April 9, 2010
Teaching assistants who may not be able to keep up with the rigors of marking up hundreds of papers per semester while maintaining their own academic schedules may soon be relieved of their duties if a new trend catches on - outsourced grading.
The University of Houston is already trying it out through Virtual-TA, a service of a company called EduMetry Inc. whose employees work mostly from Asia. According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Houston business professor Lori Whisenant decided to use the service when she realized her seven teaching assistants were having trouble giving productive, detailed feedback to the 1,000 or so juniors and seniors who enrolled in her course in business law and ethics each year. Her students come up with nearly 5,000 words a semester.
The company, which was co-founded by a business professor, boasts that it can do the job even better than teaching assistants, and leaves professors with more time to teach and conduct research. According to the Chronicle, many of the American schools that have signed up are business schools, with a mix of for-profit and nonprofit institutions using the outsourced services. West Hills College in California uses the service for its online courses, and instructors there say the extensive feedback on grammar and other writing errors that teaching assistants may ignore in favor of more "big picture" problems with essays has kept some students from dropping out of the online classes.
So how does it work? "Expert graders," or "assessors," submit grades online using rubrics from the professors teaching the courses. They communicate solely via email, and are given syllabi and textbooks from the courses to prepare for their grading assignments. Their feedback is embedded into the documents they receive from students; those comments may be edited by the professors before they are returned to the students. The graders do this for a living, so the biggest difference between the outsourced assessors and local teaching assistants is that they're not juggling their coursework at the same time.
Critics of the service worry that it makes the grading process even less personal than it already is with teaching assistants at the helm. These outsourced graders don't know anything about the students they are grading, critics say, making it difficult to adjust their comments to fit each student. Those who like the service, however, say it shouldn't matter where a grader is submitting their feedback from, whether that is across the hall or from a work station in Singapore. What do you think? Is this the future of grading?
April 21, 2010
College professors worried about low enrollments in their courses are going the advertising route, posting videos on YouTube to show potential students what they should expect in their classes, and why students should put those classes on their schedules.
Jeremy Littau, an assistant professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University, put up a YouTube video about his multimedia reporting class last week, just before registration started for the fall semester. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the clip includes footage of current students interviewed about what they learned in the class and of projects produced by students in the class. Littau said in the article that the video may be even more helpful than emailing a current syllabus of the class to interested students. He has posted the link on Facebook and Twitter, and emailed the video to journalism majors at the colleges.
The videos may also be useful in disproving popular misconceptions about courses that professors want to change, or making traditionally dry subjects in the science and math fields more interesting. Joe Pomerening, an assistant professor of biology at Indiana University, has used YouTube to promote his Biology 211 course on molecular biology.
Some professors will be struggling even more than usual to fill seats in their classrooms as colleges begin retooling their general education curricula. George Washington University, for example, recently dropped foreign language requirements from the school’s curriculum, a move that has professors in those courses worried that their positions will be eliminated. According to a recent story in USA Today, foreign language courses at the school won’t count toward the fulfillment of any requirement, in effect discouraging students from enrolling in those classes, the professors say. The school dropped the foreign language requirement as part of a broader effort to make necessary courses more about learning outcomes like critical thinking, creative thinking and quantitative reasoning, and not about particular subjects.
How flexible is your college when it comes to general education requirements? Would you consider a course based on the promotion behind it? We want to know!
May 7, 2010
For some students entering their fifth, sixth, maybe even seventh years of college in the fall, administrators in the California State University system have a message for you: Graduate. Please.
You may remember reading about the trouble California colleges and universities in general have had over the last year. Budget problems have forced schools to significantly limit enrollments, placing students on wait lists for the first time in many of the schools’ histories. “Super seniors” are now viewed as part of the problem, taking up valuable space on the state’s campuses while would-be freshmen look elsewhere for available slots.
The California State University system has begun introducing initiatives targeting those students who take longer than four years to graduate. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes the state system’s dilemma describes these initiatives as expanding advising services, limiting financial aid, and getting department heads more involved in making sure students graduate in a more timely fashion. Administrators say this doesn’t mean students will be prohibited from switching majors if they find themselves flailing in a potential degree they were pushed toward by their parents, for example.
In fact, students who take longer to graduate but aren’t amassing a large number of credits (perhaps because they are attending school part-time, for example) aren’t even the target of the initiatives. The school is after the “Van Wilder” types. The Chronicle describes one 50-year-old student who had more than 250 credit hours under his belt, which came out to about eight years of full-time college schooling. He had enough credits for degrees in both health sciences and theater, but wanted to start over to get a degree in marketing. According to The Chronicle, the school handed him his degrees and told him to look elsewhere for that new degree: "At 50 years old, you should know what you want, and you're stopping two other young people from coming to this university,” Cynthia Z. Rawitch, associate vice president for undergraduate studies at California State University, said in the article.
The California State University system hopes to raise its six-year graduation rate up to about 54 percent by 2016, according to The Chronicle. Studies over the years from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics have shown that less than 40 percent of students graduate within four years, so this may be something other states should look into doing to increase freshman class sizes as well. There may be a number of reasons for students’ graduation delays, however: transferring schools, balancing work and school, indecision about choosing a major or switching majors well into a college career, or a number of other potential factors. What do you think? Should students be held more accountable for how long it takes them to graduate?
May 26, 2010
As the weather grows warmer and spring semester grades are announced, many college students have little on their minds beyond relaxing poolside until the fall semester. Some students, however, won’t be getting much of a break, taking classes right through the season in what admissions officials say may be record numbers.
An article in Inside Higher Ed today reports that at schools across the country, summer enrollments are up, following suit after a year of increased enrollments and admissions competition across the board. Why the bump? Inside Higher Ed suggests a number of possibilities.
The economy may be one reason, as it has not only been more difficult to find a job these days, it has been harder for students to line up internships and other summer opportunities. Some students may also be more aware of the cost of college, and choose to complete their degrees as quickly as possible, often on satellite campuses closer to home. (Some students may be worried that they’re getting on the five-year or “super senior” plan rather than the traditional four-year undergraduate experience, due to major switches or other factors.) With less competition for summer classes than during the fall and spring semesters, signing up for courses in the summer months may also make strategic sense, as students worry about getting all of the credits and requirements completed in a timely manner. Admissions officials have also reported more nontraditional students enrolling in their schools overall, and that population is more likely than the traditional group to enroll in school year-round.
At the University of California-Berkeley, the school’s officials made a concerted effort to attract more students to their summer offerings. As a result, about 1,000 more have registered for summer classes this year compared to 2009. The school also offers more online courses this summer, making it easier for students to justify sacrificing some of their summer off for academics.
Summer enrollments at community colleges are even higher. An increase of more than 6,000 students over the previous year have enrolled in summer classes in the Houston Community College District, according to Inside Higher Ed. Administrators there say many of the students are new, coming from four-year institutions to grab up some credits at their local community college while they work to have some money by living at home or working part-time jobs in their hometowns.
How about you? Are you taking summer classes? If so, what’s your reasoning? If you are signed up, make sure you know of the financial aid opportunities available to summer students, as most schools still offer aid in the summer months, even if you’re only enrolled part-time. And, as always, consider scholarships for summer.
June 4, 2010
You probably know all about dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses, two strategies used by high school students to get into college-level work sooner and set themselves up for graduating from college early (or even on time). But how early is too early to get started on that college education? Lake-Sumter Community College says 13.
Thirteen-year-old Anastasia Megan and her parents have filed an age-discrimination complaint against the community college with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to fight the school’s decision to reject Anastasia’s application for dual enrollment. According to a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel, Anastasia, a home-schooled student, has already breezed through her high school curriculum, and her parents say they no longer have the means to challenge her academically.
Officials at Lake-Sumter Community College say it would be inappropriate for Anastasia (or anyone of her age, as the college is unable to talk about the case specially) to enroll at the school because it could pose a safety risk. The college attracts a large number of adult students, and unlike a high school where there may be some limits as to who enters the school, Lake-Sumter is open to anyone who wishes to come onto the campus. In the article, the school’s president Charles Mojock says: “And we have many adult students having adult conversations on adult topics and that may or may not be suitable for some young students.” The growth in young applicants, some as young as 8 years old, even led the school to add a minimum-age requirement of 15, according to the article.
Anastasia’s parents, meanwhile, say their daughter is “well-suited” for college, and has experience among adults from a number of international trips she has taken with her parents and siblings. She has completed online college courses successfully, and had above-average scores on the college-placement tests required as part of the admissions process by Lake-Sumter. If the Department of Education rules on the side of the college, Anastasia’s parents said they may need to supplement their daughter’s education in other ways, perhaps by more world travel. Lake-Sumter is the only college in the area that Anastasia could attend that would not mean a move away from home for the family.
What do you think? Should Anastasia be allowed onto a college campus at 13? Should her parents look instead into high schools for gifted students that may allow her to socialize with kids her age? How young is too young for the college experience?
June 8, 2010
A recent Craigslist posting has officials at Columbia Basin College trying to determine whether students looking to take advantage of scarce seats in popular college courses have been selling their spots to those desperate enough to pay money for the enrollment advantage.
The posting in question came from one such desperate student. According to an article yesterday in Inside Higher Ed, it came from a student looking to pay for a seat in Biology 160, a popular and required class for students in most of the school’s health profession programs. It is still unclear whether the posting was from a real student, or a student looking to stir up discussion on the school’s recent course cuts that have made the enrollment process more competitive, according to Inside Higher Ed.
A spokesman for the college said it was possible for students to sell their spots by telling student “buyers” exactly when they would drop the class in demand, according to the article. This would give a student a window to enroll in the class that other students may not know about. Most popular courses at the college that are over capacity fill any dropped spots within minutes anyway, the spokesman said, as students check in on those full classes on a regular basis just in case spots open up. An assistant professor interviewed for the article said she doubted the ad was real because of the hierarchical system of course enrollment at Columbia Basin. Students who really need to get into courses will do so as they get farther along in their programs, and get first dibs on many of their required courses before undergraduates with fewer credit hours to their names.
According to some of the comments on the Inside Higher Ed article, this isn’t a new phenomenon, and the Internet has made it easier for students to exchange money for course seats. Elsewhere, colleges have formalized the system of bidding. At the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, MBA students participate in an online auction system when the demand for popular business electives exceeds supply. New students are given a set amount of points with which to bid, and receive more as they move through the program. Class spots then go to the highest bidder. In essence, the longer you’re at Wharton, the more seniority you have. That kind of system is common on college campuses anyway, although those with more credits may still arrange to drop courses they enroll in to have friends register immediately after in their place.
What do you think? Does this happen at your school? Or is this “problem” overblown? Let us know!
June 17, 2010
Courses and programming in leadership and leadership studies are the latest trend on college campuses looking to boost students’ resumes in a tough economy and competitive job market, and students at many of the schools have been signing up in droves.
A recent article in Inside Higher Ed described coursework at a number of colleges that focuses on both theories of leadership taught in the classroom, and practical experiences through internships and off-campus opportunities. While you can’t yet major in leadership, many schools are offering certificate programs in the field as a way for students to boast that specialized skill on their resumes and transcripts.
At the University of Iowa, students this fall will be able to enroll in a seven-course, 21-credit certificate in leadership studies, according to the article, that will supplement courses already offered by the school’s College of Business. According to administrators there, it was the students who wanted more than the college was already offering in terms of teaching them how to be leaders in not only business settings, but in all fields of study. Students who complete three classes in the sequence are then urged to take three credits in an internship setting, on-campus leadership position, or service-learning course. According to the article, administrators hope the work students have done up to that point learning the theories of leadership will translate to these experiences outside of the classroom.
What do you think? Should colleges be offering certificate programs in leadership, or instilling the values of leadership instead in existing coursework and internship opportunities? There is some criticism of the trend in Inside Higher Ed. Ed Koc, director of strategic and foundation research at the National Association of Colleges and Employers, says leadership isn’t the main thing employers look for when determining whether to hire a recent graduate. A student’s experiences rather than a certificate mentioned at the bottom of a resume may be more telling of leadership skills anyway, he said.
So how do you boost your leadership potential? Get involved in volunteer activities, or ask for more responsibility at your part-time job. Consider joining a club or campus group that could give you some experience organizing projects and working as part of a unit. While leadership is a good trait to have, so is the ability to work in a team and meet expectations. Expose yourself to a number of different experiences both on and off-campus to make yourself the best candidate for a job after college.
July 28, 2010
You already know all about the technology gap, and probably have little faith in your instructors’ web know-how when compared to your own. A recent study, however, shows that you young people may not be as savvy as you think when it comes to online research.
Researchers from Northwestern University looked at 102 University of Illinois at Chicago students to determine how they went about their research when given a number of information-seeking tasks. The study, published by the International Journal of Communication, described the pitfalls of the trust students place in Google and the search engine’s rankings. The main criteria students looked at when choosing which sites to find their information on were where those sites were ranked in Google and other popular search engines like Yahoo!. They also placed little weight on more reputable sites ending in dot-gov or dot-edu, for example, when compared to dot-com pages.
According to the press release for the study, one student responded that they chose a particular site because it was the first to come up in Google. The student was unable to describe much else about that site. Other sites the students said they relied on to complete tasks included SparkNotes, Facebook, and Wikipedia. If you follow the blog, you may remember our tip to use Wikipedia as a starting point only when beginning research; the user-edited Encyclopedia should never be used as a reference, and anything you do find there should be fact-checked elsewhere.
The study suggests that students need more instruction on credible online sources and how to use the web and similar technologies appropriately. IT staff members would probably agree. In an article in eCampus News describing a recent survey of IT officials, faculty, and college students, students and instructors viewed their campuses’ use of technology in the classroom in a much more positive light than the IT staff members. According to that survey, IT staff says more needs to be done in terms of education technology on college campuses and the access to technology in the classroom by students and instructors.
July 30, 2010
California has had it particularly bad during the economic crisis. The public school system there has tried to address millions of dollars in cuts using wait lists and more selective admissions processes in the state’s community colleges to avoid adding to the budget shortfalls. One California community college district, however, is taking a different approach. Several two-year schools in San Diego will be adding about 1,150 classes this fall, rather than following the example of other community colleges and their own district in the recent past, where cuts to course catalogs have become the norm.
According to an article in Inside Higher Ed this week, the San Diego Community College District will be paying for the additional classes using rainy day funds and what’s left of their operating budget. While the school won’t be able to sustain that kind of funding indefinitely, administrators there are hopeful that the state will provide some funding over the next two years to support the extra offerings.
The state’s community college budget was cut by 8 percent overall over the last year; college classes at the schools were cut by more than 6 percent, according to Inside Higher Ed. This led to a more competitive community college system, which had up to that point catered students looking to return to school after a long absence or to build up their transcripts and save some money before transferring to a four-year college. This past year, about 10,000 students were turned away from the San Diego Community College District. Administrators there decided they were being less helpful to students than harmful, as some were forced to postpone their coursework because they were unable to get into required courses. The additional classes will be in the most high-demand subjects, according to the article.
Elsewhere, another college is taking a creative cost-cutting measure to recoup losses from their own budget crisis. Texas A&M University will be getting rid of toilet paper in residence hall bathrooms, a move administrators say will save the college $82,000. The college will still supply toilet paper in larger bathrooms in public areas and administrative offices, according to another recent Inside Higher Ed article. While this may seem like a minor inconvenience—and some students have already said they plan to lift toilet paper from wherever it’ll be on campus—budget cuts at the Texas school have also forced administrators to cut 500 faculty and staff positions, among a number of other amenities.
August 5, 2010
Few programs are as competitive as medical school programs. You need stellar grades, a host of science-based courses on your undergraduate transcript, and impressive scores on the MCAT to be a contender. Or do you?
One New York school is taking a different approach, in part to graduate more sensitive and people-friendly doctors. The Humanities and Medicine Program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine requires that its students major in the humanities in college, not chemistry or biology, and doesn’t require those enrolled to prove their worth on the MCAT, the standardized test score typically used to rank applicants to medical school.
A recent article in The New York Times took a look at the program and a possible shift nationwide to programming that gives equal weight to not only the science behind medicine, but the social skills needed to be more effective in communicating with patients. The Mount Sinai School of Medicine program saves 35 slots per year to undergraduates with degrees in fields like political science. Applicants are asked to provide two personal essays, high school standardized test scores, and transcripts of grades from both high school and college. Once they’re in the program, the students attend a summer “boot camp,” according to the article, where they receive some instruction on science courses they may have missed in college. According to a recent study published by the Association of Medical Colleges, those students did as well if not better in the program than their peers who got into medicine the traditional way. The humanities students were also more interested in disciplines where they had more interaction with patients, such as psychiatry, pediatrics, and obstetrics.
Despite the success of the Mount Sinai program, if you’re interested in medical school, most of the programs out there will ask for MCAT scores and transcripts that boast a good GPA in a science-related major. According to the Times article, it may be tough to get the most elite medical schools to start admitting humanities students because so much of their rank depends on how students at those schools did on their MCATs. Wherever you go to enter into a health-related field and whatever you decide, make sure you know about the medical scholarships out there. Medical school is one of the more costly endeavors you could choose to pursue, so you’ll need all the help you can get to cover the costs of that professional degree.
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