location might be added by a camera phone that stores such metadata. This is not how Photos works. It finds ways to identify the images and does a surprisingly good job.

I encourage you to create a corpus of images and try various searches yourself.

For example, I know I have an image of the arch from Saint Louis. As a demonstration, I asked Google for photos I had taken in Saint Louis. The arch was located even though this image was not tagged in any way. I remember taking this photo and thought there were other images I tool near the site of the arch. Sometimes such images would also be returned. Not in this case.

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Twitter expands character limit

After a limited test, Twitter has decided to roll out the opportunity to expand tweets to 280 characters. This doubles the existing capacity. While some object based on their reluctance to read longer comments, I think this is a good thing.

I have been critical of a specific application of twitter – the twitter chat. A chat is a workaround attempting to use Twitter for synchronous chats. I have explained my issues in previous posts. After observing a significant number of such chats, I found them shallow. They just seemed unproductive for the time typically committed. This new capacity in combination with an adjustment in the number of questions could allow participants to craft more thoughtful contributions and engage with each other more frequently.

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Newsela explain fall leaf colors

This is the time of year those of us in the northern U.S. take pictures of foliage. We taunt those in warmer parts of the company who are stuck with the same view all year. I guess they have their turn when the temps here head below 0.

The change in the color of leaves offers an opportunity to combine photography with a little science. What produces the different colors and why do different trees change in different ways? There is plenty of information online allowing educators to take advantage of this opportunity. I happened to encounter a relevant source offered through Newsela. The nice thing about Newsela is that same content is provided at multiple reading levels. You may find this link of some value.

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Annotation Tools – Resource for college instructors

I have not written about layering opportunities for some time. I just encountered a site focused on the use of layering tools in college classes – Annotation Tools. The site offers several different categories of information – tool descriptions, ideas for learning activities, and some research.

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Check the methodology

In general, I am supportive of basing practice on research. However, when research is used to justify practices I disagree with, my first inclination is to examine the methodology of any research cited. Here is an example demonstrating my point.

Technology does not always demonstrate learning advantages and it can be fashionable to point this out. Two examples that occur to me involve the argued superiority of reading “paper” books and taking notes on “real paper”. I can argue the practical benefits of doing just the opposite, but my arguments rely on a broader perspective of why we read and take notes. The example I want to present here has more to do with traditional practice, but does focus on the quality of the research used to justify the traditional approach.

Here is an example of the use of research to justify traditional note taking. The example is focused on people in business taking notes, but I have seen the same research cited as guidance for note taking in academic situations. The study is cited so I read how it was conducted and I have the following reaction.

The study presented college students with TED talks to study and allowed students to use either paper and pen or computers to take notes. A test given 30 minutes later after a filled delay showed an advantage for taking notes on paper. I researched note-taking myself and I have a couple of reactions to the logic and the methodology.

My first issue involves the use of an immediate test (yes, there was a 30 minute filled delay). Note taking serves two potential benefits – active processing during the presentation and external storage. An immediate test without review is an evaluation of the active processing benefit of taking notes. Existing research shows that this is by far the weakest benefit of taking notes and for many taking no notes so that total attention can be paid to the presentation is the best approach. The major benefit of taking notes is to have a resource available for review (study). This may have been helpful even with a 30-minute delay, but it certainly would have been useful should the research have focused on the practical use of notes which typically involves delays of days and weeks. More complete notes are better with the delays typical of applied use of notes (see my final comments). It is quite possible there are competing possible benefits suited to different tactics – immediate testing would benefit from minimal focus on taking notes and delayed testing from more complete notes. Point 1 – the methodology does not allow a test of note taking that has much to say about real applications.

The issue of students using their technology to divert their attention to other things is certainly real. Having no access to technology would prevent this problem, but it is important to understand what the problem is. Any college instructor will tell you that taking notes on paper does to eliminate student access to technology. It is easy enough to watch this happen in pretty much any class. Again, the methodology does not match practice. Unless there is a strict “no technology” policy enforced, the use of paper for note taking really does not solve the distraction problem as students will simply pull out their cell phones.

I encourage learners to use technology for taking notes based on my reading of the research. I encourage them to use an application on a computer or tablet that simultaneously records the presentation (audio) and time-stamps notes taken to the audio. This may sound exotic, but there are many apps that do this and some are free. This approach allows for any active learning benefit of taking notes and provides an ideal record better suited to the major issue of quality external storage. When these notes are reviewed weeks later, if the notes are incomplete or confusing, the student can click on the text note to listen to the associated audio. This is very efficient and a far better solution to the real issue in using notes than would be available with notes recorded on paper.

I would argue my recommendation is more in keeping with the body of research on the multiple benefits of note-making, but also on a deeper understanding of how notes are used in practice.

 

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Everyone On

Access from home is still an educational issue for many. In those situations in which family income is the issue. EveryneOn.org may offer helpful suggestions. Enter a zip code and the site offers options.

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DeVos Priorities

In general, I believe Betsy DeVos is poorly prepared to serve as Secretary of Education and that with the talent available she was a very uninformed pick. However, since such beliefs cannot influence the decisions made or the decision maker, I suppose it useful to understand the DeVos vision.

This article in U.S. News and World Report does a nice job of outlining the DeVos priorities. There is little in this list I regard as unique or dangerous with the exception of the focus on school choice and efficiency in the use of taxpayer resources. These are issues that are certainly worth exploring as policy issues, but the issues can also be very divisive. What do the data suggest about school choice and the consequences to all schools and students involved? What is the relationship between public expenditure and the quality of those attracted to the profession of teaching? Are public expenditures impacting learners in an equitable fashion?

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Screen recording with iOS11 on the iPad

Apple’s new iOS makes creating tutorials on the iPad much easier than had previously been the case. Recording from the screen is a simple process, but there are a couple of tricks that may stump new users. The following video should make things easier.

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