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Why Are There So Few Women Mathematicians?

As soon as mathematician Chad Topaz ripped the plastic off his copy of the American Mathematical Society’s magazine Notices, he was disappointed. Staring back at him from the cover were the faces of 13 of his fellow mathematicians—all of them men, and the majority of them white.  “Highlighting all this maleness and whiteness—what is the message that is being sent to the membership?” he wondered.

Topaz, a professor at Macalester College, knew that his field had a gender problem. In mathematics, just 15 percent of tenure-track positions are held by women, one of the lowest percentages among the sciences, along with computer science (18 percent), and engineering (14 percent). “Softer” sciences tend to have more women in tenure-track positions, like in psychology (55 percent women) and biology (34 percent). Despite training in a field with so few women, Topaz had the unusual experience of having women as both his Ph.D. and postdoctoral advisors. “They rarely talked about representation issues, but I noticed that they were often the only women in the room,” he said. Topaz grew increasingly interested in understanding why women were so underrepresented in his field, and then had a daughter, who he says loves math and science.  “At some point I thought, I need to be doing something active to contribute to addressing this problem.” So Topaz and the Macalester statistician Shilad Sen set to work by looking at a new metric of academic success: the editorial boards of academic journals.

Who’s on an editorial board may seem like an esoteric statistic, but Topaz and Sen argue that it’s a proxy for women’s leadership in a field. Think of the editors as the gatekeepers of science: They direct journals’ peer-review process, the backbone of modern science. Editors call the shots on which papers get published in their journals—and this affects the ultimate direction of a field.

On an individual level, being asked to join an editorial board is an important career milestone for academics. “Editorial boards are a great chance for professional networking,” says Sen.  “It’s important for tenure and promotion, and is seen as a prestigious honor.”

And Topaz and Sen’s research shows that women are being left out of these opportunities. In their analysis of 13,000 editorship positions on 435 math journals, they found that just under 9 percent of all math journal editorial positions are held by women. The median journal has an editorial board with 7.6 percent of editorships held by women, but one in ten journals have no female editors at all.

These numbers show that something is going on in the field of mathematics, but more research is necessary to understand what’s driving the disparity. One factor Topaz and Sen believe contributes to it is what they call the “brilliance effect”: the belief that natural brilliance or knack for a subject drives success, rather than hard work or persistence. And, sadly, women are less likely to be seen as brilliant. One recent study that analyzed reviews of professors on the site RateMyProfessors.com found that in fields where the words “brilliant” and “genius” were less likely to be attributed to women, women were less likely to reach upper levels of academia. “The implication is that to be a mathematician you have to be brilliant, and women are not brilliant,” says Topaz.

Even when women are brilliant, their accomplishments may be viewed differently by colleagues. Maria Emelianenko, a mathematician at George Mason University, told me about a colleague at another university who experienced this on her first day as an assistant professor.  “When she arrived, she had a sign on her door that said ‘Mrs. Smith’—but the rest of the signs in the department all read ‘Dr. So-and-So.’ She’s on the same level as her other colleagues, but somehow they referred to her differently.”

Other times, female mathematicians’ accomplishments are chalked up to the “gender card.” Mathematician Sarah Brodsky says that after she was awarded the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship, there were colleagues who told her that she’d won the award only because she’s a woman.  This kind of thinking—that women’s professional accomplishments are due to tokenism, not their abilities or hard work—plays a role in why women may be overlooked for leadership roles in their field, like editorial positions.  “[Editorial boards] are looking for someone who is mature, has expertise, and can review articles and point toward directions that elucidate deficiencies in others’ work,” says Emelianenko. “They want to be assured that this person is very well-qualified. But this doubt—“this lady has published a lot and gotten some grants, but it’s because she’s a woman”—may hurt women.”

It could also be the case that women in math are producing less work compared to their male colleagues. Working women shoulder more of housework and child-rearing responsibility than men, which could have a real affect on their output. Emelianenko says she’s seen colleagues struggle to balance family responsibilities with work. “One colleague had a C-section and had to teach in a week,” she says. “She didn’t think she could fight for her rights, because [the colleague’s department] had no departmental policies about it, and she was on the tenure track, so if she refused to do it she worried she would not get the job she wanted.”

But even if some women are producing less work—or God forbid, taking a few days off to have a baby—that says nothing about the quality of their work. “I don’t have time to write 10 articles a year, but say I write two—two that are not incremental papers, but something deeply interesting and thorough,” says Emelianenko. But academic environments often reward quantity of output over quality.

Gender disparities may be especially pervasive in mathematics due of the culture of the field. It has traditionally been a male-dominated field, and it can feel like an old boys’ club to many women. Brodsky tells me when she entered her graduate program, she was one of six women in a cohort of 40. She was horrified to learn from a classmate that her male colleagues had exclusive social outings. “They would get beers after work and rank the six of us in terms of who was hottest and most fuckable,” she says. After discovering this, it was hard to feel like she was being taken seriously. “That’s one good example of why I could never feel like an actual colleague—[we women] are just gossip to discuss.”

Of course, sexist behavior and harassment are not specific to math. But there are other aspects to the culture of math that contribute to an environment that undervalues women, like its reverence for objectivity. “Part of what sets math apart from other fields is the belief, on the part of the practitioners, in the ultimate perfection of their system,” says Moon Duchin, a mathematician at Tufts University. In academia, and especially math, objectivity is an ideal quality: scholars must separate themselves from their work. But humans, by nature, make subjective and biased decisions even if they are striving for objectivity. Those committed to scholarly objectivity may pass off their personal beliefs as ultimate truths without recognizing their own biases may have crept in. Duchin recalls a conference she attended as a second-year graduate student where mathematicians were ‘objectively’ rating colleagues. “The game of the evening involved naming two people, and everyone had to say who was better. That’s a particularly crass example,” she says, but it illustrates the pervasive belief in the field that there’s an objective way to measure who is a “good” mathematician. “If that’s your ideological commitment, then of course you’re going to discount implicit bias.”

Topaz, Sen, Duchin, Emelianenko, and Brodsky all shared ideas about how their field could eliminate barriers for women, from anonymizing paper submissions to reduce bias associated with male or female names and developing better parental leave policies to making a point of including multiple women on editorial boards. “A lot of editorial boards have one woman, and not a lot have two. One can be a token, but the move from one to two could be huge,” says Duchin.

But addressing the disparity will take more than changing journal practices; many mathematicians say they’ve seen firsthand how gender disparities begin early in students’ education. Sen says it’s common in his own classroom. “Women come into my introduction to computer science class and when they don’t quite get something, they think, I don’t get this, it looks like everyone else is getting this, I’m just not good at this,” he notices. But men, he says, just figure everyone else is equally stumped. “They think ‘I don’t get this, everyone else in the class doesn’t get it either.’” Studies have found similar differences in male and female confidence in math with high school and even elementary school students. Sen says he thinks it’s important to address these attitudes with his students, and normalize the idea that people need time to digest new concepts. “The biggest impact I can make is in my classroom, especially in the intro levels, where the culture is coagulating.”

Sen and Topaz are hopeful that more participation from women, especially in top ranks, will improve the field. “There’s research that shows that the best decision making happens when you have a diverse group of people,” says Sen. “If half the world’s population is not participating in math, you’re missing out on half of the really good people.”

via The Atlantic http://ift.tt/2foAK2G

Yale Graduate Students’ ‘Microunit’ Unionization Strategy Could Have Nationwide Implications

A quarter-century-long fight for a graduate-assistant union at Yale University has taken a new twist that could make it easier for unions to gain a foothold on campuses.

Unite Here Local 33 has filed petitions for union elections in nine academic…

via The Chronicle of Higher Education | News http://ift.tt/2f2ifmb

Moving Past Civic Engagement To Civic Innovation

Every year, without fail, I leave the Digital Media and Learning Conference with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to my work. While I attribute some of this energy boost to the opportunity to connect with colleagues and share my research, I think its major source is the conference’s commitment to highlighting the power and responsibility of digital technologies to contribute to a more equitable and active civic life.

Too often, when discourses about education and technology converge, conversations focus on the novelty-factor of particular tools in the classroom, opportunities for large-scale data collection, or the potential for academic skill development. DML, through its carefully curated program, consistently guides the discussion back to the more consequential “so what” of amplifying marginalized voices and fostering new forms of expression to improve democracy.

I was fortunate to participate in several of these sessions. Along with Antero Garcia and Danielle Filipiak, I coordinated a full-day pre-conference workshop that helped a group of 25 educators develop youth participatory action research (YPAR) projects with young people across various formal and informal learning spaces. And, I served as the respondent on a session exploring participatory politics initiatives in Oakland, California that highlighted the work of the Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network and Youth Radio.

In both of these sessions, and in many more, I found traditional ideas of the “civic” being re-imagined in new and critical ways that I think highlight how digital media has brought us educators to a moment at which the concept of “civic engagement” is not strong enough to capture the ways young people are advocating for justice and the kinds of learning opportunities they deserve to support their efforts. I saw three shifts represented as teachers and researchers shared examples of youth digital expression:

  1. Citizenship as status or achievement vs. citizenship as practice: In his DML keynote address, Jose Antonio Vargas reminded us how the DREAMer movement is exposing contradictions in how our society conceives of citizenship. On one level, it is defined as a status that you do or don’t have, while on another, it is defined as something to be earned or achieved based on engaging in certain socially prescribed behaviors. Both cases exclude large numbers of young people — those who are undocumented and those who do not engage in outdated, approved forms of civic engagement like contributing to political campaigns. Both cases fail to account for the complexity and possibility that comes with viewing citizenship as a practice that we all continuously engage in across the various spheres of our daily lives — including through technology. DML sessions highlighted a practice-based vision of citizenship that is pushing the field forward.
  1. Citizenship as triumph vs. citizenship as struggle: For many students in Oakland who confront the effects of systemic inequity on a daily basis, the traditional American narrative of constant, triumphant forward progress on all social issues rings hollow. DML sessions highlighted the ways that young people find motivation to participate in civic life not by buying into a colorblind, meritocratic vision of this country, but by recognizing struggle and advocacy as the engines of change and justice in America. Digital media tools are offering new avenues for continuing and expanding that beautiful struggle.
  1. Citizenship as voting vs. citizenship as so much more: DML sessions demonstrated that traditional indicators of civic engagement (voting, belonging to a club, reading the newspaper, etc.) no longer accurately capture the modes of civic expression that digital technologies make available to young people today. Now, young people are starting Twitter campaigns, recording and disseminating podcasts, communicating online with their elected officials, and so much more. Our field needs to find ways to welcome these new forms of participation in order to counter the deficit narrative that defines young people as uniformly civically disengaged.

And so, my experience at DML leaves me with the firm conviction that it is time to move past civic engagement — to find a new conceptualization of civic participation that captures what young people are doing with the help of digital technologies in their communities. Antero Garcia and I, in an article to be published next year in the Review of Research in Education, propose that it is time to move toward a vision of civic innovation. This semantic shift honors the practice-based, struggle-focused, and participatory nature of 21st century civic life and has the potential to transform civic education (and digital literacy education) in ways that honor youth voices. I look forward to the DML community continuing to lead this transformation.

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The post Moving Past Civic Engagement To Civic Innovation appeared first on DML Central.

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Harvard’s Social-Justice Paradox

Harvard University and more than 700 of the school’s dining workers have come to a “tentative agreement” over wages and health benefits after a weeks-long strike, the union representing those workers said Tuesday. It’s the apparent culmination of a battle that has embodied the ironies of the Ivory Tower and brought into question the role of university endowments.

Brian Lang, the president of Unite Here Local 26, said in a statement that the bargaining committee felt the two sides had hammered out an agreement that addressed “all of the concerns.” But he added that the strike would continue until a vote could be taken on Wednesday. The group declined to disclose specific details of the agreement until then. Harvard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The university, which has the largest endowment of any school in the United States at $35.7 billion, had been locked in negotiations for months with dining workers, who called for year-round pay (many dining halls close over the summer) and a salary increase of several thousand dollars to $35,000. The workers also asked the school not to raise out-of-pocket health expenses, which some workers said were already in the $4,000 range.

In a moving opinion piece in The New York Times on Monday, a worker named Rosa Ines Rivera said that she’d passed up on an appointment to get a spot on her lung checked for cancer to limit co-pays after a doctor said her daughter might need surgery.

Rivera, who wrote that she’d been employed by the school for 17 years, added:

Harvard is the richest university in the nation, with a $35 billion endowment. But I can’t live on what Harvard pays me. I take home between $430 and $480 a week, and this August, I fell behind on my $1,150 rent and lost my apartment. Now my two kids and I are staying with my mother in public housing, with all four of us sharing a single bedroom. I grew up in the projects and on welfare. I want my 8-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son to climb out of the cycle of poverty. But for most of my time at Harvard it’s been hard.

During the weeks of dialogue, in which students walked out of classes in support of workers and staged sit-ins in administrative buildings, the university and its supporters countered that workers were making about $22 an hour, higher than most local food-service workers. The school also pointed out that it had asked all union workers, not just those in dining, to pay more for insurance coverage, and that insurance costs are rising. (The Obama administration announced this week that premiums for Obamacare insurance plans were up 25 percent.)

But the headlines (such as “Harvard Has Billions, So Why Won’t It Pay Workers a Living Wage?”), and the general sentiment among Harvard students and some faculty members was largely sympathetic to the workers, asking why the richest school in the country and the birthplace of some of the nation’s most progressive policies couldn’t part with a few million dollars and significantly improve quality of life for the workers who help keep the university and its students running.

“Time for the school to show some moral leadership and set an example for the rest of higher ed,” Emil Guillermo, a self-identified working-class kid who attended the school on scholarship in the 1970s, wrote in Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “Harvard can do that easily by taking care of the people who never graduate but choose to give their lives to make Harvard work.”

While it is true that endowment funds are sometimes earmarked for specific uses, and that the school’s endowment reported a disappointing 2 percent loss this year, the school announced last month that it had raised north of $7 billion in a capital campaign.

One commenter on the Times article wrote, “Harvard Corporation’s response to the strike has been cold and unfeeling. Rather than responding to the personal struggles of the strikers, they simply sent out an email with some cherry-picked statistics, basically calling the workers entitled. Harvard Corp also asked if any students would mind volunteering to set out sandwiches. Unsurprisingly, no one volunteered. It doesn’t work like that Harvard, you have to pay people.”

Dining-hall employees who don’t have the opportunity to work at the university year-round aren’t able to collect unemployment because, as an educational institution, Harvard doesn’t have to pay that benefit.

The strike highlights growing tension around how wealthy institutions treat their workers, many of them immigrants of color, who keep the campuses running. These are institutions that have been criticized in recent years for educating predominantly well-off white students while failing to adequately open their doors to lower-income, often minority, scholars. While schools were not immune to the recession, many weathered the economic downturn far more easily than the workers who help sustain them.

A Harvard Magazine piece last year pointed out that one of the Harvard endowment’s managers earned more than $11 million in 2013. The school’s president, Drew Faust, makes in the upper six figures, but also has access to perks like an official residence and retirement benefits that take total compensation north of a million dollars annually.

Yet at the same time as the school’s top officials have pulled in lofty salaries and as big corporations beyond school gates have rebounded in the ensuing years, hourly-wage workers have continued to struggle, with median weekly earnings just surpassing a 2009 peak this March. Elite universities, which employ both highly compensated, highly respected academic leaders and low-wage workers who sometimes feel invisible, offer a depressing illustration of the widening gap between the richest and the poorest Americans.

And as cities have gentrified and young professionals earning good salaries have opted to put down roots in places like Boston and Los Angeles, neighborhoods that were previously accessible for hourly workers have grown too expensive, pushing families out of homes and communities they’ve lived in for decades.

A recent survey of workers in the University of California system, which has an endowment of more than $14 billion, found that seven in 10 workers in clerical, administrative, and support services struggle to afford enough healthy food for their families. Although the system, California’s third-largest employer, announced last year that it would pay employees and contract workers a minimum of $15 an hour, the highest of any public-university system in the country, the average wage of the workers in this latest study was already $22 an hour. A 2013 report from the California Budget Project found that a single parent with two kids needs to make about $36 an hour. A faculty strike also over wages and healthcare costs recently ended in Pennsylvania.

The final details of the Harvard agreement are under wraps for now, but the union workers appear to view the outcome as a win. Beyond that, the strike, the union’s first on the campus in more than 30 years, seems to have brought together two groups of people—students and the workers who feed and care for them—who usually operate in different spheres despite sharing the same physical space together.

As a dining worker who participated in the negotiation process, William H. Sawyer, told Harvard’s student paper, “I’m feeling great about it, everything feels good … The students and everyone behind us [have] been really inspirational… they kept us up, up, up, up and alive about this.”

via The Atlantic http://ift.tt/2dGdHiC

Navigating the Perfect Storm

Higher education faces a perfect storm.

The product of low graduation rates, increases in tuition, mounting student debt, and employer dissatisfaction, this storm is placing institutions under enormous pressure to make college more affordable to middle-class families, cut time to degree, and ensure that graduates have real-world marketable skills.

Also contributing to the coming storm are disruptive changes in the educational landscape. Increasingly, students are acquiring education in ways that undercut university’s current business models. A growing number are earning credits in high school or community college, or from various online providers. Meanwhile, master’s programs, a traditional cash cow, are losing ground not only to lower cost online programs, but to alternate purveyors of credentials, including industry-branded certificate programs and non-profit providers of technical skills.

This perfect storm is deeply disruptive, but it also brings opportunity. Already, universities are using digital modes of communication to make higher education far more accessible than ever before.  Data analytics will allow faculty to personalize the learning experience in ways never before possible, diagnose and remediate areas of confusion, and target interventions in near real time.

The biggest opportunity is to radically rethink our educational models in order to bring more students to a bright future while containing costs.

Our current university model melds together a student life component, an academic component, a credentialing component, and a research component. These four functions co-exist uneasily, with many students prioritizing coming-of-age experiences and many institutions incentivizing faculty research above teaching. As many complain: Students’ academic engagement, demonstrated learning, and acquisition of real-world competencies are neither measured nor given precedence.

Within the University of Texas System, we are thinking long and hard about new models that will optimize time to degree, better prepare students for a rapidly shifting workforce, and ensure that students graduate with the skills, knowledge, and problem-solving abilities expected of a college graduate. Underlying our thinking are four models.

Model 1: Seamless Pathways and Crosswalks
In recent years, a new educational lexicon has emerged, featuring such terms as “exploratory majors,” “guided pathways,” “verticals,” “meta-majors,” and “crosswalks.”

Linking these terms together is the notion that many students would benefit from a more coherent, intentional, integrated curricula, with synergies across courses, and from much more seamless transfer of credits.

Certainly, the guided pathway approach would offer fewer electives; and certainly such pathways need multiple on- and off-ramps. But for those students who choose to pursue such paths, the route to a degree would be more direct, transparent, and quicker.

At the same time, crosswalks – between military training programs and the academy or between high school, community college, and four-year institutions – would ease one of the big impediments to graduation: The loss of credit hours when students transfer from one institution to another.

Model 2: Integrating the Curricular and the Co-Curricular
For many students, the most meaningful, transformative educational experiences occur outside the standard curriculum: in mentored research, internships and externships, study abroad, or service learning.  Yet for the most part, those experiences count little toward graduation.

To be sure, students need to acquire core knowledge and facility in critical listening, reading, and writing – precisely the kinds of education found in lecture halls, discussion sections, and seminars.

Yet if those fundamentals could be taught more cost-effectively and efficiently , then many faculty members would be free to participate in high impact learning experiences, which could then become integral parts of degree paths.

Model 3: Stackable Credentials
A bachelor’s degree generally requires four (or more) years to vest, and too many full-time, first-time-in-college students never reach the finish line.  Many of those students would benefit from stackable credentials – professional or academic certificates, badges, specializations, micro-masters, and the like – but only if these have real value in the marketplace.

Model 4: Co-Location
A new model of education is gradually taking shape: A campus that includes multiple educational institutions, research institutes, start-ups, and established industry.
Medical centers have long pursued this model. Multiple hospitals, medical schools, laboratories, and synergistic industries serve as research hubs, education centers, and incubators for new inventions, industries, and technologies, training workers, driving knowledge creation, and developing applied innovation.

Global cities such as New York and Paris understand that such a model is critical to ensuring their future prosperity and successfully competing in the global economy.

New York City has invested more than $500 million in the applied science and engineering campus on Roosevelt Island, while Paris is bringing 19 universities, polytechnics, and institutes together in order to compete with Silicon Valley.

UC-Berkeley had similar ambitions for a global campus in Richmond, which was supposed to bring together an international coalition of leading academic institutions and private sector partners.

via Inside Higher Ed http://ift.tt/2ex9JvZ

Getting Names Right: It’s Personal

Diverse group of university students in classroom

Editor’s Note: The following article was excerpted with permission from To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching, a new book that brings together student experiences and opinions with advice from master educators and experts. The book was written by students at Michigan State University under the guidance of Joe Grimm, visiting editor in residence in the MSU School of Journalism since 2008.

“I spend a lot of money to go to school here. It would be nice if a professor knew my name.”

“I appreciate the fact that you asked me what I wanted to be called because my name has various pronunciations in different languages.”

There are so many ways a simple and personal thing like a person’s name can lead to problems. The first student quoted above felt more like a number than a person because she felt none of her professors bothered to learn her name.

The second is an international student who was used to mispronunciations and questioning looks and appreciated a professor’s extra effort.

Mishandling names can lead to awkward moments. For many students, name problems come on the first day of class. Here’s a tweet with the hashtag #GrowingUpWithMyName. “Knowing the pause on roll call in school was my name. I would just start saying ‘Here’ before they even tried.” Everyone knows what it is like to have their name mispronounced sometimes. But imagine what it is like to have it happen almost every time—and with an audience of new peers.

While some students might offer a name that they feel will be easier to remember or say, it is not OK for instructors to rename students to make it easier to call roll.

There are those times when the professor calls a student by another student’s name. Somehow, the professor has made a connection. Maybe these are the only students of their race or ethnicity in the class. It seems like a little thing, but it carries big implications and it can make others in class feel uncomfortable.

One American college student reported feeling uncomfortable for Asian students when professors stumble over their names—and then turns the mistakes into jokes or ditties. It can humiliate the student and, if they are new to U.S. culture, it can be bewildering.

International names do not have universal spellings or pronunciations across cultures and societies. The student who appreciated a professor’s patience in learning the pronunciation of his name is French African. Where he is from, his name has a different intonation and spelling. The student felt very good about his class after this encounter because he perceived that his professor took the time to be personal with her students.

One international student said that she can always sense when professors are about to make a funny attempt at pronouncing her name. “They never ask first but they want to act like they know already, which doesn’t usually always end well.”

Because names are an important aspect of our identity, acknowledgment of a person’s name and its correct pronunciation can signal acceptance of that person into a new culture. Since acknowledgment leads to acceptance, many international students adopt English names to better assimilate. By doing so, they avoid the potential mispronunciation of their names and feel like they fit in. Fitting in can enhance learning.

There are almost as many reasons why it is hard to get names right as there are students in a class. Professors have scores or hundreds of students in a term, and new ones every term. Some professors have more than a thousand students in one term. There are a lot of names to learn.

But learning and using student names improves teaching.

Daniel F. Chambliss, Eugene M. Tobin Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Hamilton College, wrote “the best thing I do to improve students’ work in my courses is … I will learn and use their names. It’s easy, and it works. Using those names in class is uniquely powerful.”

Here are some strategies:

  • Read a class roster out loud before meeting the class. Note potential difficulties. If the class list has photos, try to match them with the names. Print out the pictures and bring them to class.
  • Take attendance on the first day in a consistent way with each student, even the ones with seemingly easy names. Use a standard question such as, “What do you like to be called?” One professor sends out a survey before classes begin and asks students for their name preferences. One student seemed delighted when, at the first roll call, she was called by her preferred name, which was not the name on the attendance list.
  • Write phonetic spellings down when you need to. When you get to a name that might be difficult, ask the student to say it, using the part of the name you feel more comfortable with. Don’t joke. Don’t rush. Spend a little extra time if you must to understand, but don’t make a big deal. If you need to ask the student for more help, do it after class. If you make a mistake, apologize but don’t make an excuse.

Many international students adopt American names to fit in. But at the same time, there are also instances where foreign students have American names. Whatever the case may be, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor Phil Huelsbeck in the department of International Education, advises that professors be actively aware of these differences. He wrote, “Without an audience, ask (repeatedly if necessary) how to pronounce the international student’s name and make a note of the proper pronunciation. Some international students take on an ‘American name’ but it is often appreciated if the instructor takes the time to learn the student’s native name, as well.” It can also teach classmates something.

Marian Kisch, a freelance writer in Maryland, wrote in the November/December, 2014 issue of the International Educator: “Even a short conversation after class about the student’s home country can help the student feel more comfortable and can build rapport. Do your best to learn how to pronounce students’ names, even if it takes a few attempts.”

Dustin Carnahan, who teaches in the Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences, suggested customized rosters, which can accommodate extra columns for chosen names and pronunciations. Students should be able to tell the professor what they want to be called, “no questions asked,” he said.

In “Learning Student Names,” posted on the National Teaching and Learning Forum, Joan Middendorf and Elizabeth Osborn at Indiana University wrote: “A professor who does not know his or her students’ names may be perceived as remote and unapproachable. … In large classes, the task of learning student names can seem daunting, but even if the professor learns the names of only a portion of the class, a caring, inclusive atmosphere will be established.” They gathered more than 25 strategies for learning and retaining students’ names. They included name tags, tent cards, flashcard drills for the instructor, association and student introductions. There is probably something for most circumstances.

At the end of the day, it is always better to call students by the names they like. As Czech-born writer Milan Kundera wrote in his novel “Immortality,” “We don’t know when our name came into being or how some distant ancestor acquired it. We don’t understand our name at all, we don’t know its history and yet we bear it with exalted fidelity, we merge with it, we like it, we are ridiculously proud of it, as if we had thought it up ourselves in a moment of brilliant inspiration.”

Chambliss, Daniel F. “Learn Your Students’ Names.” Inside Higher Ed, Aug. 26, 2014. June 12, 2016 http://ift.tt/1laRPOX

Huelsbeck, Phil. “Awareness Points for Educators with International Students in the Classroom.” University of Wisconsin. June 12, 2016   http://ift.tt/2e02hfT

Kisch, Marian. “Helping Faculty Teach International Students.” NAFSA: Association of International Education, International Educator, November/December 2014.

Middendorf, Joan, and Elizabeth Osborn. “Learning Student Names.” Bloomington: Indiana University, 2012. June 12, 2016 http://ift.tt/2edJIQA

Mitchell, Charles. “Short Course in International Business Culture.” Novato: World Trade Press, 1999.

Nichole Igwe is a journalism major and a public relations and French minor at Michigan State University.

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How the Internet Wrecked College Admissions

Over the last decade, the internet has made it much easier for students to apply to college, especially thanks to services like the “Common App.” For the nearly 700 schools now part of the Common Application—the nation’s leading standardized online college-application portal—students can browse by name, state, or region, by the type of institution (public or private), and by whether it’s co-ed or single-sex. Clicking on a college takes students to a brief profile of the school and then an invitation: “Ready to apply?”

And now that students can apply to more colleges with the click of a few buttons, they are doing exactly that. In 2013, according to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), 32 percent of college freshmen applied to seven or more colleges—up 10 percentage points from 2008. Almost all of this growth has been online. In the 2015-16 admissions cycle, over 920,000 students used the Common App, more than double the number in 2008–09.

On the one hand, the internet has been good news for college access. Officials at the Common App, for example, say 31 percent of the college applicants who used the portal in 2015–16 were first-generation students. Students and their families are also now smarter consumers of what’s likely to be among the biggest ticket items they will ever buy: a college education. The internet has also been great news for college marketing departments, which can now reach many more students—and more cheaply—than they could via old-fashioned snail mail.

But the growing piles of applications are also causing problems—both for colleges and for students. While schools might welcome the rush of national exposure from a broader pool of prospects, they also increasingly face the problem of sorting out qualified, serious applicants—students who not only have the right academic chops but would actually enroll if accepted—from the scrum. And so long as the sheer volume of applications continues to rise, the odds of colleges’ guessing wrong rise too—which, in fact, is what’s happening, with dire consequences.

For students, the flip side is how to rise above the growing tide of competition, or how to hedge their bets if they don’t. For middle-class and upper-income students, this means more hassle, anxiety, and expense. But for lower-income students, it means barriers that could prove insurmountable. While the college-admissions process has long been a game that favors those who know the rules, a crowded market is just one more way of stacking the deck against those who don’t or can’t afford to play.

For many schools, the national applicant pool made available by the internet has been a great way to raise their “selectivity”—a metric that matters greatly for traditional college rankings, like those of U.S. News & World Report. The lower the percentage of students admitted, the more “selective” the college. This means a school that admits the same number of students every year can appear more “selective” if its applicant pool is bigger and more students are rejected.

Many schools discovered that online applications, including the Common App, were an easy way to help grow the pool of prospects. The Common App, for example, offers a standardized application, “auto-fills” students’ personal data from form to form, and offers tools to help manage submissions. Adding new schools to a student’s wish list can be accomplished with a click. At some schools, simply replying to an email is enough to make a student an applicant. “As colleges moved to online applications, many of them looked to streamline the process so it wouldn’t be as cumbersome for students,” says David Hawkins, the executive director for educational content and policy at NACAC. “A lot of colleges also found that it resulted in a lot more applications coming in.”

At the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, freshman applications jumped by roughly 28 percent in 2013, the year the university joined the Common App, and have continued to grow, according to the admissions director, Kevin MacLennan. While the school saw 22,437 applications in 2013, it fielded 34,100 applications this year. Most of that growth has also come from out-of-state and international students, from whom applications have risen by more than 10,000 since 2013. “The quality of our applicants has gone up,” MacLennan says. “[It has] increased in grade-point average and high-school rank, but in test scores as well.”

For smaller schools, a digital admissions marketplace has helped to shortcut their path into the national or international spotlight. “Who knew about Macalester [in St. Paul, Minnesota] in the early 1990s, or Rollins [outside Orlando, Florida]?” says Jeff Knox, an educational consultant who works with the Bethesda, Maryland–based firm PrepMatters. “But they’re becoming really popular.”

The concern for colleges is that selectivity and national reach aren’t the only metrics that matter. Just as critical is “yield”—the share of accepted students who actually enroll. It’s what colleges use to project their revenues and manage their finances, and miscalculations can be fatal. Too few students—too low a yield—can spell shortfalls that lead to budget cuts, fewer classes, or even faculty layoffs. In 2013, for example, Joseph Urgo, the president of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, resigned after the school fell short of its enrollment targets by nearly 25 percent. On the other hand, too many enrollments could mean not enough student housing or financial aid. At Temple University earlier this year, an unexpected number of acceptances for the incoming freshman class—a higher-than-expected yield—caused the school to exceed its financial-aid budget by $22 million and resulted in the abrupt ouster of both the provost Hai-Lung Dai and the president Neil Theobald.

Most schools, however, are having trouble finding the right students. In fact, despite the online application boom, schools are in crisis around yield. NACAC’s State of College Admission survey found that the average four-year college yield rate was 35.7 percent in 2013—down from 48.7 percent in 2002. At the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, MacLennan, the admissions director, says that while about half of the in-state students who are accepted are likely to enroll, the school yields one out-of-state student for every five or six offers—a yield rate of roughly 20 percent. At Drexel, a university in Philadelphia which was one of the schools that pioneered the reply-to-this-email-and-you’re-an-applicant trick, the school’s yield rate plummeted to as low as 8 percent despite a surge of applications. The college has since taken steps to stem the flood by returning to a more traditional process.

The cause of all this volatility is a problem in the college-admissions marketplace that the Stanford University economics professor and Nobel laureate Alvin Roth calls “congestion.” “Congestion is what happens when you have a lot of people in the market and too many offers,” says Roth, the author of Who Gets What—and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design. “It’s gotten easier to apply to colleges, but now colleges get many more applicants. That changes the ‘signal to noise’ ratio.” It’s an ironic and unintended consequence of college admissions on the internet: The seeming efficiency of online applications means less efficiency overall.

But if colleges are aiding and abetting this market congestion, a big share of the burden of coping with it has fallen on prospective students, the wealthiest of whom are best equipped to navigate the marketplace.

For example, many schools are increasingly relying on “early decision” and other tools to secure commitments from top recruits. According to NACAC, nearly half of colleges said they admitted more students through early decision during the 2013-14 admissions cycle, while the number of early-decision applicants also grew. While colleges enjoy the certainty of a student’s commitment to their school (and the resulting boost in yield), the downside for students is less ability to compare financial-aid packages across schools. As a result, affluent students are the most likely to apply early decision, especially to more selective schools. A 2016 investigation by The Washington Post found that many top schools filled as many as half of their freshmen classes with early-decision students, effectively shutting out lower-income students from a big part of the applicant pool.

The same bias afflicts schools’ increasing reliance on “demonstrated interest”—another tactic colleges use to raise their yield by looking for proactive indications that a student will enroll if accepted. “It used to be that applying was how you demonstrate interest, but it’s just not the case these days,” says Knox, the educational consultant. In fact, some admissions officials say that “demonstrated interest” is now almost as important as an essay or teacher recommendation in determining who gets admitted.

The best way for a student to demonstrate interest is to visit the campus. The problem is that while a college tour might be a rite of passage for middle-class and affluent students, it’s far less feasible for students without the resources or support to visit prospective schools.

In addition to campus visits, colleges are also creating elaborate systems to track and measure students’ interest in other ways. “Colleges now have these sophisticated electronic dashboards so that every interaction with them is logged into the system,” says the NACAC’s Hawkins. “Even something as simple as liking a college on Facebook—that’s a little checkmark in your dashboard. It’s part of a very comprehensive recruitment strategy that colleges are now engaged in because of this uncertainty around yield.”

“We also know every interaction students have had with the university,” says MacLennan, from the University of Colorado Boulder. “Maybe they’ve come in and visited the campus for an information session. Maybe they’ve toured the campus. Maybe they’ve shown up on a high-school visit or brought their parents to one of our hotel programs. We have a record of not only how many times we have contacted them but how many times they’ve contacted us, and that will begin to show the strength of their interest.” These records can begin as early as ninth grade.

Of course, most students have no idea that this is how colleges are judging them. Some do, however, because they have the means to hire private educational consultants who can explain the rules of the current admissions marketplace. “One way to tell that the market is dysfunctional is if you have to hire a guide,” says Roth, from Stanford. “The college-admissions process at one point was supposed to be something that high-school seniors could do for themselves.”

According to Mark Sklarow, the CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), the number of private educational consultants has skyrocketed over the past decade. Sklarow estimates that there are 5,000 full-time consultants nationwide, including the roughly 1,500 who are members of his organization, plus another 10,000 to 15,000 consultants working part-time. Thirty years ago, Sklarow says, educational consultants numbered less than 100 and catered exclusively to the highest-income families. Today, he says, the typical client is a middle-class or upper-middle-class student in a public school. Despite the mainstreaming of private counseling, it’s still expensive. Sklarow says that the typical cost of hiring a consultant to help with college admission is about $4,500, spread out over three years, beginning in a student’s sophomore year. While some consultants charge a flat fee, others charge an hourly rate, which averages $160 nationally.

In addition to the perceived complexities of applying to college, the shortage of public-school counselors is what’s driving demand for private admissions consultants. “There’s an increased need for counseling and a decrease of availability,” Sklarow says. The average ratio of students to school counselors in public schools was 491 to 1 in 2014, according to the American School Counselor Association, up from 460 to 1 in 2012. According to a study by the nonprofit CLASP, high-poverty public high schools are about twice as likely as other schools to have no counselor at all. Instructively, many private admissions consultants have gotten into the business because their jobs as high-school guidance counselors were eliminated.

The confusion caused by the congestion in the college-admissions market, together with a shortage of guidance counselors and the emerging dance around “demonstrated interest,” could exacerbate the problem of “under-matching,” where high-quality lower-income candidates are channeled into less-selective schools, where their chances of graduating are lower and their lifetime earnings lower even if they do graduate. But there are growing risks for other students, as well, because there’s no obvious endpoint for the escalation in applications. As long as students continue to apply to more and more schools, the noise in the market and its attendant uncertainties will increase. This, in turn, prompts yet more applications by students anxious to hedge their bets by casting a wider and wider net. It’s a deepening, bottomless spiral.

Unless the colleges choose to stop it.

One way to do this, says the Washington, D.C.-based educational consultant Shelley Levine, is for colleges to stop marketing to students just to pump up their application numbers and “selectivity.” For one thing, this system is unfair to students. “You wouldn’t believe the students who come into our office saying they’ve received letters from Yale and Harvard and Princeton and Washington University saying they’re just the kind of candidate the school is looking for,” she says. “I say stop giving false hope.”

But the only way for this to happen is for colleges to abandon their obeisance to “selectivity” and other metrics that distort students’ choices toward “prestige” and away from the more important consideration of fit. Given the losing battle that colleges seem to be engaged in over the question of yield, this is one place where what’s best for students might be the right answer for colleges, too.

This post appears courtesy of Washington Monthly.

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Online Discussion Forums as Assessment Tools

student on laptop in library

Classroom Assessment Techniques, or CATs, are simple ways to evaluate students’ understanding of key concepts before they get to the weekly, unit, or other summative-type assessment (Angelo & Cross, 1993). CATs were first made popular in the face-to-face teaching environment by Angelo and Cross as a way to allow teachers to better understand what their students were learning and how improvements might be made in real time during the course of instruction. But the same principle can apply to online teaching as well.

Impact and Examples

There are many types of CATs that work well in the online classroom. The KWL CAT stands for “What you Know, what you Want to know, and what you Learned” (Ogle, 1986). Steele and Dyer (2014) found that KWL CATs increased student participation in online discussion forums. These authors implemented KWLs in their discussion forums and give the following example of how a KWL may be implemented:

Timeline: One week or module

Monday: Create and post additional question, “What we know,” under DQ (Discussion Question) 1.

– Example: “What do you know about a thesis statement?”

Wednesday: Create and post additional question, “What we want to know,” under DQ 1.

– Example: “What do you want to know about a thesis statement?”

Friday: Create and post additional question, “What we learned,” under DQ 1.

– Example: “What did you learn about a thesis statement?”

Wrap-up: On the next Monday, copy and paste a list of responses students shared relating to what they learned regarding the topic and objective. This is a choice opportunity to validate student learning and understanding regarding all the ideas they discovered. This type of positive feedback will help students continue to engage in future weeks and create a personal accountability for learning. This can also be an opportunity for instructors to reteach key points that the students did not pick up on or indicate in their “what we learned” post.

After implementing this style of CAT in the first half of their test classes and not in the second half, Steele and Dyer found an increase in the average number of student forum postings for those classes that used the KWLs over those that did not.

In my own study of CATs, my coauthor and I found that using simple practice problems as CATs in undergraduate math class discussion forums can be helpful. Several sections of 100-level math online classes were used as a test case. Half of the sections employed CATs that asked students to solve problems in the discussion forum and document their steps, and then discuss their solutions with their classmates and instructors. The CATs were simple postings of sample problems in line with the material from the week’s unit. The students were asked to complete the problems in an open discussion forum where all students could see their attempts. In one version of the CAT, students were asked to document their steps. In all cases, students were encouraged to comment on each other’s solution posts and to add correction and/or commentary. We later compared sections of classes that used these simple CAT interventions with those that did not, and found an increase in both frequency of student posting and subsequent mean quiz scores in the CAT sections (Cross & Palese, 2015).

CATs are easy wins that can have a real impact in the online classroom, especially when used in the discussion forum space. These small checks for understanding not only deliver increases in participation and possibly learning outcomes, but can help us all adjust our teaching style or tools on the fly to better help students learn.


Angelo, T., and Cross, K. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers

Cross, T., and Palese, K. (2015). Increasing Learning: CATs in the Online Classroom. American Journal of Distance Education, 29 (2): 98-108.

Ogle, D. M. (1986). K-W-L: A Teaching Model That Develops Active Reading of Expository Text. Reading Teacher, 39 (6): 564-70

Steele, J., and Dyer, T. (2014). Use of KWLs in the Online Classroom as it Correlates to Increased Participation. Journal of Instructional Research, 3 (1): 8-14. DOI 10.9743/JIR.2014.3.10

Reprinted from Online Classroom, 15.7 (2015): 7. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

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