Research and Teaching in Higher Education

I think one of the biggest hinderances to the effectiveness of higher education is faculty’s limited ability to devote to their teaching. Particularly at large, research institutions, the focus for new faculty tends to be on research, not on teaching. I think that this creates a disingenuous execution of the purpose of higher education. First and foremost, higher ed is supposed to teach students skills that will make them more successful in careers that require more training than k12 can provide. Secondary to that is the research. As a baseline, I’m not sure that institutions would be around if they didn’t provide education.

So, if I had to suggest one thing to change in higher ed, it is this balance that faculty members are forced to maintain between research and teaching. I think by realigning the university missions of education first, that faculty would be able to spend more time preparing and teaching students how to be successful in their future careers.

In a recent Chronicle article (link here), they discuss the idea of faculty training for teaching. I think that this is a brilliant idea for higher education, however as good of an idea as it is, it still requires faculty to have time and be willing to put that time to improving their teaching alongside their research commitments.

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The Value of a 4-year Diploma

I just read an article about CEOs at large tech companies beginning to push for more hiring of employees without a 4 year degree. This article in particular was focused on coding, data science, and really anything related to those two directly. The article, titled “Apple, Google, and Netflix don’t require employees to have 4-year degrees, and this could soon become an industry norm” (link here), raises questions about the value of 4 year degrees and the college experience–is it necessary to excel in fast-paced industries? If not, does this mean that universities need to move faster to create the atmosphere for learning and growth that companies desire in young employees?

A quote by Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens, stuck with my from this article: “All too often, job requisitions will say they require a four-year degree, when in fact there’s nothing about the job that truly requires a four-year degree — it merely helped our hiring managers sort of weed through the crowd and get a smaller qualified candidate group“. I absolutely understand the use of this heuristic in hiring, but am honestly refreshed to hear a CEO pressing back on the significance of a degree over demonstration of technical skills. Pairing with, I found an interesting Chronicle article that explores exactly what the college degree means to many (link here). The author describes a college degree as a “…signal that a college degree sends to employers, friends, and family members.”

In light of these frames of higher education, I am curious how higher ed could rebrand and reframe itself by responding to the needs of industry. My biggest concern is that industry often outpaces higher ed in terms of change, and keeping up with the changing industry would be incredibly tough.

 

 

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Technology in Higher Education: Twitter in the Classroom

During my freshman year, I took an honors course that had an interesting component–it required each student to have and actively use a twitter account. Personally, I had never had a twitter prior to this course (and quickly quit using it afterwards). However, the intent of the tool was to increase our participation with the content. We were asked to tweet our questions/thoughts/comments on our in class discussions as they arise, so that as a class we were able to capture more of the ideas in the conversation.

When I read this blog topic, I immediately thought of this experience that I had and how it shaped our classroom experience. Part of the cleverness of this course requirement, I thought, was that it keeps students engaged and on-topic while incorporating their cellphones or laptops creatively. The frequency that we had to engage through our technology made it really difficult to use our technology for other applications.

I found the following article about twitter in higher education:

https://www-jstor-org.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/stable/jeductechsoci.19.1.237?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Twitter as a Learning Community in Higher Education

In summary, the authors investigated the use of twitter in HE courses and found that Twitter can be a useful learning tool if integrated correctly and if the students were motivated.

This aligns with my personal experience. Twitter worked super well for our class because it was an upper-level honors class with engaged students and a super involved professor. I could see how in other scenarios this could have come off as a “filler”. However, I think the most important aspect of this article is the concept of community. The ability to connect with other students about your class experiences, thoughts, etc has a super high value potential in my mind. Coming through undergrad, we had to engage with other students through canvas (or scholar for those who remember that platform) and to be honest, it always felt very fake and unauthentic. I think the integration of outside platforms (Twitter) allow students to feel more personal and authentic.

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In Loco Parentis: A history of university rule

I found an article while reading The Chronicle about an idea called “in loco parentis” which simply means “in place of the parent”.

Here’s the article: https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/Trend19-InLoco-Main

I found the ideas here to be incredibly interesting, and after reading the history and evolution of the role of the university in student life I am realizing that I see this idea fairly commonly.

The article begins by outlining the original practice of in loco parentis in the 1960’s, where universities took on the role of parents towards the students enrolled at their institution. The example they give is a university forbidding students from eating off campus because the university believed that it was a waste of the student’s time and money. This was an absolutely legal practice at the time.

Since then, universities seemed to swing fully the other direction taking a hands-off approach. It was described in the article as the option of being “all in” or “all out”. This “all out” approach seemed to end due to fraternity and sorority activity. A legal push for the university to take a role in the safety and welfare of the students seems to have pushed universities back to a central role.

I have always appreciated the role that the university is supposed to have to maintain health and safety of students, and knowing the extreme history of the idea makes me thankful that the idea has been shaped and reduced to address specific student safety concerns. While the article specifically talks about the roles associated with greek life, I wonder if this practice is what influences the university student conduct court system.

 

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Lesson Plans and “Secret” Learning Objectives

I wanted to  compare how institutions and faculty in the US develop and implement lesson plans within their college courses. Specifically I’m interested in how faculty develop curricula to address learning objectives and even more specifically, how they plan to develop skills that they want their students to leave with at the end of their course.

In my infancy of developing curricula and teaching modules, I was introduced to the idea of “secret” learning objectives. A secret learning objective, as it has been explained to me, is a skill or tool that the teaching faculty wants their students to leave their course with, but may not directly say it in their syllabus or learning outcome list. I have since been playing with the idea and weighing the pros and cons. Through a lot of what I read, it seems that the secret learning objectives are really only effective if it’s something like “increases student’s sense of agency in their field” and not something like “improves critical thinking skills”. I draw a line because many of the things I found focus on transparency, even if it’s not specifically mentioned. I’m going to keep thinking of this more, though.

To frame this post, I’d like to review a line in a Chronicle article that I found really relevant and applicable about lesson plans and college courses as a whole. The article starts off discussing professor stereotypes, and makes this point:

“What these stereotypes fail to do—or do inadequately—is focus on student learning.  Teaching in a university classroom requires preparation and a redirection of focus.  The teaching is not about us; it’s about the students.”

Source: https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/lesson-planning-for-the-university-classroom/22899

The point of teaching is to get students to learn something. So, starting from this common point, I’d like to discuss some of the methods, tips, and tricks of developing lesson plans and courses in higher education that I found worth noting. In the following list, methods are denoted by (M) and tips and tricks are denoted by (T).

The Madeline Hunter (M)

Citation: https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/lesson-planning-for-the-university-classroom/22899

The MH is the perfect answer for faculty who enjoy operating on a really strict and replicable routine. It’s a 7 step process for developing lesson plans. Each and every lesson plan, then follows the same seven steps. Those steps are:

  1. Objectives
  2. Set [hook]
  3. Standards/expectations
  4. Teaching (Input, Modeling/demo, Direction giving, Checking for understanding)
  5. Guided Practice
  6. Closure
  7. Independent Practice

I think that this is a cool model, but it does employ a whole lot of repetition. I suppose this repetition may be a useful thing for students, as the repetitive parts are the structure of what the students are supposed to learn. I feel like it would have to be done very strategically in order to keep students engaged at the front and back end of classes.

Intent/Effect (M)

Citation: https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/lesson-planning-for-the-university-classroom/22899

This is a really interactive and interesting strategy for lesson planning that I’d love to try. It relies on a more fluid lesson, in which all of the activities or plans are written out on individual sticky notes so that it can be arranged as needed by the students in the class. It provides students a whole lot of say in how they receive their lessons. However, it requires a lot, lot, lot of flexibility on the faculty’s part. Below is an example I pulled from the Chronicle article.

Source: https://www.chronicle.com/img/photos/biz/blogPost/profhacker/2010/01/meagans-lesson-plan.jpg

 4 A’s of Lesson Planning (T)

Citation: http://www.humber.ca/centreforteachingandlearning/assets/files/Teaching%20Methods/4A%20of%20Lesson%20Planning.pdf

The four a’s of lesson planning are:

  • Activate Prior Knowledge
  • Acquire New Knowledge
  • Application
  • Assessment

This tool provides different tools to do each of the four A’s. The citation above is the PDF of the tools, and could be a really helpful thing to consider in lesson planning.

Clear Prerequisite Description (T)

Citation: http://www.adprima.com/Printer/printmistakes.htm

I really didn’t consider this prior to reading about how others develop lesson plans. Writing down the lesson’s prerequisites has a really profound effect on the actual lesson in question. How many times do we make assumptions on what students know when developing lesson plans? Even if the assumption is “well we did this last class, they’ve got it”, there’s no real way to know that unless you build it into the lesson.

Here are some citations to a few other sites I didn’t directly talk about but seemed like good resources:

  1. https://fye.uconn.edu/lesson-plans-and-activities/#
  2. https://www.brandeis.edu/writingprogram/writing-intensive/lessonplans.html
  3. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/tag/lesson-planning/
  4. http://www.humber.ca/centreforteachingandlearning/instructional-strategies/teaching-methods/course-development-tools/building-lesson-plans.html

 

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Open Access Journal: Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development

I selected the Journal of Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development (RESD) as my open access source. It is an Arabic journal by the Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT), published out of Egypt. The publisher is the Academy Publishing Center. There are no submission fees or processing charges. The journal requires a single blind peer review for submitted articles, and it typically takes 12 weeks from submission to publication.

 

RESD’s main focus is on renewable energy technologies and sustainable development in transition economies. It’s a bi-annual publication which is intended to provide a global forum to disseminate any form of research within the field. From the website, RESD aims to:

“present to the international community important results of work in the fields of renewable energy and sustainable development research to help researchers, scientists, manufacturers, institutions, world agencies, societies to keep up with new developments in theory and applications. Experimental, computational and theoretical studies are all welcomed to RESD.”

 

There is a wide range of topics submitted to the journal, which fall into one of two major categories: renewable energy or sustainable development (as one might have guessed).

Renewable Energy:

  • Wind energy
  • Wave/tidal energy
  • Solar energy
  • Hydropower
  • Geothermal energy
  • Hydrogen & fuel cells
  • Biomass & biofuel

 

Sustainable Development:

  • “case studies of sustainable development and its relation to transition economies in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.”

RESD is particularly interested in open access in order to provide information to all of those involved in the field–from researchers to those impacted. Specifically, their site says:

“This journal provides immediate open access to its content on the principle that making research freely available to the public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge.”

 

In the field of sustainable development, this makes quite a bit of sense. A lot of the work in the field is through NGO’s or very low-resource areas, thus making research on the topics free and available makes it accessible to those that can really use the information.

 

 

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The Role of Higher Education in Addressing Global Challenges

I read an older article by Bill Clinton recently titled “The Case for Optimism: from technology to equality, five ways the world is getting better all the time”, and I began thinking critically about the role that higher education institutions have in addressing global inequality and global challenges. If you haven’t read the article, here the link:

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2125031-1,00.html

It’s a very good and very quick read.

Clinton talks about the top five things that are improving our world–and many of them are related directly to higher education. Those five things are technology, health, economy, equality, and justice. While those are broad topics, the points that Clinton makes helps link these directly to higher education and shows higher education’s ability to influence student’s ability to impact the future. I think the following quote is relevant for the rest of this post:

“Those who have been required to memorize the world as it is will never create the world as it might be.”
– Judith Groch

Clinton talks about the role of cellphones in his pitch for technology. I think there’s a beautiful story in this–the idea that technology  improves in quality as it is growing and spreading across the world. When phones were first relevant, a grid system was necessary to enable communication. As cell phones became more prevalent, areas of the world which had previously been without were able to skip over the infrastructure-heavy landlines and move straight to cell phones. This allowed access to improve quickly in these areas. Looking at the Groch quote above, I think that this is a perfect example of how the world and innovation really works. We could not base off of the past to get a communication solution to parts of the world without access, we had to look to the future.

I think that each of these five areas has a similar story, which ties back to the role of higher education. The institution purpose is to create student who are ready to go out into the world and solve grand challenges. By helping students learn how to create and innovate, we are providing the world with professionals equipped to do just that–solve grand challenges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ethics in Higher Education: How do we teach them?

I feel like I’ve heard more lectures on the importance of ethics than I could possibly remember through my time in college. I’ve heard a similar sentiment from other college graduates that I’ve talked to about the topic. But yet, time and time again people act unethically both in classes and in their research. Why? If we’ve all gotten our “ethics training”, how can this possibly be happening at the undergraduate and beyond level?

I think one of the biggest problems regarding ethics is how we teach it. While it’s not necessarily intended to be an eye catching exciting thing to learn about, it is one of the most critical skills that students should be learning, both defined by individual universities and by ABET (I speak specifically of engineering ethics, as it’s my background).  Typically, we teach ethics in very specific contexts and fail to offer students the change to critically engage with ethics. I believe that this may be a part of why we see ethical issues in higher education.

I reviewed two misconduct cases from the ORI website, both regarding data falsification in theses and publications. The links for both are below:

  • https://ori.hhs.gov/case-summary-walker-kenneth
  • https://ori.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/2018-12/2018-26379.pdf

In retrospect, the ethical efficacy of the cases is clear, however I can empathize with both students during the process of data analysis. Performing small manipulations which eventually led to larger, less ethical ones seems like an easy path to go down when trying to produce good work.

Getting back to the teaching aspect, I think we may be able to prevent students and future researchers from finding themselves on these unethical paths if we give them opportunities to critically engage with ethics in “real world” scenarios in a safe environment. Simply asking people “is it OK to plagiarize?” isn’t lending itself to creating a true understanding of ethics.

 

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Heuristics and Biases in Admissions

After our discussion on college admissions, SATs, GREs, and all of the methods that colleges and universities use to try to categorize potential students, I’ve been thinking about the role that heuristics and biases play in this admissions processes.

Heuristic: a simple, cognitively-efficient rule that a person uses to make decisions

I think that the use of standardized tests is higher education’s way of quickly making decisions on candidates. I can empathize with the difficultly of accepting and denying admission to students for those who are responsible for that role. Having many, many applications to sort through on an annual basis, reviewers utilizing simple evaluation strategies could be their way to reduce their cognitive load in the process. Test scores such as the SAT, ACT, and GRE provide this quick short cut to those responsible for reviewing the candidate.

So, the heuristic in this case would be “a student scored over a 1200 on the SAT, therefore we should consider the rest of their application”.

I think if we want to move away from standardized tests, we need to develop alternative strategies to help reviewers figure out how to mentally process the large number of applications they receive each year.

Cognitive Bias: a systematic (non-random) error in thinking, in the sense that a judgment deviates from what would be considered desirable from the perspective of accepted norms or correct in terms of formal logic. 

Biases typically lead to the employment of heuristics, and therefore it requires consideration in the case of admissions. In this case, I think the biases we should be concerned with are those in the “too much information” and “we need to act fast” sections of the codex below (teal and green). These biases form to help the decision maker more easily reach their decisions. I would love to hear other’s opinions on the role of cognitive biases and heuristics in admissions and what they see the solution being!

 

(here’s the link for the graphic below:

https://www.visualcapitalist.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/cognitive-bias-infographic.html)

Image result for cognitive bias definition

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Mission Statements and the University Vision

I chose the following two universities to investigate their mission and vision statements at their respective universities:

1. Virginia Tech, Blacksburg VA, USA
2. Colorado School of Mines, Golden CO, USA

I chose these universities because I am considering both as a university for my long-term professional goals. For each school, I would like to consider the mission statements with respect to the university’s future plans and goals.

VIRGINIA TECH

Virginia Tech is in a very small town in rural, southwest Virginia. VT began as a military institution, and over time became accessible to civilian students; today there are significantly more civilians than corps members. VT is a land grant university, and is much more heavily oriented toward engineering and agriculture, which were the main focus of the university at its start.

The Virginia Tech mission statement reads:

“Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is a public land-grant university serving the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. The discovery and dissemination of new knowledge are central to its mission. Through its focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement, the university creates, conveys, and applies knowledge to expand personal growth and opportunity, advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life”

Virginia Tech’s mission statement emphasizes a few different pillars of the university: serving, teaching/learning, and research. As a top research institution, I expected them to focus on this in the mission statement. I think that this statement is fairly vague overall. I am not necessarily surprised by this as the university is incredibly diverse in studies, research areas, and even service opportunities. However, as a guiding statement for the university, it outlines that there are four key components of Virginia Tech’s goals: personal growth/opportunity, social and community development, economic competitiveness, and improving quality of life. These four components are still very big picture, but provide the university guidelines for change. I think that the vagueness of these outcomes is intentional, as some of them can be conflicting in nature. I am most surprised by this line in the mission statement: “The discovery and dissemination of new knowledge are central to its mission.” This prioritizes research and publishing as the main mission of the university, which isn’t in itself surprising, however there is no focus on the people building the knowledge, which I do find surprising. I expected there to be a focus on community, as that is the “Hokie way”.

 

COLORADO SCHOOL OF MINES

The Colorado School of Mines began as a school in Golden, Colorado intended to support local miners and their families. At the inception of the university, it was primarily focused on silver and gold mining. Over time, it has evolved to become more focused on sustainability and the environment through energy (not just mining).  The tagline for the university is “Earth, Energy, Environment” which echos this transition.

The Colorado School of Mines mission statement reads:

“We, the Colorado School of Mines community, are united by our commitment to our timeless mission of educating and inspiring students from all backgrounds and advancing knowledge and innovations, with the aspiration that our graduates, ideas, actions and innovations will have a transformative impact on individuals and society, leading to shared prosperity and sustainable use of the Earth’s resources.”

Before knowing much about Mines, I was surprised that they had such a strong focus towards individuals and society (people) as a traditionally founded mining school. Upon further investigation, many faculty members and graduate students research service learning, and the students at Mines are very involved in service. I think that this take on mining and energy is refreshing, and to see that the university prioritizes students’ ability to impact society is incredibly impressive at a university scale. To build on this, I look at their core values:

  • Inquiry and Innovation
  • Inspiration
  • Challenge
  • Openness
  • Respect
  • Diversity
  • Compassion
  • Collaboration

These pillars are a bit vague, but are easily tied back to their mission statement. Overall, I think that their focus on impacting societies and sustaining the Earth is well-tied throughout.

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