Friday, April 26, 2013
A new survey of U.S. workers shows that fewer than a quarter use advanced mathematics in their work, and most of those using such math hold blue-collar technician jobs--not white collar positions. As reported in The Atlantic, the study surveyed 2,300 workers in a range of jobs over two phases from 2004 through 2009. The findings suggest that high-tech blue collar context could be a useful one for high school mathematics teachers. A couple other items of interest: A study around early childhood that indicates gesticulation drives home abstract concepts in mathematics instruction. And the Community College Research Center at Columbia University concludes from an interview study of 46 Virginia community college students that they prefer to take only "easy" courses online rather than "hard" courses.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
A new study finds that even if U.S. students on average are not as stellar in mathematics and science as their peers in some other developed nations, the nation still produces enough top-tier performers to fill a third of the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce jobs available in the world today. This finding, from a report by a liberal-learning economic policy institution, counters the view that the nation is potentially facing a shortage of STEM workers because of educational system problems and needs to hire better educated temporary workers from the outside. Other findings that the legion of educational researchers who have been studying science and mathematics learning for the past 20 years may find surprising: The nation's post-secondary system is actually overproducing STEM majors relative to the jobs available. Apparently majoring in science or mathematics is not the guarantee to job security that we've been told. The report indicates that only half the U.S. STEM graduates actually secure STEM jobs, largely because there is not sufficient demand for STEM workers, not because these graduates lack knowledge or skills. Further, a surprising proportion of those working in STEM fields have landed those jobs without a college degree.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
The National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), based at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, publishes briefs and articles about the challenges of learning assessment in higher education. Peter Ewell reports on progress with the Degree Qualifications Profile, an effort supported by the Lumina Foundation.
Monday, January 7, 2013
More and more college faculty are grappling with the challenges of crossing disciplinary boundaries to ensure their students are learning critical thinking skills. Both accreditation agencies and employers increasingly seek evidence that such skills are learned in college. Faculty commonly focus on teaching the rules of reasoning in their own disciplines, but branching out to teach reasoning across the disciplines is something new. I gave a presentation today at the faculty professional development day at Notre Dame de Namur University, a small, Catholic 4-year college in Belmont, CA. The talk presents an overview of new educational technologies in higher education and some links to online tools that faculty can use. In addition, I presented a perspective from educational and cognitive psychology on the concept of "critical thinking." The practical implication of this perspective is that unless faculty explicitly help students make connections across disciplines through assignments and assessments--most students will not make such connections. Why? Cognitive psychology tells us based on empirical evidence that people learn to reason within domains. As a result, what constitutes good reasoning in one domain does not precisely constitute good reasoning in another domain. The underlying logic does not easily "transfer." The sidebar conversations with faculty generated some interesting ideas. Maybe simply preparing students to know that whenever they enter a new domain, they need to appreciate that the "rules of the reasoning game" change constitutes a kind of critical thinking skill. If faculty in different disciplines can work together to articulate the "rules of the game" within their respective disciplines, and then discuss how to share the essentials across disciplines, they may move into a more coherent and effective approach to demonstrating results in improved critical thinking. One professor discussed how he teaches modus ponens to his students, and then has them apply this logical rule to different contexts. While such a logical reasoning framework has broad application and relevance, it does not necessarily help students apply, say, the rules of foreign language conjugation, the rules of biological metabolic processes, or the rules of supply and demand in economics. These latter reasoning systems are forms of "model-based reasoning" that have a non-intuitive quality. They constitute a domain-specific form of reasoning that is essential to be a critical thinker in those domains and essential for quality reasoning for a wide range of problems in the world. I look forward to hearing more about how the NDN faculty address their challenges around critical thinking. They may soon be exploring the idea of identifying the various essential forms of "model-based reasoning" per domain and using these as a basis for providing evidence of critical thinking across the disciplines.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Radio Higher Ed is a kind of CSPAN for higher ed geeks, particularly those interested in accreditation, assessment, and student learning. Good source of background about this layer of the higher education system, and an opportunity to gain insights from those directly working at this level.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Skimming reddit revealed some thoughtful blog posts about the challenges of using assessment to support student learning. I highlight the following to provide a taste of the problem. One blog author describes the difficulty of turning formative assessment into a school exercise that turns off student engagement in learning by continually teaching to student deficits. The author recommends giving students more agency through project-based learning and better tools for self-assessment. The author is careful not to abandon the school-like "diagnostic" approaches to formative assessment entirely. Achieving a balance between diagnostic and self-guided assessment seems to be the goal to best support student learning.
Latest report from the Community College Times shows that the City College of San Francisco has identified a long-term "interim" chancellor to right the ailing college district, and appointed a "special trustee" who has the power to overturn board decisions.