Monthly Archives: November 2010

active learning to the rescue?

A colleague at another university brought this article to my attention.
In an era of declining institutional support for the discipline, a panel suggests how pedagogy can help anthropology save itself.
Some anthropologists I’ve talked to think these activities are great, and some think they are too basic for their own students. Beyond that are larger questions: can the kinds of projects and activities described in the article reinvigorate student interest in a discipline?

Wired for Distraction?

Richard Lyons, from Faculty Development Associates, just posted a link to this NY Times story to the POD listserv:

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

November 21, 2010

It is a fascinating follow-up to our “millennial” presentations earlier this semester.  What I am wondering as I read this is whether this seeming inability to focus on schoolwork is going to disadvantage these kids as adults. 

Clearly, teachers and faculty still consider the ability to concentrate and focus to be important skills.  Likewise, the research literature also indicates that they are important for deep learning.  And It seems like employers still want these skills in their employees.  Will things change as these school kids become the employers?  It will be interesting to see…

Recent Releases: Student Learning Outcomes Assessment

The recent AIR Newsletter (Assoc. for Institutional Research),, describes two new publications from the NILOA, National Institute of Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Anyone interested in how the whole regional accreditation process works in the US should take a look at the first of these publications.  The link to the Newsletter includes a brief description.

Provezis, S. (2010, October). Regional Accreditation and Student Learning Outcomes: Mapping the Territory . (NILOA Occasional Paper No.6). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute of Learning Outcomes Assessment.  View the paper

Kinzie, J. (2010). Perspectives from Campus Leaders on the Current State of Student Learning Outcomes Assessment: NILOA Focus Group Summary 2009-2010. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA). View the paper

Institutional Research Conference

I recently attended the North East Association for Institutional Research (NEAIR) conference in Saratoga Springs, NY.  I wanted to share some thoughts, based on the presentations I attended. 

One overarching theme was the impact of the rising use of adjunct faculty teaching courses.  Many institutions have data showing how many courses adjunct teach, salary comparisons and hiring trends, but very little work has been done focusing on what impact this has on student learning outcomes.  Very hot topic now, and could use a lot of research around this to better understanding the complexities of the situation.

Scott Jaschk, co-founder and editor for Inside Hither Ed, talked about online learning as a space begging for more research.  One item he discussed that I found interesting is the idea of “What constitutes a 3-credit online course?”  Most universities have a formula for calculating credit hours.  For instance, Penn State’s Division of Undergraduate Studies defines a credit hour:

Penn State credits are awarded on a semester-hour basis. For the average student, 1 credit represents a total of at least forty hours of work in class activities and outside preparation. The distribution of time between class activities and outside preparation varies depending on the type of course. Typically, courses which involve lecture, discussion, or recitation require 12.5 classroom hours per credit. Therefore, the distribution of time is usually about one-third formal in-class instruction and two-thirds out-of-class preparation. For laboratory courses, the distribution of time is very different. For each credit, approximately 25 to 37.5 hours are spent in laboratory instruction; in addition, out-of-class preparation is required.

This definition drives a great deal of policy decisions.  Yet we do not have anything similar defining how this formula changes or applies to online learning.  How does 12.5 classroom hours per credit lend itself to online courses?  To hybrid courses?  This question should be answered with the help of research examining online learning…not by simply guess work.

These were the themes of the first 1/2 of the conference, which provides plenty to think about for now!  I’ll revisit this next week, posting some notes from the second half of NEAIR. 

Amazing article about successful cheating

If you haven’t read “The Shadow Scholar” in the Chronicle, it is well worth your time. Assuming it’s true (and the Chronicle mentions having done some fact-checking), the narrative provides an amazing look at how students at all levels of academia can successfully use highly skilled ghostwriters.  

The writer has a witty style, so the essay is entertaining as well as disturbing.

Digital stories of exemplary teaching strategies

The Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) website (, has been offering peer-reviewed teaching and learning materials for many years. A recent addition to the site is ELIXR (see This portion of the site offers short digital stories of faculty describing their teaching strategies. The stories are categorized as follows: course preparation and design, understanding and addressing students’ needs, teaching strategies, teaching and learning, technology and learning, developing instructional expertise and assessment and evaluation. Faculty who want to learn more about fostering creativity, for example, can find several different strategies for doing so in less than 25 minutes.

Inside Higher Education: Too Nice to Land a Job?

This is an interesting article from Inside Higher Ed, about a new study examining the different words used in letters of recommendation to describe male and female applicants for faculty positions (and the impact of those descriptions):

Here’s a link to the journal article discussed:

Madera, J.M., M.R. Hebl, and R.C. Martin. 2009. Gender and Letters of Recommendation for Academia: Agentic and Communal Differences. Journal of Applied Psychology 94(6): 1591-1599.

Online and Blended Learning Trends

I’m currently working on data regarding online, elearning cooperative and blended learning initiative course data across the 2009 and 2010 academic years.  We just started with the data, but it appears that a large percentage of resident students are at least taking one online course in their academic career, with some taking several elearning courses.

With that trend in mind, I recently read an interesting Chronicle article, detailing the experiences of three students attending universities that are investing heavily in elearning.  I’m unsure where PSU will be in 2015 with online learning, but some of the trends listed in the article include:

  • The University System in Maryland is requiring students to take 12 credits in ‘alternate learning mode’ courses, which includes online courses.
  • By 2015, several Minnesota universities are pushing to have 25% of the college credits earned by students moved to an online format.
  • Over half of Central Florida’s 56,000 students are taking an online course this year.  What might be even more interesting is that over 2,500 are taking blended, online and face-to-face courses at the same time.

The quotes from students provide some additional food for thought.  Some students claim the online courses are “easy As”, while other students struggle to adapt to an online format, suffering mediocre grades during their first online experience.