Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 18, 2014

Educators and others in China are debating a popular meme in which female students at a Tsinghua University, a leading Chinese institution, post photographs of themselves before and after they enrolled, The South China Morning Post reported. The "after" photographs generally show the women appearing more attractive and with lighter skin. And this has led to people saying that the theme of the meme is, “Off to Tsinghua to become white, rich and beautiful.” The meme has appeared on the university's admissions blog, prompting criticism that it is all a promotional campaign from the university. The university replied to the criticism on its blog, saying: “After an unforgettable experience at Tsinghua, changes in one’s appearance and attitude are not all that shocking. Character building is the most important.”

June 18, 2014

Conventional wisdom holds that marginal students may pay more of a price for web surfing during class than top students, who are presumed to be better multitaskers. But a study at Michigan State University challenges that belief. The study tracked 500 students in an introductory psychology course, using ACT scores to measure intellectual ability. And top students as well as others saw their performance lag if they were heavy internet users in class (for non-class reasons).

 

June 18, 2014

The National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit group, on Wednesday released a report calling for tighter state regulation of for-profit institutions. Federal crackdowns, such as proposed "gainful employment" standards, will not be strong enough to prevent deceptive practices in the sector, according to the report. The group's recommendation's include a call for states to stop relying on regional accreditors to vet for-profits, and for state agencies to instead set their own minimum standards. 

June 18, 2014

A businessman and alumnus has donated $100 million to the University of Calgary for medical research -- an amount that the provincial government in Alberta said it would match, The Calgary Herald reported. The donation from Geoffrey Cumming will lead the university to rename its medical school in his name.

June 18, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Richard Willson, the Huffington-Woestemeyer professor of chemical and bio-molecular engineering and a professor of biochemical and biophysical sciences at the University of Houston, discusses turning smartphones into precision detectors of viruses and disease. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

June 17, 2014

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.

 

June 17, 2014

Higher education needs new ethical guidelines for responsible use of online learner data, a group of faculty members, researchers and legal scholars argues. The group, which convened earlier this month to discuss the challenges of using learner data in research, presented a two-point document on Monday that the Stanford University associate professor Mitchell Stevens described as a "starting place" for a national conversation.

"Virtually all modern societies have strong traditions for protecting individuals in their interactions with large organizations, especially for purposes of scientific research, yet digital media present problems for the inheritors of those traditions," the convention document reads. "Norms of individual consent, privacy and autonomy, for example, must be more vigilantly protected as the environments in which their holders reside are transformed by technology."

The group affirmed that education research should be guided by two guidelines: The "open, participatory and transparent processes of data collection and analysis that provide empirical evidence for knowledge claims" and the "sharing of data, discovery and technology among a community of researchers and educational organizations committed, and accountable to, principles of ethical inquiry held in common."

The document was fashioned after the Belmont Report, a product of the 1976 conference on ethical research with human subjects. Attendees included not just faculty members and administrators at research universities, but also representatives from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

June 17, 2014

The online education provider Udacity says it will soon offer career-focused "nanodegrees," stackable credentials designed to be completed in no more than a year. Udacity will initially launch four programs, with the goal of preparing learners for careers such as a back- or front-end web developer, data analyst or iOS mobile developer. The first round of nanodegrees is funded by a $1.5 million investment from AT&T, which will also offer 100 paid internships to high-performing students, a Udacity spokeswoman said in a blog post.

June 17, 2014

Authorities have arrested a University of Washington student who boasted online that he was the "next Elliot Rodger," referring to the man who recently killed six University of California at Santa Barbara students, KIRO News reported. The Washington student, Keshav Bhide, a senior, reportedly said online that Rodger's rage against women was justified and that he would kill only women. Bhide is being held on charges of cyberstalking and felony harassment. Some University of Washington sororities have received threats referencing the California murders, but authorities did not indicate whether these threats had been linked to Bhide.

 

June 17, 2014

The National Council on Teacher Quality -- a group whose evaluations of teacher education programs have been praised by some political leaders but whose methodology has been questioned by teacher educators -- is out with a new set of rankings. While more programs are evaluated, relatively few meet the NCTQ's standards. Of 1,668 programs (at 836 institutions), 26 elementary programs and 81 secondary programs made the council's list of "top ranked programs." And 17 states lack a single top ranked program. Generally, the council found elementary programs to be "weaker" than their secondary counterparts.

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