Higher Education Isn’t Child’s Play

When we are little, we learn every day. And it is fun! We learn to count, talk, tie our shoes, feed ourselves, etc … and each and every time we learn something new, it is the best thing that has ever happened! As baby George demonstrated, we even had fun when we failed ~ because failing is also learning, and learning is fun! As we age, learning becomes more tedious, likely because we are judged based how “well” we learn. When we are little, every time we fall or say the alphabet incorrectly, it is cute, we are encouraged to try again by smiling faces, and learning is an adventure (as Kuh states). But later, grades, report cards, and awards make children think of learning as a chore. Something that they have to do in order to succeed. Unfortunately, most of the times when students “fail” at something in a class, there isn’t a smiling face and the reassurance of another chance to try again.

Many argue that we learn everyday even as adults. But how often do adults think that learning is fun? For example, if someone says “Hey – Erin! Let’s do something fun today! What would you like to do?” Even as someone who likes school, my standard responses to this question include “go see a movie,” “go bowling” or “go out to a nice restaurant.” Although I do thoroughly enjoy learning, it often seems to me that I am, and presumably the rest of us in academia are, the minority because learning goes from:

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In my opinion, using social media and blogging is a way to make learning fun again. It allows people to express themselves in often a less formal manner than typical “academic” writing. This, at least for me, takes off a lot of the stress involved with writing. Additionally, posting writing online via Facebook, blogging, Twitter etc encourages people to write well – as nobody wants to appear “stupid” to the masses. Overall, I believe that using tools such as blogging is increasingly important in today’s working world. It is not just for the youngest generation either – people of all ages are blogging and using social media to communicate with others. It will be really interesting to see how online networking continues to grow over the next decade and how it may bring fun back into education!

The Future of Higher Education: Blog Post 5

What does the future of higher education look like? What needs to change in order to make a positive difference? In my opinion, more acceptance of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and usage of alternative methods of teaching are key. As modern society continues to rely more and more on advanced technology, there is no way that technology will not continue to become more and more an integral part of teaching and higher education.  I think that the standard lecture format that most professors utilize today needs to change, as does the connotation a degree from an online university is somehow “less” than that of a university with the standard campus format.

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When I was in high school, the majority of my teachers still used an overhead projector to project hand-written notes for us to write down. In college, I had a few (older) professors who did that as well. I am not sure if any undergraduates now have professors who use that method. Does anyone know? Since I started graduate school more years ago than I would like to admit, I have not had one professor not use powerpoint. Powerpoint has become the major way to present materials now. And, overall, I think that powerpoints can be effective teaching tools. This, of course, completely depends however on the quality of the powerpoint. Some powerpoints are awful – boring black text on white background with paragraphs written on a slide. Nobody learns from that. Professors need to change how they present their material! Making good powerpoints is time consuming, but as teachers, we have to put in the time that the students deserve!

Adding visuals, audios, etc to powerpoints make them much more effective teaching tools. I am curious to see if powerpoints start being antiquated. I believe that they may stick around for awhile – even as more and more online classes are offered. I think that in the future, attending a physical university will become less and less common. When you can take classes at your own pace and from your home, why go live somewhere else? Personally, I do not do well with online courses. I need the in-person interaction to succeed. But many like these types of classes. And, hopefully, with more people choosing the online-route, the connotations around online university will be diminished.

I also think that the lecture format that the majority of professors cling to needs to change and will be used less often in the future. It seems that many studies have demonstrated that standing in front of a group of people talking AT them for an hour or more is not effective. Our attention spans are not that long, and they are only decreasing as the obsession with phones, tablets, etc grows. Group activities need to be utilized more. Breaking up a standard lecture format by allowing group activities and work, video clips on the topic etc helps people stay focused longer as these reduce the monotony of listening for an hour. Engaging more senses than sight and sound is crucial!

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Glass half empty … or half full?

I am sure that everyone reading this has heard the question “is the glass half empty or is it half full?” Unfortunately, it seems that these days most of us are seeing more situations from a glass half empty perspective. And I get it – I am there with you all in feeling that way. Our government is a mess. Our current administration is taking away much of the progress we have made as a country in regards to diversity and inclusion and is sending us back several decades. So many parts of the world are at war. Millions of people are homeless and starving. And from a more microcosmic perspective, it is the end of the semester, finals are coming, and life is stressful. It is really upsetting, sad, infuriating (insert any number of words here).

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Growing up, whenever I was struggling with something, whether it be a fight with a friend, being sick, my car not starting, etc, my dad would remind me that there are so many people less fortunate than I. My dad ALWAYS has a glass half full perspective. It is one of the things I admire most about him. While I often was annoyed with my dad for telling me how lucky I was (as every teenage girl just wants someone to understand them and throw her a pity party), I see know that he was teaching me a valuable lesson – even in the darkness, there is some light. The light may be the size of a needle point, but something in our life is good, even when everything seems bad.

Over the past month, I had a contractor run away with over $2300 for a service not completed. I have been really mad about this. Not only am I out thousands of dollars, I still need the work ro get done, and I will have to pay for new materials and the labor of another contractor. Needless to say, I have been feeling pretty badly for myself lately. But, when I stop to think about things from a more positive perspective, I see this instead: I have learned a lot from this experience. I am fortunate enough to own a house and have a roof over my head every night. I have a refrigerator that maybe isn’t as full as it could be (need to go to the grocery store), but I don’t go hungry. I have the ability to do small projects on my house from time to time. I am extremely blessed. When I remind myself of this, I feel better. The issue of my contractor is trivial in comparison to the strife that millions of other are facing.

We need to remember that even though hate is spreading like wildfire as minority groups (race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) are constantly under attack from ignorant people, we (us in this class) are fortunate enough to be in school. To get a higher education. To, presumably, have somewhere to live and food to eat. Some things suck. And it is okay to be angry (and in my opinion, we should be angry). Just don’t let feeling angry turn you into an angry person. We must stand strong and make sure that hate doesn’t win.

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Credibility in Teaching

Last week, I did not raise my hand when asked if I felt like I could teach a diversity and inclusion course. This was not because I believe myself incapable of teaching a course like this. It has more to do with the fact that I wondered whether people would take me seriously in teaching a diversity class, as I am a white woman. I wondered whether my outward appearance of not being a minority would make people wonder about my qualifications to teach about diversity and inclusion. I am not exactly sure why I felt this way, as both Christian and Dean DePauw are more than qualified to teach this course (and do an excellent job!) – and they are both white.

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Regardless, I felt that way. I asked the class how they felt about this. Would they take an African American Studies class seriously if it was taught by a white person? What about a Women’s Studies course taught by a man? Or a Native American Studies course taught by someone with no Native American background? My initial thought was that it would be harder to take the professor seriously. After all, if you are not a member of a given minority group, it is not truly possible to know exactly what it feels like to be a member of that minority group (not that that is anyone’s fault). At first, it seemed to me that students would take the attitude of “why should I listen to you, when you don’t even represent what you are teaching?”

However, it was really interesting to hear about another side of the story. The other view was that if a man teaches a Women Studies course (for example), it brings more credibility to the topics discussed in class. For if a man (in this example) is teaching about the history, issues, etc, women have and do face, it is more likely to be seen as true. If a woman teaches it, perhaps male students (in particular) would feel it was just the teacher expressing opinions and pushing these opinions upon her students.

I could see how this could happen. But I can also see the side that I thought at first. Personally, I believe that this is largely a very individual topic. Some students may feel one way and others another. Regardless of which stance someone takes, I believe that teachers in general typically need to “prove” themselves to their students in order to be truly successful at teaching. “Proving” oneself as a teacher could include demonstrating extraordinary knowledge on the topic, being able to handle difficult situations within the classroom, being able to relate to the students and the questions they have, etc. The figure below gives a good description of how teachers come across as being credible to their students.

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What are others’ thoughts? Which side would you be on in this case? Or would it completely depend on the specific teacher and specific class? What can teachers do to overcome feelings of incredibility in the classroom?

Tax Reform and Higher Education

As most people involved in academia know, there is a bill going through the House of Representatives (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act H.R. 1) that drastically affect taxes for graduate students. Under this bill, tuition waivers would be considered taxable income. For in-state students this will mean an increase in taxes paid by at least several hundred dollars. For out-of-state and international students, this will mean an increase of taxes by at least several thousand dollars. The figure below shows a very straight-forward and easy-to-follow example of how this tax bill could really hurt students.

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Calculations done by Columbia student, Amanda Rose. This image is going around social media networks.

For this particular student, her useable income goes from over $20000/year to under $6000/year. The thing that I cannot understand is who does this benefit? It certainly does not benefit all of the graduate students trying to further their education. Why punish us for learning, for continuing our education so that we can (hopefully) get better jobs when we are finished with school. If this bill passes, my guess is that enrollment in the US higher education system will decline (particularly for international and out-of-state graduate students). Nobody can live on a useable income of less than $6000/year. Not even in areas where the cost of living is low. It is not possible.

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In order to “do my part” (so to speak), I called and emailed my local representative expressing my concerns regarding this bill. The letter that I received back was rather disappointing. The letter only discussed how we haven’t had a tax reform in several decades and how this bill will decrease taxes for the “majority.” There was no mention of how this tax bill will affect graduate students, even though that was the issue I called and emailed about. This response was rather discouraging. My only hope is that our representatives will think more about how this part of the bill negatively affects graduate students.

What are others’ thoughts? How will this bill, if passed as is, affect you all?

Diversity in Schools

In primary and secondary school (K-12), I had one teacher who was not white. One. Out of how many? Probably well over 100, as once in middle and high school, I had as many as 8 teachers a year (1 for each course). Sadly, I highly doubt I ever really thought about this growing up because I am white. Thus, having only teachers that looked like me seemed normal and not something to cause second thoughts.

Although I only had one black teacher growing up, I had tons friends who were not white. And my schools were always pretty diverse in regards to the races/ethnicities of the students. By why was there little to no diversity in regards to the teachers? Is teaching not a popular profession for racial minority groups? Or is our society so messed up and prejudiced that it is harder for people of color to be hired as teachers? I don’t know the answer to this. But, kids tend to think about the careers they see people like them doing. So, if there are very few black, Hispanic, Asian, etc teachers, students who are black, Hispanic, Asian, etc may subconsciously think teaching is not a job option for them.

While pondering this, I came across an article published last month titled “Want students to succeed? Hire more teachers look like them, reports says.”


The article states that the percentage of students in K-12 is becoming more and more diverse, with 49% of public primary and secondary school students being from a racial minority. This stands in stark contrast to the mere 18% of public school teachers being from a racial minority. A school district in Georgia is specifically examined – the number of white students is decreasing, while the number of black, Hispanic, and Asian students rising. The number of non-white teachers has remained relatively stagnant in comparison.

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This article states that having more diversity in the classroom is imperative to the success of ALL students. “It’s important for kids who are traditionally underserved to see people in positions of authority who look like them. You need to feel like you’re not relegated to the sidelines. You need to feel important” (Kate Walsh; http://www.macon.com/news/special-reports/disintegration/article179945276.html). The article also states that having a diverse group of teachers is imperative, even in schools that have a non-diverse student base. Teachers with diverse backgrounds and experience “can provide perspectives that children may not otherwise be exposed to” (http://www.macon.com/news/special-reports/disintegration/article179945276.html). While having teachers who are similar to the student base is also important, as it enables students to feel like their backgrounds are understood by someone in an authority position.

I, for one, agree strongly with the sentiments presented in this article. What are others’ thoughts and experiences about teacher diversity in K-12? In higher education? I am curious if my experience in school is as common as it appears?

Science and Ethics – Further Opinions Beyond Blog 2

Ethics. Honesty. Trust. All of these are words that are imperative to the completion of research. Sadly, however, many do not follow these traits for a variety of reasons. Why do people steer away from ethical conduct? What is the motivation behind ethical breaches?

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Violation of ethical standards can take many, including but not limited to: fabricating, falsifying, and plagiarizing data, not giving credit for the intellectual property of others, and by not following guidelines that protect both human and animal study subjects. Unfortunately, there are motives for all of these violations. There is a lot of pressure on researchers to publish their work, become well-known within their respective niches, and secure funding for current and future projects.

Competition with another lab may entice someone to steal ideas while reviewing an article for publication. Wanting to publish many articles within a short period of time may encourage the same figure to be used repeatedly. The pressure to get tenure may push people to fabricate data in order to create the “best” story possible in order to get into the “best” journal possible.

Morals alone do not prevent ethical breaches, neither does guilt. Since morals and guilt may not be enough to prevent the violation of ethical standards in research, scientists should fear the risk of discovery. Once caught fabricating, falsifying, or plagiarizing, it is highly unlikely that a scientist’s name will be looked upon in a positive way. Others will not want to work with or hire scientists suspected or convicted of misconduct. All previous, current, and future research will be scrutinized.

Bottom line, don’t make-up results. Don’t plagiarize others’ work.

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Tech and Innovation in Higher Ed: Blog Post 4

Social media is broadly used today across academia and numerous other occupations. Originally used primarily as a way to keep in touch with friends who live far away, social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and blogs are now also used as ways to promote research, discuss concepts with other professionals, and bring science to the public.

The article that I found for this blog is called “Social Media is Scholarship,” and it was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education on October 17, 2017.


This article discusses how many people who do not use social media say that they do not use it as it’s a distraction from “real work” and takes up too much time. And the author agrees (in part) that it can take a good chunk of time to be an active member of social media. I am sure that most people have been sucked down the black hole of some form of social media. As an undergraduate student, I often deactivated my Facebook account around finals time, as I knew I would spend too much time looking at Facebook than studying. Facebook still distracts me sometimes, so I have to close it from my browser so I don’t check it too often throughout the day.

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However, the author also argues that if done correctly, blogging, tweeting, messaging etc can make you more efficient at your job. For example, he discusses how social media has drastically helped spread his research to others quickly, promote his lab/work, get feedback from other scientists early in the project (which can reduce the number of mistakes, etc), and promote a sense of community. And I believe that he is right. As the saying goes – “we have the world at our fingertips.” Social media has made communicating our research (and communicating our personal matters) so much easier. Imagine having to write letters and wait weeks to hear back a collaborator before proceeding with your research.

Social media also helps connect people with others interested in the same topics who they never would have met otherwise. This is imperative, as new ideas circulate, helping make our science better. I strongly feel that when used correctly, social media is a huge asset to higher education. Professors, researchers, etc would not utilize them for work purposes if they were not useful (or at least not in the numbers that do). More and more teachers are using social media within class assignments (like for this class). Blogging, for example, helps us continue conversations that we start in class continue outside of the classroom. It also enables us to get to know one another on a higher level than if we only interacted once a week in class.

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Overall, while I certainly can see (and have experienced) how social media can be a huge distraction, it can also be a huge asset. It is really just up to the person behind the account, blog, etc whether social media serves as a distraction or as a promotional tool.

Open Access, Diversity, and Inclusion

A few weeks ago, I went to an Open Access night held at the library. Sadly, it appeared that only my peers from another class and library personnel attended. In order to get open access more utilized and accepted, more people need to (1) know about it and (2) care about it.

Open access refers to research published online that has no fees associated to them. These articles are available to anyone (with internet access) who wishes to read them, and are therefore a step in the right direction for making science available to a more diverse audience, and not solely to either academics or those with the financial means to purchase subscriptions. Currently, it appears to me that when people think of scientific journals, they typically think of those that are only available to journal subscribers. In this case, the publishers of the journal own the rights to all the articles they publish.

Open access is a great strategy for bridging the gap between scientists and the pubic and for making the distribution of information more inclusive for all. That being said, I see a major issue with open access – not enough people know about open access and not enough researchers do or want to publish in open access journals.

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Even though I believe open access is a positive movement and likely the wave of the future, it does not matter if open access exists if nobody utilizes it. In order for open access to truly make a difference in providing information to much larger and diverse groups of people (and thus make science more inclusive), more people need to learn about it and more scientists need to utilize open access. To be honest, I really did not know much about open access until I started graduate school. As an undergraduate, I remember being annoyed when I could not download articles that I needed for my classes when I was not on campus, but I did not think much about it or why that was. Nobody ever talked to us about what it means to have a subscription publication vs. an open access publication. In order to spread the word about what open access is, why it is important, how it is different than subscription publications, and the advantages it has over subscription publications in regards to topics related to diversity and inclusion, professors need to explain this to students as undergraduates (and teachers to high school students).

Why the norm is that people must pay to read others’ research does not make any sense to me. Why would people conduct research when 90% of the world cannot access it? With subscription publications, only people who subscribe to the journal can access the articles. This equates only to people who are interested in the journal’s topic (and therefore likely conduct research in the same, or similar, fields) and those with the financial means to pay for subscriptions. This creates a cycle of the same people, studying the same thing, and reading the articles written by the same scientists. Perhaps if we opened our research to the public, fresh, new ideas from people not so involved in the minute details of our work will enable break-throughs. When you read the same paragraph over and over again, it becomes easy to miss errors because you know what it says – I think this concept holds for publications as well.

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Overall, open access could enable new ideas to circulate, could bridge the gap between scientists and the public, may increase the number of people interested in the topics we all hold so dear, and may even make our world more inclusive. We all know what it feels like when someone asks “what do you do,” and as you start talking, eyes glaze over, and a short response of “oh, that’s nice” ensues. People are more likely to care if they have some basic background in what is being discussed. Open access could grant the basic background needed to interest the public in our research, which, in turn, helps decrease issues with diversity and inclusion, as research and data are made accessible to more people. While millions of people will not benefit from open access, due to no internet access, I strongly feel the open access movement is heading us in the right direction for making education, science, data, etc more relevant to the masses.

Open Access: Blog Post 3

In the field of wildlife biology (science/ecology/conservation), I typically do not hear much discussion about open access journals, and I do not know anyone who has published in one. Perhaps my field is behind the times. Perhaps there are not enough wildlife-related open access journals in existence. Perhaps researchers are just skeptical of trying something new. That being said, there are open access journals in this field.

For example, Wildlife Biology is an open-access journal that publishes research related to wildlife management and conservation. It was founded in 1994 by the Nordic Council for Wildlife Research. Publication occurs bi-monthly. From what I have read, it is a little unclear if this journal originated as an open access journal. My gut tells me that it probably was not always open-access, based on how it was founded 23 years ago (before open access was prevalent, if even in existence) and that the website states that articles published before 2005 are only available in print. This journal is published at the Oikos Editorial Office within the Department of Biology at Lund University (southern Sweden), and the editors and board for this journal are from numerous countries: Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, France, Finland, and Norway.

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The purpose of this journal is to publish “high standard [research] from all areas of wildlife science with the primary task of creating the scientific basis for the enhancement of wildlife management practices. While Wildlife Biology primarily publishes ecological papers, contributions to the human dimensions of wildlife management are also [sic] welcome. Our concept of ‘wildlife’ mainly includes mammal and bird species, but studies on other species or phenomena relevant to wildlife management are also of great interest. We adopt a broad concept of wildlife management, including all structures and actions with the purpose of conservation, sustainable use, and/or control of wildlife and its habitats, in order to safeguard sustainable relationships between wildlife and other human interests” (http://www.wildlifebiology.org/about-journal/journal-information).

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Their statement about open access is very brief: “Wildlife Biology is an Open Access journal. The content is freely accessible for everyone” (http://www.wildlifebiology.org/about-journal/journal-information), and they make no noticeable statement about how the journal views itself within the open access movement. It is interesting to me the extent of the brevity in their open access statement. It would seem to me that a relatively little-known (or talked about) would want to have a more detailed statement about why it is open access and why that is so important to the field. Perhaps in time, they will add more to their site about the importance of open access.