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Ready, Set, BiblioBout!

New Online Program Makes Bibliography Building Easier, Even Enjoyable

January 10, 2011

Ready, Set, BiblioBout!

by Alexis Mattera

As a journalism major, my classes were all writing intensive. From penning news briefs and features to participating in “Sudden Death Day” (when we arrived in class only to be sent directly back out to find and compose a story in under an hour), I was always doing some kind of research and had to keep my sources organized and accessible in case a fact was ever called into question. This practice came in especially handy whenever I had to construct a bibliography to accompany a lengthy term paper but for those who may be tackling a works cited page for the first time, give BiblioBouts a whirl.

Researchers at the University of Michigan developed BiblioBouts to make crafting a bibliography both easier and more fun: The once mundane task has been transformed into a competitive event, pitting students against their classmates and rewarding them for research skills and abilities to differentiate between good and bad material. Sources are judged by their peers for relevance and credibility and points are gained for sources they assess accurately.

“One of the most difficult things for students to do is their research,” said Karen Markey, research leader and professor in UM's School of Information. “After they exhaust things like Google and the Web, they don’t know where to turn.” The game was released in beta form this week participating colleges and Markey hopes to make it more widely available in the future as a tool in learning-management systems.

This sounds interesting but I agree with one user – Catherine Johnson, coordinator of library instruction at the University of Baltimore’s main library – who said the game should be used as a complement to instruction by a professor or a librarian in locating and evaluating sources, not a replacement for. Have any of you tried BiblioBouts or similar bibliography-assistance programs?


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Self-Testing Boosts Info Retention

Retrieval Bests Traditional Concept Mapping as a Study Method

January 24, 2011

Self-Testing Boosts Info Retention

by Alexis Mattera

Did you spend your Sunday distraught over Jay Cutler and the Bears or horrified by the atrocity that was Mean Girls 2? I know I’m not completely alone here but, being the diligent students you are, many of you were probably holed up in the library preparing for your first exam of the spring semester and quizzing yourself on key pieces of information. Good thing, as a new study says self-testing while studying is the best way to retain facts and figures.

The study, "Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping," was conducted by Purdue’s Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt and found that since learning is fundamentally about retrieving, practicing retrieval while studying is crucial to learning. The study focused on two groups of students (200 altogether) who were asked to read several paragraphs about differing scientific topics but one group was instructed to use the information to create a concept map and the other was told to put away their articles and spend 10 minutes writing what they recalled. When the students were tested on the same material one week later, the group that practiced retrieval retained 50 percent more information than those who engaged in concept mapping. Strangely, researchers also found that despite learning less, the students who engaged in concept mapping were more confident that they would remember the material than those who practiced retrieval while studying.

What’s your preferred study method? Is it producing the results you want? Will you employ the retrieval method given this study’s findings?


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AP Becomes the Norm in College Prep

by Alexis Mattera

This year's Academy Award nominees were announced this morning, representing the crème de la crème of the film industry. There are several parallels to this honor in the world of academia like getting accepted to a top college, making the Dean’s List or earning a prestigious scholarship but one long-held distinction – completing an Advanced Placement course – is becoming anything but elite.

According to an article in the Republican Herald, AP classes have become commonplace for most high school students in college prep programs across the nation. Jennifer Topiel, the College Board’s executive director of communications, revealed that more than 50,000 high school students in Pennsylvania alone were enrolled in at least one AP class last year. The number of Pennsylvania AP students participating in the optional subject tests at the end of the courses, however, have not been quite as high as the trend seen throughout the rest of the country, where there has been about a 50-percent increase in AP test completion in the past five years. The program has become so popular that it’s being revamped for the 2012-2013 school year to "clear students’ minds to focus on bigger concepts and stimulate more analytic thinking."

It may not make sense to do all the homework, study for all the quizzes, earn exemplary marks and not reap the potential reward of college credit the subject tests can provide but some students purposely opt out of the exams, like North Schuylkill Superintendent Andrew Smarkanic’s daughter, Lauren, who took AP Biology in high school. "They don't take the test because they don't want to miss making the connection with professors in their program they may have in that first year or missing some subject matter because each school has its own unique curriculum," Smarkanic said. "You can miss the building blocks in that first year and struggle later in your program."

If you took an Advanced Placement course, would you forego the chance to jumpstart your college career or would you take the test, get the credits and have more room in your freshman year schedule for electives and nontraditional classes?


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A Ripe Idea at UC-Davis

New Facility Combines Winemaking, Wi-Fi

February 7, 2011

A Ripe Idea at UC-Davis

by Alexis Mattera

The last thing many people want to think about the day after the Super Bowl (beside Christina Aguilera’s National Anthem flub or the overall lack of enjoyable advertisements) is alcohol but this next story won’t add to a hangover. We promise.

The University of California at Davis, long known for its winemaking program, has unveiled new technology at the school’s Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science to fine-tune the fermentation process. Custom-built probes embedded with microchips measure the sugar density and temperature of fermenting wines every 15 minutes; the readings are then wirelessly transferred to a server at the facility and displayed on a large monitor. The use of Wi-Fi to monitor the process is certainly a big step but enology professor Roger B. Boulton says the footprint will be even larger as the measurements will soon be viewable on the Web and via smartphones. Students and researchers will be able to compare their results with expected outcomes and adjust as necessary to determine how different fermenting conditions affect different grape varieties.

Boulton continued to say that the measurement technology puts the university years ahead of commercial operations because it will ultimately reduce the number of failed batches. How green! What do you think of these developments at UC-Davis? Would having access to this new technology get you to consider a major in winemaking?


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Montana State Aims to Up Graduation Rate

by Alexis Mattera

Montana State University has a glass-half-full outlook when it comes to graduation rates but its students aren’t exactly sharing that mentality: Though the school announced it had enrolled record 13,559 students for the fall semester, only half that number will make it to graduation day.

Graduation rates aren’t that different nationwide – about 57 percent of students who enroll in U.S. four-year colleges earn a degree in six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics – but these low numbers are cause for concern and in order to reach President Obama’s goal of making America the leader in college graduates by 2020, the country’s public universities need to do whatever they can to shed the label of "failure factories." Things are looking up for MSU for the time being, though: The retention rate for last year's freshmen who returned this fall was 74 percent - 2 points higher than last year and a record for the past 10 years.

So what’s being done in the Treasure State? MSU President Waded Cruzado says she plans to renew attention to the goal of graduation with the help of the Montana Board of Regents by getting more people to earn two-year or four-year degrees. But why are so many MSU students are dropping out in the first place? Despite the less-than-favorable economy, finding money for college isn’t the issue; instead, students surveyed cited lack of direction, affinity/connection with the school and overall interest in college classes. MSU is responding by ramping up its career coaching with freshmen and advising to help undecided students pick a major and launching a campaign to lure back former students who have left the university in the last three years.

The university is doing much more than what’s listed above (check out yesterday’s article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle) but will any of it work? Students leave school for myriad reasons and sometimes no amount of advising, coaching or incentives can change that. Then again, an extra push can make a difference for many students on the fence about their education. How would you respond to MSU’s initiatives?


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WISE Reinvents Senior Year

Independent Study Program Quells Boredom, Increases Motivation

November 3, 2010

WISE Reinvents Senior Year

by Alexis Mattera

Despite the numerous advancements in medicine, there is still no cure for a highly contagious disease plaguing high school seniors. Symptoms include excessive yawning, lack of concentration, procrastination, class skipping and a blasé attitude toward anything relating to education. Dun dun dunnnnn…it’s senioritis!

Fortunately, there’s a potential vaccination circulating which could quash most strains and keep seniors on track until graduation. It’s called WISE, or the Wise Individualized Senior Experience, and it’s been helping students not only stay focused but gain real-world experience while they’re still in high school for more than 30 years. Take Ralph Vasami, for example: He spent the majority of his senior year as a WISE participant interning at a weather forecasting company and though the self-described “ordinary student with ordinary ambitions” wasn’t even sure if he would attend college, his experience with WISE opened his eyes to the possibility. He went on to attend Lyndon State College and today, he is the CEO of the company he interned at, Universal Weather & Aviation Inc., which has 1,300 employees in 20 countries and $860 million in annual billings. Yeah. Wow.

WISE participants spend most of their days outside the classroom but many, like Vasami, report they are more motivated to learn than ever. Dave Marcus, the writer of this piece, was a classmate of Vasami’s in 1970s and was also a WISE participant when the program was in its pilot stage; he feels is one of the few education reforms that actually delivers what it promises and Marcus’ former classmates agree, saying they would have floundered in their college classes without the practical experiences they had during internships at museums, publishing houses and engineering firms the WISE program provided.

So seniors, think WISE will keep you on track for the remainder of your time in high school? If so, see if your school is one of the program’s partner schools. And if there are any former WISE participants in the audience, did the program have the same impact as it had on Vasami and Marcus?


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The Pros and Cons of International Recruiting

Applications, Diversity and Competition are Up at Many Schools

February 14, 2011

The Pros and Cons of International Recruiting

by Alexis Mattera

So you’ve found your dream college. The place where you’ll not only obtain the knowledge and skills to succeed in the real world but will make personal connections and precious memories to last a lifetime. As you take the appropriate standardized tests, schedule an interview with a member of the admissions committee and make sure your applications are in on time, you can’t help but begin counting the days until your acceptance letter arrives. The only problem is that you’re not the only one thinking these thoughts: Your competition has increased thanks to many colleges’ upping their marketing efforts abroad, specifically in China, to increase diversity on campus. And you thought finding a valentine was hard.

According to the New York Times, American institutions are seeing surges in applications from China, where a booming economy means more parents can turn their children’s dreams of American higher education into realities. At Grinnell College in rural Iowa, for example, nearly one of every 10 applicants being considered for the class of 2015 is from China. These applicants also display high test scores and exemplary grades but lack command of the English language (some families even hire agents to pen application essays) and access to Advanced Placement courses, making it difficult for the school’s 11-member admissions committee to determine who gets big envelopes and who doesn’t because they cannot be judged using the same standards as American applicants.

The confounding variables do not cease there – Grinnell is "need-blind" when considering American students but is "need aware" for international students, meaning an applicant could have an edge if he or she does not need financial aid and can pay full tuition – but the school does appear to be selecting the right applicants: About 84 percent of students who enroll graduate in four years and double major in subjects including math, science and economics. Do you think there should be different standards for U.S. and international students applying to college? Would you rather have greater diversity in your classes or a better chance of gaining admission to your first-choice school? Does this information impact the schools you'll put on wish list?


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DePaul Joins the Test Optional Club

University Says Standardized Testing is Out, Essays are In

February 18, 2011

DePaul Joins the Test Optional Club

by Alexis Mattera

Standardized testing is as much – if not more – a part of the college process as dancing when the fat envelope arrives, Facebooking your new roommate and shopping for extra-long twin sheets. That will no longer be the case for DePaul University applicants for the freshman class entering in 2012 because the Chicago school has announced its plans to make the reporting SAT and ACT scores optional.

But don’t start shredding your test prep materials into confetti just yet: Students choosing not to submit ACT or SAT scores will be required to write short responses to essay questions designed to measure "noncognitive" traits, such as leadership, commitment to service, and ability to meet long-term goals. These essays were introduced a few years ago and subsequent research convinced the admissions committee that the nontraditional measures did more than the ACT or SAT to predict the success of low-income and minority students at the university. Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management, said he wants to encourage applicants with high grade-point averages but relatively low standardized test scores to apply and believes the new method will allow his colleagues to better select applicants who are most likely to succeed and graduate.

DePaul is now the largest private university to join the FairTest list, joining Wake Forest as one of the most selective institutions to adopt test-optional policies. Do you think giving students the choice to report their scores will produce the results DePaul expects? What do you think is a better barometer of qualified applicants: test scores or essays?


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Schools That Set the High Score for Gaming

by Alexis Mattera

Have you ever gotten yelled at by your parents for playing video games when you should have been doing your homework? Gotten your Xbox unplugged just before breaking your kill record in "Call of Duty" because dinner was on the table? Had your internet – and, in turn, "World of Warcraft" – privileges revoked for not keeping up with your chores? If so, take solace in the fact that those punishments will never occur if you attend college at one of the following schools. In fact, they would say the more gaming the better: According to the Princeton Review and GamePro Media, they are the top colleges for video game design!

  1. University of Southern California
  2. University of Utah
  3. DigiPen Institute of Technology
  4. The Art Institute of Vancouver
  5. Michigan State University
  6. Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  7. Drexel University
  8. Champlain College
  9. Rochester Institute of Technology
  10. Becker College

The list was compiled from the survey results of administrators at 150 colleges and universities offering video game design courses and degrees. Though they did not make the top 10, Georgia Institute of Technology, North Carolina State, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institution, Savannah College of Art and Design and Shawnee State University were given honorable mentions. Everyone has to be Luigi sometimes...better luck next year!


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University Photo Class Teaches More Than Just Point and Shoot

New Course Takes Aim at Camera Phone Composition, Ethics

March 3, 2011

University Photo Class Teaches More Than Just Point and Shoot

by Alexis Mattera

Cameras are standard features on most cell phones nowadays and for every user that emulates Ansel Adams, there’s another that channels Peeping Tom. Though this outlook has caused more than a few scandals, many people still play fast and loose with the shutter button...and associated photo-sharing apps like Flickr and Facebook that make posting images all too simple. When will they learn? Sooner than later if Immaculata University has its way.

The suburban Philadelphia school is offering a new cell phone photography class focusing on both the quality of the images and the ethical responsibilities that come with taking and publishing them. Communications professor Sean Flannery and professional photographer Hunter Martin will split teaching duties; the latter will handle topics like composition, lighting and editing while the former will cover voyeurism, ethics, citizen journalism and the difference between public and private spaces in hopes that students will realize "the full gravity of what's at their fingertips and the power they can have."

The idea for such a college course isn’t novel – NYU has been offering a cell phone video class every fall since 2009 – but Immaculata officials believe their offering is different because of its ethical angle. "I think it's part of our responsibility ... to teach kids how to use this tool," Flannery said, adding that it's no different from teaching proper use of a video camera in a broadcast news class.

If there are any Immaculata students reading that are enrolled in this class, we’d love to hear about your experiences thus far. Other students, would you take a class like this if your school offered it? Why or why not?


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