Category Archives: students

against active learning

I’m against active learning. Well, maybe not against it. Would you settle for “less for it than others are?” Here’s why.

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making the most of a mentor.

I was asked by the folks over at  The Hidden Curriculum to answer a question prompted by my recent scatterplot post: (grad)student-faculty interaction.  Specifically, readers were curious about how to identify mentors and make the most of those relationships, as well as any advice that I had on bridging gender gaps in mentoring.

The take-away is that it is possible to establish some of the qualities of interaction that those more informal encounters foster regardless of where the specific interactions take place. Whether in an office or on a soccer field, an open and honest relationship – with good communication and shared expectations – with a faculty member will enhance the mentoring you get. Check out the post for more, including my distinction between advising and mentoring and resources for students (and faculty) interested in improving mentoring experiences.

 

just graduated, and fumbling through grad school.*

This NYTimes article, Just Graduated, and Fumbling Through a First Job, appeared in my newsfeed today, despite being published last week. My initial thought was that it would make a nice addition to the “Examples from Everyday Life” links for my Social Psychology class (impression management, socialization, age vs. cohort differences, etc.). But my DGS role soon eclipsed those thoughts and I imagined a parallel piece that might appear in the Chronicle of Higher Education, as the article had a lot of insight that new graduate students could benefit from.**

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(grad)student-faculty interaction

Notre Dame loves to make videos. They are currently working on a series about graduate students’ experiences on campus and I had a meeting with the production company today to discuss one of the videos, a segment focused on (grad)student-faculty interaction. As great as the meeting was, I left feeling incredibly discouraged about the state of (grad)student-faculty interaction and wondering what, if anything, can be done to change it.

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becoming a master student.

I often tell my students that the course that changed my life was Introduction to Sociology. Today I realized that I’ve been lying to them, or to myself, all this time. The class that truly changed my life was Human Development 100.

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the chronicle’s wasted opportunity

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a reader contest recently, inviting readers to design their ideal college, from the ground up. The results are here (sorry for the paywall).

This could have been a great opportunity to rethink what’s best and worst about current higher education. (In truth, I thought about suggesting a scatterplot combined entry but didn’t get around to it.) It sure didn’t turn out that way! The five finalists include three that are just silly: proposals like “Costco University” in which “delivery” is the final say and there is literally no institutional capacity – everyone does what she can raise money for and nothing more.

Most importantly, though, there’s no real consideration on the synergies involved in the contemporary university: research and teaching, humanities and sciences, basic and applied, undergraduate and graduate, as examples. The proposals are largely about undergraduate education, isolated from all the other functions of the university. And they are focused on the things that make liberal-arts colleges (justifiably) proud: small classes, global focus, broad thought. But even if these are the kinds of things that make all higher education better (I’m not convinced they are) they’re certainly not feasible on the scale of today’s higher education.

students helping students.

As academics we know that the way that a class goes, how much students get out of a class, and their evaluation of the course or the material depends heavily on the students themselves. How much effort do they put in? Are they prepared to learn? Do they contribute to discussions and take the material and assignments seriously? What are their previous experiences and biases? Despite the student-centeredness of learning, most of us grossly neglect student insight. When we do ask for it, it takes the form of evaluations – of our classes and teaching, which can devolve into fashion critiques – where we (our teaching, our course) are the focus.

I wanted to briefly introduce two way that I turn the spotlight to the students themselves and then use student insight to improve my courses (and students’ experiences in them) without (necessarily) having to make a single change of my own.

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majoring in football

Joe Nocera of the NYT wrote a column the other day endorsing the idea of allowing football players to “major in football.” The column begins at a lunch here at UNC. I was at that lunch, and Nocera’s claims are broader than what was actually said at the luncheon. Continue reading

access to what?

As a result of the recession and the Republican takeover of the NC legislature, the UNC system has taken–and is expecting more–major cuts to its state appropriation. Unlike some other public flagships, notably Michigan and Virginia, UNC is very much a state school and we are very dependent on that state money to remain high quality, public, and accessible. UNC tuition remains very low compared to peers, but far from negligible. Continue reading

athletics and academics

As I have made clear in the past, I am a Tar Heel fan. I am also ambivalent about the relationship between big-time athletics and academics. Continue reading

ask a scatterbrain: training grads in research ethics

One of the many wonderful sociologists I chatted with in Vegas was Iowa’s Mary Campbell, a loyal scatterplot reader. She asked me to pose a question to you (and I’m hoping in my post-Vegas/ASA/first-week-of-classes haze I remember its essence – if I don’t, I blame Andrew Perrin pushing appletinis at the bloggettogether):

Apparently the University of Iowa has asked departments to ensure that graduate students are trained in research ethics. We’re not just talking about IRB certification, but moving well beyond this. Are others schools requiring such?  How are others approaching the issue? Or, if you’re not, do you have ideas of how to best do this? Of course the ASA has a guide on such concerns* that could certainly be a place to start, but what else is out there? A quick search on Amazon brings up various options, but surely faithful blog readers can provide a more personal recommendation.

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perverse incentives in grading – exhibit a

A student forwarded me this email last week, which s/he received unsolicited from MyEdu, a company that specializes in helping students exploit grade inequality between departments and instructors:

res ipsa loquitur.

of grade reform and deliberation

On Friday, UNC’s faculty council approved legislation that will put into place a series of reforms aimed at increased transparency in grade reporting. I chaired the implementation committee, charged with the details of how last year’s resolution (see discussion here) would be implemented, and I presented the legislation at faculty council on Friday.

My first observation is that Faculty Council has become more deliberative–that is to say, less complacent–than it was when I was on it. Members asked good, probing, and challenging questions to several of the items on the agenda prior to mine. Then came mine… with more challenging questions! One member protested that we “hadn’t had enough time” to evaluate the proposal (this having been approved in concept a full year before, discussed several times before and during that period, and through countless small group discussions). Another member, from the School of Education, found fault with the proposal because “we want all our students to be above average” (I kid you not). Another member, from the School of Journalism, argued that we should be moving to a different system based on pass/fail/honors.

At the time, and immediately afterward, I was really irritated with all of this (and I still am, to some extent). After all, Faculty Council had passed a resolution a year ago making the policy official. Our committee was charged with implementing it, so concerns with whether or not the policy was a good idea are no longer relevant, right? There’s a built-in evaluation clause that allows us to revisit the policy, this time with some data, five years after implementation.

I was relieved that the policy passed, 21-13, and so will be implemented, and I’m looking forward to working with our truly wonderful registrar on the nitty-gritty. I think it’s really important, and will be really good for UNC and hopefully for higher education in general.

On reflection, I have also become much less bitter over the Council’s debate (and one of my colleagues’ “no” vote!). It was definitely frustrating to have to deal with the “two steps forward, one step back” feel of the discussion, but I guess that’s what deliberation is about.

Update: Coverage in Inside Higher Ed here.

teaching deviance by doing nothing


Below is a guest post from Nathan Palmer, creator of www.SociologySource.com a site focused on spreading ideas and resources for teaching sociology.

Want to teach your students about norms, deviance, and the social construction of reality in a way that they’ll never forget? Try Doing Nothing, literally. Have your students silently stand in a public place for 15 minutes with absolutely no expression on their face. If anyone approaches them they are to reply to any and all questions by saying, “I am doing nothing.”

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who are our customers?

It is becoming more and more common to hear about the “customers” of higher education. I will go on record, unsurprisingly, as saying that I do not like this language. However, since it is becoming so common, I think it’s worth reflecting too on who these customers are, and also what the product is that they’re purchasing. This is both philosophically important and practically so with respect to grade inflation, one of my ongoing concerns.

The presumption when this is raised is often that the customers are the students in the room. Hence we are to deliver a satisfactory product to those students who have registered for our classes. And, when it comes to grading, a “satisfactory product” often ends up meaning an A. This becomes all the more so when the syllabus is conceptualized as a contract between professor and student, such that adequate completion earns the full payment, the A. I far prefer adequacy to earn a B- or C, and exceeding adequacy to earn grades higher than that.

But I digress. Let me suggest that our customer is actually The Public — not its individual components, not the student body as a whole, not the alumni and donors, not the taxpayers, certainly not whichever students happened to register for a given course. For public and private universities alike, tuition dollars cover only a fraction of the cost of education, and sometimes (as at UNC) a very small fraction. But more importantly, virtually every university has a public mission and claims institutional, financial, and moral responsibility for that mission. So as we create, communicate, and disseminate knowledge, we should be thinking about the collective public as our customer, not about the students. In many cases we may serve our customer better by being more demanding and less accommodating to the students.

Finally, let me point out that even if you reject my case above, what we are supposed to be “selling” is education and knowledge — not grades or credentials. So serving the students appropriately often involves being less accommodating than we sometimes are!

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