Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Money money, yeah yeah

The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has upheld a lower court ruling that the Department of the Treasury is required to make U.S. paper currency accessible to the blind; although the most recent changes to the higher-denomination bills have made various denominations of currency more distinguishable by people with limited vision, all the bills remain the same size and have no tactile features that distinguish the bank note denominations.

I’ll agree with the basic proposition that making major changes to the bills yet again would probably be a bit of a pain, but surely the Bureau of Engraving and Printing could punch some little holes or make some raised dots on the existing bill designs without compromising their usability in existing vending machines.

Kill the MWF template, please

Andy Guess at Inside Higher Ed reports on the growing trend towards abolishing Friday classes at commuter campuses due to increasing fuel costs. I’m sure there are a few college classes that lend themselves to the MWF, 50-minute pattern—I think foreign languages probably lend themselves to a more intense approach, which you wouldn’t get meeting 1–2 times per week—but I don’t think I’ve ever taught a political science class that worked very well in the MWF pattern. Killing the MWF pattern might lead to underutilization of classrooms on Fridays, but Duke solved the problem by creating a WF pattern as an alternative for the MW pattern and having some 150-minute Monday and Friday classes, primarily graduate seminars.

Another potential cost reduction would be to cut course loads, either by increasing most courses to a nominal four-hour standard from the three-hour standard (Millsaps’ solution), or replacing hours with “credits” (as Duke does) and requiring fewer total courses; the bachelor’s degree at Duke is around 34–36 credits, equivalent to 102–108 semester hours in terms of classroom contact and far short of the 120+-hour requirement at most institutions.

Given the tendency for general education requirements to accumulate over time, you could only really do this successfully with an overhauled gen-ed approach—Millsaps did this by adopting a somewhat flexible ten-item core, while Duke’s seemed more like a traditional system. But many graduates these days end up taking several pointless electives to get to the required 120+ hours, so perhaps you wouldn’t have to sacrifice much from either the major or general education to get the course count down to a more efficient number.