Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

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.

June 17, 2014

A study by Johns Hopkins University researchers has found that young women with a college education, when they have a baby, are likely to do so within a marriage, but that this is no longer the case for young women who lack a college degree. The study found that of mothers aged 26 to 31, 32 percent of those with four or more years of college had at least one baby while unmarried. Of mothers with one to three years of college, 67 percent had at least one baby unmarried. For those with only a high school diploma, 71 percent had a baby without being married. The figure was 87 percent for those without a high school diploma.

June 17, 2014

A panel the Aspen Institute convened on Internet learning released its recommendations Tuesday. The group, which included Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, considered ways to ensure that online learning is both innovative and safe, for students of all income levels. The final report calls a focus on all the ways students learn, including from museums, libraries, after-school programs and at home. It also pushes for students to be at the center of new learning networks, and for learners to have the digital literacy to be able to both use online media and to safeguard themselves.

June 17, 2014

President Obama will sign an executive order prohibiting federal contracts from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the White House said on Monday. The move could affect employees at some colleges and universities that do business with the federal government.

“It’s very likely that a majority of higher education institutions already provide protections on these grounds that are covered by the executive order,” said Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education. “But there may be institutions, either for religious reasons or due to state law, that would have difficulty complying.”

It is legal for employers in 29 states to fire someone or deny employment on the basis of sexual orientation, according to the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign.

It wasn’t clear how broadly the order would be applied to government contractors, which can include colleges and universities in certain cases. But the order will be less sweeping than the employer anti-discrimination legislation that the Senate passed and Obama supports. The president previously resisted calls to take executive action on the issue. 

The White House did not announce a timeframe for when the president would sign the order. 

June 17, 2014

Old Dominion University will for a two-year pilot let those who have earned a 3.3 grade-point average in high school apply without submitting SAT or ACT scores, which have until now been required of all applicants. Ellen Neufeldt, vice president for student engagement and enrollment services, said that hope was to attract more economically diverse students. “We want to have the best level playing field for all our students. We want to make sure they are successful,” Neufeldt said.



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