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How institutions help faculty members embrace possibilities of innovation

Faculty members need one-on-one consultation, positive reinforcement and examples from early adopters before they'll commit en masse to transforming their classrooms.

Advice to professors for talking about charged issues with students in their classes (opinion)

Teaching Today

Simply presenting the facts is generally not effective in changing minds on a charged issue, writes Gleb Tsipursky.

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Questions About Sabbatical Denials at Utah Valley

Professors at Utah Valley University are asking the institution for more transparency about how it assesses sabbatical applications in the wake of enrollment growth. In an open letter to administrators, 60 professors say that five of eight sabbatical applications from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences were rejected in January on the grounds that only one sabbatical could be granted per department due to resource constraints and enrollment increases. One of those decisions was later reversed, but the professors say that based on such a model, each faculty member in a large department could expect to go on sabbatical every 45 years, while one in a smaller department could take a sabbatical every five years.

Scott Trotter, university spokesperson, told the Daily Herald that faculty comments and concerns “are being considered carefully and we will reach out to our faculty members to address them directly.” Utah Valley’s sabbatical policy says that tenured professors who have been teaching for six years may take leave every six years if their applications are approved, “subject to availability of funds and suitable instructional replacements.” But professors say sabbatical applications have historically been assessed by their research merit and that changing how the policy is applied now pits research against teaching, to the university’s detriment.

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Northwestern Professor Accused of Harassment Takes Leave

A professor of journalism at Northwestern University whom 10 alumnae and employees accused of misconduct is taking a leave of absence, the Chicago Tribune reported. Alec Klein, the professor, “has requested a leave of absence from all of his positions at Northwestern until the university completes its investigation, and the university has agreed that is the appropriate action,” Alan Cubbage, university spokesperson, said in a statement.

Last week, a group of former students and employees of the Justice Project at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism published an open letter accusing Klein of sexual harassment, abusive behavior and bullying. Klein has denied the claims, saying in a statement that many came from a “disgruntled former employee.” Northwestern has said that some allegations dating back several years were previously found by the university to be unsubstantiated. But new allegations included the letter are now being investigated.

Klein’s attorney, Andrew T. Miltenberg, said in a separate statement that Klein denies the allegations but “intends to respect the confidentiality and privacy” of Northwestern’s investigation. Records obtained by the Tribune show that Northwestern's human resources department recently reviewed complaints made about Klein's behavior and did not determine the allegations to be substantial enough to launch a formal investigation into Klein. Northwestern’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Access said that it would pursue “informal action,” however, such as “a warning to cease current behaviors, no-contact directives, and/or an educational conversation with the respondent or others.”

Meribah Knight, a Nashville Public Radio reporter who graduated from Medill in 2009 and who is one of Klein’s public accusers, said she and her colleagues have received more than two dozen emails from others voicing similar complaints against Klein since last week. “I’m really glad that people felt that they could come forward, but it was sad to see so many of the same patterns emerging,” she told the Tribune.

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How to deal with your career in the midst of upheavals in life (opinion)

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Leah Colvin provides advice for the times when upheavals in life change everything you thought you knew about your work self.

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Teaching evaluations are often used to confirm the worst stereotypes about women faculty (opinion)

Such evaluations pretend to be the result of a neutral process but are better measures of student stereotypes than teaching effectiveness, argues Victor Ray.

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Diversity Newsletter publication date: 
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
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Is Gender Bias an Intended Feature of Teaching Evaluations?

Professor Denied Australia Is a Country

A student in an online sociology course at Southern New Hampshire University had to appeal repeatedly when her professor gave her a failing grade on a key assignment. The problem, BuzzFeed reported, was that the assignment was to compare a social norm in the United States with another country. The student selected Australia as the comparison country, and the instructor rejected the assignment, saying that Australia was a continent, not a country. It took multiple appeals before the instructor relented.

A spokeswoman for Southern New Hampshire University confirmed the facts of the article to Inside Higher Ed. "Yes, it’s true. We take this concern seriously and our academic team is working to resolve the matter," the spokeswoman said.

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Instructor suspended for using N-word in class

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Instructor suspended after using slur. Does it matter if he was singing along to a song a student played in class?

Essay on study of "junk news"

Calling a fabricated or misleading story “fake news” is less and less an option now that the president has made that the label for information that undermines whatever stories he feels compelled to tell at any given moment. (Never underestimate a bully’s capacity to play word games -- or to win by changing the rules.)

The effect of Trump’s semantic rebranding can be felt in “Polarization, Partisanship and Junk News Consumption Over Social Media in the U.S.,” a study issued Wednesday by the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University. Vidya Narayanan and her five co-authors use the expression “fake news” just once in the paper, in a sentence that also appears, slightly tweaked, in the abstract. The researchers define their preferred term, “junk news,” as “misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be about real news about politics, economics or culture.”

A distinction without a difference? Perhaps -- though I think the Oxford study has less to say about problems of veracity at the level of individual articles than it does about how American public culture is filling up with big bags of garbage.

Old-fashioned public opinion surveying requires finding a demographically representative set of respondents willing to answer a series of questions -- and usually to do so by selecting from the range of options established beforehand. The availability to researchers of public pages on social media makes a different sort of analysis possible. Researchers can gather opinions previously expressed, for example, as well as indications of whether those doing the opining are connected, and of how strong those connections are. And all of these data can be collected on a large scale and relatively quickly.

The Oxford study focuses on public communications among Twitter and Facebook users (about 13,500 and 10,700, respectively) in the three months leading up to Donald Trump’s first State of the Union. These sources were identified from Computational Propaganda Project sample of over 22 million tweets posted between Nov. 1 and 11, 2016, as well as a data set of about 47,700 public Facebook pages also from the election year.

Networks, communities and interest groups can be mapped via the following and friending connections among users of each social media platform. The results, when translated into graphic form, look like a masses of hundreds of bubbles of various sizes, color coded according to expressed affinities (Republican or Democrat), media preferences (progressive, conservative, mainstream, local) or special interests (public health, women’s rights, conspiracy theory, sustainable farming). And the coloration makes it easier to see how smaller social networks cluster together to form cultural and ideological enclaves -- each overlapping somewhat with two or three others but at considerable distance from the rest.

From the pool of media links shared by Twitter and Facebook users, the researchers found “91 sources of political news and information, which we identified over the course of several years of research and monitoring, produce content that includes various forms of propaganda and ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan and conspiratorial political information.” Besides the grinding of axes, these junk-news sources tended to be characterized by a neglect of fact-checking, a failure to publish corrections and the tendency “to present opinion and commentary essays as news.”

The study finds that “a network of Trump supporters” on Twitter “shares the widest range of known junk news sources and circulates more junk news than all the other groups put together,” while “on Facebook, extreme hard-right pages -- distinct from Republican pages -- share the widest range of known junk news sources and circulate more junk news than all the other audiences put together.” Finally, “the audiences for junk news on Twitter share a wider range of known junk news sources than audiences on Facebook’s public pages.”

This is not shocking. It will anger some people, and there is some validity to the complaint that secondhand accounts of the report tend to equate sharing junk news with believing in it. But on the whole, the findings render as charts and correlations something that would otherwise go undoubted: that an already well-funded and well-organized hard-right political movement has forged its own media system (much as Roger Ailes told Richard Nixon would be necessary, decades ago), which has in turn gathered an audience that welcomes "alternative facts" as long as they are delivered with the right tone and feeling.

The authors of the paper note that "social polarization is a driver -- just as much as it may be a result -- of polarized social media consumption patterns." This is true, although at some point, the distinction becomes moot. Evidence about how fast the vicious circle is spinning is interesting to have, but it seems like time for some research on how to put on the brakes.

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Transforming Undergraduate Education in Engineering

The American Society for Engineering Education published two new reports as part of its Transforming Undergraduate Education in Engineering project. A previously published report from the society focused on input from industry, while the new reports offer “Insight From Tomorrow’s Engineers” and “Voices on Women’s Participation and Retention,” respectively. The society’s project seeks to advance undergraduate engineering education by building consensus among different groups as to what it should entail.

Student insights from the Phase II report include that the discipline isn’t doing enough to produce “T-shaped” professionals, or those who have technical expertise, adaptability and so-called soft skills. Students also say they want real-world applications and design-based projects. Recommendations from the Phase III project on women in engineering include creating an online “diversity dashboard” for the field that shows the demographic makeup of engineering schools, making gender diversity an institutional value and promoting the idea that diversity translates to value in industry. The society’s final, Phase IV report, focused on professional engineering societies, will be published later this year.

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