7 guidelines for effective teaching online

Four authors of books about online course development offer guidelines for engaging learners in distance education courses.

Texas System's chief innovation officer to become provost at Western Governors

After two decades at traditional universities experimenting with new approaches to learning, a leader in the field shifts to an institution with innovation at its core.

VR and AR: More Than Just Cool?

Virtual and augmented realities make headway in courses on health care, art history and social work.

German Vargas crisscrosses Georgia advocating for OER

A math professor takes his ideas for open educational materials to campuses across Georgia to try to help save students millions of dollars.


3 Digital Tools That Engage Learners

Ben Hommerding provides insights into free and low-cost technologies for creating recordings and videos and enhancing online discussions.

Blackboard, Moodle still LMS leaders

e-Literate's quarterly report on the learning management system market in four global regions shows that North America is the only region with four dominant  systems serving degree-granting institutions, and that the four have a combined market share of 90 percent.

Study: Proximity Still Matters to Collaboration

Face time -- the real kind, not Apple’s version -- still matters, at least when it comes to collaboration among researchers. That’s according to a new study in PLOS ONE. Researchers studied a decade’s worth -- tens of thousands -- of papers and patents affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and found that cross-disciplinary and interdepartmental collaboration is driven by face-to-face interaction in shared spaces.

“If you work near someone, you’re more likely to have substantive conversations more frequently,” lead author Matthew Claudel, a Ph.D. candidate in urban studies and planning, told MIT News. While that makes sense intuitively, he said, “It was an exciting result to find that across papers and patents, and specifically for transdisciplinary collaborations.”

Claudel and his co-authors used network analysis, mapping out of a network of MIT collaborators to find that spatial relations on campus mattered more than departmental and institutional structures. They focused on interdisciplinary research and plotted distance and collaboration across campus, not just within single academic buildings.

Over the years, MIT buildings have been constructed to promote cross-disciplinary research, but the authors were particularly interested to see that the proximity premise held up even in the digital age. Paper collaborators in the same workspace were three times more likely to work together than those located 400 meters apart, according to the study. That frequency was cut in half when the distance was 800 meters apart. Results for patent collaborators were not quite as stark, but still significant. “An Exploration of Collaborative Scientific Production at MIT Through Spatial Organization and Institutional Affiliation” is available here.

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Survey data point to widespread problems for female and minority scholars in astronomy


Survey data point to widespread problems, but also opportunities for astronomy to lead on improving the climate for women and minorities.

Does cellphone use in class encourage active learning? (essay)

Teaching Today

Perhaps faculty members’ conflicting views reflect that academe is made up of people who hold different paradigms related to authority, writes Aubree Evans.

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Scholars face structural challenges in writing for wider audiences (essay)

When it comes to writing for wider audiences, what are the key challenges that scholars face? In these pages, Christopher Schaberg and Ian Bogost recently listed 10, ranging from academics’ lack of knowledge of the publishing world to their seemingly “jerky” attitudes.

While Schaberg and Bogost recognize that writing for nonacademic audiences “isn’t for everyone,” our ongoing research on the perceptions and activities of U.S. faculty highlights that, in reality, these activities are for hardly anyone. In order to address the challenges for scholars in writing for broader audiences, we must first recognize and contend with the major structural barriers that prevent scholars from doing so.

Results from our national studies of faculty members in the U.S., which have been fielded on a triennial basis since 2000, provide strong evidence that traditional scholarly incentives continue to motivate behavior around research dissemination. Faculty members are most interested in reaching scholars within their own field of research with their research outputs, and generally maintain that more recognition should be awarded for traditional research publications, such as journal articles and books, as compared to research products, such as blog posts, data, images and media.

In our most recent cycle of the U.S. Faculty Survey, only 40 percent of faculty member respondents identified the general public as a very important audience for their research, and even fewer (38 percent) view reaching undergraduate students as highly important.

Given the audiences that scholars rate with the highest importance, it is perhaps unsurprising that when choosing a scholarly journal in which to publish an article, scholars most value the area of coverage of the journal in relation to their immediate area of research, the reach of the journal’s circulation within their field and the impact factor and reputation of the journal.

Consistent with findings from previous cycles of the survey, much smaller shares of faculty members rated as highly important the journal making its articles freely available (e.g., there is no cost to purchase or read the article). And only 52 percent of scholars agreed that societal impact, defined as the benefit of scholarly work and research products to society, should be a key measure of research performance for tenure, promotion and funding proposals.

These themes cut across diverse disciplines. Our recent in-depth qualitative research on the research support needs of agriculture scholars found that scholars generally perceive their research, and agriculture research more broadly, as having great value to society. The disconnect between agriculture research and public awareness was also identified by many scholars as a grand challenge for the field and society at large.

However, many display ambivalence as to whether it is their role to communicate that value. Our recent study on religious studies scholars also found that even among the relatively small group of scholars who publish beyond the academy, such efforts are perceived as secondary to or in conflict with scholarly publishing practices due to how publishing is evaluated for hiring, tenure and promotion.

Structural barriers play a central role in preventing writing for wider audiences from becoming a more established component of academic work. Schaberg and Bogost recognize this implicitly, not only by highlighting gaps in academic training in their list of challenges, but also through their outreach work, which is creating important opportunities for scholars to communicate their work more widely and develop the skills to do so.

Yet, until colleges and universities systematically recognize the value of these forms of communication and reward their scholars accordingly, the balance of reaching a wider audience without compromising their lives as disciplinary researchers will remain elusive.

Danielle Cooper is a senior researcher and Christine Wolff-Eisenberg is the survey coordinator at Ithaka S+R.

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