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Wake Forest Expands Downtown

Wake Forest University will offer new programs in biomedical sciences and engineering, the university announced Friday. Students will study in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem, N.C., a hub for biomedical sciences and information technology. The university is preparing space adjacent to the Wake Forest School of Medicine’s newly renovated facilities, which are scheduled to open this summer.

The programs, which will be offered starting in 2017, include a B.S. in engineering, a B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology, and a concentration in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery.

Wake Forest is pitching the new programs as a solution to the growing need for undergraduate biomedical science and technology graduates. Between 2012 and 2014, the university says, demand has grown by 58 percent nationally.

By the time the programs are fully operational, in 2021, around 350 undergraduates will be enrolled. They will split their time between the main campus and the new classrooms and labs.

Teaching students new ways of thinking through a typewriter (essay)

Last fall, I brought my 1918 Royal manual typewriter into my Communicating Science to the Public class at MIT. I kept a box over the machine and unveiled it at the start of class as though revealing a new car. Oohs and ahs followed. “That’s so cool!” one student declared. Every one of the 18 first-year undergraduates could not take their eyes off the typewriter. Many of them were smiling. It was 9:30 in the morning, and they seemed surprisingly happy, curious and ready to learn.

(What I love most about manual typewriters is that they cannot be turned off. This 1918 Royal has been turned on and ready to write for nearly 100 years.)

I asked the students to get up from their desks to get a closer look at the typewriter. “Go ahead, you can type something if you want,” I said as they circled around the machine. One brave young man stepped forward and typed the word “hello.”

“Wow, this is harder than a computer,” he said while typing. Yep, you’ve got to put some muscle into manual typewriters and really strike down on each key, and if you type too fast the keys get stuck.

Many of the students, I assumed, were wondering why the heck their teacher brought an antique machine into a class where we read and write about the latest scientific and technological advancements. Fortunately, a typewriter can serve as a springboard for kinesthetic learning experiences, and here are two activities that emerged that particular morning.

How Do We Communicate Enthusiasm?

I asked the students to look closely at the keyboard. The familiar QWERTY layout alleviated some of the strangeness of the machine; however, as with all typewriters built before the 1970s, a certain punctuation mark was absent from the keys. I asked the students to identify the missing punctuation. See if you can spot it:

Did you find it?

It’s the exclamation point!

I challenged the students to imagine they were writing an article with this typewriter, and they really wanted to include an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. I asked them to work together as a team and generate as many ways to make an exclamation point as possible.

“How about typing a lowercase ‘l’ and then hit the backspace and then type a period?” one student asked. “Go ahead and try it,” I said. She pressed the keys. Dissatisfied with the outcome of this first attempt, another student made a suggestion: “How about typing a semicolon, then hitting the backspace, then adding an apostrophe?” “Give it a try,” I said. This pattern of trial and error continued for a couple of minutes: a student would approach the typewriter to test her ideas using different combinations of keys as her classmates waited to see whether the plan would work. They chuckled at each other’s efforts. Interestingly, none of them were satisfied with any of the aspiring exclamation points. They wanted the real thing, clean and recognizable, but struggled to create it using the available keys.

We took a break from the typewriter, and I asked them to take out their cell phones. “How could you communicate enthusiasm to someone using your smartphone keyboard?” Answers poured forth: there is an exclamation point readily available, plus many emojis to choose from. “What do you think the keyboard of the future will look like?” I asked. “Entirely emojis!” one student answered.

The author F. Scott Fitzgerald once likened an exclamation point at the end of a sentence to a person laughing at his own joke. In other words, the exclamation point implies a forced rather than generative response in an audience. I asked the students, “When it comes to science articles written for the public, rather than putting an exclamation point or emoji at the end of every sentence, how else can we communicate our interest and generate enthusiasm for the topic?” To help ground the class discussion in the reality of our work, students returned to their seats to examine their own article drafts. In small groups, they tried to identify and share instances, if any, in which they communicated excitement through words that might inspire a sense of wonder and enthusiasm in their reader.

Individual Agency in the Daunting Research and Writing Process

Something else happened during the typewriter exercise. After struggling to create a satisfactory exclamation point using the typewriter keys, the students grew quiet. No one touched the typewriter, and the novelty of the exercise seemed to be wearing thin.

“Wait,” said one student. She had noticed a pen next to the typewriter. “Could I just draw an exclamation point?” Interestingly, I had done this exercise twice before in other classes, and no student had ever asked this question, even though I had intentionally placed a pen beside the typewriter each time. “I don’t see why not,” I replied. “Give it a try.” She picked up the pen and drew an exclamation point on the paper. The students laughed, and some even clapped.

When I asked the students to create an exclamation point, they implicitly imposed the false constraint that the only available resource was the typewriter itself. After all, the typewriter seems complete. The machine was built by professionals and seems to have all of the necessary parts to communicate through writing. Yet human agency is still required to operate and maintain the typewriter, and most importantly, to produce writing that impacts an audience. The remarkable student who reached for the pen recognized her own body and mind as resources for problem solving and participation.

The hand-drawn exclamation point led to a discussion of the role of human agency when confronting the challenge of producing original texts as a college student. When I was an undergraduate, I remember reading published journals, magazines and books and thinking, “How can I contribute anything meaningful to this field? Why should I even bother trying to write an essay on this topic when so much has already been written? I’m only a student.”

As novices who are expected to understand and participate in the intellectual territory of experts, students often experience impostor syndrome and may question whether their writing could (or should) be more than a patchwork of citations and paraphrases. I asked the students to try rereading a few of the articles they had read for homework through a new lens -- to identify the writer’s chosen scope, particular use of metaphor, organization of ideas, connections of seemingly unrelated information and instances in which he or she related to the subject through personal experience. That led to a discussion of the rhetorical choices that represent an author’s original perspective and approach to communicating about a range of topics, ranging from the behavior of ants to the formation of black holes.

Why Bring a Typewriter?

To state the obvious: I’m a big fan of typewriters. Although I teach at MIT, I’m a Luddite in my personal life. I enjoy the musicality of writing on a manual typewriter and how it’s always sitting there ready to be used without needing to be plugged in or have its battery charged. The inability to delete, cut and paste text propels me to ignore my inner critic and plow ahead with unpolished thoughts in the early stages of ideation.

I have no doubt that the in-class discussions described above could have occurred without the prop of a 1918 Royal manual typewriter. However, the physical presence of the antique machine launched an out-of-the-ordinary kinesthetic learning experience for students.

Although imperfect and at times unpredictable, the praxis of experiential learning is powerful. In my Communicating Science to the Public class, students could see how excited I was to show them the typewriter, which inspired them to interact with the machine and one another in new ways, to smile and move physically more than they would otherwise in a classroom, and to invest more of themselves in the subsequent discussions.

I’d love to learn from you, readers of Inside Higher Ed, about the physical objects that have catapulted meaningful pedagogical moments in your classroom. Feel free to share in the comment space below.

We can’t always bring our personal hobbies and interests into the classroom, but I think it feels good when we can. As teachers, we model for students how to engage critically with a subject, how to inspire learning, how to interact with others and even how to be excited about something.

Jared David Berezin is a lecturer in comparative media studies/writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Groups seek to become quality reviewers of boot camps, online courses and other noncollege offerings

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As boot camps, online courses and other nontraditional academic offerings expand, several organizations angle to play an accreditor-like role in the growing space.

How to chair a humanities department in a challenging environment (essay)

While arguments and counterarguments fly back and forth about the value of the humanistic enterprise, department chairs might be left wondering how to preserve and promote their departments, writes Timothy S. Huebner.

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Appeals court upholds finding: Wayne State failed to respond to pregnancy bias against student

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Appeals court upholds verdict that Wayne State must pay $850,000 to former student whose pregnancy was subject of inappropriate criticism by supervisor.

Colleges start new academic programs

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Why academic cheating is all about economics (essay)

Students cheat. Educators struggle to respond, sometimes blaming themselves for not making courses sufficiently interesting or relevant and sometimes engaging in a battle of wits or technologies with their students to prevent cheating. Sometimes we in higher education try to address cheating as a moral problem and sometimes as a pedagogical one. Another way to understand cheating, however, is to borrow an insight from Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, namely, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The Students

More than half the students enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States work. Let us imagine a typical student, Norm Normal, a business major at a comprehensive university who earns $9 per hour from a part-time job at a fast-food restaurant. He is enduring an elective course on Women in World Literature that quite efficiently satisfies one humanities and two multiculturalism requirements. The instructor has inflicted an assignment of a 1,500-word paper on her students.

Norm has a choice. In order to get the B grade he would like in the course, he would need to spend a total of 20 hours completing assigned readings and writing the paper. As Norm does not enjoy chick lit and rarely manages better than a C in English courses, he knows that the 20-odd hours he would need to complete the assignment might not pay off. Also, as a business major, he is aware that in the same 20 hours, he could earn $180 at his job.

He has a choice of dozens of different websites that offer either canned papers or custom-written papers from $10 to $20 per page. If he can buy a paper for $80 from a term-paper site, he has, effectively, come out $100 ahead compared to investing the time in writing the paper himself. Cheating is simply a rational choice.

Student cheating is not just limited to buying term papers. Websites offer everything students need to succeed in their course work -- from tutoring to proofreading and from answering questions to supplying canned summaries and analyses. If Marie Antoinette Gateau, for example, is assigned a paper on the economic causes of the French Revolution, she can visit any number of sites that she finds through Google, ask questions about the topic and receive 150- to 200-word answers from educators, allowing her to devote her time to milking cows or improving her wardrobe rather than researching the topic herself.

If Tom Finn has a test on Hamlet, rather than reading the entire play, he can access extended summaries online -- either before the test or with discreet peeks at his mobile phone during the exam. Similarly, a student needing help with a complex set of scientific or math problems can receive step-by-step assignment help. In all of these cases, the fees required to access the sites may be substantially less than the amount of money the students can earn in the hours they would need to spend reading, studying, calculating or writing to complete the assignments themselves.

The Educators

The vast network of question and term-paper sites on the Internet cater to a simple economic reality of specialization of labor. Let us look now at Annie Abd, the author of Norm's paper. She might earn a premium salary of $3,000 per course as an adjunct. Assuming Annie works an average of 10 hours a week on that course, including preparation, grading and contact hours, she earns $18.75 an hour over a 16-week term. Since Annie has already read the assigned books for Norm's paper, she can probably knock out an adequate 1,500-word undergraduate paper in under three hours. If she is paid $50 for the paper Norm bought from a term-paper site for $80, she is making close to $17 an hour. Factoring in commuting time and costs, writing term papers may actually pay slightly more than her adjunct teaching.

The same applies to answering questions such as “Who is the protagonist of Othello?” or “What were the main ideas of the Stoics?” on student answer sites. At rates of $3 to $15 for a 150- to 300-word answer, most people with advanced degrees can easily earn more than $20 per hour. Summary sites may pay $400-$500 for extended book summaries, rates also competitive with adjunct salaries. For unemployed Ph.D.s, graduate students or underpaid adjuncts and junior faculty, working for student help sites is a convenient income supplement. Even better, it is one of the few professions where an M.A. or Ph.D. is actually a useful credential.

Doing the Math (Homework)

Engaging in an arms race of policing technology versus cheating technology solves nothing. It merely results in faculty members and administrators diverting their time from actual teaching and scholarship to cheating detection, as cheaters deploy increasingly sophisticated technological hacks to avoid being caught. Although better detection technology may temporarily change the economic equation, making cheating more expensive or increasing the risk of being caught, the underlying economics remain the same.

Realistically, it makes perfect sense for a student to outsource production of papers or exam answers to experts, just as a shoe company might outsource production of shoes. If the point is to produce a thing -- whether a shoe or term paper -- as well and efficiently as possible, the principle of specialization of labor applies. A graduate student or underemployed Ph.D. writing for a term-paper site can create better papers in less time than most undergraduates. It makes perfect economic sense for undergraduates who have other skills and career aspirations to outsource the producing of term papers and test answers to academic experts and focus on their own goals or careers instead.

In addition, there is the matter of supply and demand. As more students attend college, and as academic employment becomes increasingly precarious, both the demand for student help sites and the available supply of educators to work at such sites increases. That reduces the cost of papers and student answers and increases the number of workers available to help students.

Rather than blaming lazy students or bad teaching for the growth of Internet-facilitated student cheating, we must remember that “it’s the economy, stupid.” We must change the underlying economy of cheating. Some of the possible ways to do that might include creating for undergraduates extended individualized oral and written exams of the sort we do in Ph.D. comprehensives or perhaps even eliminating grades entirely, thereby decoupling the functions of teaching and evaluating students -- solutions that I’ll elaborate on in a follow-up article. Otherwise, no matter how much we wring our hands, police our classrooms or moralize, cheating will continue to proliferate.

Carol Poster is a historian of rhetoric and a freelance writer who taught for many years at Florida State University and York University in Canada.

Cengage Unveils New Approach to Developmental Math

Cengage Learning unveiled a new math developmental education approach today after receiving input from about 1,000 students in an effort to improve college readiness.

MindTap Math Foundations is a new digital curriculum that helps students learn new skills through 15-minute "learning bursts" using interactive video lessons and games. The new curriculum will pilot at more than 180 institutions this spring.

"Students consistently told us that time is their biggest barrier to completion and they need the ability to work at their own pace. That's why we designed MindTap Math Foundations to make it easy for students to work through the curriculum and connect with their instructors and other students in a way that fits into their daily lives," said Jim Donohue, executive vice president and chief product officer for Cengage Learning.

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D2L Revamps, Releases 'Degree Compass' Tool

D2L, a Canadian education-technology company, last week made its overhauled Degree Compass tool available to colleges. Degree Compass is an automated advising system that helps students predict their optimal path to graduation. Officials at Austin Peay State University originally designed the software, which D2L later purchased and converted into a cloud-based, mobile-friendly tool. The company said last week that an initial group of almost two dozen colleges, representing a broad range of higher education, would try Degree Compass.

We must pay more attention to the first year of college (essay)

Do we have our priorities backward?

It has long been a truism in American higher education that junior and senior year are seen as at the top of the curricular pecking order. That is when the major is taken and, frankly, that is where most of our senior faculty really prefer to teach.

First year, on the other hand, is seen by many of us as less important. And because of this, guess who is often assigned general education and introductory courses? Adjuncts, graduate assistants and our most junior faculty.

It’s almost as though introductory and general education courses that define the first two years of college are what students get through as quickly as possible so that they can get to the good stuff in their third and fourth years -- that is, upper-level courses and the major.

But this view is out of sync with what many prospective college students and their parents are thinking. In a book I recently wrote about the transition from high school to college, virtually all of the high school seniors I interviewed, along with their parents, hoped that the first year of college would be a major step up from what they were doing in high school. But they are often disappointed.

At many colleges and universities, first-year students take large introductory courses in classes of 100 or more. Teaching is usually done by an instructor lecturing in front of the classroom while students dutifully take notes later to be regurgitated on a quiz. There is very little class participation involving discussion and debate. Writing anything over a few pages is unusual.

Arizona State University has gone even further. They are offering a Global Freshman Academy that allows first-year students to take their courses by the use of MOOCs (massive open online courses). Students won’t even have to leave the comfort of home to complete their first year! First year is seen as a means to an end, with the end being upper-level courses and the major.

But I would argue that the first year of college is far more important than this -- perhaps, in some ways, just as important as the final years of college.

Why do I believe this?

  • First year is when college students get a sound, cross-disciplinary grounding in the liberal arts and sciences, especially those who go on to vocational majors like engineering or nursing. The liberal arts are where they learn how to think critically and how to communicate effectively, skills that are crucial for a generation that will have many different careers in their lifetime.
  • First year to sophomore year is when attrition is at its highest. When I was a college president, 20 percent of first-year students at my institution didn’t return for their sophomore year. Some transferred, but many dropped out of college altogether. Why does this happen? In far too many exit interviews I have seen, dropouts say that they found their first-year classes meaningless.

I will never forget the admissions tour I took at a well-known university with my youngest daughter. We were in the university’s amazing library, and the tour guide, a sophomore, was bragging about the fact that most of his teachers were graduate assistants. “They’re really cool,” he said, “and understand our generation,” whereupon a mother standing next to me uttered sotto voce (but loud enough for everyone to hear), “Why am I paying a small fortune to have my child taught by someone who is only a couple years older than she is?”

That parent was articulating what many parents I interviewed for my book were saying: for $50,000 or more per year, the expectation is that their children will be taught by experienced faculty with the requisite credentials, not by part-time employees or graduate students.

Of course, many of the instructors assigned to introductory or general education courses including adjuncts and graduate students are quite capable teachers. But I believe that first-year students could really benefit from also being taught by senior faculty members who excel in the classroom. In many ways -- and I know this is heretical -- assistant professors who just completed their Ph.D. dissertations are probably the most capable of teaching the major that requires up-to-date knowledge of their discipline. Senior faculty, on the other hand, who through wisdom and experience have a wider view of the world are, in my opinion, the most qualified to teach general education courses designed to give first-year students a broader perspective on human knowledge and, in the process, excite them about what will come later.

Increasingly, colleges are coming to see the crucial importance of the first year. At one college I feature in my book, the freshman writing seminar is largely taught by the college’s most distinguished and experienced senior faculty, who are handpicked because they are also master teachers. First-year advising is also being given a new emphasis. At far too many colleges, advising is relegated to new faculty who have limited knowledge of the curriculum or to adjuncts who have equally limited office hours. But many colleges, realizing that solid advising reduces attrition, are assigning experienced faculty who are skilled at advising or professional advisers to first-year students.

For these colleges and universities, the first year has been given a new priority.

I’d like to end by saying that there is money to be raised by rethinking the first year, which should make presidents who are reading this article happy. I believe that philanthropic individuals and foundations, concerned about the cost of higher education and the human waste when students prematurely drop out and don’t graduate, will resonate to programs that support first-year students and keep them in college. I’m talking about:

  • Innovative first-year general education programs that challenge and excite first-year students through active learning (including discussion, debate and writing) so that they don’t want to leave college.
  • Endowed writing centers and other support systems that can save kids who come to college with academic deficiencies.
  • Endowed first-year opportunity programs that keep underserved and first-generation students in college.

Attrition is enormously expensive. A college of 2,000 students like my own that loses 20 percent of the first-year class potentially forgoes $5 million or more in tuition, room and board, which for many colleges is more than the development office raises each year in the annual fund.

In summary, by putting more energy and resources into the first year I believe we keep more of our students in college and thereby cut down on the enormous human waste when otherwise good students prematurely leave college with outsize debts they can’t pay back because they are unemployable. At the same time we improve our bottom line by not losing so much in tuition dollars. Most important, we graduate students for whom education from the very beginning is a pleasure, not a hardship to be endured.

Roger Martin is president emeritus and professor of history at Randolph-Macon College. He is the author of Off to College: A Guide for Parents. This essay is based on a presentation at the Council of Independent Colleges’ Institute for Chief Academic and Chief Advancement Officers.

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