Monthly Archives: September 2016

Google search cards help you choose a college

Via Engadget:

Search for a college or university with Google and you’ll soon see a new results card. These small, mobile-friendly summaries include graduation and acceptance rates, the average post-grad salary and the normal fees for undergraduate tuition. All of the stats are being pulled from the US Department of Education’s "College Scorecard" site, meaning they’re reliable and easy to compare. Of course, you’ve always been able to find this information yourself — it just took a little longer rooting around the web. Now, it’s easier to retrieve some quick, top-level information.

So whatever you value the most — be it projected earnings, or cheaper fees — you can surface this information almost immediately. Which sounds pretty useful, whether you’re just starting to think about your options, or narrowing down some colleges you’ve been deliberating for months.

Source: Google (Blog Post)

A new school year. A new fight against affirmative action. This time at Harvard.

Harvard’s affirmative action case picks up where Fisher ended.

A two-year-old lawsuit accusing Harvard University of maintaining racial quotas against Asian-American students is moving forward to wage the latest battle against affirmative action.

In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit organization behind the Fisher v. University of Texas case led by conservative political strategist Ed Blum, who is white, filed a lawsuit against Harvard on behalf of an anonymous Asian student who was rejected by the university, allegedly despite perfect test scores and graduating at the top of their class.

The case was put on hold until after the Supreme Court made a ruling in Fisher. This summer, the Court upheld holistic affirmative action policies as constitutional, so the SFFA case is moving forward, the Harvard Crimson reported. Like Fisher, the SFFA lawsuit seeks to dismantle affirmative action, but the strategy for this case is slightly different. Instead of arguing that people of color are given preferential treatment over more qualified white students, the case against Harvard centers on Asian-American students, to attack affirmative action on the grounds that it hurts people of color too.

Harvard isn’t alone. In May, the Asian American Coalition for Education filed a civil rights complaint to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against Yale University, Dartmouth College, and Brown University for reportedly maintaining racial quotas at the expense of Asian-American students with perfect test scores.

The message is clear: Meritocracy is more ideal than holistic review that includes race, and attacking affirmative action isn’t racist if people who experience racism say they are harmed by the policy too.

As OiYan Poon, a professor of education at Loyola University Chicago, told Vox, this strategy is fraught with racial anxiety among a small segment of Asian Americans speaking out on the behalf of a much larger group with much more complex feelings on the matter than the plaintiffs would let the public believe.

Affirmative action isn’t simply a black and white issue — even if Asian-American students are made to fit into the conversation as if it is.

Below is my conversation with Poon, edited for length and clarity.

Victoria Massie

I wanted to see if you could talk a bit about what you’ve seen with the affirmative action movement among Asian Americans.

OiYan Poon

The [Office for Civil Rights] complaints are actually primarily led by Chinese-American immigrants. In my research, over the past six months it’s been very difficult to find non-Chinese immigrants who are involved in that effort. And when I say Chinese immigrants, there’s a very specific type of Chinese immigrant that is involved in these legal efforts. They tend to be wealthy, and men, specifically, are the ones who are really leading the OCR complaint by what’s called the Asian American Coalition for Education [AACE].

The people involved in that organization are all immigrants from mainland China who came here primarily for graduate education. They’re very highly educated and relatively well-to-do, and of a very privileged status, even before coming to the United States. So that gives you a little bit of a picture of who these people are who are involved.

So I find it interesting, and I wonder how much of the SFFA versus Harvard case is a white man–led effort from a very conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), of fighting historical voting rights that were won for people of color and other areas of civil rights laws. I find it very intriguing to see this difference. And so my question in my research at this point is how are Asian Americans actually actively fighting affirmative action? I honestly don’t know, and I doubt the level of involvement Asian Americans have in the SFFA versus Harvard case.

Victoria Massie

What does it mean to have Ed Blum, who is a white man, behind a case to dismantle affirmative action on behalf of an unnamed Asian student?

OiYan Poon

He’s actually following a very tried-and-true pattern of "racial mascoting." By using and essentially fronting an Asian student as the victim, he, as a white man behind the scenes, and AEI, as a predominantly white and conservative organization, can wage these campaigns, especially against affirmative action, and say, "It’s not a white person who’s fighting this anymore, so it must mean it’s not a racist campaign."

The racial mascot as an Asian American provides a kind of racial cover to deflect accusations of their efforts as being anti–civil rights. In fact, they can turn it around and say this campaign is for civil rights because the victims [they’re] fighting for are not white. They are a minority.

It’s a complicated racial divide that critical race legal scholars have actually documented since the 1960s, in various cases. It very much follows the idea of Asian Americans being labeled a model minority, which is a stereotype of how to achieve as an Asian American.

What’s often forgotten is that Asians are claimed as a "model" to shame and dismiss other people of color’s claims of racial barriers. It’s complicated, but it’s deeply ingrained in the kind of racial pop culture of our country at this point.

Victoria Massie

I’m glad you brought up the issue of the Asian model minority myth. Typical affirmative action discussions hinge on the issue of meritocracy — that what makes affirmative action fundamentally flawed is that people who are getting a "leg up" are seen as inherently undeserving compared to those people who have had advantages. Race tends to be one of the major dividing lines, and test scores are viewed as unbiased benchmarks. And yet test scores don’t take race out the equation, especially when white people are more likely to advocate for holistic review when Asian students are considered to be their competition.

OiYan Poon

Even with the test scores, there have been studies trying to understand why Asian immigrant populations are scoring on average higher than some white students are. And that research has shown that in these immigrant communities, they have a high level of anxiety around making it in American society that have created these kinds of cottage industries around the country in various ethnic communities called “cram schools.”

If you just drive down the peninsula, even just El Camino, [California,] you’ll see tons of these Asian cram schools. And it’s reflective of the kinds of anxiety of needing to make it because other pathways for mobility that are open for white middle-class students may be closed off.

There have been some psychological studies that because some Asian immigrant communities feel [they have] very limited pathways for mobility, they see education as a proven track for mobility, and they’re investing a whole lot in that area. What’s transparent about the elite college admissions pathway is they think the test score is everything, when it really isn’t.

Some of the folks I’ve been interviewing, who are campaigning actively against affirmative action, they’re all Chinese, and they’re almost all immigrants, and they’re almost all men. They often cite Thomas Epenshade, a retired sociologist from Princeton. And his work is from the 1990s, and his conclusion is that Asian Americans need to score something like 140 to 200 points more than anyone else to get into the same schools. So it’s this test score gap that a lot of the opponents of affirmative action are claiming as smoking gun evidence of anti-Asian bias.

What they’re not accounting for is the fact that his study was done prior to the current system of admissions, which is holistic review. So once Grutter v. Bollinger happened in 2003, elite colleges really beefed up their holistic review processes. Gratz v. Bollinger, the other Michigan case in 2003, barred the use of point systems.

So especially after Fisher this summer, the consideration of race in selective admissions is done in such a way that it is so minimal. You can’t tell how it’s actually influencing decisions because, as Justice Kennedy said this summer, it has to be a factor within a factor. And that’s echoing the Gratz decision that said that points systems were not allowable. So there’s no bonus or clear preference. Grutter also says you can’t use race as a determinative factor; it can only be one of many factors. And then Fisher this summer clarified that it has to be a factor within a factor.

I honestly believe for my research that there is an intense anxiety amongst some of these Chinese-American immigrants. And they see this Princeton’s sociologist’s work as smoking gun evidence of anti-Asian bias. But even he’s admitted as a retired sociologist, publicly, multiple times, that [his] research has little relevance to today’s admissions landscape and context. So it doesn’t tell you what’s going on internally, because he considered three factors, and holistic review considers a multitude of factors for admissions.

Victoria Massie

You brought up racial anxiety. How does that fit into the kind of profile of those who are fighting against affirmative action?

OiYan Poon

First, these people make up a super-small segment of the Chinese population and so an even smaller segment of the Asian-American population. I think they appear bigger than they are because of the general media coverage of them. And because of their economic privilege and status, they are able to launch louder campaigns and more effective campaigns. They’re a minority within a minority.

But across these people that I’ve interviewed, there’s a few things. There’s a cultural nationalism that they’re identifying with, especially for folks who were born and raised in China, in an era post-Mao in the 1980s, which was a different China, I think, than the postwar China that my parents came from. In fact, one of the interviewees actually told me that I wasn’t really Chinese. But they definitely note the segmentation even within the Chinese community.

So these folks come from an upper echelon, even in China. And the system for success that they acknowledge in China, that their families and they themselves really benefited from, was a very clear class-driven educational system. Basically you took a test, and there was a cutoff score. And that cutoff score meant you were either going to the top universities or not. And so these folks scored very high in China, went to the best colleges in China, which is why they were able to come to the United States for graduate school. So they grew up in a post-Mao China that really instilled in their generation a cultural nationalism along with centuries-long colonial shame by Europeans.

And now, the 21st century, this is China’s century. This is the time for China to rise up. And so this is the atmosphere that a lot of these folks were raised in, I believe. So coming to the United States, you mix that cultural nationalism in with the fact that many of these folks that I’ve interviewed have experienced racism themselves and discrimination themselves, whether they be microaggressions or actually in the workplace in more serious ways. There’s certainly recognition of their lower status compared to the white middle class. So they may have the economic privileges here in the United States. But politically and socially and culturally, they recognize they’re still second-class citizens.

So my theory is the anxiety is partly about wanting to be accepted fully in the United States within the current status quo racial hierarchy because they have almost made it. So maybe being able to go to Ivy Leagues and be validated with that sort of education would be kind of like a social or cultural validation. They haven’t been able to reach the upper echelon, but the Ivy League certainly represents that upper echelon. And it’s almost like a stamp of approval, like, “Yeah, we made it, we’re accepted,” or, “I have this accomplishment that I’m entitled to.”

Victoria Massie

One of the things that is so interesting is that this one group is speaking for a much wider group of Asian immigrants in the US. Asian immigrants coming to the US during the 1970s and ’80s were more likely fleeing conflict and war. They didn’t arrive with the resources of this particular group that is now fighting affirmative action. How are these immigration narratives getting conflated and overlooked, especially considering how some policies like affirmative action can ameliorate other Asian communities in the US too?

OiYan Poon

I think one thing that is underlying all of this is the changes to immigration policy. So the immigrant flows prior to the ’90s were around family reunification and refugee resettlement. A lot of it was family reunification, and so that brought in a lot of different, diverse classes of immigrants from all over Asia. After the ’80s, immigration policy changed so drastically, and more recently even more drastically, to really cut off the flows of family reunification. So that basically cut off the working class of immigrants from Asia.

To this day, Asian Americans remain here because of policies that allow for family reunification, but this is changing because of the shift toward immigration policies that privilege the highly educated, the highly skilled professional. It’s interesting to see these more recent immigrants are increasingly — the largest groups are Chinese and Indian, in part because of those professional and highly educated preferences in immigration policy. And so political scientists like Karthick Ramakrishnan believe that because of these immigration changes, it may lead to these more recent immigrant inflows being predominantly more and more economically privileged and possibly more and more politically conservative.

So there may be some shifting dynamics.

Victoria Massie

And it seems like with the SFFA case and Blum, he’s exploiting this shift.

OiYan Poon

Exactly. Like I’ve said, these anti–affirmative action Chinese folks are a small minor segment, but they’re very loud. So Ed Blum can certainly take advantage of it.

Victoria Massie

What have you found to be the most pressing issues facing Asian students in higher education today? And how is the current affirmative action discussion potentially obscuring those issues?

OiYan Poon

I think that because this particular debate gets so much attention, folks tend to assume that a large [number] of Asian-American college students are at the Ivies, are at the Stanfords, when in actuality about half of them attend community colleges. They face similar challenges that many other students and students of color face, but that often doesn’t get much attention. That’s probably my biggest concern around the fact that [affirmative action] gets centered as the key concern.

The other thing is that [as] part of this conference that my colleagues and I were thinking about doing, we were raising the point that affirmative action is not just about higher education. That it may operate in one way in higher education, which has been very limited and is controversial perhaps among some Asian Americans. But affirmative action is also in employment, and public contracting.

I raised the point in 2009. I worked on a research study with a professor at UCLA where we compared San Francisco, Chicago, and Atlanta, and we compared how well Asian-American businesses were doing in these different regulatory climates, with the different ways affirmative action was implemented. And you would assume that in San Francisco, Asian-American businesses would be doing the best of the three cities, and in actuality they were doing the worst. Asian-American businesses in Atlanta were actually doing better than in San Francisco. And they were doing best in Chicago, where they had the most aggressive affirmative action policy.

Of course, in San Francisco, because of Proposition 209, in business contracting, affirmative action was banned — at least at the public county, state, city level. And Asian-American businesses were getting near zero public contracting dollars. Which is shocking in San Francisco, the Bay Area, knowing the demographics. So I was engaging in dialogue with these folks about how perhaps some of them want to start up small firms that, without affirmative action, we know for a fact these businesses suffer in and are hindered from accessing public contracting dollars, which contributes to wealth and asset development and the development of businesses.

I think that’s the other thing. If these folks’ voices are dominating the dialogue, I wonder if they’re forgetting that affirmative action is not just about college access but all other parts of social and public life. And some of them are against it in colleges but for it in business and employment, which is troubling to me. I don’t know how they reconcile it. And the other argument they provided to me was they were not against affirmative action. They were for affirmative action; they were just against race conscious affirmative action. I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of this.

Victoria Massie

It’s so interesting, in part, because so much of affirmative action policies are not race-conscious specifically. Especially in education, with the holistic method, race is one of a multitude of factors. Nonetheless, racial quotas are often used to anchor the conversation. How do quotas misconstrue the terms of the debate, particularly when it comes to pushing for equity?

OiYan Poon

I think that one thing that has come up in my conversations with anti–affirmative action folks is their concern about even that term “underrepresented minority.” Several of them have told me, "Am I not a minority?" They’ve told me, "We’re not white. We do face racism. I have experienced challenges." But then the term underrepresented minority, I think one of my interviewees suggested that it was kind of a slap in their face. That it was a way to delineate between and clearly suggest that the minorities that institutional bodies actually care about are not them, as Asian, but specifically African Americans and Latinos. Nobody mentions Native Americans or indigenous folks unfortunately.

I think if it is really equity-minded, which is the goal, then specifically [with] numbers, we can get too caught up at the entry point for higher education, which is extremely important. So what happens when students of color get to campus and they enter curriculums that dismiss their cultural backgrounds, their cultural values, have no ethnic studies, no women and gender studies? Or generally have more hostile campus climates, which I think was very much so highlighted last year in the student activist campaigns.

At my own campus, students were protesting campus climate, which had a lot to do with institutional cultures. And there’s plenty of research students, including my own, who show even when you have white students who are not the majority, that there’s really racial pluralities instead of majorities — even on those campuses, there can be a hostile climate. I guess the question for me then becomes what is it that we are looking for? And I don’t think the public has fully come to a consensus about what equity-minded policy is.

I think for those in academia, at least in my field in higher education, we have a clear sense of what we mean by equity-minded policies and goals in higher education. But certainly that can be isolated from the public in the ivory tower. The public goals may be unclear, and I think that can contribute toward some of the venom when you don’t have very clear understandings of terminology.

Victoria Massie

In terms of what we’re seeing with the Harvard case, what kind of precedent do you think this case could set for affirmative action in a post-Fisher era?

OiYan Poon

The interesting thing about the SFFA case, specifically against Harvard, is that it was seeking to end legacy preferences, which I think that a lot of people, including pro–affirmative action people, could get behind interestingly. The more concerning aspect of the case is its call [for] unholistic review, which is troubling because holistic review is really about looking at each applicant as a whole person, more than just their grades, test scores, and other quantitative measures and various other characteristics. It goes back to this point system that I don’t think really benefits many students at all.

At some campuses, they consider over 900 factors. Things like can you pay full tuition, or what high school did you go to, and have that high school’s other alumni entering been academically successful? There’s hundreds of criteria that different institutions use to determine whether or not to admit a student.

And perhaps this is part of the anxiety that I mentioned around some of these folks. That we really don’t know — there’s no transparency in how admissions is done at these private universities. And I say private universities because most of these lawsuits have been at public universities, including the companion case at [University of North Carolina]. I’ve talked to a few lawyers who don’t think the Harvard case will go very far, but the Harvard case is used more as a narrative to push the agenda.

But back to your original question around the potential legacies of a Harvard case going forward. It really is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater of holistic review affirmative action. But then there is that intriguing aspect of fighting legacy preferences.

via Vox – All

Digital Access Codes Are Another Hidden College Expense to Watch Out for

Via Lifehacker:

If tuition isn’t high enough, college students have a laundry list of college-related expenses they have to pay for. Especially during your first semester, those expenses can catch you by surprise. Another one to add to the list: digital access codes.

According to a report from the Student Public Interest Research Groups (Student PIRGs), many college courses now require students to buy one-time digital access codes. These codes give students access to digital books, homework assignments, study guides, and tests. They found the average cost for these codes is $100.24. Of course, you can only use the code once, so there’s no sharing. The Student PIRGs explains why this isn’t a great scenario for students:

  • By making access codes single-use and individualized for each student, publishers eliminate a student’s ability to share with a friend, or borrow from the library if they don’t have the financial means to buy it.
  • By creating access codes that include assignments and tests, publishers lock 100% of students in a course into buying their product and eliminate a student’s ability to opt-out.
  • By transitioning to digital course materials, publishers now have the ability to eliminate excess supply that could lead to used book markets.

The report suggests this trend is a workaround for publishers to still make money on textbooks when students who find ways to cut costs. If nothing else, it helps for students to be aware of this cost so they can budget accordingly. For the full report, head to the links below.

Report: New Trend in College Textbook Market Presents Danger For Students | Student PIRGs via The New York Times

Photo by CUNY Academic Commons

Critical Educational Questions for Big Data, Part 2

I started a list of critical questions for big data in education earlier this week. This is a big topic, raising lots of big questions and serious topics and problems for further debate and discussion. Here, I focus on questions about big data ownership, divides, algorithmic accountability, issues about voice and literacy, and, finally, ethical implications and challenges of big data in education.

Who “owns” educational big data?

The sociologist Evelyn Ruppert has asked, “who owns big data?” noting that numerous people, technologies, practices and actions are involved in how data is shaped, made and captured. The technical systems for conducting educational big data collection, analysis and knowledge production are expensive to build. Specialist technical staff are required to program and maintain them, to design their algorithms, to produce their interfaces. Commercial organizations see educational data as a potentially lucrative market, and ‘own’ the systems that are now being used to see, know and make sense of education and learning processes. Many of their systems are proprietorial, and are wrapped in intellectual property and patents which makes it impossible for other parties to understand how they are collecting data, what analyses they are conducting, or how robust their big data samples are. Despite claims to exhaustivity, big data can still only ever be a sample based on users of a platform or a system, not a true census of total populations, especially in education where access to the technologies required for big data collection purposes is highly uneven.

Specific commercial and political ambitions may also be animating the development of educational data analytics platforms, particularly those associated with Silicon Valley where ed-tech funding for data-driven applications is soaring and tech entrepreneurs are rapidly developing data-driven educational software and even new institutions. In this sense, we need to ask critical questions about how educational big data are made, analysed and circulated within specific social, disciplinary and institutional contexts that often involve powerful actors with significant economic capital and extensive social networks of support and influence.

Is a new “big data divide” emerging in education?

Not all schools, colleges or universities can necessarily afford to purchase a learning analytics or adaptive software platform — or to partner with platform providers. This risks certain wealthy institutions being able to benefit from real-time insights into learning practices and processes that such analytics afford, while other institutions will remain restricted to the more bureaucratic analysis of temporally discrete assessment events. In other words, a new educational data divide may be emerging where certain institutions will be able to gain a competitive advantage by having access to the insights available from educational data analytics services and platforms. This reflects the wider emergence of a “big data divide” that Mark Andrejevic has described as a separation between the “hands of the few who use it to sort, manage, and manipulate,” and those “without access to the database who are left with the ‘poor person’s’ strategies for cutting through the clutter: gut instinct, affective response, and ‘thin- slicing’ (making a snap decision based on a tiny fraction of the evidence).” To what extent might a new big data divide in education reinforce and reproduce existing forms of advantage and disadvantage, and exacerbate existing regimes of comparison, competition, and public ranking of institutions?

Can educational big data provide a real-time alternative to bureaucratic policymaking?

Policy makers in recent years have depended on large-scale assessment data to help inform decision-making and drive reform. Educational data mining and analytics can provide a real-time stream of data about learners’ progress, as well as automated real-time personalization of learning content appropriate to each individual learner. To some extent this changes the speed and scale of educational change by removing the need for cumbersome assessment and country comparison techniques that have tended to underpin policy intervention in recent years. But, it potentially places commercial organizations such as the global education business Pearson in a powerful new role in education, with the capacity to predict outcomes and shape educational practices at timescales that government intervention cannot match. Though standardized testing and country comparison has become widely critiqued as a mode of governance in education, the emerging alternative of real-time analytics raises questions about for-profit influence and the privatization of public education by tight networks of corporate education reformers.

Is there algorithmic accountability to educational analytics?

Learning analytics is focused on the optimization of learning and one of its main claims is the early identification of students at-risk of failure. What happens if, despite being enrolled on a learning analytics system that has personalized the learning experience for the individual, that individual still fails? Will the teacher and institution be accountable, or can the machine learning algorithms (and the platform organizations that designed them) be held accountable for their failure? Simon Buckingham Shum has written about the need to address algorithmic accountability in the learning analytics field, and noted that “making the algorithms underpinning analytics intelligible” is one way of at least making them more transparent and less opaque. Significant questions remain however about fairness and equal treatment in relation to big data-based education, and particularly about where accountability lies when algorithmic data-processing systems narrow an individuals’ opportunities in the name of “personalized” learning.

Is student data replacing student voice?

Data are sometimes said to “speak for themselves,” but education has a long history of encouraging learners to speak for themselves too. Is the history of student voice initiatives being overwritten by the potential of student data, which proposes a more reliable, accurate, objective and impartial view of the individual’s learning process unencumbered by personal bias? Or can student data become the basis for a data-dialogic form of student voice, one in which teachers and their students are able to develop meaningful and caring relationships through mutual understanding and discussion of student data?

Do teachers need “data literacy”?

Many teachers and school leaders possess little detailed understanding of the data systems that they are using, or required to use. As glossy educational technologies like ClassDojo are taken up enthusiastically by millions of teachers worldwide, might it be useful to ensure that teachers can ask important questions about data ethics, data privacy, data protection, and be able to engage with educational data in an informed way? Despite calls in the US to ensure that data literacy become the focus for teachers’ pre-service training, there appears little sign that the provision of data literacy education for educational practitioners is being developed in the UK.

What ethical frameworks are required for educational big data analysis and data science studies?

The Council for Big Data, Ethics and Society recently published a white paper detailing many of the ethical implications of big data. It raised important issues and recommendations about the need for informed consent when collecting data from users of platforms, and called in particular for new “social, structural, and technical mechanisms to assess the ethical implications of a system throughout the entire development and analysis lifecycle.” The UK government recently published an ethical framework for policymakers for use when planning data science projects. Similar ethical frameworks to guide the design of educational big data platforms and education data science projects are necessary. New kinds of privacy frameworks and considerations of rights in relation to educational big data also need to be considered and developed, drawing not least on existing considerations of the potential privacy harms associated with data collection, processing, and dissemination.

This list of questions is of course not exhaustive, but helps I think to identify some of the key issues emerging as big data, analytics, algorithms and machine learning processes integrate into educational institutions and practices.

Banner image credit: Torkild Retvedt

The post Critical Educational Questions for Big Data, Part 2 appeared first on DML Central.

via DML Central

Historical Periodization and the Long Civil War

Periodization is both the most useful and most obfuscatory tool in the historian’s toolbox. In Western historical writing (and because of the West’s culturally-imperialist tendencies, in many other historiographies as well), we reckon time largely according to the conventions of the Gregorian Calendar: days, months, years on a cycle that mostly matches the Earth’s perambulation around the Sun. Conversely, “Big,” or “Deep” History challenges us to move beyond Puny Human Time and think in terms of (at minimum) geologic time. It’s enough of a struggle to finish our survey courses anywhere near where we’re “supposed” to; the very thought of beginning our studies with, say, the Pleistocene Era is enough to give an instructor palpitations. Within the generally-accepted chronology, then, we’ve carved out our scholarly spaces within a framework so well-established as to be internalized. I’m a nineteenth-century US historian. I do the Cold War. I’m a medievalist. We often interrogate these divisions—when does “modern” begin?—but when it comes to our scholarly autobiographies, we default to the divisions we once criticized. Undergirding this hegemony of the Established Historical Era is the way in which we teach our field. Chronological markers of varying specificity define our courses: Early Modern Europe; US History to 1877; The Vietnam War, 1954-1975. And, as these examples suggest, chronological boundaries are often accompanied by geographic designators. Thus, largely without meaning to, we enclose History into digestible packages. And that’s how we and our audiences—students, readers, each other—tend to consume it.

In doing so, however, we undersell the contingency, the possibility of differing interpretations, the sheer messiness of history. When students ask “is this on the test,” or are history-phobic because “it’s hard to memorize all those names and dates,” they’re speaking to this habit of consumption. Of course, we tell ourselves, history is more than that—it’s understanding things like contingency, difference, and messiness are at the root of historical processes rather than outside them. But I don’t think we connect these understandings—shaped in our deep and meaningful research and engagement with history—with our presentation nearly enough. As historians, we know that World War II didn’t start in 1941, but when we teach the US survey, or write the textbooks for that course, don’t we throw 1941-1945 out there as the most common chronological window? Maybe we use 1939, but doesn’t that center Europe over Asia? This might seem like pedantic quibbling, but I think our periodization says quite a bit about our perspective—and isn’t it our perspective through which historical research is filtered on its way to being consumed by a larger audience? So students who encounter World War II only through a US history course might think that conflict only lasted four years because the only significant part of the war is when the US was involved. Or they might see it as a primarily Western event, losing the essential global dimensions of the conflict, if they think it “began” in 1939. And if one wanted to open up a whole new can of worms, what about the wars of national liberation we associate with decolonization? Could they be interpreted as part of the “World War?” We know the “Cold War” became hot on occasion; why not see events like Korea as parts of the global conflict that didn’t end in 1945 so much as mutate into a more dispersed insurgency? Pinning 1945 as the “end” of World War II implicitly states that the war was over when the Western Great Powers—via nuclear weapons—said that it was. Is that true? Maybe. In any case, it’s certainly worth asking.

If we want students to learn in a deep and meaningful way, we need to problematize the material. Students should be asked to confront what they thought was familiar in unfamiliar and problematic ways. In this creative dissonance, learning and critical understanding flourish. So even if we don’t want to adjust the end date of World War II, it’s an exercise that can pay significant dividends by challenging our students’ notions of the “historical fact.”


I’ve been thinking about periodization a lot lately, because I think we’re doing it wrong with what we typically call the Civil War and Reconstruction. In the typical survey course, textbook, or scholarly treatment of the conflict, we encounter the war from 1861 to 1865, and then Reconstruction from 1865 (unless it’s 1863) to 1877 (unless it’s 1871 or 1886 or 1890 or ongoing). As the ambiguity surrounding “when Reconstruction happened” suggests, perhaps it’s worth reconceptualizing how we define the “Civil War” as a process in historical time. I think it’s instructive to look at how we view wars in other historical eras—to put it simply, why do wars get shorter in the 20th century? World War I? 1914-1918. World War II? 1939(ish)-1945. The Gulf War? 1991. Modern technology has brought us shorter wars! Hooray!

I’m (sort of) joking here, but it’s interesting, isn’t it, that we put a narrower and narrower boundary around more recent conflicts? I think there’s a great case for looking at the “Gulf War” as beginning with the 1991 US invasion of Iraq and continuing through the present; the reality on the ground doesn’t lend itself to an argument that the war ever stopped, does it? Yet, look at earlier epochs: they knew how to have a long war! The Barbarian Invasions of Rome. The Hundred Years’ War. Hell, the Thirty Years’ War was a model of brevity compared to its forebears. Facetiousness aside, the periodization we use for those conflicts gets at the long-term nature of both their causes and consequences. Arguing for a conception of the French Revolution lasting from 1789-1815 speaks to this longer view, as does a more expansive consideration of the global conflict of which the American Revolution was a part. And some of the more innovative scholarship on recent conflicts takes a similar approach-studies that place the Vietnam War into the larger anticolonial struggle, for example, or sees the American Revolution as a longer-term struggle that was continental in scope.

In that spirit, I’d argue for looking at the mid- to late-nineteenth century in North America (primarily, but not exclusively, the United States) as the “Long Civil War” (I’m definitely open to suggestions on this one). If the Civil War was a contest over slavery and freedom as competing visions of an expanded American state, why not look at the US invasion of Mexico in 1846 as the first chapter of that struggle? It’s not like violence—nay, warfare—didn’t occur between then and 1861. Ask the Californios or indigenous peoples of the Pacific coast. Ask the Kansans and “Border Ruffians.” Hell, ask Charles Sumner and John Brown and the proto-army that took shape in the South after Brown’s raid. Seen in this light, the secession crisis of 1860-61 intensified warfare that was diffuse and regional into a truly continental affair by consolidating and expanding the political-military coalitions involved.

Moreover, there’s a compelling argument to ditching the notion that the Civil War ended in 1865. Gregory Downs, for example, argues precisely that in his masterful study of the Union’s military occupation of the erstwhile Confederate states from 1865-1871. Downs characterizes this period as an “insurgent phase” of the war, where each side used violent force to shape the outcome of the conflict. This interpretation has the singular advantage of allowing us to see clearly the scope and scale of violence in the South after 1865. You don’t need generals and armies to lay waste to populations and civil order. I’d take this even further, however, and look at the so-called “Indian Wars” of the 1870s and 1880s not as a separate conflict, but another chapter in this Long Civil War. The Civil War was a struggle for the shape of the American state to come. Would the expanded continental empire be organized and administered as a Free Labor society? Or would it be a slaveholder’s empire, pursuing the aims of a master class and the crucial chattel foundation of its wealth and herrenvolk identity? Even though the Union victory “ended” chattel slavery (terms and conditions apply), the profoundly racialized nature of free labor ideology meant that white supremacy would, in the main, steer the ship of state after Appomattox. “Reunion” in the 1870s was made possible not only because northern politicians and their public were willing to “forget about the Negro” (in the words on one northern editor), but because the remaking of the trans-Mississippi West united northern and southern whites in a free-labor, privatization crusade against the region’s Indian peoples. What we’ve traditionally seen as the entire Civil War, 1861-1865, might be more accurately conceived as a chapter within the larger war (hitherto analyzed as separate conflicts) that reshaped the North American continent from 1846 to 1886. The invasion of Mexico and the Dawes Severalty Act were the bookends of a settler colonial revolution, the result of which was contested in various turns by Mexicans, self-styled Confederate whites, and Native peoples.

Training our analytical lens on the Long Civil War of 1846-1886 offers a number of interpretive advantages. It allows us to see the larger ways in which racial and racist ideologies shaped not only the pitched warfare of 1861-1865, but the violent struggle for mastery of much of North America in the surrounding decades. It prevents us from seeing “reconstruction” as a period where peace returned and the issues that divided the United States were magically resolved; instead, we see the ways in which continuing violence defined the reality of many groups of North Americans, even after representatives of the white elite signed a document at Appomattox Court House. And above all, we can take a more integrated approach to the ways in which white Americans expanded a specific form of racialized hegemony over much of the continent, a prelude of sorts to overseas imperialism at the end of the century. Conceiving of a Long Civil War prevents the myopia of overly-narrow periodization from placing analytical blinders upon us, and challenges us to make the type of connections that truly illuminate the larger historical processes at work. And that alone commends it to our historical imaginations.

Bibliographic note: On the post-Appomattox insurgency, see Gregory Downs, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War. For links between post-1865 efforts at reconstruction and the trans-Mississippi West, see Heather Cox Richardson’s excellent West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War. On settler colonialism and its analytical utility for this era, my thinking has been influenced by Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview and James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld.

via The Tattooed Professor

Do Your Students Take Good Notes?

Via ProfHackerProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Whether — and how — students take notes in class is an evergreen topic in discussions of teaching and learning. Unfortunately, I often find myself frustrated and annoyed when I’m explaining something in class and look out at a room full of students who are, admittedly, paying attention to what I’m saying but writing down not a single thing in their notes. Frustration and annoyance do not make for good pedagogy, though, and my off-the-cuff comments in response to this particular student behavior are probably among the reasons students often write in course evaluations that I’m too sarcastic. So in my teaching I’m working on front-loading an explanation of the relationship between what happens during class time — no, we’re not just having an unstructured conversation about things — and the designated learning outcomes of the course, as well as the role played by memory and such learning strategies as taking notes.

It’s clearly not enough just to harangue students about their inadequate classroom behavior; instructors should think carefully about what and why they want students to engage in certain practices and make clear to students what the reasons are.

Here at ProfHacker, back in 2011, Nels published a discussion of why it’s important to explain to your students not just that they should take notes, but more importantly why they should take notes:

When I started teaching, I never gave a reason to take notes… If students came to me asking for help generating ideas for their writing, I would start by asking what was in their notes. Often, the answer was nothing. So, after that, I started telling students why they should take notes. I explained how notes should help them with future work. I pointed out how class discussions and other activities were meant to help complete their next formal assignment or something else happening later in the course.

And in the pre-ProfHacker days, Jason explained his “Wikified Class Notes” assignment:

Many students take almost no notes in English classes, especially upper-division English classes, and especially when class discussions turn to close reading. That leaves students: 1) unprepared for exams; 2) without a sense that there is a body of knowledge/practice emerging during the class; and 3) slightly cynical about the purposes of class time.

In 2013, at Faculty Focus, Maryellen Weimer offers a number “tips for developing students’ note-taking skills“:

Beyond being an essential basic skill, note-taking offers students the opportunity to make the material their own. That doesn’t involve making it mean whatever they want it to mean, but it does allow them to interact with it in ways that develop the learner’s understanding of it. Now, this doesn’t happen when students equate note-taking with stenography and copy down exactly what the teacher says, and it doesn’t happen when students recopy their notes and think that’s studying. But it does happen when students work on and with their notes—when they put definitions into their own works, when they list relevant pages in the text, when they re-order the material so that it better connects with their knowledge, and when they write summaries and relate details to main points.

Weimar describes 7 different specific things that instructors can do in the classroom to get students taking better notes. What I like about this approach, as well as those offered by Nels and Jason, is that it goes beyond an inadequate “these kids today” gripe about what students aren’t doing and instead provides concrete practices designed to teach students the value of a basic skill that they might not already have in their intellectual toolbox. (And it also takes us beyond the dead-before-its-feet-hit-the-ground conversation about whether or not to allow laptops in class, a debate that allows too many of us to think that banning laptops somehow guarantees a better learning experience for students without any deeper thought being given to the relationship between what happens in the classroom, what students should be learning, and how to actively engage in pedagogical practices that improve learning.)

What do you do in your teaching to facilitate effective note-taking by your students? Do you have specific assignments that involve students’ notes? Do you lecture or facilitate discussions in ways that make note-taking easier? Please share your strategies in the comments!

[CC-licensed Flickr photo by Yusuf C]