AAAS Unveils Updated Data on Humanities Funding

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences made its case for the humanities in high-profile report last year called “The Heart of the Matter.” In the year since, the academy says its Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences has heard consistent requests from college and university personnel and others for more accessible data on the topic. So the academy on Thursday unveiled three new or updated data troves in which decision makers and others interested in the humanities can find facts and figures to continue the national conversation.

HumanitiesIndicators.org was redesigned to provide clearer and more direct access to data about the state of humanities, such as degree completion rates. A new report, called the State of Funding in the Humanities: Funding 2014, is a compilation of the most recent data on funding for the humanities compared to other disciplines. The report says that humanities funding is still below pre-recession levels and makes up less than 1 percent of research and development funding for science and engineering (combined). National Endowment for the Humanities funding is was down to $146 million in 2014, compared to a peak of nearly $400 million in 1980, and Ph.D. students in the humanities who are not supported by any kind of grant rose slightly from 2009-2012, the report says. A third resource, call The Data Forum, invites experts to comment on and critique the data.

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Complaints About Timing of Political Science Meeting

Several hundred political scientists have signed a petition urging the American Political Science Association to change the traditional time for its annual meeting: Labor Day weekend. The petition notes that this time is difficult for some political scientists because their courses are just starting, and that the schedule is "family unfriendly" for parents helping their children get started at their schools and colleges. The petition also questions whether this time is particularly helpful to those academic departments doing job interviews. The petition proposes a mid-October meeting time instead. Steven Rathgeb Smith, executive director of the association, said via email: "We are indeed closely following the petition drive.  We welcome member input and will seriously consider this member feedback in the coming weeks."


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Syracuse Fires Professor for Consensual Relationship

Syracuse University has fired a tenured male professor for a consensual relationship with a female undergraduate, The Post-Standard reported. The university did not identify the professor, but said that, in violation of university policy, he taught, advised and supervised the student during the relationship. The professor was fired on the recommendation of a faculty review panel.


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Essay on what prompts an English Ph.D. with tenure to enroll in a program to become a nurse

What prompts an English Ph.D. with tenure to move into nursing? Sean P. Murphy explains.

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U. of Louisville Program Seeks to Connect Ph.D.s with General Public Over Drinks

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DNA pairs with IPA in a new program aimed at bringing science to the masses.

57% of Americans Back the Oxford Comma

Forget control of Congress and the World Cup. FiveThirtyEight, the new Nate Silver blog, is finally tackling a truly important issue, with a poll of Americans on the Oxford comma. The blog found that 57 percent of Americans favor the comma, while 43 percent oppose it. The poll also asked respondents to evaluate their own grammar. Proponents of the comma tended to rate their grammar as excellent or very good, while those who rated their grammar as fair were more likely to oppose the comma.


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Pensacola State Faculty Rejects Contract Over Course Loads

The Faculty Association at Pensacola State College in Florida has rejected a contract deal in part because course load and overage concerns, the Pensacola News-Journal reported. Paige Anderson, an English instructor who is president of the American Federation of Teachers- and National Education Association-affiliated faculty union, said the proposed contract would have been punitive to the college's vocational, clinical health occupations and collegiate high school faculty. Anderson said the contract called for the elimination of overload for those faculty and a renegotiation of course load "points," so that those instructors would have had to teach 4.5 additional hours per week, to 22.5 hours. The rest of the faculty would have been unaffected, with a 15-credit course load per semester. But Anderson said the move was a show of solidarity for the minority group of affected faculty members and concern over the college's ability to retain and attract health professions faculty, including nurses, under those terms. Anderson said state funding for the affected fields was lower than for other disciplines, and the college was attempting to compensate on the backs of the faculty.

A university spokeswoman said via email that a change in load points would not added hours to the faculty work week, but rather would have shifted hours between teaching, office and "other professional activity hours."

“The college will return to the bargaining table and continue to negotiate in good faith,” President Edward Meadows said in a statement, “and the college will remain focused on fulfilling our mission of providing access to high-quality education.” 

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Study Finds Major Inconsistencies in Journal Pricing

Most publishers keep secret the prices on journal "bundles" (packages including many journals) purchased by college and university libraries. A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (abstract available here) finds that there are many inconsistencies in the pricing plans. The authors of the study used open records requests to obtain contracts from many universities (and simply requested other contracts). As the research was described in Science, some academic libraries are paying much more than others. For instance, the study found that in 2009, the University of Michigan paid Elsevier $2.16 million for the same bundle of journals purchased by similarly sized University of Wisconsin at Madison for $1.22 million. Publishers and others cautioned that there may be reasons that aren't apparent for such discrepancies.


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Ohio State U. scholar finds path to tenure track with MOOCs

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A math scholar at Ohio State University finds a path to the tenure track with massive open online courses.

Essay questions use of term 'pedagogy' to describe ideas with regard to college teaching

Some will immediately say this is nothing more than a semantics debate. No different than if we were discussing the contrasting meanings of, say, “soda” and “pop.”

When we use the word “pedagogy” as a catchall for all teaching methods, of course, no one is talking about little children, but we rarely stop and specifically consider what this word means and its relationship with other words. 

Pedagogy: the methods and practice of teaching children.

Andragogy: the methods and practice of teaching adults.

So the question becomes: at what point is a student no longer a child, but an adult? There is no hard-and-fast rule, but for our purposes here, any college student is an adult.

Andragogy, a concept dating to the 1960s and Malcolm Knowles, is important because it recognizes that adult learners are different and that these differences are extremely important. And its importance, as a body of knowledge and approach in and of itself, is profound and vastly under-recognized.

Andragogy -- adult learning theory -- stresses that adults:

  • Are more independent than children when it comes to learning.
  • Are capable of critical thinking (unlike some children) but are still interested in the “correct answer."
  • Learn more slowly but just as effectively because they have more life experience and deeply ingrained stereotypes and ideas.
  • Must be given respect as adults and for their life experience or lack of experience.
  • Need classrooms that embrace active learning, including hands-on activities.
  • Learn material that is relevant for their needs.
  • Are driven less by grades (performance goal orientation) and more by understanding (mastery goal orientation).

Going back to the question of when students become adults, in some ways it does not matter per se. All learners learn best when many of the core elements of andragogy are followed. All students — whether 5, 15 or 55 — deserve respect, need room for their prior experiences, and need lessons to be relevant. That said, the idea of andragogy exists on a sliding spectrum of sorts. Whether a student is 18 or 85, he/she will enter the classroom with experience, for example, but this experience will vary based on age, interests, background, etc.

This is also where some understanding of basic human growth and development theories (e.g., Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, Piaget’s stages of cognitive development) can help professors build classrooms that are comfortable across the board. Students in their 30s will tend to have very different biologically driven needs, hopes, and fears than students in their 60s.

When students are not allowed opportunities for their feelings, especially about particularly sensitive topics or topics to which they have been vastly miseducated or undereducated, learning stops. (Please see my comments about the trigger warning or objectionable material warning and student feelings here.) Additionally, we know that for learners of any age it is very hard, even physiologically impossible without extreme dedication, to “unlearn” what have been “core truths,” whether the topic is basic physics or the causes of the Civil War.

This said, pedagogy is still important because children do learn differently and have different needs. Most notably, children need some more guidance. Likewise, children — depending on their age and experience (back to the sliding spectrum) — are physiologically not always capable of performing advanced math or demonstrating critical thinking. This is not at all to sanction the “banking method” — where teachers only lecture, metaphorically dumping information into students’ brains and then students regurgitate that information verbatim on assessments — of education that has sometimes been all too common: Active learning and student-centered learning is always best.

One note on learning styles, too: adults do tend to think they have a learning style — visual, kinesthetic, auditory — that enables them to learn more effectively. While I have read much more about andragogy than learning styles, there is some research that suggests learning styles are actually a myth. They have relevance because we give them relevance, but actually it is roughly equally possible for learning to happen visually or kinesthetically, for example, and furthermore, that ALL learners learn best when all learning styles are used. Going back to Bloom’s Taxonomy: learning that involves interactive thinking, hearing, reading, writing, touching, and creating results in the most effective learning, and naturally, much of this will requires independent learning and initiative by an adult student.

Even if we recognize that adults learn differently from children, by using the umbrella term “pedagogy” for both, we unconsciously tend to view adult learners as “children” who need to be taught by the “expert,” and we miss an entire body of knowledge and research about effectively teaching. I know some professors do not like the idea of being taught how to teach — they say it sounds too much like the training required to teach K-12. I too was somewhat like this when I first started teaching college in 2007.

But, as professors in the classroom, our ultimate goal should be for our adult students to learn, and for learning to occur, we should always be aware of how to teach effectively and stay reasonably up-to-date on findings as they develop.

For further information on andragogy check out this website; Malcolm S. Knowles’s The Adult Learner (now in its seventh edition); and Sharan B. Merriam, et al.’s, Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide.

Andrew Joseph Pegoda is completing his Ph.D. in history at the University of Houston, where he also teaches. He studies race, culture, human rights, and education. He regularly blogs here.


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