Monthly Archives: May 2016

Report listing America’s most hateful colleges gets backlash

A report showing which of America’s colleges have the most hateful tweets has caused such an uproar that its authors took it offline. looked at all the tweets coming from a 1 or 3 mile radius of a college campus and compared them to a list of “hate” words.  These words included everything from slurs against gay people to people of different ethnic groups, such as “junglebunny” or “raghead.”

Then sorted the data to create lists including “Most Derogatory Tweets,” “Most Anti-Black Tweets” and “Most Anti-Gay Tweets.”

–College newspaper runs racially-charged cartoons, students demand changes from administrators

The results showed that hateful language used on social media could be seen on campuses across the country. Among the top 10 schools with derogatory tweets were Eastern Michigan University, SUNY Cortland in New York State and Southeast Missouri State University.



The report also measured derogatory language towards women, led again by Southeast Missouri State. When the word “b***h” was removed from the data, two Connecticut schools made the top ten list: Albertus Magnus College and Yale University.

–ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith tells college students racism ‘doesn’t exist’ for them

The most anti-gay tweets came out of Husson University in Bangor, Maine, and the most anti-black tweets came from the very place that saw one of its first high schools integrated — Little Rock, Arkansas’ University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

But the study’s authors say people misconstrued the data.

“The recent study on the tweeting of derogatory words on or near college campuses has been removed from our website because some have misinterpreted the data presented,” reads a statement online.

Critics had pointed out that the study didn’t take into account the context of the tweets and the data could have been skewed by tweeters who lived near campus but weren’t students.

But the study’s authors still stand by their work.

“The study could have spurred thoughtful discussion of the impact of derogatory language on society. By highlighting the derogatory words tweeted, the affected colleges and universities had an opportunity to address, denounce, and educate. But the findings were misconstrued and sensationalized beyond recognition, undermining the potential useful purpose of the study.”

–Black college student reports racist messages scrawled on bananas

from theGrio

Student evaluations of teaching are not only unreliable, they are significantly biased against female instructors.

A series of studies across countries and disciplines in higher education confirm that student evaluations of teaching (SET) are significantly correlated with instructor gender, with students regularly rating female instructors lower than male peers. Anne Boring, Kellie Ottoboni and Philip B. Stark argue the findings warrant serious attention in light of increasing pressure on universities to measure teaching effectiveness. Given the unreliability of the metric and the harmful impact these evaluations can have, universities should think carefully on the role of such evaluations in decision-making.


The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale

Last fall, student protesters at Yale University demanded that Professor Nicholas Christakis, an academic star who has successfully mentored Ivy League undergraduates for years, step down from his position as faculty-in-residence at Silliman College, along with his wife, Erika Christakis, who shared in the job’s duties.

The protesters had taken offense at an email sent by Erika Christakis.

Dogged by the controversy for months, the couple finally resigned their posts Wednesday. Because the student protests against them were prompted by intellectual speech bearing directly on Erika Christakis’s area of academic expertise, the outcome will prompt other educators at Yale to reflect on their own positions and what they might do or say to trigger or avoid calls for their own resignations. If they feel less inclined toward intellectual engagement at Yale, I wouldn’t blame them.

Nicholas Christakis will continue on as a tenured Yale faculty member. Erika Christakis, who gave up teaching at Yale last semester, recently published a book, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups.

She has no future classes scheduled.

The controversy that culminated in this week’s resignations began last October, when Erika Christakis was teaching a Yale class called “Concept of the Problem Child.

An expert in early childhood education, she’s long been critical of ways that adults deprive children of learning experiences by over-policing their behavior. When Yale administrators sent an all-students email advising Yalies to avoid “culturally unaware or insensitive choices” when choosing their Halloween costumes, Erika Christakis responded with an email of her own, acknowledging “genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation,” lauding the “spirit of avoiding hurt and offense,” but questioning  whether students were well-served by administrators asserting norms rather than giving them space to shape their own.

“Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity—in your capacity—to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?” she asked. “What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment? Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that.”

Many students were outraged by the email, particularly a portion that Erika Christakis attributed to her husband: “Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”

Student critics responded, in part, by circulating a petition that accumulated scores of signatures from Yale students and alumni. “You ask students to ‘look away’ if costumes are offensive, as if the degradation of our cultures and people, and the violence that grows out of it is something that we can ignore,” the petition stated, adding that “we were told to meet the offensive parties head on, without suggesting any modes or means to facilitate these discussions to promote understanding.”

The petition assumes that offensive Halloween costumes beget violence; proceeds as if Nicholas Christakis simply advised students to ignore all offensive costumes; acknowledges in the next clause that, in fact, he also declared, “or tell them you are offended;” and most bizarrely, concludes as if Ivy League students advised to “talk to each other,” the most straightforward of human behaviors, somehow need further counsel on “modes or means to facilitate these discussions,” as if they are Martians unfamiliar with talking to classmates—even as they put forth a persuasive petition aimed at those same classmates.

Soon after his wife sent her email, Nicholas Christakis found himself standing on a campus quad surrounded by protesters. He attempted to respond in person to their concerns. After watching videos of the scene, I noted the core disagreement between the professor and the undergraduates. Christakis believed that he had an obligation to listen to the views of the students, to reflect upon them, and to respond that he was persuaded or articulate why he maintained a different view. In short, he believed that one respects students by engaging them in earnest dialogue.

Many students believed that his responsibility was to hear their demands for an apology and to issue it. They saw anything short of a declaration of wrongdoing as unacceptable. In their view, one respected students by validating their hurt feelings.

Their perspective was informed by the idea that their residential college is akin to a home. At Yale, residential colleges have what was then called a “master”—a professor who lives on site and is responsible for its academic, intellectual, and social life.  “Masters work with students to shape each residential college community,” Yale stated, “bringing their own distinct social, cultural, and intellectual influences to the colleges.” The approach is far costlier than what’s on offer at commuter schools, but aims to create a richer intellectual environment where undergrads can learn from faculty and one another even outside the classroom.

“In your position as master,” one student said, “it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students who live in Silliman. You have not done that. By sending out that email, that goes against your position as master. Do you understand that?!”

“No,” Christakis said, “I don’t agree with that.”

As he saw it, there was no contradiction between creating a safe residence for Silliman students and challenging them intellectually, a view Yale itself officially shares (though what its representatives convey to prospective students is opaque to outsiders).

Professor Alan Jacobs of Baylor University published one of the more insightful posts on this aspect of the controversy, observing that any Yale student seeking an environment akin to a home is bound to be disappointed, because their residential colleges are, by design, places where “people from all over the world, from a wide range of social backgrounds, and with a wide range of interests and abilities, come to live together temporarily, for about 30 weeks a year, before moving on to their careers. It is an essentially public space,” he added, “though with controls on ingress and egress to prevent chaos and foster friendship and fellowship.”

Homes are typically places where parents instill their own values in kids whose formative experiences they shape, or where domestic partners who bonded over shared values cohabitate. Insofar as Yale includes students from diverse homes, it will be unlike an actual home, and should acknowledge that reality to all of its students. Learning to live away from home by tolerating difference is part of campus life.

In that October confrontation, the student demanding a comfortable home exploded when Christakis articulated an educator’s understanding of his role. “Then why the fuck did you accept the position?!” she screamed. “Who the fuck hired you?! You should step down! If that is what you think about being a master you should step down! It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here. You are not doing that!”

The student concluded with a hateful statement: “You should not sleep at night! You are disgusting!” It was, by all accounts, an out-of-character outburst from an intelligent, normally thoughtful person in a moment of high emotion, but when video of her tirade was posted online, she was mercilessly harassed by trolls, some of whom used racial epithets and threatened to kill her. The Christakises, who defended that student, were subject to anonymous abuse and online threats, as well.

The ire that student activists directed at the couple is inseparable from the larger protest movement that roiled American campuses last fall. Many black students at Yale felt that the institution has failed to create an inclusive environment on campus, citing grievances as varied as the presence of residential college named for John C. Calhoun, who advocated for slavery in Congress, and the allegation that Yale security guards disproportionately forced students of color to show their IDs on campus.

The vast majority of grievances had nothing to do with Nicholas or Erika Christakis. Many were far more persuasive than any critiques aimed at the couple. Nor does their resignation do anything to address those grievances. Some activists nevertheless cast the couple as symbols of what was wrong with Yale, an injustice noted by a group of faculty members who came to their defense. “In the case of the Christakises, their work has been more directly oriented toward the social justice than the work of many other members of the Yale faculty,” they wrote. “For example, Nicholas Christakis worked for many years as a hospice doctor, making house visits to underserved populations in Chicago. Progressive values and social justice are not advanced by scapegoating those who share those values.”

With regard to Erika Christakis’s email, the faculty members declared themselves “deeply troubled that this modest attempt to ask people to consider the issue of self-monitoring vs. bureaucratic supervision has been misinterpreted, and in some cases recklessly distorted, as support for racist speech; and hence as justification for demanding the resignation of our colleagues from their posts at Silliman.”  

But relatively few humanities professors signed that letter of support.

And when drafting the letter, the physics professor Douglas Stone found himself warned by faculty colleagues that he was putting himself at risk of being protested.

At Yale, I encountered students and faculty members who supported the Christakises but refused to say so on the record, and others who criticized them, but only anonymously. On both sides, people with perfectly mainstream opinions shared them with a journalist but declined to put their name behind them due to a campus climate where anyone could conceivably be the next object of ire and public shaming. Insufficient tolerance for disagreement is undermining campus discourse.

Off campus, many pundits published misrepresentations of Christakis’s email in the press. Without extraordinary support from colleagues or a change of heart among activists, some of whom vilified the couple out of solidarity rather than conviction, staying in residential life—which they could have chosen to do—would have assured ongoing conflict, further efforts to force their resignation, and more distractions from their scholarship. “At Silliman College’s graduation ceremony,” the Yale Daily News reported, “some students refused to accept their diplomas from Nicholas Christakis.” Why put yourself through treatment like that?  

On the other hand, their resignations all but assure that others at Yale will regard surviving a speech controversy as less viable and curtail their intellectual engagement.

The statement put out by the couple characteristically declined to criticize anyone at the institution. “Erika and I have devoted our professional lives to advocating for all young people. We have great respect for every member of our community, friend and critic alike,” Nicholas Christakis wrote. “We remain hopeful that students at Yale can express themselves and engage complex ideas within an intellectually plural community.  But we feel it is time to return full-time to our respective fields.”

They declined to comment further.

When Yale’s history is written, they should be regarded as collateral damage harmed by people who abstracted away their humanity. Yale activists felt failed by their institution and took out their frustration on two undeserving scapegoats who had only recently arrived there. Students who profess a belief in the importance of feeling safe at home marched on their house, scrawled angry messages in chalk beneath their bedroom window, hurled shouted insults and epithets, called for their jobs, and refused to shake their hands even months later, all over one email. And the couple’s ultimate resignation does nothing to improve campus climate.

What a waste.

from The Atlantic

3D Printing in the Classroom: Outcomes and Reflections on a Slavic Course Experiment (1/2) | Scholars’ Lab

Cross-posted on my personal blog. In a previous post, UVA’s Slavic Librarian, Kathleen Thompson, and Slavic Lecturer, Jill Martiniuk, outlined the early

Source: 3D Printing in the Classroom: Outcomes and Reflections on a Slavic Course Experiment (1/2) | Scholars’ Lab

Navigating the ‘Wild West’ of Digital Collections in Schools

School libraries are no longer simply quiet places for students to study or check out printed materials. Many have transformed themselves into vibrant hubs of school life, boasting makerspaces, computer access, collaborative work areas, quiet zones, and many more ways for students to access information. Students are now using a variety of devices to do schoolwork and access textbooks or other class materials. To help meet their needs, librarians are scrambling to curate effective digital collections accessible through a variety of devices, but it’s a complicated and often expensive task.

“Every outgoing senior class is vastly different from every incoming freshman class,” said New Canaan High School librarian Michelle Luhtala in an edWeb webinar. “When we look at our collections, are we ready for that shift? Every year is a different cohort.”

Shifts in student population and usage patterns, in addition to a quickly changing media landscape, make the school librarian’s job difficult (if the school even has a librarian). While the e-book market is growing, it’s not yet clear how it will play out in schools where educators have diverse needs for books. Some e-books can only be licensed for a limited amount of time to schools, which might be a good thing if schools are constantly changing curriculum, but also means the school doesn’t own the book outright.

“It is still the Wild West,” Luhtala said. “Things are changing before our very eyes. That’s exciting and fascinating, but it requires a lot of attention and knowledge and it can be confusing.” In the past, Luhtala might have ordered seven print copies of a new book, now she’s ordering four print books, two e-books and an audiobook to offer various avenues for students. But it might cost $200 extra for that diversity of formats.

“My administrators have no idea that we don’t pay the same for an ebook as they do on Amazon,” Luhtala said. A book that costs a consumer $39 might cost a school $150, in part because if the school will own the ebook in perpetuity, many more people will read it than one consumer.

And school librarians aren’t just stocking library catalogues, they’re also ordering books for courses and supporting teachers with resources. Increasingly digital access to books is part of classroom instruction. At New Canaan, students read Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond every year at the same time. That’s difficult for Luhtala because that particular e-book title used to only be accessible under a year-long license, even though her students are only using it for a few weeks. That money has to be spent again the following year.

Jared Diamond: Why do societies collapse?

Why do societies fail? With lessons from the Norse of Iron Age Greenland, deforested Easter Island and present-day Montana, Jared Diamond talks about the signs that collapse is near, and how — if we see it in time — we can prevent it.


The many ways schools use titles make it difficult for publishers to figure out pricing. Plus, they’re concerned about losing control over the intellectual property they’ve worked hard to create.

“One of the great moves that we’re seeing is that some publishers are realizing that for the same title they need to offer single user, multi user and limited licensing,” said Randal Heise, co-owner of Mackin Educational Resources. Heise’s company aggregates digital content on a platform that schools use for easy access. His company is a middleman between the needs of educators and the business interests of publishers. They worked with publishers to offer an ebook sale, for example.

“The biggest fear, and the reason the publishers didn’t just jump into the ebook world, is the infrastructure wasn’t there,” Heise said. “They’ve come into this world begrudgingly.” That’s why their recognition how schools use books — and the necessity of various forms of licensing — is a step in the right direction.

Another possible new development that hasn’t fully been fleshed out is the “classroom license,” which would give access to a book for six to nine months, during the school year. “The classroom license is really an exciting possibility,” Heise said, although he acknowledged that right now there are a lot issues with how to keep track of such licenses.

“If you could buy access to material for three months that you could use with your students for four-to-five dollars per student, those are some economies of scale,” Heise said. “I think it’s going to take some time for people to wrap their heads around it on both sides of the industry.”

This shifting landscape might lead educators to disavow digital collections completely and stick to paper books. But Luhtala doesn’t think it’s fair to give students only one way into the library’s collection. Worse, she worries it might turn them off if they can’t access their reading in ways that are most natural to them.

“We really want the kids to have as many avenues as possible to the collection and have the most seamless entry,” Luhtala said. “They should be able to be instructed about all of those options and have the ability to make that choice.”

Many librarians see the digital collection as an inevitability and are working to make publishers aware of their needs. A new advocacy organization called Transform Your School Library has even begun serving as an intermediary between educators and publishers. Heise helped start the organization.

“Tell us what you want,” Heise said. “Tell us where you’re going. Tell us what’s not working for you. The whole industry gets better when we get better. We’re sort of the little engine that could.”

from MindShift

Backward Design, Forward Progress

Readers of Faculty Focus are probably already familiar with backward design. Most readily connected with such researchers as Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, and Dee Fink, this approach to course construction asks faculty to initially ignore the specific content of a class. Rather, the designer begins the process by identifying desired learning goals, and then devising optimal instruments to measure and assess them. Only thereafter does course-specific content come into play—and even then, it is brought in not for the sake of “covering” it, but as a means to achieve the previously identified learning objectives. Courses designed this way put learning first, often transcend the traditional skillset boundaries of their discipline, and usually aim to achieve more ambitious cognitive development than do classes that begin—and often end—with content mastery as the primary focus. Although the advantages of backward design are manifest, it’s probably still the exception to, rather than the rule of, course planning.

Yet, backward design has benefits beyond those outlined above. Just as the technique is advantageous to the students we teach, it is valuable to our own growth trajectory as educators, and serves as a useful bridge to interactions with faculty outside of our disciplines.

Making tough decisions
First, (re)designing a course via backward design forces us to step back from our fields of expertise, which we know so well and hold so dear, and approach the learning process as novices. That is to say, we are so familiar with our disciplines and their content that it’s hard to imagine anyone not endowed with such knowledge or a burning desire to acquire it. Even more importantly, we love the content that makes up our fields, and it can be downright painful to imagine excluding parts of it for the sake of skill development or the realities of semester time limits.

Backward design forces us to make tough decisions about what content is really needed for our students to achieve their learning goals. Maryellen Weimer writes that our attitude toward basic content “has always been dominated by one assumption: more is better” (p. 46). If that construct embodies the typical “coverage” approach, then perhaps “just enough content—and no more” could define the course built around backward design principles. And in forcing us to make fundamental decisions about learning and the role of basic content therein, we must confront the very nature of what we seek to achieve as educators. Is it simply for students to know a lot about our field? Or is it primarily for them to develop the habits of mind that typify practitioners? The former aims low at the Bloom’s Taxonomy target, while the latter requires an elevated trajectory.

Ken Bain writes about “expectation failure” (p. 28) as a necessary component to students’ cognitive breakthroughs. That is, students must be placed in a situation where they realize their extant ways of knowing won’t serve them adequately. Only then can they make their way through the “learning bottlenecks” (in the language of Díaz et al.) which populate our fields. I’d like to push Bain’s analogy further: it is often only through our own expectation failures that we as faculty can devise more authentic and meaningful learning experiences for our students. For better or for worse (and usually it’s for worse), most of us started out teaching the way we’d been taught ourselves—and many of us still do. Only when we realize that these approaches can’t achieve our desired learning goals do we stare into the instructional abyss to contemplate the fundamental riddles of education. If we’re lucky, we can seek help from a peer, or stumble across a good pedagogical read. And if backward course design is deemed a solution, we just might squeeze through our own instructional bottleneck and offer something so much better.

Breaking down silos
Second, it is precisely this type of work—the fumbling, the grappling, the eureka moment—that allows us to bridge the chasms between ourselves and faculty in other fields. Too often we remain siloed in our disciplines, knowing little about what our brethren do and assured they couldn’t possibly understand us. But if we momentarily remove discussion of specific course content and focus instead on desired learning goals, we find that we actually have a great deal in common. Is clear and correct writing a goal only of composition classes? (Of course not.) Do we relegate critical thinking to the field of logic? (I sincerely doubt it.) Are group work, information literacy, and quantitative reasoning skills that can be developed and synergized across a broad spectrum of classes in disparate fields? (Absolutely.) Conversations and workshops about backward design necessarily raise these issues, help us emphasize the commonalities (rather than the differences) of seemingly unrelated fields, and serve as vehicles to interdisciplinary empathy and cooperation in ways that content-based curriculum development fails to do.

In the 1998 film Patch Adams, Robin Williams plays a physician with quirky but effective approaches to helping his patients. When questioned about his focus on the patient rather than the disease, he replies, “You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you: you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.” I think there’s a parallel here for course design. Lead with content, and maybe the more ambitious learning happens, maybe it doesn’t. Lead with learning goals, as epitomized by backward design, and educational outcomes can’t help but have an impact on students’ development. And in adopting such a scheme, we become a more self-aware and interconnected faculty. It’s hard to see a downside.

Dr. Pete Burkholder is an associate professor of history at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he is also founding chair of the Faculty Teaching Development Committee. At the Teaching Professor Conference in Washington, D.C., he is leading a preconference workshop titled Marshaling Content to Attain Learning Goals. Learn more about the workshop »

Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004)

Arlene Díaz, Joan Middendorf, David Pace & Leah Shopkow, “The History Learning Project: A Department ‘Decodes’ Its Students,” Journal of American History 94/4 (2008), 1211-24

L. Dee Fink, Creating Significant Learning Experiences (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003)

Patch Adams, dir. Tom Shadyac (Universal Pictures, 1998)

Maryellen Weimer, Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002)

Grant Wiggins & Jay McTighe, Understanding by Design, expanded second edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2005)

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Let’s Ban The Classroom Technology Ban.

THIS JUST IN: Distracted students are distracted! Also: sometimes there are things that distract students! And we all know what to do with things that might potentially distract students: BAN THEM! At least that’s what we’re told by the avatars of pedagogical wisdom populating the comment threads below any article talking about students’ use of technology in the classroom.

The most recent example of this silliness came a few days ago, when Inside Higher Ed published a study on students and tablets in the classroom, with a headline that was remarkable in the scope of its overstatement: “Allowing devices in the classroom hurts academic performance, study finds.” And that was all the ban-’em-and-show-’em-how-rigorous-we-are crowd needed. The comments below the article were immediately flooded with smug, self-righteous stories of how a faculty member imposed a unilateral ban on technology and all of his or her students immediately did SO MUCH BETTER. But the sheer amount of raw, uncut, anecdotal and cherry-picked data in the “discussion” was apropos for an article that exhibited the same traits. If you read the details of the study, however, the grandiose claims of the neo-luddites collapse under the weight of its shortcomings. The study was conducted with only three course sections (less than 800 students) at West Point, notable for its atypical (to say the least) student population. The study only pertained to tablets (which the USMA provides to each of its students), and did not look at cell phone use. The claim that the students who didn’t use tablets performed better academically is based upon exam scores, which were only one-third of a standard deviation higher for the non-tablet crowd than the others. Some might see this as a large difference; I do not, and I doubt a majority of statisticians would either. But hey–why let the fact that this was a superficial study conducted with a small sample size of atypical students examining only one type of technology deter you from claiming that all technology in the classroom is bad? This is what people in the psych business call “confirmation bias,” I believe.

More seriously, though, two fatal flaws undermine the study, and the legions like it that purport to show that students plus technology equals inferior academic performance. First, There’s no mention of pedagogy at all. We learn that there were three sections of an economics course, consisting of nearly 800 students. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they were taught in the large-lecture format. We know that lecture is one of the most ineffective ways to teach, and that student learning increases significantly when it is eschewed in favor of a pedagogy that embraces active learning (see the classic meta-study here). Yet we’re being asked to believe that hundreds of students packed into a lecture hall and subjected to demonstrably ineffective teaching methods aren’t learning because of their device use. That’s a design flaw characteristic of the entire genre of classroom-tech studies. They don’t even acknowledge, much less control for, pedagogy. It’s like seeing a story about someone hit by a car on the way to the farmers’ market and concluding that fresh produce will kill you.

The second flaw is a conflation of learning with quantitative measures of performance. Maybe higher scores on an economics exam signal a deeper learning of course content, but it’s more likely they reflect students’ temporary retention of specific content. We don’t know if actual learning-the ability to retain material over the long term, to apply it to new situations, to make connections with other fields-has taken place. And the superficial assessments-TEST SCORES! GRADE POINT AVERAGES!-we encounter in these types of studies can only hint at whether or not learning is taking place. And that’s not good enough to support the larger implications we’re being told emerge from them.

The problem with both the West Point study and the sweeping bans on technology use it either inspired or affirmed is a refusal to acknowledge that there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to student learning. In fact, I’m skeptical that there are any independent variables in the process at all. If students in a large lecture course with no laptop or device policies are doing poorly, is it because they’re on Facebook or because they’re in a cavernous auditorium with several hundred other captives, being talked at by someone who’s likely had no formal pedagogical training whatsoever? More than one thing can be true, certainly, but I’m more interested in the factors that would lead to a student checking their fantasy team’s lineup rather than listening to the instructor. Addressing those factors, I suspect, would be more effective than yelling at someone for having their laptop open.

I’ve written on this before, but it I find myself repeating it often: unilateral bans on technology in the classroom accomplish nothing but demonstrating an off-putting rigidity and an adversarial view of students. They are far from guaranteed to improve learning. Moreover, they ignore the needs of disabled students and faculty for whom devices are the sine qua non of their academic routines.  If you’re the grumpy faculty member who kvetches about students not being taught penmanship in primary school, and who makes their classes take notes by hand to build character or whatever, take a step back and think about what you’re actually saying to your students: that some are inherently deficient, that they will fall short, and that your way is the only possible way to learn. It may make you feel better-Old school! Rigor! You need me on that wall!-but it’s shitty teaching.

I suspect that reason so many are quick to embrace the sweeping conclusions of the technology-as-distraction arguments is that they speak to negative personal experience. It’s hard to be delivering a lecture or conducting an activity that you put a lot of effort into creating, only to see a student checking their phone. It feels personal. It’s frustrating when students aren’t retaining content, no matter how many times you’ve circled back to it in class. It sucks when discussions go nowhere. But there is probably more than one reason for these things happening. But if two-thirds of the class is doing non-class related stuff on a laptop or cell phone, why is that happening? Are they incorrigible internet addicts, or is it a pedagogical issue? If they’re not getting to where you want them to be, is it Twitter’s fault? Or is it the side effect of a lecture-based, passive pedagogy that doesn’t engage anyone?

I would submit that the answer to the distracted student question is never a unilateral ban on technology in the classroom. Let’s be real: it’s not as if students paid rapt attention to everything faculty said until the smart phone was invented. I was an undergrad in the dark times before the internet, and my class notes have a staggeringly-high ratio of doodles to course content. No technology was there to help lead me astray, but I did a good job of it nonetheless.  Of course, there are situations where you’ll want your students to not use devices. But there will also be occasions where you’ll want to encourage their use (quick polling, checking something online). That’s the whole point–there are no hard and fast rules, nor should there be. Good pedagogy is, above all, flexible. And, rather than an end unto itself, technology is a tool that can support good pedagogy if it’s used appropriately.

The way in which so many have taken advantage of any suggestion-no matter how dubious-that technology should be banned from the classroom underscores the glaring lack of nuance that’s accompanied the conversation. We should be wary of universal diktats and blanket prescriptions when it comes to pedagogy. Student learning is both promoted and hindered by a number of factors-some embedded and structural, some fleetingly temporary. If I was building a house, and hit my thumb with a hammer, banning hammers from the job site would not be a useful response. The same holds true for the web-surfing student in our classroom. Rather than banning the tool because of an instance where someone used it improperly, we should work to prevent the processes which led to that instance. Our students need to be our allies, not our adversaries, if genuine learning is to occur. Students cannot experience the transformative effects that higher education can and should inculcate if we refuse to treat them as responsible agents who are the co-architects of their learning. We cannot fall into the traps of conflating correlation and causation, or assuming students will behave poorly unless explicitly forced to do otherwise. If we approach teaching as an assertion of power, an imposition of our will, then we fail our students. Only if we invite our students to actively participate in the collective scholarly enterprise that is their collegiate education will we succeed.

EDIT: I’ve been made aware that the West Point study involves sections that actually have small class sizes, usually around 18, with the course assessment is standardized across sections. But there wasn’t a discussion of the pedagogy employed by instructors, so I remain committed to my concerns regarding the number of variables potentially involved in the results. (Thanks to Michael Anes for the clarifications.)

(Image via GIPHY)


from The Tattooed Professor

Elsevier Acquires SSRN

Today, Elsevier is announcing that it has acquired SSRN, the preprint and publishing community that focuses on social sciences and law. Among other things, the SSRN acquisition is another step in Elsevier’s path towards data and analytics. In a number of ways, Mendeley is the linchpin for this acquisition. More generally, this acquisition plainly indicates Elsevier’s interest in the open access repository space. Finally, universities, their libraries, and other publishers, should have on their minds some of the policy and governance issues around the data that Elsevier is accumulating and the uses to which they may be put. Continue reading

from The Scholarly Kitchen