Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 2, 2013

Institutions that have so far experimented with massive open online courses have done so to improve the quality of education both in face-to-face courses and distance learning, even though many faculty members remain unconvinced that students taking MOOCs should be able to earn credits, a new survey by the American Council on Education and InsideTrack suggests.

The survey claims "the level of alignment it uncovered between administrators and faculty on the motivations and considerations for pursuing MOOCs" as one of its highlights, but all of the 108 faculty respondents were actively involved in teaching MOOCs. Still, the survey bills itself as the largest of its kind ever conducted.

The demographics may explain the overwhelming positivity found among faculty members: 93.5 percent of instructors thought teaching a MOOC was beneficial to them personally or professionally, and 78.7 percent were likely to recommend teaching one to their colleagues. While only a fraction of the institutions surveyed -- 5.7 percent -- offer academic credit for completing MOOCs, 35.6 percent of faculty members said students should be able to take the courses for credit.

“I'm more convinced than ever about the potential for MOOCs to serve students who would otherwise never have the opportunity (e.g. the teenage girl in Pakistan who took and passed my advanced computer science class),” one instructor said.

Inside Higher Ed's survey of faculty views on technology found a large gap between instructors who have taught online courses and those who haven't. Among the latter group, 15 percent of those surveyed said they thought online learning could produce outcomes similar to face-to-face courses. In comparison, one-third of faculty members with online teaching experience said the same.

The survey also gathered more anecdotal evidence from high-ranking officials at nine universities that have experimented with MOOCs. Generally speaking, the survey found administrators see MOOCs as a means to showcase the institution to a broader audience and improve faculty teaching methods.

“The residential experience is an important part of our future, but there’s a lot technology can do to enhance the educational experience on and off campus,” one administrator said. “MOOCs are one of many ways we’re exploring for bringing technology to the classroom.”

Faculty members share some of the same sentiments. Asked to identify their own priorities about MOOCs, 68.5 and 58.3 percent of instructors labeled increased access and more effective online pedagogy, respectively, as “very important.”

October 2, 2013

Indiana University will spend $15 million to create accessible digital copies of "video, recorded music and other irreplaceable material" created at the institution since its founding in 1820, President Michael A. McRobbie announced Tuesday during his State of the University address. The online archive, which McRobbie said will make materials "instantly and inexpensively available in digital form at any time not only to students, scholars and scientists throughout IU, but across the country and around the world,” will be available by the institution's bicentenary in 2020.

October 2, 2013

Northwestern University journalism students are required to spend one academic quarter in an unpaid internship, and to pay the university more than $15,000 in tuition for that quarter, ProPublica reported. The article noted that some students have raised questions about the system, and that the issue of unpaid internships (even without steep tuition charges) has attracted considerable attention. In response, Northwestern officials have started to ask employers if they would be willing to pay journalism interns minimum wage for their internships.

October 2, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Anthony Kontos of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center reveals when athletes playing youth sports are most likely to receive a concussion. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 2, 2013

A study released Monday suggests that being honored with a major scholarly prize may not improve the winner's productivity. George J. Borjas of Harvard University and Kirk B. Doran of the University of Notre Dame analyzed the impact of winning the Fields Medal, which is awarded every four years to the most talented mathematician under 40. Borjas and Doran compared the productivity (in research output) of mathematicians who won the medal and contenders who did not. (They found other prizes that are good predictors of winning a Fields, and so identified likely winners.) The research found that the winners and the contenders had nearly identical productivity before the winners won the Fields. But after winning the Fields, mathematicians see a decline in productivity. They also show more "cognitive mobility," working in new areas, which the authors note likely forces them to take longer to make findings and write papers. The paper was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract available here).

 

October 2, 2013

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights have approved the University of Montana's new sexual assault policy, cementing a resolution agreement that the federal government said would make Montana's procedures a "blueprint" for colleges nationwide. While some student activists and victims' rights advocates have lauded the terms of the settlement, which is more extensive than previous federal mandates, free speech organizations have expressed concern that Montana's policy is overbroad and violates the First Amendment. Whereas Montana's previous policy required an action to be "objectively offensive" to be considered harassment, OCR said "sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as 'any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,' " including "verbal conduct."

The new policy also requires all faculty to participate in a tutorial on sexual assault and campus regulations, and states that those who refuse will be reported to the Justice Department. Some faculty members have questioned Montana President Royce Engstrom about the provision, The Missoulian reported.

October 2, 2013

Arguably one of the most challenging openings among college presidencies today is the chancellor's job at City College of San Francisco, which faces a potential loss of accreditation, severe financial difficulties and tensions between the administration and faculty and student groups. Robert Agrella, a state-appointed special trustee, has named four finalists, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The finalists are Terry Calaway, former president of Johnson County Community College, in Kansas; Stephen M. Curtis, former president of the Community College of Philadelphia; Cathy Perry-Jones, vice president for administration at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities; and Arthur Q. Tyler, former president of Sacramento City College.

 

October 2, 2013

A student employment program placing students at jobs linked to their field of study, a pharmacy program targeting students from underserved communities and a campuswide math remediation program aimed to reduce completion time for students earning associate degrees are among the initiatives proven to increase Latino students’ success.

Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit that works to accelerate Latino student success in higher education, released the 2013 edition of “What Works for Latino Student Success in Higher Education,” which highlights 22 evidence-based initiatives at the associate, bachelor and graduate levels that increase achievement for Latino students.

Excelencia in Education identified bilingual education programs, access to opportunity programs, and partnerships as three areas that can improve Latino student success.

 

October 2, 2013

College students are pretty much evenly split in their religious identification, with 32 percent each identifying as religious and "spiritual but not religious," and 28 percent calling themselves secular, according to Trinity College's latest American Religious Identification Survey. Respondents include about 1,700 randomly selected students at 38 four-year colleges and universities nationwide, about two-thirds of which were public, who chose to complete the voluntary survey. Religious students were significantly more likely to identify as conservative (34 percent), while secular students (44 percent) most often identified as liberal. Not surprisingly, opinions on public policy issues seemed to vary based on religious identification, but some less so than others. For instance, while 35 percent of religious students and 67 percent of secular ones said it's "very true" that women must defend their reproductive rights, and half of religious and 95 percent of secular students said same-sex marriage should be legalized, 57 percent of religious and 81 percent of secular students said the country needs more gun control.

October 1, 2013

We will update this throughout the day.

Update (1:30 p.m. EDT):

The Department of Defense has suspended all intercollegiate competitions at the service academies because of the government shutdown, the Naval Academy said in a statement posted on its athletics site Tuesday.

The suspension leaves the status of Saturday’s Air Force-Navy football game unclear. A decision on that game will be made by noon on Thursday, the statement said. 

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Update (12:15 p.m. EDT):

The closure of Smithsonian museums and research centers is impacting scholars’ access to data and records at those institutions.

Lisa D. Cook, an associate professor of economic and international relations at Michigan State University, is in Washington, D.C. this fall where she is a visiting fellow at the Smithsonian Lemelson Center for Invention and Innovation.

She said the shutdown was forcing her to reorganize her research that had been planned for six to seven months and lamented the lack of access to Smithsonian facilities.

“This is a real loss, since the reason for being in residence is because of the access to experts in this area and to people who have created or maintained these records,” Cook said in an e-mail. “These will be hours, days, and missed encounters I will never be able to reclaim.  It also seems to be demoralizing for the researchers on staff whose deadlines and workload will not change, but their ability to meet them will.”

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Update (11:30 a.m. EDT): 

The Education Department has shuttered the website of its research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences. Visitors to the site are unable to access to the department's trove of data on colleges and universities available in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System known as IPEDS. Would-be college students or parents hoping to use the department's CollegeNavigator website -- which allows consumers and others to compare information about individual colleges -- will also be frustrated. The Education Department's main Web site will not be updated, but sites relating to federal student aid programs, including the popular site for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, will mostly continue operating as normal. 

On Capitol Hill, the House subcommittee on higher education has postponed a hearing scheduled for Tuesday about simplifying student financial aid.

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WASHINGTON -- The federal government grinds to a halt today, given Congress's inability to reach a deal on the federal budget before today's October 1 start of the 2014 fiscal year. The implications for higher education are likely to be mild at the start, but could ratchet up quickly if the disagreement drags on.

Below are the contingency plans for various agencies important to colleges, their students, and their employees:

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