Charles Duhigg’s New York Times Magazine feature on the power of habit and how advertisers exploit it makes for a fascinating read. The way habits work is also very suggestive for a university setting, where we form so many habits, only to form a new set the next semester. How might we identify the cues, routines, and rewards that most enhance or threaten our productivity and our students’ learning? It would involve doing some research, which in turn involves bracing oneself for bad news. The authors of Academically Adrift have released some follow-up research that only confirms the doom they predicted. Scores on the Collegiate Learning Assessment test, which Academically Adrift used to measure learning, also seem to predict employment success.
But there may soon be more research available to help students avert the doom of academic drift. Eduwonk breaks down a new bill (proposed by Senator Ron Wyden) that would make it possible to collect more detailed and complete information on the income benefits of specific college degrees. This kind of information might lead to more initiatives like the Posse Foundation, which proves just how poorly SAT scores predict academic success. The highly selective program forms “posses” of kids, all from the same city, whose SAT scores don’t reflect their full potential. As a unit, each posse attends one of the 40 elite colleges that partner with the Posse Foundation. Bolstered by their posse, the students thrive, taking leadership roles and excelling in their coursework. The new bill might also yield the long-term statistics to validate initiatives like New York City P.S. 142’s field trip program, which seeks to improve disadvantaged children’s learning by providing them with real-life context for things a standard curriculum expects them to know, such as what it’s like to sit inside a car.
It may soon be possible for prospective graduate states to make similarly informed decisions, as top universities move—hesitantly—toward more thorough tracking of their PhDs. More than helping them choose whether or not to pursue a doctorate, this information will help graduate students consider a wider range of career choices, and in turn encourage departments to widen their offerings. The American Historical Association features prominently in these stories of better tracking and more flexibility. The AHA has been working to embrace the full range of career possibilities open to historians, and it recently announced a commitment to work with the Lumina Foundation to specify exactly what someone with a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate in history should be able to do.
How to measure students once they’re in the classroom? Faculty Focus suggests taking another look at whether your grade breakdown matches your teaching goals. Also at Faculty Focus, Miren Ivankovic suggests incorporating the rest of the class’s opinion into a student’s grade. He encourage students to practice their public speaking by telling a story to the class, in exchange for bonus points that count toward the final grade. (The idea is modeled on The Moth, an open-mic storytelling venue.) Some stories, he says “received very eager attention and loud applause upon completion,” even though he thought them rather uninteresting. Still, he allowed the class’s enthusiasm to factor into his grade decision—“ After all, they are talking to their larger audience, their peers, not just one (older) professor.”
Tomorrow’s Professor shares James Rehm’s interview with Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer, whose practice of mindful teaching doesn’t square with traditional grading procedures. (Langer prefers to stick to qualitative feedback on most assignments, though she does still assign final grades.) David Weinberger’s book, Too Big to Know (reviewed on Inside Higher Education by Barbara Fister) also addresses the question of epistemological relativity, but from the very different perspective of network theory. A scholar’s battle with Wikipedia, and the website’s frank acknowledgement that it represents majority view rather than truth, offers an enlightening case study to that could help your students more accurately assess Wikipedia’s uses and limitations. Even the often-maligned lecture has its merits, when properly measured. Robert Talbert, a frequent critic of the lecture format, notes four things that lectures actually do well. (Information transfer is not one of them.)