The Future of Higher Ed- Modular Degree Programs

What does the University need to do to stay relevant in its mission: produce, disseminate knowledge and educate the future workforce? Universities and academics will never stop conducting research as it is their primary role and a major source of income. At the same time researchers will continue publishing papers and books as it is the currency for advancement, recruitment, and continuation of research programs. But what about the last part of the mission, to educate the future workforce?

The current structure of bachelor’s level training in the U.S. is to require a certain number of fixed credits/classes to complete the degree. Students have limited ability to individualize their plan of study and the more programs students interact with the less ability students have to pick and choose what they will take. In addition, universities often have required general education requirements in social sciences and humanities that are taught to large groups of students and not targeted to individual programs, this is along with the general math, science and writing requirements. The purpose of these general education courses is to provide all graduates training in the core disciplines; but is there an alternate way universities could accomplish this? Consider also that students entering the university with AP credits can waive these general education courses, how does that fit the goal of general education courses when succeeding on a test in high school can substitute?

The other issue with current bachelor’s degree coursework in the U.S. is the structure of the courses. The major format of instruction is still lecture and the major assessment format is examinations; these are not inherently bad, but how often do individuals in the workforce have to demonstrate their route memorization and recall ability without the aid of technology or notes? Additionally, few courses challenge students to apply their knowledge problem solving or to create something useful. The combination of required general education courses and lack of knowledge application results in graduates not prepared to be productive in today’s workforce or in students dropping out of universities.

To address these challenges, I feel that university’s need to adopt “modular” degree programs that include exploratory introductory level courses, skills or competencies requirements, experiential learning, opportunities for certificates, and most importantly are flexible to fit with the interests of individual students. I believe that introductory courses should be re-conceptualized as exploratory courses where students are exposed to the major opportunities and sub-disciplines within each field. There would be a greater emphasis on the experience gathering rather than memorizing facts, it would be a cross between introductory courses with labs and first year experience programs within the major. Students would leave the course with an are within the major of interest and would have a better idea of how to set up the remainder of their degree program. Required skills and competencies can replace current general educations requirements by having a core set of higher-level learning objectives that are incorporated into major specific courses that students choose to take. This is somewhat like what VT does with its Pathways programs currently. Degree programs should offer certificate programs that are meeting industry accreditation standards or display specific technology or skill competencies. Having these be independent of earning a degree and being stackable (allowing students to earn multiple) would further enhance their usefulness since students could leave the degree program with certificates and still be employable. Degree programs should include mandatory experiential learning programs such as internships, undergraduate research, or service-learning projects to help students translate their course knowledge into real world application. Much of the changes to create modular degree programs could be accomplished by strengthening industry and community college partnerships to lessen the costs of student recruitment and to make their program more attractive. A degree program such as the one I outlined has been piloted by the University System of Georgia in recent years, called the nexus degree but its too early to tell if it has been successful.

Selingo, J.J. (2016). Rebuilding the Bachelor’s Degree. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Rebuilding-the-Bachelor-s/236087

Taylor, M.C. (2009). End of the University as We Know It. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/27/opinion/27taylor.html?_r=0&auth=link-dismiss-google1tap

Kafka, A.C. (2019). New 2-Year Degree Promises Gen-Ed Basics and Fast-Track Career Skills. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/New-2-Year-Degree-Promises/247600

Blumenstyk, G. (2019). Why isn’t It a No-Brainer to Embed ‘Certifications’ Intro Bachelor’s Degrees. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved From https://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-Isn-t-It-a-No-Brainer-to/247648

Should Academics have Continuing Education Requirements?

Continuing education is required for maintaining certification status in medical, engineering, and teaching fields. However, academics view the PhD as a terminal degree and an end point for formal learning. This contrast is quite interesting when we consider the role of the academy in producing and disseminating knowledge.

Continuing education is used as a tool for requiring professionals to stay abreast of current developments in their field and also for professional societies to administer standardized content such as ethics and information dissemination around a new idea. One outcome of requiring continuing education credits among the professionals in a field is the creation of a field of “life-long learners.” It amuses me to think that academics are not cultivating a culture of life-long learning.

I understand that academics especially research faculty will constantly be reading literature and publishing their own studies, resulting in moving the discipline forward. One could call this continuing education, but I disagree. Academics are not (typically there are always expectations) pursuing training in cultural competency, teaching and learning philosophies, ethics, or data management. I think that one major reason why faculty are not pursuing formal education is that they are not supported by their peers and mentors. Faculty that decide to get further training need to take the initiative alone and seek out ways to get the formal training.

Since there are already numerous frameworks for continuing education with many different disciplines why haven’t universities adopted a requirement for some kind of formal training of their faculty? I think this is due to the assumption that faculty members are experts in their field and that as experts they don’t need to learn anything outside their field. To me this seems to be a belief that is contrary to the way universities embrace interdisciplinary collaborations. If more faculty had frequent exposure to ideas outside their field maybe there would be less resistance to creating interdisciplinary research programs.

I think it would be beneficial for universities to require that all faculty with teaching appointments obtain a teaching certificate through their university faculty development or teaching centers that would need to be renewed with every contract renewal or every 3 years. This would allow the university to explain their own specific curricula objectives and their learning management system. Additionally, this initiative could serve as a place to present teaching scholarship conducted by faculty at the university and encourage faculty to conduct teaching scholarship or research.

Residential College Spotlight

What is it?

                A collegiate residential environment in which live in faculty play an integral role in the programming and leadership of the community – Residential College Society

At VT

The mission for residential colleges at VT is to give students a place to belong, learn and give. This is embodied in the philosophy of VT residential colleges “know and be known.” While VT has 3 active residential programs and one more in development, they aren’t well advertised especially for students that enter the community in a non-traditional manner (transfer undergraduate students, non-traditional undergraduate students, or graduate students). I only recently discovered this on campus from an article in the Fall 2019 Virginia Tech Magazine which highlighted the Honors Residential College.

Residential colleges are an old model for university educations, where students live with or near their professors in order to learn from them and to aid professors. Residential colleges provide places for students to live and learn together but are different from “living learning programs” because in residential programs faculty leaders live with students and are responsible for cultivating the community through programs and or scholarly activities.

At VT residential colleges serve multigenerational communities, students at different years in their enrollment at VT. Incoming members of a residential college will sign a 2-year housing contract to give students a sense of roots in the university and helps to develop community. Oftentimes students that have stayed in the community longer serve as mentors to the new students. In addition to older students and the faculty principal, a student life coordinator is attached to the community to help with the community development and management as the university student affairs liaison. In residential colleges with strong scholarly components other faculty at the university can join the community as associated faculty members. These members can deliver guest lectures or host special activities for the community. Other residential programs offer certificates or minors for students to pursue to give students something tangible to show on their resumes or transcripts from their membership in the community.

VT has 3 established residential colleges:

  1. Honors Residential Commons – East Ambler Johnston Hall: serves students in the honors college
  2. The Residential College at West Ambler Johnston Hall: invites students of all academic programs to be together, not the same.
  3. Leadership and Social Change Residential College – O’Shaughnessy Hall: a 2-year academic program leadership studies and development program with 2 required courses; collaborating with the CALS department of agricultural, leadership, and community education

& 1 in development:

  1. The Creativity and Innovation district to be built on the Eastern edge of campus to be affiliated the Studio 72 and Innovate programs on VT’s campus.

What does it mean to be a faculty principal?

Faculty principals are responsible for coordinating educational and social programs to facilitate the development of the individual community. This role requires a principal to have a vision for the community, to build relationships with the members of the community as individuals and as part of the group. Furthermore, faculty principals will have a unique role in students lives as a mentor and advisor. So, what does this entail exactly? Since VT is developing a 4th residential college, they have a job posting for a new faculty principal that consolidates the information for prospective faculty.

  • Responsibilities: Live in the apartment with your family (pets allowed) for 12 months, encourage create of community, stimulate other faculty involvement, lead and work with the community leadership team, Host regular activities, lectures, informal gatherings with residents, participate in recruitment and admissions of new students
  • Benefits: 9 month appointment for 3 years (renewable once), $9,000 administrative stipend ($3,000 with negotiated 3 months of summer work), furnished apartment and partial meal allowance- expectation that meals allowance with be used to facilitate responsibilities, Ability to negotiate a one-course reduction in teaching load, annual programming budget provided
  • Qualifications: Tenured or Tenure-Track faculty member at VT

This still leaves me with the question of how would involvement as a faculty principal impact research productivity? I hate to say this, but it doesn’t seem very feasible for a STEM experimental scientist (mentoring graduate students) to serve as a faculty principal as they would be tied up significantly with community activities.  I also wonder if the faculty principal role could be expanded to include academic tract faculty. I don’t see why an academic faculty member should be excluded from this potential role.

My experiences

During my undergraduate program I was involved with residence education by working as a residential assistant at Michigan State University and during my freshman year I lived in a living learning community. Being a part of a living learning community was a wonderful experience for me I was able to live with people who had common interests, we also registered for most of the same sections in general education classes so we were able to spend a lot of time with each other. The program also had a seminar course every week that all participants were in and the RAs and professors created weekly events to further foster a sense of community. For me this program was essential for my success at college and while ultimately my interests diverged with the program causing me to leave the community but I am forever grateful for the program and am looking for a way to give back to such a program in the future.

My experience with residential life changed once I became a RA because I was involved in the not so fun part. For me I excelled at maintaining security and structure in the building, I struggled with the planning events and activities. I realized that the reason I flourished in the living learning community was because of the common interest or the learning component of the program. I wasn’t able to replicate that in my own RA experience because I couldn’t find a way to connect all my residents. Considering my past interest and understanding my personal life currently, I wouldn’t feel comfortable serving as a Faculty principal in a residential college. I would love to be involved in a residential program or living learning community as an associate faculty (as its known at VT) because I am so grateful for my own experience.

References

Residential College Society. (n.d.). Definition. Retrieved from https://residentialcollegesociety.org/definition/

Residential Colleges at Virginia Tech. Retrieved from https://llc.vt.edu/residential_colleges.html

Barlow, M. (2019). Living, Learning, and Loving It. Virginia Tech Magazine Fall 2019. Vol 42, No 1. p:42-46

Augmented Reality for Animal Science Laboratory Classes

In the age of online teaching as  a result of COVID-19 integrating technology into the classroom has been a hot topic for consideration. I work with the introductory laboratory class in the APSC department at VT and have been thinking about ways to give students a realistic learning experience online. I have settled on the opinion that we can’t achieve our main learning outcome

for students demonstrate the ability to safely work around livestock

while teaching solely online. I feel that safety around livestock requires students to physically interact with the animals and a recreation in virtual reality would not be able to substitute.

However, I do feel that as professors at a university we should integrate technology into our teaching as we are preparing students to enter the agricultural industries that are embracing technology at breakneck speed. Looking ahead to the day that I am teaching my own laboratory courses ( a dream of mine), I have contemplated how I could integrate new technology into the classroom. I have been intrigued by augmented reality ( for those not sure what AR is check out the infographic borrowed from EdTechReview [1] below). I would like to integrate AR into the laboratory by designing environmental pop ups while touring farms (both on campus and off), and working in wet labs (doing dissections, practicing injections or working with feed ingredients for example).  I foresee these working through smart phone apps and maybe someday including a wearable technology such as Google Glass. I think this would allow me to let students work in a more hands off and exploratory way during the class which most closely aligns with my teaching philosophy for laboratory classes/units. The goal is that students take ownership over their time in the lab and work at their own pace exploring the available materials to achieve the learning objectives. I see AR as helping to achieve this goal by giving students extra input while interacting with the supplied lab material and hopefully inspiring curiosity in students. I do worry that including AR in laboratories would distract students by allowing their phones out but one goal I have for all of my classes is to prepare students in workplace competencies such as figuring out how to work in the face of distractions (such as the cell phone).  I also need to work out if including AR puts students safety at risk- this is always a concern when working around animals and allowing distractions is a further concern.

I haven’t heard of many professors integrating AR into many classes especially laboratories but it is fairly new and still quite expensive [2]. I do see effort expended to integrating virtual reality (such as through headsets) in higher ed frequently discussed. For example VT has a virtual reality program with the library. I think that virtual reality is a cool technology especially for laboratories but I don’t see it being feasible on farm which is how I would prefer to teach animal science laboratories. I would like to use virtual reality in place of real world experiences if I was unable to bring students to a location such as a commercial farm or a place that could pose  health hazard to students or if a location is physically inaccessible to my students.

Does anyone have experience working with AR and any insights to share? What do you think of my idea?

  1. Editorial Team EdTechReview. (2017, July 4). Augmented and Virtual Reality Are Revolutionizing Education and Student Learning. Retrieved from  https://edtechreview.in/data-statistics/2844-augmented-virtual-reality-education-classroom-learning
  2.    Roll, N. (2017, July 12). More Than Just Cool? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/07/12/vr-and-ar-more-just-cool

10 Simple Rules for surviving grad school during COVID-19

In an attempt at humor in this stressful time I have decided to take a stab at the PLOS Computational Biology “10 simple rules” for this blog. The 10 simple rules collection was started in 2005 with the article “10 simple rules for getting published”[1]. Since then it has grown to a Quick Tips section in the journal and has covered many topics relevant to academics in all career stages. I have found the collection to be a valuable starting place for seeking advice on most aspects of graduate school and academia: writing, presenting, job applications, grant applications, designing research projects, etc. I highly  recommend many of these articles to anyone who comes to me for advice or to talk about graduate school life. With that being said here is my 10 simple rules for surviving grad school during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

  1. Bourne PE, Lewitter F, Markel S, Papin JA (2018) One thousand simple rules. PLoS Comput Biol 14(12): e1006670. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006670

Rule 1 Wash your hands

Why soap works against the coronavirus from coolguides

Really the infographic says it all but remember that CDC guidelines recommend washing your hands for 20 seconds before rinsing them off with water. You should wash your hands much more often than normal in times of viral disease circulation.

Rule 2 Check your webcam and microphone status before any virtual meetings

In general double checking your technology before presenting live is always a good habit. If you are helping coordinate a class online you have my well wishes, be patient it will all work out eventually (or it will be over and forgotten).

Rule 3 Practice social distancing

Don’t go out to eat or drink in public. VT has cancelled most public events and recent guidance from the CDC has suggested avoiding crowds of more than 50 people. The goal of social distancing is to limit the spread of COVID-19 and prevent our medical infrastructure from being overwhelmed.

Rule 4 Check out academic social media – for solidarity and a laugh

During this time it is very easy to feel overly isolated from your colleagues. As easy as it is for me to say that I miss you and that you are definitely missed, it is understandable to feel like you are alone and far removed from the academic community (even if you are still on campus). I like @AcadmicsSay because their posts are by real academics about normal life and are really relatable and fun. The point of the exercise is not to follow academic social media but instead to find a way to reengage with the community that has been altered in recent days.

Rule 5 Find out what this means for your specific situation

The past few days has been crazy with regards to the many surprising changes at the university, state, and federal level. Since the situation is still developing changes are guaranteed. Follow VT’s COVID-19 page for updates related to VT and have an open conversation with your faculty advisor about what their exceptions are for you. Make sure you understand what is being asked of you and that you are comfortable with all of the expectations.

Rule 6 Stay hydrated and well rested

All of the change and uncertainty creates an environment ripe for stress and anxiety. Stress can impair your immune function and make you more susceptible to disease. To counter the effects of stress make sure you are sleeping enough (8 hours a night is recommended by experts) and staying hydrated (typically drinking at least 64 oz ~1.9 liters). If you are able spend some time outside relaxing or taking walks. Fresh air and sunlight can improve your mood, reduce stress levels, and staying active can boost your immune system. Basically take time for yourself during this period.

Rule 7 Keep writing

While taking time for yourself also remember to get your work done. Most programs require some form of writing for completion of your degree program. Writing is an excellent activity for academics practicing social distancing during a pandemic. If you are in need of something to write feel free to reach out to me to help with my writing list.

Rule 8 Don’t hoard supplies

The news has been full of stories of shortages of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and cleaning agents. Most of these shortages are a direct result of panic buying and have resulted in some people- typically vulnerable populations- not being able to get needed household items. In keeping with the mindset that We are All Hokies  we should remember that We are All Humans and act in the best interest of the community not ourselves.

Rule 9 Don’t touch your face

Again going back to protecting yourself, remember to wash your hands and don’t touch your face (eyes, nose, mouth). Your face is the main entrance site for this virus to get into your body. If you are washing your hands often the risk of accidentally catching the virus by touching your face is minimized but still try not to do it.

Rule 10 Remember this isn’t going to be forever

As unsettling a time as it currently is eventually our lives will return to normal. Remember to take care of yourself and to teat everyone as you want to be treated. If we all remember that the crisis should blow over sooner rather than later.

Conclusion

This is not designed to be a comprehensive guide but to promote a sense of solidarity among graduate students, especially at VT. I hope you got a chuckle out of this at least.  Stay healthy everyone!

 

Voter say in University governance- Michigan Edition

Michigan is one of 4 states that have public university boards elected directly in general elections. The “big 3” universities of Michigan, the R1 institutions, are elected while the other public universities in the state are appointed by the governor. University of Michigan’s board of regents, Michigan State University’s board of trustees and Wayne State University’s board of governors are comprised of eight members who serve eight year terms and are responsible for the governance of the university. Other public universities in the state are governed by boards appointed by the Governor of the state of Michigan with approval by the state senate [1]. The idea is that the big 3 are accountable to the people of Michigan and the other public universities are accountable to the governor which in principle is a great idea however it has not worked great in recent years as all of the big 3 institutions have been plagued by scandal.

Does this system work?- Probably not. Notable scandals at the Big 3 in the last few years:

Wayne State: The board of governors has failed to vote in favor of the adoption of a code of conduct twice- which would in part ensure the board did not meddle in the management of the university. At this point the Higher Learning Commission is threatening to pull the accreditation of the university if the board does not adopt the code of conduct. The Higher Learning Commission had given the university until March 24th to adopt a code of conduct, the next board meeting is March 20th. Why is the university in this situation? The board has been fighting over the President of the University Roy Wilson and his plans for the future of the university and specifically the medical school’s affiliation with hospitals in the region. The board is seemingly split between Pro-Wilson and Anti-Wilson sentiment since 2018 and the stalemate has caused at least one board member to resign in 2019. [2,3]

University of Michigan: In 2018, a report was released by the Detroit Free Press revealing that the university has been funneling investments into alumni owned companies, who are likely to return the favor through future donations. [4]The board also voted to hike tuition but direct less money to university operations, freeing up tuition dollars to be given to alumni. In 2019, the university board of regents was under fire for failing to support the Flint and Dearborn campuses in comparison to the amount of money directed to the flagship Ann Arbor campus. [5] In 2020, the University placed the Provost on leave following sexual misconduct allegations while the university investigates him. [6]

Michigan State University: The Nassar scandal continues to plague the university. To this day the board of trustees is continuously criticized for the many decisions they have made regarding the Nassar scandal. Listing all of those decisions is beyond the scope of this blog but I recommend you check out the news headlines of this search from Michigan Radio.

It is also important to note that other public universities in the state of Michigan have had scandals in the past few years, Eastern Michigan University just settled a title IX lawsuit from 2018 related to its elimination of 2 women’s sports teams due to financial difficulties. [7]

Does it work in the other states? Colorado, Nebraska, and Nevada seem to be doing fine with their elected university officials as far as I can tell. The general trend though is that most people don’t understand what a Regent/Trustee/Governor of the university is expected to do so the boards are oftentimes less effective than governor appointed ones. It doesn’t have to be this way though, boards that are not beholden to the governing political party or the governor could break with the political consensus of the state and shepherd in positive changes that would benefit the university, such as in Colorado where the board of University of Colorado approved benefits for same-sex partners. [8]

In recent years people have called for amending the constitution of Michigan to change how university governance boards are appointed. [9, 10, 11] I agree that the system in Michigan needs to be reformed in part. As a voter I appreciated being able to vote in the leader of the university I attended; however, the joke has always been that you vote in the crazy, third party candidate to your rival school. I think we should keep a fraction of the seats up for general election but allow the governor to place in a few candidates. Such a compromise might be able to prevent not be able to prevent such scandals as we have seen in recent years but it may help to stabilize the boards and remove the partisan influence that one columnist at Michigan Radio says is running rampant. [12] We must do something because right now Michigan higher education seems to be the butt of the joke.

  1. https://crcmich.org/explaining-michigans-one-of-a-kind-university-governance-model#:~:text=The%20Constitution%20later%20provides%20that,boards%20accountable%20to%20the%20voters.
  2. https://www.michiganradio.org/post/governor-attorney-general-urge-wayne-state-adopt-code-conduct-or-face-losing-accreditation
  3. https://www.freep.com/story/news/education/2020/02/26/wayne-state-board-whitmer-nessel-conduct/4882280002/
  4. https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/02/01/university-michigan-endowment-donor-funds/1066143001/
  5. https://www.michiganradio.org/post/students-call-more-funding-ums-flint-and-dearborn-campuses
  6. https://www.michiganradio.org/post/um-provost-placed-administrative-leave-following-allegations-sexual-misconduct
  7. https://www.michiganradio.org/post/eastern-michigan-university-settles-title-ix-lawsuit
  8. https://www.chronicle.com/article/State-Regents-Should-They-Be/10597
  9. https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2018/01/29/schuette-governor-appoint-university-boards/109922520/
  10. https://www.michiganradio.org/post/gubernatorial-appointment-cleanest-way-ensure-accountability-university-trustees
  11. https://www.mlive.com/news/2018/02/governor_not_voters_would_choo.html
  12. https://www.michiganradio.org/post/howes-continuing-trustee-antics-big-three-universities-scream-dont-come-here

Integrating active learning with multiple perspectives helps students to succeed

I have had a variety of great higher education learning experiences that have guided me on my path to pursuing my PhD in Animal science at VT now. I had the opportunity to attend on full scholarship the 2 summer semester program of the Midwest poultry consortium where I earned a certificate in poultry science and decided to go to graduate school. These classes were great, not only because they were tailored to exactly what we all wanted to learn about- poultry science- but also because they also used integrated learning experiences with multiple expert professionals working together. In my first summer semester we had afternoon labs in avian physiology: where we worked with quail, took EKGs of chickens, and fed food coloring to laying hens to see how it impacted the yolk color of their eggs; and poultry processing and food science: where we learned about the slaughter process by following the entire process with our own bird, we then learned how products were created and ate a lot of great turkey. The next summer our afternoons were filled with simulated research in nutrition, and doing diagnostic necropsies with real submissions under the supervision of the diagnostic lab staff. All of these activities served to reinforce the morning lecture contents and to provide a new environment that is reflective of the real world in poultry science. I hope to bring this style of teaching to my own classroom and to hopefully impact a student the same way I was impacted. I know it is extremely challenging to successfully integrate such lab and lectures so I am trying to adopt a course coordinator approach to teaching the introductory courses to expose students to many experts and opportunities at the university. Ideally this approach would set students up for identifying areas of interest and forming connections to get involved in research or other opportunities related to those interests. As an instructor I would never be able to accomplish this for students alone.

Poultry Science just became open access

Poultry Science is arguably the most prestigious journal for research involving poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, pigeons, and sometimes ostriches and emus- that are used for agriculture). It is the official journal of the Poultry Science Association which is a U.S. based scientific society that is committed to the advancement of the poultry industry. As of January 1st, 2020 both journals Poultry Science and the Journal of Applied Poultry Research have become open access through a publishing agreement with Elsevier.

The Journal has been around since 1921 and currently is published monthly and internationally known. It is in the top 10 journals in agriculture and number 1 for poultry research according to impact factor rankings. Poultry Science has sections for specific disciplines such as: nutrition and metabolism, breeding and genetics, production and management, physiology and reproduction, molecular biology, welfare, and processing and products, all tied together by their focus on poultry.

As Poultry Science has just recently transitioned there are no statistics associated with the response from the contributors and readers of the journal. The Poultry Science Association say that they are transitioning because

It provides the highest level of visibility for published works and facilitates increased citation and further dissemination of the information, all of which aligns with the vision of PSA to be the world’s most respected resource for poultry sciences. Also, expectations of the academic community and publishing trends are moving in the direction of free availability (no cost to the reader) of research findings, especially when funded by government entities.

They are also transitioning all previously published articles in Poultry Science to open access. These digital articles go back to the 1930s.

I applaud the Poultry Science Association for transitioning to open access and I hope that it is appreciated by the public.

Research on Research

Metascience- or Meta-research- is the process of conducting research on the process of conducting scientific research focusing on the evaluation of integrity, transparency, and repeatability. In psychology and social science fields Meta-research has become a more visible trend, as well in statistics. The Office of Research Integrity has one of the oldest research grant programs for researchers to do Meta-research- The Research on Research Initiative was started in 2001. In September the ORI awarded 8 research grants to do research on research. Meta-research has been a pet passion of mine for many years now since I stumbled across Dr. John Ioannidis at Stanford University and his research program the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS) launched in 2014. Since then I regularly track Meta-research projects at METRICS and the Research on Research Institute. I have also looked at research projects being conducted that have been posted on the Center for Open Science. I hope to incorporate Meta-research into my own laboratory if I join the academy. Does anyone else have any side pet passions (not related directly to your degree research) like this?

-SE

Diverse experiences with culturally responsive teaching

After thoughtful group discussion of our personal experiences with culturally responsive teaching, we’ve come to the agreement that there is no one way to be culturally responsive. These inclusive practices occur across multiple domains (e.g., within the course content, through instruction, in relationships with students). They also look different across different disciplines. Here are a few of our experiences from our disciplines of psychology, architecture, animal science, and engineering. 

Alexis: Topics of culture and diversity are often naturally interwoven in psychology course content. At the same time, much of the existing literature in psychological science is based on very white, middle-class, westernized groups of people. Thus, it can require some extra effort in order to include ethnic and cultural diversity in my classes. I have increasingly tried to be conscious of whose work I am highlighting during class, and to share the work of psychologists from underrepresented backgrounds. However, it can also be difficult to do this in a way that isn’t tokenism. I often wonder how to appropriately approach these issues in the classroom and how to achieve culturally responsive teaching strategies in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Mahnaz: When it comes to some fields of study such as architecture, differences can become influential and reduce performance. For instance, the different unit system that is used in the United States is completely different from what is used in many other countries. Although it is possible to complete a project with the metric system and change it to English Units at the end, it is not always accepted. Converting the units, which can be a simple issue, can become a huge hindrance even to understanding the scale of your project and know what you are designing. Overall, it can negatively influence a student’s performance.

Mohammed: Saudi Arabia has less diversity in its education system than the United States. However, in Saudi Arabian higher education, most students prefer to work as a group in class discussions and projects to get multiple different experiences and take different viewpoints. Moreover, hands-on experience in engineering colleges in Saudi Arabia has increased in the last ten years. This yields to develop culture education in a class. The integration between hands-on experience and group discussion in a class can be considered as a good teaching strategy in higher education.   

Sara: Integrating individual life experiences is essential to the learning process. When teachers embrace this fact they are likely to be more successful. I try to embrace this in my own classroom, where I attempt to teach 150 new students the basics of Animal Science. The biggest challenge I face is that within my population of students exists individuals that grew up around livestock and then I have others that have only ever had a pet cat. This wide range requires me to make sure that all students get the opportunity to ask questions when they are lost in the material and to keep the advanced students engaged while helping out the other students. Trying to treat all of my students like blank slates in this class would alienate half of my students from the material that I am so passionate about; alternatively, taking the approach that all students are ready to dive into a discussion about species management strategies will alienate the other half. There is no right way to teach this class, my only goal for the class is to have every student ready for the next level of Animal Science classes within the department. 

The “cultural” component of culturally responsive teaching is more than just considering the ethnic or racial background of students within our class. Our experiences highlight this fact and we all feel better having had this conversation.