In November, I wrote about the problem of motivation in online courses and my belief that we, as educators, need to attend to solutions rather than leave it as an entirely individual student problem. I also believe, at a fundamental level, that the problem is tied to the lack of relationship building in the online context. I’ve been thinking about solutions since that moment. Without further ado:

Technology (alone) will not solve it.

Technology enables many things — I love technology. But if technology alone could solve the issue of creating relationships in online courses, it would have done so already. Students in online courses may…


The terror-inducing photo collection

The other night, our 15-year-old daughter came down to our bedroom in deep distress. She had been taking a shower, and while she was in there, heard her desk chair topple. When she came out, she found a set of family photos on the floor near her bed — with no obvious source from which they had come. Also, they were not our family photos — nor did they come from any family we know. …


I came across an article this weekend about a provost under fire from students for an apparently callous response to their concerns about mental health, and her refusal to consider deploying pass-fail grading to alleviate student stress. I’m not particularly focused on who is right and wrong here or disentangling the various allegations around this story — instead, I want to explore some of the things it made me consider.

The story hit hard for me for many reasons — I work in higher education as both faculty and (low-level) administrator. In that seat, I am able to see first-hand…


The sun and the wind

and the lukewarm circling air

enervate spring


I’ve been talking with students and faculty and staff about online classes and student motivation recently. It is not news that students taking online classes report significant motivational challenges — this has been known for more than a decade, and it showed up in various ways in my institution’s assessments of students during last Spring’s rapid transition — and it showed up pretty profoundly in a recent survey I did of first-year students in the Honors College. …


My summer reading project, suitably topped with a representative of the dark side.

For someone who probably seems like an optimist, I’m actually a pretty negative person. When I began working in administrative roles (as Director of Undergraduate Studies for my Psychology department), I began to pay attention to occasional writing about Higher Ed — and when I stepped into my current role (Associate Dean in our Honors College), this tendency exploded. Being who I am, eventually, I get impatient with the relatively minimal nature of the news article, and I look for ways to a deeper dive.

So, I could have read optimistic tributes to the value of college, or accounts of…


Prologue: Unpacking the idea of purpose.

“…in 2001, [Kerr] concluded that American higher education in the twenty-first century had become uncertain and unclear in its direction and mission.” Thelin, 2019, p. xiii.

Several of my readers and colleagues have suggested the complexity of asking about purpose — in various ways. One asked whether I was interested in descriptive purposes or prescriptive ones — am I trying to merely understand what higher education is aiming to do, or to articulate what higher education should be doing. Another person’s comments pointed at a distinction between purpose, which I think denotes intentional, conscious…


My father and me

Circa 1978, Grove City, Ohio: My neighbor was several years older than me, sandy-haired and light-eyed and maybe freckled. Tall and thin. He was on a bicycle, looking down at me, snarling these words: “N**er. Indian Freak.” Then he made a bunch of noises imitating Native Americans. I remember feeling paralyzed, flushing hot in my face, and cold and leaden in my legs, and hollow in my stomach. I remember looking at my feet, because I couldn’t look at his face. I remember wanting to run, but being afraid to run. …


The post-revolution time was one of development and expansion, and the emergence of some of the key purposes that are part of our modern conversations about higher education.

After the American Revolution, several institutions underwent name changes, to avoid their colonial and Crown-connected roots (e.g., Kings College becomes Columbia; Queens College becomes Rutgers). In this time, states were the primary source of authority to grant degrees, but then, as now, the states had a mixed and uncertain commitment to funding institutions. As such, funding remained a complicated challenge for colleges and universities, making them “susceptible” (Thelin’s word) to innovation. …


I have to begin with a confession. I’m not a historian, and I hated every history course I ever took. The first time I had a positive experience reading any historical work was in graduate school, when the chair of my dissertation committee (required to be an outside-the-department person) was Estelle Freedman. Because she was serving as my dissertation chair, I felt it was only courteous to look at her work, and as a result I read Intimate Matters, which she co-authored with John D’Emilio. …

Monishapasupathi

Professor of Psychology. Associate Dean of Honors College. Dabbler in art, outdoors, and creative writing. Views are my own.

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