Category Archives: Education

When I grow up, I want to be a researcher…

Jérémy Filet, Université de Lorraine and Lisa Jeanson, Université de Lorraine

“So what’s your PhD topic again?”… The Conversation

Nowadays, this is the question most commonly asked to early-career researchers, and the answer is becoming more and more complex. While an interdisciplinary approach is favoured in English-speaking world, the French academic system often keeps doctoral students within methodological limits.

So why maintain such an inflexible, discipline-focused system? How can young researchers make their fields and the scientific foundation on which the build their work their own?

Breaking down boundaries: the end of labels

A basic trend: The longstanding boundaries between classic disciplines are breaking down or, at least, being blurred, and many academics feel disoriented. One explanation for this radical shift is probably the development of new media. While “traditionalists” try to hold on to their “specialties”, open-minded researchers use new technologies to break down the walls between disciplines. Indeed, since the 1980s, the English-speaking research world has witnessed the birth of new fields of multidisciplinary research. A model from which France and other countries have begun to draw inspiration in the last decade.

For 21st-century PhD students – the first generation of “digital natives” – the web has been a simple fact for their entire lives. They tend to refuse labels, and unlike their predecessors, early career researchers do not want to choose between specialties, methodologies, schools of thought or countries. They want to embrace them all.

And why would they have to choose, anyway? Thanks to the Internet they have access to almost unlimited knowledge, through MOOCs, TED talks, online publications… In a nutshell, open sources. Many doctoral candidates have graduated with two or three masters and followed several transdisciplinary pathways already. They are thus entitled to diversify their experience, and they wish to keep this privilege, and even cultivate it, when writing their thesis.

“Y generation” researchers

The training of the current generation of researchers – strewn with pitfalls and migrations – is not so “unusual” anymore. In a sense, their professional lives will be that way as well. For “Y generation” researchers, a certain volatility becomes necessary, if not essential, to fully comprehend new nomadic objects of research. Why not dissect a Latin text in the same way we examine DNA? Could a philosopher learn something from an examination of African tax systems?

For the 2016 Early Career Researchers conference at the University of Lorraine, PhD students discussed their take on interdisciplinarity and its potential benefits. The 2017 edition takes place on June 16 this year returns with a new theme: “Which questions for what research? The Humanities at the crossroads of disciplines”.

Asking the right questions

In 2017 we need to discover what kinds of questions are being asked in research. What are the purposes of research? Which questions best correspond to which types of research? What is our take on fundamental research? What is the split between social-science research, applied research, or interventionist research? With the multiplication of ground-breaking concepts, should research fields be restructured?

How particular disciplines are mastered is clearly defined by French institutions, such as the National Counsel of Universities or the competitive exams for secondary-school teaching in the French national education system. Therefore, we should question the legitimisation of new fields of research within a given academic institutional system. As such, cultural studies have often been strongly criticised in France, whereas their popularity within the English-speaking world is easily understandable considering their interdisciplinary nature.

Certain disciplines taught at universities also have their equivalent in the secondary-school system, and many research departments limit their recruitment of lecturers to candidates who have passed the secondary-school exam. Notwithstanding the many differences between teaching in secondary school and conducting research at university, should academics in France continue this historical mode of recruitment? Can research fields be as easily delimited as the disciplinary knowledge one needs to teach in secondary schools? This issue is all the more pressing as new technologies bolster the constant evolution of research questions. Can they enable the Y generation of researchers to free themselves from the ancient methods of “mastering” disciplines and go beyond the more “traditional” fields of research?

Towards enhanced research

While fields of research are increasingly changing, should they all intersect and perfectly match taught disciplines, or could they be much more enriched and flexible? A good example is gender studies, which combines history, psychology, sociology and even medicine. Similarly, shouldn’t we consider research fields within the context and needs of society? It is only logical to question the axiological positioning of the researcher with regard to political militancy or societal debates, especially when their research deals with current affairs.

Moreover, an increasing number of companies and other organisations are now proposing collaborations and partnerships with researchers. Industrial agreements for training through research (for example, the French CIFRE program) establish a partnership between a partner – most often a firm – a research department, and a PhD student. What methodologies can be applied in such collaborations? How do we reconcile the researcher’s methods and the partners’ expectations? We also need to question the uses and the limits such cooperative efforts. Concisely put: how do we distinguish between disciplines? Should we talk about a disciplinary area or should we replace it with the definition of a research domain? Is the creation of inter- and/or trans-disciplinary research teams always necessary? Are they really beneficial?

Facing the multiplication of such questions, early-career researchers need to develop innovative research practices and find ways to address the position of today’s researchers.

Novel practices, new questions

For its 2017 edition, the organisers of the Early Career Researchers conference invite PhD students of all disciplinary backgrounds to reflect on the following axes:

  • What epistemological and deontological approaches should researchers adopt today?

  • What are the implications of the human factors behind research?

  • Which methodolog(y/ies) for what research: where are the boundaries between disciplines?

  • Inter/transdisciplinarity and the contributions of research and new technologies to society: how can different perspectives be reconciled?

  • How does research interact with its foundations?

Far from being an isolated initiative, those considerations are beginning to be tackled at international congresses. These include the 2017 PhD colloquium of the French Society for the Study of English (SAES), to be held June 1-3 in Reims, and “Designations of Disciplines and Their Content: The Paradigm of Studies”, which took place at Paris 13–USPC in January 2017.

It is with this in mind that the early-career researcher conference will be held June 16, 2017, in Metz, France. For more information, visit the conference website.

Jérémy Filet, Doctorant en civilisation Britannique du XVIIIème siècle, Université de Lorraine and Lisa Jeanson, Doctorante en Ergonomie Cognitive, Université de Lorraine

The myth of the college dropout

Jonathan Wai, Duke University and Heiner Rindermann, Chemnitz University of Technology

When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was asked to give this year’s commencement address at Harvard, he asked for advice from Bill Gates. The Conversation

Zuckerberg said, “They know we didn’t actually graduate, right?”

To which Gates replied, “Oh, that is the best part! They actually give you a degree!”

This recent exchange between two famous Harvard dropouts might lead you to think college doesn’t matter. Numerous media stories and even famous billionaires are glamorizing dropouts or encouraging kids to skip college entirely.

While it’s true there are successful college dropouts, statistically speaking, they are not the norm. As researchers in education and talent, we found that the vast majority of the country’s success stories are college graduates, such as Sheryl Sandberg (Harvard), Jeff Bezos (Princeton) and Marissa Mayer (Stanford).


The myth of the mega-successful college dropout

In a recent study, we investigated how many of the wealthiest and most influential people graduated college. We studied 11,745 U.S. leaders, including CEOs, federal judges, politicians, multi-millionaires and billionaires, business leaders and the most globally powerful men and women.

We also examined how many people graduated from an “elite school.” (Our definition included the eight Ivy League schools, plus many of the top national universities and liberal arts colleges consistently high in the U.S. News rankings for both undergraduate and graduate education.)

We found about 94 percent of these U.S. leaders attended college, and about 50 percent attended an elite school. Though almost everyone went to college, elite school attendance varied widely. For instance, only 20.6 percent of House members and 33.8 percent of 30-millionaires attended an elite school, but over 80 percent of Forbes’ most powerful people did. For whatever reason, about twice as many senators – 41 percent – as House members went to elite schools.

For comparison, based on census and college data, we estimate that only about 2 to 5 percent of all U.S. undergraduates went to one of the elite schools in our study. The people from our study attended elite schools at rates well above typical expectations.

Do elite schools matter?

This year, elite schools saw an increase in applications and selectivity. Research suggests there is no difference in adult income between students who attended highly selective schools and students with similar SAT scores who attended less selective schools. At least for long-term earnings, where you go may not be critical, as long as you attend and graduate.

Yet, our data show that for students with talent and motivation to make it to the top of U.S. society, an elite college might just help you get there – whether it’s the networks you acquire or the brand on your resume.

While looking at over 11,000 successful leaders, we rarely encountered people who came from extremely poor or disadvantaged backgrounds. Helping disadvantaged talented students enter elite schools could promote diversity among future leaders.

Princeton University had a record-setting number of applicants for its class of 2021.
Sindy Lee / flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

College matters

Admittedly, the educational path of the cream of the crop may not apply to most people. So, going to college may not be the right or even the best path for everyone. However, if you’re a student thinking about not going to college or considering dropping out, remember that even Gates and Zuckerberg got into college. Even if you’re not aiming for mega success, doing the work to get into and graduate from college today may open important doors.

Perhaps in the future, college may not be as important to employers. But for now, college dropouts who rule the world are rare exceptions – not the rule.

Jonathan Wai, Research Scientist, Duke University and Heiner Rindermann, Professor of Educational and Developmental Psychology, Chemnitz University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

We asked children why they don’t get enough exercise – here’s what they said

Helen Ingle, Leeds Beckett University and Susan Coan, Leeds Beckett University

Getting children off the sofa, away from the TV and outside can be a challenging task for any parent, particularly in the age of increasingly sedentary and screen-focused lives. The Conversation

To stay healthy, it is currently recommended that children do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. But this has been in decline in recent years. And now only 21% of boys and 16% of girls in England are meeting current recommendations.

This lack of activity has major implications for the health of children, including an increased risk of obesity and diabetes. Research has also shown that this can impact children’s mental health and well-being, along with their academic performance.

Children’s physical activity levels are of course influenced by a whole array of factors, including friends and family, schools and teachers, and the area they live in.

Free outdoor fun.

To help better understand the factors that can help or hinder the physical activity levels of children today, my colleagues and I recently conducted a study to explore the barriers UK children face when it comes to being physically active.

As part of the research, we spoke to 133 children between the ages of seven and 11 in various schools in England and Wales. And discovered two main barriers for children when it comes to exercise: screen time and hectic family lifestyles. Two things that I’m sure many parents can relate to.

With this in mind, I’ve outlined below some ways you can overcome these obstacles and help get your children more active in the process.

1. Change the way children use screen time

Many of the children in the study reported having access to a wide range of screen options such as computers, tablets and mobile phones. And many of them talked about the addictive nature of being on screens – saying that they can often while away hours at a time.

One child told us how his normal weekend usually involves a high amount of screen time:

Normally, at weekends, I just wake up, watch TV. Then at nine in the morning I start playing video games, and when I have to come off, I just watch TV.

Then, a little while later I ask and they say “yes”, and so I go back on the video games. And then when I have to come off I normally watch a movie off Netflix, off my tablet.

And then straight after that I play video games. And that’s what I do. And sometimes I go to the park.

Screen time is a significant barrier for children being active, and can be addictive – but it doesn’t all have to be bad news. Setting screen time limits can help regulate children’s usage.

You can also encourage children to use their screens, apps and gadgets in a positive way, to help to get them moving.

This can include the use of pedometers or activity trackers, which can help to monitor and increase activity levels and track progress along the way.

2. Be a role model

Support and encouragement from family members is a really important factor in increasing children’s activity levels.

Our research showed that this isn’t just about being able to buy expensive equipment or driving children to after-school activities and sports clubs – it’s about setting a good example of how to live an active life.

This includes reinforcing the benefits of being active, and getting children into active habits from a young age.

Family walks can be a great weekend activity.

Getting outdoors and in nature can be a great way to get children to see the benefits of being fit and healthy. This can include visits to green spaces, parks, playgrounds, walks and cycle tracks as part of your everyday family life.

Don’t let bad weather stop you either – take a raincoat and wellies and show the kids come rain or shine the outdoors is always an option.

3. Make the time

Modern-day family life can be pretty hectic, and it can often feel like a challenge to find the time and energy to be active. Our research revealed that many families could do with a bit of help and support to find ways to build activity into their lives. One child we spoke to told us how:

I want to be more active because me and my mum used to go for three-mile runs, but for some reason she keeps forgetting, and I keep trying to remind her but she’s always busy.

A few small changes to daily routines and a bit of forward planning can make all the difference.

Things like stopping off at the park on the way home from school for 15 minutes – or children walking or cycling whenever possible. Families can also find ways to be active indoors, including dancing and active video games. These might sound like small changes, but taken together they can have a big impact on children’s health and well-being.

Helen Ingle, Senior Lecturer in Health Promotion, Leeds Beckett University and Susan Coan, Research assiastant Health Promotion, Leeds Beckett University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How dogs could make children better readers

Gill Johnson, University of Nottingham

Issues around children learning to read are rarely out of the news. Which is hardly surprising – becoming a successful reader is of paramount importance in improving a child’s life chances. Nor is it surprising that reading creates a virtuous circle: the more you read the better you become. But what may come as a surprise is that reading to dogs is gaining popularity as a way of addressing concerns about children’s reading. The Conversation

There is a lot of research evidence indicating that children who read extensively have greater academic success. The UK Department for Education’s Reading for Pleasure report, published in 2012, highlights this widely established link.

Keith Stanovich, an internationally eminent US literacy scholar (now based in Canada) wrote a widely-cited paper in 1986, describing this virtuous circle as the “Matthew effect” (a reference to the observations made by Jesus in the New Testament about the economic propensity for the rich to become richer and the poor, poorer). A downward spiral impacts upon reading ability and then, according to Stanovich, on cognitive capability.

Underachievement in groups of children in the UK is recognised in international studies – and successive governments have sought to address the issues in a range of ways. Reading to dogs, so far, has not been among them, but it’s time to look at the strategy more seriously.

Many children naturally enjoy reading and need little encouragement, but if they are struggling their confidence can quickly diminish – and with it their motivation. This sets in motion the destructive cycle whereby reading ability fails to improve.

So how can dogs help?

A therapeutic presence

Reading to dogs is just that – encouraging children to read alongside a dog. The practice originated in the US in 1999 with the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) scheme and initiatives of this type now extend to a number of countries. In the UK, for example, the Bark and Read scheme supported by the Kennel Club is meeting with considerable enthusiasm.

The ideal combination?

The presence of dogs has a calming effect on many people – hence their use in Pets as Therapy schemes (PAT). Many primary schools are becoming increasingly pressurised environments and children (like adults) generally do not respond well to such pressure. A dog creates an environment that immediately feels more relaxed and welcoming. Reading can be a solitary activity, but can also be a pleasurable, shared social event. Children who are struggling to read benefit from the simple pleasure of reading to a loyal, loving listener.

Children who are struggling to read, for whatever reason, need to build confidence and rediscover a motivation for reading. A dog is a reassuring, uncritical audience who will not mind if mistakes are made. Children can read to the dog, uninterrupted; comments will not be made. Errors can be addressed in other contexts at other times. For more experienced or capable readers, they can experiment with intonation and “voices”, knowing that the dog will respond positively – and building fluency further develops comprehension in readers.

For children who are struggling, reconnecting with the pleasure of reading is very important. As Marylyn Jager-Adams,a literacy scholar, noted in a seminal review of beginner reading in the US: “If we want children to learn to read well, we must find a way to induce them to read lots.”

Reading to a dog can create a helpful balance, supporting literacy activities which may seem less appealing to a child. Children with dyslexia, for example, need focused support to develop their understanding of the alphabetic code (how speech sounds correspond to spelling choices). But this needs to be balanced with activities which support independent reading and social enjoyment or the child can become demotivated.

Creating a virtuous circle

Breaking a negative cycle will inevitably lead to the creation of a virtuous circle – and sharing a good book with a dog enables children to apply their reading skills in a positive and enjoyable way.

Research evidence in this area is rather limited, despite the growing popularity of the scheme. A 2016 systematic review of 48 studies – Children Reading to Dogs: A Systematic Review of the Literature by Hall, Gee and Mills – demonstrated some evidence for improvement in reading, but the evidence was not strong. There clearly is more work to do, but interest in reading to dogs appears to have grown through the evidence of case studies.

The example, often cited in the media, is that of Tony Nevett and his greyhound Danny. Tony and Danny’s involvement in a number of schools has been transformative, not only in terms of reading but also in promoting general well-being and positive behaviour among children with a diverse range of needs.

So, reading to dogs could offer many benefits. As with any approach or intervention, it is not a panacea – but set within a language-rich literacy environment, there appears to be little to lose and much to gain.

Gill Johnson, Assistant Professor in Education, University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

12 Animated Gifs That’ll Science You Fast

This article is part of a series:
Animated Gifs That'll Science You Fast

What happens when a ladybug flaps it’s wings? How does the human digestive system work? Can you really make your computer screen invisible to other people? All this and more in our short speed-learning series of animated GIFs that’ll science the heck out of you in a jiffy!

This animation is an x-ray of a human swallowing juice. Click ‘Next’ to see more!

1 of 12

Can millennials pay attention to classwork while texting, tweeting and being on Facebook?

It’s hard not to notice the connection of today’s youth to technology.

Fused to their smartphones around the clock, they prefer screens to paper and text message to speech; they consider leaving voicemail an act of interpersonal aggression.

They seem to focus differently too: skimming and sampling their way through multiple streams of data, they look like they’re taking it in all at once.

Some educators call them “digital natives,” reflecting the idea that tech is at the core of who they are and how they function.

If living with technology really has rewired this generation for multitasking, what implications does this have for how we educate them? Should we tolerate – or maybe even encourage – mobile devices in class? And should we worry when we see students keeping an eye on social media or other diversions while doing homework?

Why attention matters for learning

As a professor who specializes in course design, I deal with these questions frequently as I help fellow faculty devise better strategies. In this work, I draw on my research background in cognitive psychology, a specialization focusing on mental processes such as reasoning, memory and attention.

Of those processes, attention is one that I tell teachers to be particularly attuned to. Research shows that memory – especially working memory, which holds information we’re using in the present moment – is deeply intertwined with attention.

Without sustained focus, we retain surprisingly little, and that window of focus is much narrower than we may realize.

So, are the minds of digital natives – or any heavy tech users – better or worse when it comes to attention? It’s a complicated question, partly because attention works in some paradoxical ways.

The function of attention is to prioritize where we put our limited cognitive resources at any given moment. One thing attention does is keep irrelevant information at bay. Like a bouncer at an exclusive nightclub, its job is to ensure that only the most important and relevant elements pass through into conscious awareness.

But at the same time, a well-functioning attention system has to stay open to information that’s in the background and could be potentially useful. That mental bouncer has to constantly scan the crowd for anyone who might turn out to be a great addition to the party, pick them out and usher them inside.

What technology does to the ability to pay attention

Technology seems to have a bigger impact on that second side of attention.

Certain kinds of tech use – habitually consuming lots of online media at once, or playing certain kinds of video games – appear to boost the ability to efficiently pick up on peripheral information while keeping up with a main task.

Technology in class remains a distraction.

And although long-term studies are lacking, there is a growing body of research on how tech-saturated environments shape the minds and brains of kids.

It’s unlikely that video games or online media damage kids’ ability to pay attention. But comparative research across high-tech and low-tech societies suggests that information processing is different in kids who grow up working with digital rather than physical tools. Neither group is better or worse across the board, but this research suggests that high-tech kids may be less inclined to learn by watching for extended periods of time.

That said, we should be cautious about concluding that today’s students have developed the ability to juggle as much technology as they want. Technology has not reshaped the basic ways in which our brains process information.

As cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham points out, the impact of things like video games is relatively subtle. All they can do is tinker around the edges of our mental systems, rather than altering them at the core.

As Willingham says, something as fundamental as attention couldn’t be deeply reshaped without a major overhaul of the brain – something that would be a function of evolution, not life experiences.

All of this means that college teachers should be skeptical of claims that their game- and tech-obsessed students process information completely differently. Compared to earlier generations, today’s students are probably no more able to learn while simultaneously engrossed in Twitter, Facebook and texting.

College students and technology

There are other pitfalls to consider.

Research with young adults in college suggests that they are neither as enthusiastic about technology nor as adept at using it as we may assume. Sometimes, they intentionally opt for lower-tech approaches; in one study of California college students, most said that they preferred paper over a browser for their own studying.

This is something my faculty colleagues commonly observe as well – that although their students may use technology like social media casually throughout the day, it doesn’t translate to other tech-based tasks, such as navigating a course’s online homework system.

Students also get into trouble if they assume – because of the “digital nativism” idea, or simple lack of self-awareness – that they can master demanding coursework while engaged in digital distractions.

Evidence suggests that multitasking – such as tweeting in class – reduces learning, or at the very least makes it take longer.

Even sitting next to a classmate surfing the web on his or her own laptop hampers learning.

In sum, despite that appearance of being fused to their devices, today’s students aren’t immune to the distraction those devices cause. And they don’t necessarily want technology in every corner of their educational lives.

How college teachers can help

College teachers need to include lots of tech support for online assignments and other kinds of educational technologies, because even students who have grown up with computers still get stuck when using them in new contexts.

Teachers must also avoid the trap of adding tech to a class just because they assume digital native students want it. Educational technology can be highly effective, but only when it is tightly coupled to the teacher’s goals.

Even better, teachers can help students understand for themselves how attention works – knowledge that everyone ought to have in today’s distracting era. Without vilifying technology, teachers can work to raise students’ awareness about how attention impacts learning more than we may realize, no matter what our age.

The effects of technology on cognition are intriguing, but they don’t justify teaching millennials as if they were a new species. Teachers need to think twice about tolerating devices in class, except as part of structured activities that link to the lesson at hand.

The Conversation

Michelle Denise Miller is Director, First Year Learning Initiative at University College and Professor of Psychological Sciences at Northern Arizona University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Giving students choice in reading helps stem the ‘summer slide’

Jack is a six-year-old in first grade at School 36 in Rochester, New York, a city with some of the worst childhood poverty statistics in the nation. Jack has big dreams for his future. Unfortunately, because he is a black boy in Rochester, the odds are stacked against him. The chances that he will finish high school on time are under 10%.

One of the factors holding back inner city kids like Jack is “summer slide.”

In contrast with their middle-class peers who may benefit from various summer enrichment activities, economically disadvantaged students tend to lose a lot of educational ground over the summer. Often they start the next school year one to three months behind.

As a pediatrician, I am concerned about the number of social and environmental factors that harm children. Over time, these learning losses accumulate, leaving children further behind each year.

A book fair for students

Preventing this summer slide is crucial. And there are proven, cost-effective preventive tools, that, if applied early on to the underlying causes of school failure and unemployment, could make a difference.

I recently participated in a program at the Hoekelman Center at the University of Rochester, which gets young doctors out of the hospital, so they can partner with community-based organizations on projects that seek to improve community health. One such project is “Stop the Summer Slide.”

We began our work with two second grade classes. For one class, we ran a book fair where each student picked 13 books to take home at the end of the school year. Students were tested right before summer vacation, and then again when they returned to school.

Students chose from a broad range of books, both fiction and nonfiction, and from a variety of reading levels. Some chose classics, but some students also chose books that would not be normally handed out by educators. For instance, among the favorites were classics like Charlotte’s Web, and also newer works, such as the adaptation of Disney’s Frozen and a biography of Britney Spears.

Disney’s Frozen Story Book

The other class of students received in the mail books that had been preselected by educators.

How choice works

We found that students who chose their books improved their reading scores over the summer, while the students who received educator-selected books did not show any improvement.

Based on these encouraging results, we expanded the intervention at the same elementary school the following year, running book fairs for four classes. Each student received 15 books of his or her choosing.

The comparison group, however, was modified. Students in these classes received a mix of student-selected and educator-selected books. Both groups received all their books at the end of the school year.

With this modification, we were unable to find a significant difference in scores between the two groups of students. Remarkably, however, we did find over 75% of students in both groups maintaining or improving their reading proficiency.

Let kids pick their own books.
urbanworkbench, CC BY-NC-ND

This showed us that providing students even partial choice appears to have the potential to turn around summer slide and prepare children to start the new school year with positive momentum.

For the past two years, we have had the opportunity to feel like Santa Claus in June, delivering bags of presents to elementary school students. The children smile from ear to ear as they open up their bags and explore the contents, asking “Can I really keep them and write my name on them?”

They eagerly show each other what they got, finding joy in being the only one with a book about snakes, but also in having the same princess story as all their friends.

Making a difference

Illiteracy is a health issue, not just because it makes it hard to follow a prescription, but also because it alters entire life courses by cutting off options, thus subjecting people to chronic stress as well as all the other ill effects of poverty.

Achieving reading proficiency in kindergarten through second grade is necessary for future academic success. In the first years of school, students learn to read. By third grade, they are reading to learn. If they have not achieved basic literacy by then, they will not be able to progress in all the other subjects. Low-income students who cannot read by third grade are 13 times less likely to finish high school.

It may seem more reasonable to schools to let educators pick books for kids. But if giving children a choice in their reading selections is more effective at stopping summer slide, then I would advocate for it. The Rochester City School District is already implementing partial student choice this summer in its district-wide book distribution.

Indeed, it would be wonderful if all children curled up with the classics. But if they never get past the covers of the books we pick for them, then what’s the point?

The Conversation

Erin Kelly is Internal Medicine and Pediatrics Resident at University of Rochester.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Too many school students are over-confident

Many recent, large-scale and international studies confirm that there are things outside of a child’s natural intelligence that affect their academic performance.

As well as a child’s socio-economic status, psychological dispositions and self-beliefs are particularly important. It has been known for some time now that test anxiety about, say, mathematics can impair students’ performance. It is also becoming clear that confidence in doing a given task may have a significant predictive value for achievement over and above the ability itself.

While appearing confident may be important in job interviews, public speaking and life in general, a genuine “can do” feeling is known to have a significant correlation with test scores as well.

Confidence after the fact has been found to be the best non-cognitive predictor of school achievement. This is the “done well” feeling captured by asking students how confident they are that they answered questions correctly. This provides information on how much students know about their own capabilities.

Overconfidence is common

Our research over the past 20 years has shown that most students tend to be overconfident. When we compare ability and confidence on the same scale there is a pronounced tendency towards overconfidence. Furthermore, people who obtain very low scores on a test tend to be more overconfident than those with high scores.

We found this overconfidence at the national level as well. Countries that score low in international assessments display bigger discrepancies between confidence and levels of performance than countries that score high.

Our studies also found that some high-ability people – less than 10% of those studied – show underconfidence.

There are gender differences in overconfidence in that females are somewhat less overconfident than males. It is interesting, however, that in our earlier studies at the University of Sydney gender differences in overconfidence turned out to be relatively small. The explanation may lie in the student selection procedures. The student body at the University of Sydney is highly selected and therefore the difference between males and females in terms of both ability and confidence is small.

Interestingly, people from East Asia tend to be more realistic about their abilities than Caucasians.

Improving the match in ability and confidence

The findings with the post-assessment confidence point to a need to make people aware of how well they are doing on a test and how to avoid rash decisions to submit answers that may be incorrect.

We need to focus in particular on those students who are showing the largest discrepancy between the test scores and subjective assessment of confidence. These are the people who have correctly solved, say, five items in a 20-items test but believe that they have solved 15 or more items.

Didn’t do as well as you thought?

More time and effort needs to be spent in pointing out to the low-achieving students what are the sources of error in their wrong answers. Another way to achieve improvement is the use of feedback immediately after a student provides the answer to a question and expresses his/her confidence in the accuracy of that answer.

An added benefit of improving the match between ability and confidence of the low-achieving students will be an increase in the predictive validity of the “done well” confidence itself.

Individuals should have a balanced perception of their abilities. If a low-ability person with high confidence frequently makes risky decisions he or she is bound to fail. At the same time, a high-ability person with low confidence may take a conservative approach to a challenge. The aim should be to assure high-achieving students of their competence.

It is important to keep in mind that the emphasis is on reducing excessive overconfidence. By doing so, we can reduce risk-taking while maintaining the curiosity, openness to experience and adventurousness that are necessary ingredients of all new learning.

The Conversation

Lazar Stankov is Professor, Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at Australian Catholic University.
Jihyun Lee is Senior Lecturer, MEd in Assessment and Evaluation at UNSW Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Why commencement still matters

We have entered one of the most pleasant rites of spring and summer – commencement season.

As a teacher at the University of Oklahoma for more than 20 years, I attend our ceremonies once every three years as part of my faculty responsibilities. Though my attendance is a service obligation of my department and my university, I inevitably end the evening vividly remembering the excellence in performance and character that I have witnessed over the past year.

I attend commencement – now without complaint – because I recognize that I need its ritual and ceremony as much as students and their families do. Even when the commencement speakers occasionally seem to be offering no more than another heaping helping of slow-roasted banalities, the totality of the experience – especially visiting with the families of my students – returns me, without fail, to the optimistic and idealistic frame of mind that led me to be a teaching scholar in the first place.

If ever I find myself unable to return to that emotional place, it will be a sure sign to me that it is time for me to move on.

So, what should we be thinking about at commencement – in addition to how far we have traveled on a difficult individual mission? To what other great works should we commit ourselves?

Money, dreams, debts and decisions

All the daydreams from which one’s future plans originate are idealized images that experience must and will “bring down to earth.” I used to wonder what my professors did with what I believed was the vast wasteland of time that existed between their class meetings with me and my colleagues.

I imagined them in their offices, relaxed and contemplating important problems from a safe distance. This vision, I now realize, conveys more about my own need for peace, reassurance and stability back in my teens and twenties than it did about what university faculty did or should do.

Of course, it did not occur to me to ask my professors what they did. I did not know that universities expect more of professors than teaching and research. I did not fully appreciate then that the same stress that I felt while striving to get an assignment “right” and done on deadline might also be integral to whatever career I would choose for myself.

I must note an additional difference between my life as a student and the student experience today: college cost far less when I attended 30 years ago than it does now.

Today, students graduate with a heavy burden of loans.
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I was able to save for two years (while living at home) so I could devote my junior and senior years entirely to my academic work. Boy, was I fortunate! I did not begin to incur any student debt until I was halfway through graduate school.

As college costs go up and as loans become an increasing part of a student’s load, the path that I followed between 1979 and 1984 is simply no longer open to many students whose economic situations resemble mine 30 years ago.

When we commit ourselves at commencement to renewing the highest values of our society, let us see what we can do to change this. If we do not, we run the risk of having students choose majors based solely on the always shaky promise that they will earn enough in this or that career to pay for school.

The teacher’s workplace has pressures

It is to the everlasting credit of my undergraduate mentors that I never learned that the academy is like any other workplace: people, possessed by vanity and anxiety, feud and compete over the stupidest things and sometimes act out of the worst of motives.

I have since learned that “hostile work environments” are not restricted to the corporate boardroom, the temporary cubicle office of the often equally temporary white collar worker, or those who toil at the modern versions of the assembly line.
I have had much to learn about this particular world of work. I am a fortunate one. To an extent that was not true in my student days, universities rely more and more on temporary and at-will employees to do the bulk of undergraduate teaching.

These highly trained faculty are far more vulnerable to all kinds of pressures –- including those from entitled students and their entitled parents when their “star pupil” is shown to be a cheater.

In addition to these kinds of pressures, of course, they are often not paid a living wage. As we observe the pageantry of commencement and as we recommit ourselves to doing good and doing better, we need to end these practices before they devalue the experience of learning for all concerned.

There is value in commencement

The University of Oklahoma canceled commencement this year because of a severe tornado threat. As difficult as this was for students, parents and faculty, it only changed the scene, not the substance, of that day.

Those who missed the chance to “walk” for their degree have the satisfaction of knowing that they were all part of a historic moment created by nature — and endured without loss of life or serious injury.

Because the value of struggling to improve one’s self and one’s world remains vibrantly alive among students and teachers the world over, commencement still matters, even when the ritual itself must occasionally be canceled to make way for stormy weather.

The Conversation

Ben Keppel is Associate Professor of History at University of Oklahoma.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Foreign students not a threat, but an advantage

An undeniable shift is taking place across US campuses with the number of international students increasing rapidly. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of foreign students studying in the US increased by 55% with continuing growth anticipated in the years ahead.

This has led to some concerns about domestic students being displaced by more affluent international students who can afford to pay rising tuition costs. Inherent in this view is the assumption that the primary obligation of US universities is towards their local residents and that financial interests are driving the trend.

A common claim is that “cash-strapped public universities” are “aggressively recrui[ting] students from abroad.”

In our view, these are flawed assumptions.

It is very likely that the increasing pace of globalization, is playing a role, but, it is important to note that US campuses have historically witnessed demographic shifts as a result of social and economic changes that took place around them.

These demographic shifts gradually broadened US universities from a domain of elite, white men to one that included veterans, women and increasing numbers of underrepresented minorities.

As researchers who focus on the internationalization of US higher education, we believe the increasing numbers of international students need to be understood in this historic context and as merely one more step in the ongoing demographic expansion of US universities.

How US universities evolved

Early US universities were parochial. American colleges in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were designed to educate a population of elite, local, Christian young men for service to their religious and local communities.

But within a short half-century or so, this changed radically. The Morrill Land-Grant Acts of 1862 and 1890 provided funding to each state to develop practical post-secondary education in agriculture and mechanical fields – the “A&M” (agriculture and mechanical) universities that many states retain today.

As the purpose of higher education grew to include these practical subjects in addition to the traditional focus on the classics and ancient languages, higher education changed from an “elite” system that educated less than 15% of college-aged youth to a “mass” one that educated between 15% – 50% of it.

A massive influx of veterans to US campuses after World War II, funded by the GI Bill of Rights, further broadened US universities’ student demographics from an elite domain to institutions serving a broader and more diverse population.

The civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s, coupled with university affirmative action policies, created still more gender, racial and ethnic diversity among student bodies.

These demographic changes were not always smooth ones; each wave of change has been and in some cases, continues to be challenged.

An increase in international students should be seen as a positive trend.
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The idea that all Americans ought to have a pathway to higher education has become a deeply held belief. Indeed, issues of access and equity remain perhaps the two most dominant areas of research and policy making in US higher education today.

Increasing international student numbers are being seen by some as a threat to domestic student access or as solely driven by the money-making zeal of US higher education institutions.

A news article recently cited numerous examples of dwindling state funding for higher education amidst rising tuition for in-state and out-of-state Americans at traditionally land grant, public institutions.

Tensions on campus, according to the author, coupled with pressure on state-level legislators by disgruntled students and parents, is leading to a backlash movement against further international student growth.

Global role of universities

We suggest such a backlash is fundamentally flawed for at least two important reasons.

First, efforts to preserve ‘seats’ for local residents rests on an assumption that public institutions’ primary obligations ought to be to their local communities.

Although this assumption is rooted in historical facts – since most US universities were founded by either local communities or by religious ones – universities’ obligations to bigger and broader communities has grown over time.

After World War II, universities became key players in national security and international development projects as university scholars embraced new roles as problem solvers who could address pressing challenges of Cold War geopolitics, modernization and development and national security.

By the time the Berlin Wall fell, the pace of globalization had begun its rapid acceleration in ways that would forever alter universities’ notion of communities. As Stevens and Miller-Idriss argue in their forthcoming book based on a long-term research project at the US Social Science Research Council, a new global logic in US universities dictates that university patrons and flows of students and scholars are global as well as local.

Second, the data on domestic student displacement is not entirely clear.

Although it is indisputable that international students are growing in number, it is not clear that their percentage within the total student population on campuses has grown.

In other words, in-state students may be an increasingly small percentage of the students on campus, but their total numbers may not be much greater or less than than they were 10 or 20 years ago. It might be simply that the overall population has grown and out-of-state and international students are a larger share of the pie.

Foreign students not a detriment

What do these shifts mean for local students who feel closed out of seats in their state universities?

We sympathize with anxious parents and students who feel the burden of incessantly rising tuition costs and believe that international applicants may negatively affect their chances of getting into the college or university of their choice. But we urge them to balance emotion with fact.

Before passing judgment on institutions and the international students they serve, we urge those affected to ask their state institutions for hard data on student enrollment numbers over time and to gather the most objective and reliable facts at their disposal before urging action by their state legislators to change the public institutions serving them.

Lastly, we suggest seeing growing international student enrollments as a positive new trend in a long list of demographic transformations that have historically shaped the US university mostly for the better.

Previous demographic transformations also raised alarm bells. The rising numbers of veterans post World War II were met with dismay by some: University of Chicago president Robert M. Hutchins warned that campuses would turn into “hobo jungles.”

But such dire predictions turned out to be ill-advised, as academic Christopher P Loss has argued, in part because the older, mature veteran students were more serious, disciplined, and pursued academic learning more rigorously.

We believe that a similar perception will emerge over time when the contributions international students are making to US higher education will be seen as having been a boon to the US higher education system rather than a detriment to it.

Perhaps our energy would be better spent trying to maximize international students’ contributions rather than challenging them.

The Conversation

Cynthia Miller-Idriss is Associate Professor of Education and Sociology at American University.
Bernhard Streitwieser is Assistant Professor of International Education, Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.