Cutting Back, Eating Less, Paying The Price – Ch 5 Reflection

There are three statistics that stood out to me while reading this chapter:

“Twenty-four percent of our students indicated that in the past month they did not have enough money to buy food, ate less then they felt they should, or cut the size of their meals because there was not enough money.” – Sara Goldrick-Rab (1)

and

“When asked if they ever wen without eating for an entire day because they lacked enough money for food, 6 percent of students said yes.” Sara Goldrick-Rab (2)

also

“the survey revealed that one in five students was hungry, and 13 percent were homeless.” – Sara Goldrick-Rab (3)

It is jarring to see how prevalent hunger is among college students. Thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (which Sara brings up), how can we expect our students to engage in critical thinking when their physiological needs are not being met? I was pleased to read that there’s a growing number of food pantries aiming to address this issue, but the fact that some students must forego food and shelter to attend college is ridiculous.

Sara also unpacks the psychological aspect of these realities, describing a positive reinforcement cycle:

“Scarcity imposes psychic costs, reducing mental bandwidth and distorting decision making in ways that make their situations worse, not better.” – Sara Goldrick-Rab (4)

With significant student populations attending class under these conditions, I’ve been considering what the best approaches would be for instructors in the classroom. One idea I heard that seems viable is making fruit available to your students. I know this would have benefited me because I recall having packed class/lab schedules that periodically meant skipping lunch. So, access to fruit would have made a difference for me.

Finally, if you haven’t experienced SPENT yet, you need to attempt the challenge. It fits well with chapter 5 of Paying The Price.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we expect our students to engage in critical thinking when their physiological needs are not being met? (Reflective)
  2. How can instructors help students who experience hunger in their courses?
  3. What resources, like Single Stop, food pantries, etc., are available on your campus?
  4. If you played SPENT, what was your experience like? How did it make you feel?

The featured image is provided CC0 by Juan José Valencia Antía via Unsplash.


  1. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2619 (Kindle Edition).
  2. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2621 (Kindle Edition).
  3. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2644 (Kindle Edition).
  4. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2794 (Kindle Edition).

Stories from Paying the Price – Ch 1 Reflection

“The democratic community cannot tolerate  a society based upon education for the well-to-do alone. If college opportunities are restricted to those in the higher income brackets, the way is open to the creation and perpetuation of a class society which has no place in the American way of life.” – The Truman Commission (1)

The reason I’m studying the rising cost of college costs is because, at the core, I want a classless society. By understanding and pursuing how to democratize higher education I hope to further this cause. But let’s start with something a bit lighter. 🙂

My favorite part of Chapter 1 was reading the introductions of Chloe, Ian, Tyler, Nima, Norbert, and Sophie (CINNTS). Their stories will likely be the most significant point of engagement for me while reading. Especially since I’m the same age and understand the value of need-based financial aid firsthand. I’m already a bit anxious about CINNTS stories because I want each of them to succeed, but knowing the book’s topics, I anticipate this will not be the case.

Since the stories of CINNTS are already rather compelling to me, I was thinking about ways to make their journeys more accessible to others. My initial thought would be to build a small choose-your-own-adventure Twine game where people would follow each of CINNTS stories and make choices that would impact their lives. To me, this could be a valuable resource in situations where time and the other topics from Paying the Price are inaccessible to the readers. For example, if you wanted to engage students in the rising cost of college through the stories from Paying the Price without diving into the specifics of Pell Grants. I haven’t committed to producing such a resource because it may be too large an undertaking for me to take on at the moment.

Some of the hard-hitting information from chapter 1 was a bit jarring to me. The current purchasing power of the Pell Grant, in particular, only covers about 35% of the price for a public 4-year college (2). I understand that is a significant amount of money, but it is clearly not enough to fund a student’s collegiate career. Being a product of state and university based aid, I’m dishearten by how many financial aid programs must be received in triplicate to actually cover the cost of college. In other words, only the students who acquire several types of financial aid can cover the full cost of college instead of being able to rely on the Pell Grant alone.

Thinking about higher education as a point of socioeconomic mobility has been engrained in me for as long as I can remember. To me, a college degree yields access to more stable jobs and higher wages to reduce inequality but as Sara points out climbing the social ladder does not occur at an equivalent rate:

There is no guarantee, in other words, that college-educated people from low-income families will not be left behind. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (2)

Alternatively:

People who grow up in economically fragile circumstances often continue to live in economically fragile communities, even after they attend college. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (3)

This challenges what I “known” and expands how I need to be thinking about the benefits of college degrees, the price of college, and how to bear real, lasting change in the world. Since this is only the first chapter of Paying the Price, I’m rather excited to continue reading, reflecting, and writing these next several weeks!

The featured image is provided CC0 by Alex Read via Unsplash.


  1. President’s Commission on Higher Education, Higher Education for American Democracy, 2:23 (as cited in Paying the Price).
  2. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Figure 6.
  3. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 20.
  4. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 20.

Paying the Price – A Pre-Reading Reflection

In addition to facilitating another round of GOBLIN with John Stewart over the next several weeks, I’m planning on reading Paying the Price by Sara Goldrick-Rab as part of a reading circle. Before I crack the (digital) spine of this book about the rising cost of college and its impacts, I wanted to take a moment and reflect.

While reading Paying the Price, I will be actively thinking about actions I can take to help students with the rising costs of college degrees. Not only do I anticipate Sara Goldrick-Rab’s recommendations, but I want to spend some time brainstorming what I can do to assist students in both the short-term and long-term. In particular, I want to focus on how I can help inform and educate others about these issues in order to propagate aid beyond what I can provide alone. Initially, I’m thinking this may manifest itself in my current projects as I think about how to engage faculty members in curriculum development. For example, continuing to work with instructors on ways to reduce the monetary overhead for students to succeed in their courses. However, I also want to keep an open mind for Sara Goldrick-Rab’s propositions in Paying the Price as well as what arises from the weekly discussion of the reading group.

To promote public reflection, I took a moment on Friday to setup a FeedWordPress website to syndicate any and all online reflections from this reading group. If you are interested in such musings check out payingtheprice.oucreate.com.

Here’s to working towards a better future for our students!

The featured image is provided CC0 by Jimi Filipovski via Unsplash.

My Vision (and Search) for a Connectivist Graduate Program

For the last year, I’ve been contemplating graduate school. I’m still researching and evaluating various programs around the world, but I wanted to take a second and reflect on what I desire from a graduate program. I have many answers to this question, but let me expand upon this idea:

I want a graduate degree program where students teach some of the courses in the curriculum.

I don’t believe this is too outlandish since I’m looking at programs in the field of education, possibly within instructional design. But I’ve had no luck uncovering such a program. So, for now, I’m going to dream. What would such a degree program look like?

Anatomy of a Connectivist Graduate Program

I envision a program founded upon connectivist learning philosophies and comprised of two components:

  1. A core set of curriculum that every student must complete. This is crucial for standardizing instruction for degree components like research methodologies and models/theories of the discipline.
  2. An additional set of courses led by students based on their own expertise. These are intended to be open-ended in regards to content and practice and would vary year to year based on the student body.

To me, a connectivist program necessitates a particular anatomy and entails thoughtful design. As an example, a degree like this would require a set cohort of students that progress through the curriculum together. Such a cohort would need to be comprised of diverse individuals from different backgrounds, possessing a variety of skills. To ensure such diversity, there’d need to be an application process that not only considers expertise, but also establishes cohesion in terms of student backgrounds within each cohort. In other words, this entire process requires careful design considerations.

If it was possible, there would still be several challenges to overcome.

Challenges

The skills to thrive and succeed in a connectivist degree program are not the same skills present in typical educational environment. For instance, I anticipate humility would be a critical element of a connectivist degree for everyone involved. There’s a significant discomfort about not knowing the exact direction of a program as a student or as a teacher; and overcoming these feelings would require a strong emphasis on community and active, inclusive communication between all parties.

Additionally, I foresee accreditation being a serious stumbling-block. In fact, I proposed a “core set of curriculum that every student must complete” as a solution to this challenge. Program viability depends on the consistency of educational quality and rigor from year to year for each cohort. Accreditation is a conversation well beyond what I wish to tackle in this post but it remains a significant challenge. (Not to mention, I don’t have the answer to accreditation anyways.)

With these two challenges, I hope that I’ve illustrated the complexity of design for such a program to exist—intention and care in developing a connectivist graduate degree are imperative. Still, I am determined! If we are to produce the next generation of educators, critical instructional designers, etc., we need to utilize the educational philosophies we champion in the designs of our programs themselves.

Disclaimer

Since I’m still dreaming here, I want to explore a couple of my favorite questions.

What courses would I want to teach?

This is one of my favorite questions in the context of a connectivist graduate program!

One course that I’d love to facilitate would involve exploring productivity using affordable. I know this may sound a little out-there, but I imagine a course where everyone is limited to $300 worth of technology and must participate with minimal computing devices—including designing instruction to operate on inexpensive technologies. Specifically, I’m interested in engaging others in curriculum around $100 laptops, $50 phones, or $50 tablets? What does a Domain of One’s Own project look like under these parameters? A portion of this curriculum would focus on socioeconomic barriers and issues related to digital redlining.

Another course I’d love to teach would focus on interests that I’ve explored in both GOBLIN and XP—I’d love to teach a course about digital storytelling, game design, and what games have to teach us about learning. I see many opportunities to engage others with information literacy, media literacy, and various digital literacies while participating in experiential learning and exploring creative expressions. Ideally, part of this course would involve developing games and discussing them as transformative experiences with opportunities to pursue action research and/or academic research.

What courses would I want to take?

On the flip-side of teaching in a connectivist graduate program, there are many topics I’d love to explore.

For example, I’d love to learn more about practical use cases of APIs in the classroom and beyond. From personal workflow automation to manipulating sets of data across the web, a practical API course sounds phenomenal. I’d imagine course projects would range from building APIs to utilizing public APIs and engaging in the conversations of the future of APIs in education.

Also, I’d love a course on “crowdsourcing” and how it can be implemented instructionally into courses and/or research. Topics like large scale community driven problem solving and hosting crowdfunding campaigns for social work. These projects would make for some spectacular curriculum in my mind. Crowdsourcing as an instructional tool is not typical and I see a lot of potential around a such a course since there are a multitude of directions and applications for the idea.

Looking Forward

I know this post presents small and specific examples as part of gross oversimplifications of larger ideas. But I write because I see value in a connectivist approach to graduate education. I provided examples of student-led courses because they demonstrate to me the strength of connectivim and highlight where traditional curriculum falls short. Student-led courses can be built on personal passions and current conversations. A dynamic program might be tailored to the participants, current technologies, and cutting edge scholarship; not to mention, scaffold greater transference of connectivist (etc.) theories to practice!

At the end of the day, the core of my dream—what I value most in my education:

  1. The opportunity to be viewed as an aspiring scholar, rather than just a student;
  2. A program that practices what it preaches, instead of defaulting to lecture and discussion of readings;
  3. The promise of growth and not feeling indoctrinated into standardizations of thought;
  4. Connecting with a community that involves and cares about everyones struggles, development, and experience.

That is why I’m envisioning a degree program constructed with connectivist learning philosophies because we should make our programs reflective of the educational ideas we champion.

Before I close, I want to take a moment and shoutout to Martha Burtis & Sean Michale Morris for their recent talks on Critical Instructional Design:

Although the topics from their presentation does not necessarily relate to the content I cover, their words were an “inspiration catalyst” for me to finish writing this post, which began a few months ago.

Anyways, what are your thoughts on a connectivist graduate program? Is it possible? What are the risks? What are the benefits? Am I crazy? 🙂 Let me know.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Baim Hanif via Unsplash.