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A Message for Those Who Mock English Majors

Fordham University's English department is winning rave reviews on social media for its take on the recent elections that will make Justin Trudeau the next prime minister of Canada. Among American academics, the joy isn't necessarily about Canadian politics, but Trudeau's major at McGill University. (Update: While Fordham's English department spread the image far and wide, it originated with Damian Fleming, associate professor of English and linguistics at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne.)

The End of Science 'Permadocs'?

The number of postdoctoral fellows in biology and biomedical sciences declined for the first time in more than 30 years, according to a new paper in The FASEB Journal, a publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The study says that even though the number of Ph.D. students continued to grow from 2010-13, the period surveyed, the number of postdocs declined 5.5 percent. “For some newly minted Ph.D. students, eschewing a postdoc may reflect a rational response to a tight academic labor market with low compensation and uncertain prospects for success,” lead author Howard Garrison, FASEB’s director of public affairs, said in a statement.

Garrison and his co-authors found that the number of postdocs in the biological or biomedical sciences at U.S. doctorate-granting institutions increased annually from 1979 through 2010. But the postdoctoral population fell from 40,970 in 2010 to 38,719 in 2013. While men and women and U.S. and foreign postdocs all decreased in number, the sharpest decline was among U.S. men, whose ranks dropped 10.4 percent from 2010-13.

The authors say that the postdoc drop did not coincide with reductions in graduate students or visas for foreign workers, but may be consistent with reductions in the number of research grants, independent labs and job announcements over the same period. A major study last year called for better pay and mentorship for postdocs, who increasingly are expected to do one or more fellowships on their way to faculty positions. Some have dubbed this the “permadoc” trend.

Report on Competencies Sought by Employers

A report last month from the Committee on Economic Development examined which competencies employers find essential in the workers they want to hire, as well as which competencies are in short supply. The committee is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy organization led by businesses interested in education, health and global competition.

The report found more than 90 percent of business leaders found problem solving and the ability to work with others of diverse backgrounds the most important competencies that led to being hired at their organizations. Those two areas were followed closely by critical thinking and teamwork or collaboration as important to have. The survey also revealed that critical thinking and problem solving are both essential skills, but also the hardest to find among applicants. The easiest skills to find, but also less essential, are technical skills, media literacy and proficiency with new technologies.

Of 52 CED members who responded to the survey, 35 percent said they were "very interested" in hiring students from a competency-based education program, another 25 percent said they were "somewhat interested" and 8 percent said they were "mostly uninterested" or "not at all interested." The rest were neutral on the subject.

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Analysis Finds Colleges Do Teach Critical Thinking

A new meta-analysis, in which numerous relevant studies are reviewed and summarized together, has found that colleges do succeed at teaching critical thinking. Christopher R. Huber and Nathan R. Kuncel, both of the University of Minnesota, published the results of their meta-analysis in the journal Review of Educational Research. They reviewed 71 research reports published over the past 48 years, and found that students’ critical thinking skills improve substantially over a typical college experience.

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NEH seeks to spur humanities Ph.D. training beyond traditional career paths

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Can the NEH change the orientation of doctoral programs in the humanities?

Reprimanded for Assigning Affordable Textbooks?

A faculty member at California State University at Fullerton is fighting back after he was reprimanded for assigning affordable textbooks in a math course, The Orange County Register reported. Alain Bourget, assistant professor of mathematics, reportedly picked two textbooks -- one priced at $76, the other free -- in an introductory linear algebra and differential equations course over the $180 textbook co-written by the chair and vice chair of the math department. The decision "violated policy and went against orders from the provost and former dean of the math and sciences college," according to the newspaper. Bourget, who did not respond to a request for comment, has filed a grievance and will attend a hearing on Friday.

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National Census of Writing releases survey results

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The National Census of Writing, a survey of 900 colleges and universities, releases results on the state of writing centers, programs and the people behind them.

Moody's: Boot Camp Experiment Is Revenue Opportunity

Moody's, the credit rating agency, this week weighed in on a recently announced U.S. Department of Education experiment to allow federal financial aid to flow to a handful of partnerships between colleges and nontraditional providers, including skills boot camps and those that offer online courses. The experiment is "credit positive," Moody's said, and "will enhance and diversify revenue opportunities for universities, with nondegree credentials attracting new participants and supplementing traditional degree programs."

The limited availability of federal financial aid will accelerate the spread of alternative credentials, said Moody's, while also magnifying the potential upside of those credentials.

Cal State U System Expands E-Portfolio Option

The California State University System will make electronic portfolios -- e-portfolios -- available to all its students and graduates, via a three-year agreement the system has signed with Portfolium, a cloud-based platform. The tool will help Cal State students display their academic and professional accomplishments in a digital format, the company said, including ones that aren't easily captured on a traditional résumé or transcript.

The use of digital portfolios is becoming popular. And two higher education groups are exploring how to bulk up the college transcript with more information about student learning and "competencies." At Cal State, more than 80,000 students already have used Portfolium to begin creating digital profiles.

Online learning for underserved students in focus at International Conference for Online Learning

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Consortium will award $2.5 million to faculty members and institutions who help underserved students succeed in online classes -- a much-discussed topic at this year's International Conference for Online Learning.

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