Posts Tagged ‘us’


Lastest Phd Importance News

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

Jamie Bartram, PhD, “Mr. Water”
phd importance
Image by mystuart
Bartram was the University Day distinguished speaker this year (2012) in honor of UNC’s Water Institute, which you can read about here:

The institute seeks to increase awareness of the critical importance of fresh water to human health in all parts of our world. Bartram was a wonderful and inspiring speaker.

Turn off that tap!!
Conserve, even if you "don’t have to pay for it". My water, for example, comes from a well and is "free". But no water is really free, and it behooves each of us to do our part to conserve that which exists on earth.

To my British friends: Dr. Bartram comes to us from good old England, Surrey, mainly. It was a big step, he says, but he’s happy in Chapel Hill!…


“Not a College for People Like Them”

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Confessions of a Community College Dean

Rising star of the Twitterverse Tressie McMillan Cottom has a must-read post about her observations as a sociologist and former admissions staffer at a for-profit college.  It’s about the interaction between the prestige hierarchy of higher education, economic class, and self-image.

The money quote:

When I teach my undergraduates at my elite, private school they all recognize the for-profit college ads I play to introduce the idea of higher education stratification. I ask them why they did not apply to Everest or Strayer when they were applying to college. They tell me that it’s not a school for people like them.

“Not a school for people like them.”  

When I worked at DeVry, we had conversations like these all the time.  DeVry used to blanket every cheesy daytime talk show with ads — Ricki Lake was a favorite — and its student body reflected that.  Whenever a big muckety-muck from Home Office came to campus to exhort us to higher success rates, we usually responded by asking that the advertising be redirected to places where likelier-to-succeed students might see them.  The usual answer was that the ads worked, and as long as they worked, there wasn’t much point in redirecting them.

This strikes me as the flip side of the “;undermatching” thesis addressed yesterday.  At some level, there’s a broad — and I would say, badly dysfunctional — understanding that certain kinds of colleges are for certain kinds of people.  That’s not restricted to the relatively unobjectionable cases of women’s colleges or colleges with specific religious affiliations, where the identities are worn on the sleeve.  The larger issue is the unwritten identity that each college assumes.

Economic and cultural capital are major components of those unwritten identities.  Those overlap with race, but they have force of their own.  The students who know the difference between engineers and engineering techs go to Purdue or MIT; the ones who don’t, go to DeVry.  

The for-profits are acutely aware of that sort of thing, and they organize themselves accordingly.  As Cottom puts it:

Can you imagine applying to your flagship state university by walking into the admissions office with $ 75 in cash? It is even difficult to do at the local community college I visited recently. And community colleges are, theoretically, designed to serve demographically similar students as those served by for-profit colleges. Waltzing in with cash money is not only a bureaucratic violation but a cultural one. It signals you do not know how “;real” college works.

Exactly.  And if community colleges are serious about helping the folks who don’t come in knowing that, we could learn some lessons from the for-profits.

To my reading, Cottom puts a little too much faith in the economic cycle to explain for-profits’ success, and probably too little on the regulatory climate.  And it’s reasonable to think that the for-profits should be even more nervous about MOOCs than the rest of us.  But those are quibbles.  Go and read her piece.  Give it some thought.  She’s on to something, and we’d best figure out just what it is.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


Internalizing the External Evaluation Approach

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Library Babel Fish

I’m finishing up a draft of a department self-study for an external review of our library. It’s the third time I’ve been involved in one of these, and the second time I’ve been primary author. It’s making me feel reflective about this enterprise we are part of, the nature of change, and questions of purpose and agency.

Deep thoughts, in other words.

External reviews are an interesting practice. Our first review in the early 1990s brought a number of overheated issues to the surface, not unlike a volcanic event. I don’t recommend bottling everything up until a review team arrives. It’s hard on the reviewers and a mess to clean up. Some good things came out of it, ultimately. The review amplified what an accreditation team concluded at approximately the same time: the library’s budget has to be increased. I’d forgotten what a huge difference a few years of budget growth makes. The review also kicked off a few years of difficult internal discussions that led to a complete redefinition of the librarians’ roles (adopting a more holistic and shared set of duties) and the development of a collegial management model for our library organization, something I still find exciting. It works for us, and it mystifies me that more libraries don’t try it.

The second external review in 2003 was less eventful. No skeletons tumbled out of closets, no Gordian knots had to be whacked apart. We got answers to some questions we posed, we got an endorsement for the things we wanted, and we felt many of our efforts affirmed, particularly in terms of what we did to promote and support student learning.

Working on the documentation for the third external review reminds me that some of the projects we’re working on now got their start ten years ago. The reviewers noted our shelving was near capacity and warned us that we’d have to start planning accordingly. The library was packed to bursting with students who clearly felt ownership of the place and were occupying every available space. We would have to figure out how to preserve that space for students to interact in groups, study in solitude, or spread out as they worked on research. The weeding we’ve been doing wholeheartedly for the past few years stems from this recommendation.

But it also reminds me that some things are in our control, and some are not. Those budget increases leveled off and have been flat for over a decade. (Our staff costs, particularly for health care, have no doubt increased, though our staff is smaller and younger than it was.) Having ever-increasing subscription costs and a stagnant budget makes us constantly tinker with our collection, trying to cut anything that isn’t necessary. In some ways this is a healthy form of simplicity. You really need to know what your priorities are, and you have to involve the entire faculty in defining them. In good times, there’s no real need to be so analytical or reflective. We’ve gotten good at both. And we've gathered a lot of data.

A team of librarians, staff, and students conducted large-scale ethnographic study of our virtual and physical space, which also drove many of the changes we've made since the last review. We redesigned our website, we reorganized space, we created a new reference desk where we could sit side-by side with students to talk through their questions. We have a trove of information, from student and faculty surveys, to seating pattern studies, to interviews and focus groups, to picture associations and photo diaries. Lots and lots of lovely data, and it has been really useful.

But there are limits to what you can do with data. You can say “;look, students say they need more space, they need more places for solitary study, more group study areas. They’ve been saying this for 25 years. Can’t we do something about it?” Well, here’s what we can do: we can scour campus storage areas for tables that can be scrubbed up and used in place of underutilized carrels. We can create nooks in the stacks that are a little like study rooms, though never quite as popular. We can move furniture around and empty some shelves and patch things up. Because that’s in our control and requires time and imagination, but not money.

We can nip and tuck and cancel this and that to cover budget gaps. We can stop buying anything that isn’t a high priority and patch holes by canceling a thousand journal dollar subscription, making up for it by buying one $ 40 article at a time. Every time a vendor promises a cheaper version of an essential database, we can make a switch and hope the savings last longer than the time it takes to fix all the broken links. But data doesn’t lead to a bigger budget.

We academics have a habit of using the term “;bean counters” when condemning those soulless individuals in administration buildings who don’t invest in programs that aren’t performing, who run the numbers before they make decisions. How I wish more administrators were bean counters!  How I wish they cared about data, about evidence, about careful stewardship of scarce resources. It’s useful stuff, data. Every improvements we’ve made in this library was a response to the data we’d gathered. But outside the library? Decisions seem to be made by some other means.

I remember thinking during the University of Virginia debacle, a power struggle that seems to be happening all over higher education, that what rankles the most when watching those who have a bit of power try to reserve it all to themselves, is that they’re so bad at using it. The things we care about in higher education -; ethics, the logical consequences of actions, the use of evidence in decisions, the virtues of equality and a belief that rational people can make decisions for the common good, that stuff we started believing during the Enlightenment, is being replaced by something else. Something blind and careless and full of confidence in the righteousness of power. 

I suppose we could end each department meeting with the serenity prayer, but there are things that need changing, no matter how powerless we feel. So on we go, trying to introduce students to values that have been around a long, long time and may still, some day, come back in fashion. We can hope.  

Barbara Fister

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


9 Factors We Learn About Understanding From Fitbit

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Technology and Learning

This Hanukkah/Christmas my wife and I gave each other Fitbit Ones, a wearable digital activity tracker that measures steps, distance, calories burned, stairs climbed and sleep.  

Since 12/12/12 I have walked 334,176 steps, climbed 550 floors, and covered 172.19 miles.   

What can we learn about learning (and teaching) from the Fitbit?

1. Learning and Exercise Are Hard: Perhaps the biggest inhibitor of improving our own performance is the belief that other people are "naturals" at a given task. We say that someone is naturally good at math, or that they have a runners body. We can never be as good as they are, so why even try? The truth is that learning and exercise are hard. Nothing good comes easy.  We all need some help. The Fitbit helps me exercise. It motives me to take more steps. Recognizing that exercise, and learning, are difficult tasks can help us look for methods that might help.  We need to think about how we can use technology to encourage learning beyond what is possible with traditional methods.

2. Nudging Towards Better Habits: What the Fitbit does is provide external rewards that hopefully nudge us to adopt better exercise habits.  I run those extra minutes on the treadmill, or take the stairs and not the elevator, in order to reach my daily goal of 10,000 steps.  Eventually those actions should become habit, I'll do then without thinking.  How can we use technology to nudge students towards better learning habits? Can we find ways to provide rewards that foster both internal motivation and better study habits? If the Fitbit is truly successful at creating better exercise habits (something that I think needs verification from experimental research), can we translate the Fitbit's fitness technology to learning technology?

3. The Power of Instant Feedback: The Fitbit provides instant feedback as to how many steps, miles, stairs climbed and calories burned that I've accomplished. All of these data points are tracked in real time on the device, and captured on my own personal web based Fitbit dashboard. I don't need to wait a day or a week to see the results. And Fitbit sends me badges, in the form of e-mail and on the my Fitbit Dashboard, for every time I reach a goal (say 10,000 steps) or a particular milestone (like 500 floors climbed). Fast feedback motivates behavior.   We need to set our courses up so that we can provide fast feedback and periodic recognition of milestones. We all know that a grade at the end of a class, or a week after an exam, is too late.   What is less obvious, and what the Fitbit teaches us, is that we may be better off creating smaller assignments and deliverables in which we can provide fast feedback and turn-around.  We should also be liberal in creating formative computer graded assessments where learners can get instant feedback on their progress.

4. Setting Goals: The Fitbit allows me to set my own activity goals. The default is 10,000 steps a day (and we know the power of defaults), but we can set that goal for anything that we like. Goals can be for calories or miles, steps or stairs.  Setting our own goals is vastly more effective than having someone set them for us. We have done a good job in our course designs of including learning objectives and goals for individual modules. Have we done enough to figure out what our learners' goals are, and then to measure their performance against those individual goals? We talk a great deal about adaptive learning and personalized learning environments, but in my experience these methods remain infrequently practiced.   

5. Tracking the Data: We don't improve what we don't measure. The Fitbit is one example of the emerging Internet of things and a source for all that big data we keep hearing about.   Every minute of every day that I where my Fitbit I'm creating vast amounts of fitness related data that can be tracked, measured, indexed, and I'm sure sold to advertisers and marketers.   All this data is effective in motivating my behavior, as I can see days when I did reach my goals and try to adjust future behaviors to avoid low activity days. We are doing a better job of tracking learning (or at least assessment) data within our courses, but we are only at the beginning of connecting and aggregating learning data for the entire length of a students' higher education career.   (And forget trying to connect K-12 with post-secondary data). The digitization of learning will help us track things like time spent reading, watching course lectures and simulations, participating in collaborative platforms, and of course taking formative and summative assessments. Will we make all this data available to our students?  Will it run longitudinally across courses? Will employers or graduate schools want to see this data?

6. The Social Element: Learning is social. Every edtech company is trying to turn their learning platforms into social learning platforms. Fitbit lets me see the activity levels of my Fitbit friends via the web based dashboard. If your friends or family buy a Fitbit, and give you permission, you can see how many miles they traveled each day. So far, I have 3 Fitbit friends at work, my wife and her sister in my network. Getting crushed each day by these (apparently incredible active) colleagues and family member is amazingly motivating. Social learning may be effective if classmates can share (can opt-in) to display learning inputs. Time spent interacting with online presentations. Numbers of course blog or discussion postings. Utilization of online, computer graded formative assessments. A Fitbit community tends to set norms around levels of activity, just as a social learning community could set norms around levels of learning effort and time.   

7. The Potential of Mobile Devices: The Fitbit works to improve fitness (if it works, again we need some experimental verification), because it is a mobile technology. Clip it on and forget about it. The data syncs automatically to my web based Fitbit account. No need to plug and download anything. The Fitbit device both tracks and displays my activity, so I can check my progress as I go through the day.   The potential of mobilizing our learning is that our students will have their courses and course materials wherever they go. A set of readings, lectures, videos, collaboration opportunities and assessments on a smart phone will be available whenever a learner has a few free minutes. Our existing digital learning platforms have, for the most part, been born on the web – not on the smart phone. Do we have a learning management system that was designed first as an app, and then secondarily as a website?   What would a born mobile learning platform look like?

8. Ecosystems and the Danger of Lock-In: The Fitbit is not only a souped-up pedometer. It is a website. It is a smartphone app. It even includes a WiFi scale (for $ 129.95) that lets up to 8 people in your household track their weight, BMI, and body fat on the Fitbit dashboard. (I've lost 5 pounds so far!).  The value add for the Fitbit is not the little device, but the way that the ecosystem hangs together and the manner in which all the data populates the Fitbit network. The danger is of course lock-in. My Fitbit data (as far as I know) is not portable, if I switch to say the Nike FuelBand I'll lose all my fitness history. We need to learn how to build our learning ecosystem while avoiding locking our learners in to one platform. Personalized learning data should be accessible across learning platforms, exportable, and ingestible in other platforms. We need to follow Amazon Kindle and Fitbit in creating a valuable ecosystem for learning, but avoid the sins of these companies in making the data (whether e-books or fitness data) proprietary.   

9. The Need for Better Devices:  As much as I love the Fitbit ecosystem, I worry about losing my Fitbit device. A clip on Fitbit is sub-optimal for my lifestyle, I think it will get knocked off, lost or left behind too easily. What I want is a Fitbit watch. Waterproof. Something I can wear all the time and forget. Something that charges by the natural motion of my body. I'm betting (hoping) that Fitbit has this device in development (does anybody know?), until then I live in fear of misplacing the gadget. We also need better mobile e-learning platforms. I dream about Apple or Google or Microsoft putting learning at the core of their mobile operating systems.  The potential to bake in learning applications at the mobile OS level, rather than leaving these apps to the application marketplace, seems to me like the smartest long-term strategic bet that any of these company's could make. Can we imagine what an iPhone, Android, or Windows phone would act like if it was purpose built for learning?

What do you think we can learn about learning from Fitbit?

Are any of you also Fitbit devotees?

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U