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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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College Costs (Literally) an Arm and a Leg

Parent Offers to Become Live Cadaver to Pay Off Children's Student Loans

February 28, 2011

College Costs (Literally) an Arm and a Leg

by Alexis Mattera

There's been a lot of talk about Harvard lately – its reinstatement of early action, a graduate winning the Best Actress Oscar, another Winklevoss lawsuit against Facebook, etc. – but this next story doesn’t fall within the boundaries of its ivy-covered campus...and not that far away, either. An arm’s length, shall we say?

Desperate to pay off their children's $20,000 worth of student loans, a Boston-area parent recently posted on Craigslist that he or she was willing to sell their body parts to combat the mounting debt. The posting did not include a name, gender or exact location but listed the "live cadaver" was 5 feet 10 inches tall, 200 pounds and had all organs in working order. "If you eliminate my children's student loans, I will give you my life!" the poster wrote. "Take my blood, take my plasma. Drill into my brain, my leg, my arm. Tap my heart, my liver, my kidney," the poster wrote, adding, "I am very very serious."

There are a lot of options out there to limit exorbitant loans (scholarships, grants and fellowships, to name a few) and consolidation can simplify the loan repayment process by allowing the borrower to combine several types of federal student loans and repayment schedules into one...but selling off one’s body parts piece by piece? We’re all for finding interesting ways to pay for school but this is just plain crazy. Would you ever consider taking this route to keep loan collectors at bay?

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Schools That Set the High Score for Gaming

March 2, 2011

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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The Great Homework Debate

Cornell Could Ban Surprise Assignments to Improve Mental Health

March 4, 2011

The Great Homework Debate

by Alexis Mattera

You have just one class left until a full week off from textbooks, Scantron sheets and yawn-loathing instructors. Then, it happens: Your professor goes off the syllabus and announces a new project – a lengthy research paper, to be precise – to be handed in during the first class after break. That thought bubble above your head filled with notions of sleeping until noon and emptying your DVR goes kerplewy and your waning stress level takes a leap into finals week territory. Ouch...but that scenario may no longer occur at Cornell because of a call for change from the faculty. Is it the right choice?

Cornell’s Faculty Senate is expected to vote this month on a resolution that would "strongly discourage" surprise assignments to improve the mental health of students. The resolution, said theatre professor and chair of the Faculty Senate's education-policies committee Bruce A. Levitt, would encourage faculty members to stick to their syllabi so students can better pace themselves. "The idea was not to forbid homework over break, but to make academic work over break the choice of the student," Levitt explained.

If my school had implemented this kind of resolution when I was an undergrad, I probably would have rejoiced but having been a member of a deadline-driven profession for almost six years now, it would have been a detriment. With the advent of cell phones and on-the-go e-mail access, many bosses expect their employees to remain in constant contact even when they are off the clock – something students may not realize until they begin their first job out of college. I’m not saying students shouldn’t be able to enjoy their nights, weekends and breaks but they should be aware that after college, the work needs to get done regardless of the hour.

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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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Beware the Ides of March...and the New GRE Format

Changes Will Be Implemented August 1st

March 15, 2011

Beware the Ides of March...and the New GRE Format

by Alexis Mattera

Advice to heed today: Don’t leave your house if a soothsayer warns you not to, don’t run through the Tufts quad sans clothing and don’t study for the GRE using last year’s study guides.

Beginning on August 1st, graduate students to-be will make the acquaintance of the new Graduate Record Examination (aka the GRE). For those unfamiliar, the GRE is currently computer-adaptive and adjusts the difficulty of each successive problem based on the answer given to the previous question; the new version allows students to skip questions and return to them later (the computer just modifies the difficulty of the next part at the end instead), which prevents test-takers from losing time and could ultimately lead to a better overall score. As for the content, the writing section will include two pre-selected essay prompts that will require "more focused" responses, the math section will swap out a number of geometry problems for real-world data interpretation (bonus: an on-screen calculator will be accessible) and the verbal section will feature more reading comprehension but no more antonyms and analogies. GRE scoring will range from 130 to 170 rather than 200 to 800 per section but the cost of taking the test will hold steady at $160. There will also be changes to the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), but those won’t take place until June 2012.

What do you think of the changes to the GRE? For those who have taken the current version, which format appeals more to you? For those who are preparing, do you think you'll fair better, worse or the same when these changes debut?

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Not-So-Standardized Testing

Controversy Surrounds Unconventional SAT Essay Prompt

March 16, 2011

Not-So-Standardized Testing

by Alexis Mattera

This past Saturday, one-third of high school students taking the SAT opened their writing sections and were met with a prompt that even the most extensive prep courses couldn’t have prepared them for. The topic? Reality television and its impact on its viewers.

While the prompt didn’t ask test-takers to cite specific shows or characters (as a New York Daily News headline suggests), SAT owner the College Board has been called culturally insensitive because the question assumes all students have a television, watch reality television and watch enough reality television to distinguish between them. Angela Garcia, executive director of the SAT program, responded that all essay prompts are pretested with students and then reviewed "to ensure that they are easily understood and that each student has an opportunity to respond, and is wide-ranging enough for a student to demonstrate their writing skills." Still, students, parents and school officials are equal parts distraught and confused, anxiously awaiting to see how answers to this question will impact scores.

Standardized testing – whether it’s about changes to existing exams or the decision to make submitting scores optional – is a hot topic as of late and now, we want to hear from you. Did you receive the reality prompt? How did you respond? Do you think you would have fared better if you were given a different prompt? Do you think the SAT (or standardized testing in general) is an accurate measure of a student’s worth?

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Arne Duncan’s Ultimate Bracket Challenge

Sec. of Ed. Calls for Increased Graduation Rates for Post-Season Eligibility

March 17, 2011

Arne Duncan’s Ultimate Bracket Challenge

by Alexis Mattera

Selection Sunday has come and gone and your brackets should be ready to go. You’re probably feeling pretty confident about your choices and talking a bit of trash to other participants in your pool (I am...I went to UConn) but if Arne Duncan has his way, those brackets could look very different in the near future.

The Secretary of Education proposed that NCAA teams failing to graduate at least 40 percent of their players are barred from post-season tournament play. The impact would be significant – based on the annual study conducted by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, men's teams from Arkansas Pine Bluff, Baylor, California, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico State, Tennessee and Washington would all be ineligible this year (that’s nearly an entire region of participants wiped out) – but Duncan is confident teams will find this "low bar" relatively easy to clear and believes the rule would immediately improve academic results.

Of course, there is some pushback: An NCAA spokesman said the rule would unfairly penalize current players for graduation rates of students from previous years and the NCAA already imposes academic sanctions on schools that fail to maintain education standards under the Academic Progress Rate. Most schools offer extra assistance to student-athletesXavier’s Sister Rose Ann Fleming makes all players attend at least 10 hours of study hall every week and Maryland spends more than $1 million every year to support student-athletes' academics, a number that doesn’t reflect its 8-percent graduation rate reported by the UCF study – but it’s not enough for Duncan. "If you can't graduate two out of five of your players, I just think your priorities are out of whack," Duncan, a former Harvard basketball star, said. "What it tells me is there is a lack of institutional commitment."

In your opinion, is Duncan’s full-court press a good idea or is the current zone defense on academics working just fine? Would you invite him into your bracket pool?

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UCLA Fires Back via YouTube

Administration "Appalled" By Student Rant, Posts Response in Same Forum

March 18, 2011

UCLA Fires Back via YouTube

by Alexis Mattera

One week ago, Alexandra Wallace took to YouTube to post her thoughts on her Asian UCLA classmates in the library. You can probably guess what happened after that – the junior’s rant went viral (viewed nearly 4.5 million times...and parodied), she was called a racist for her remarks and she backtracked with an apology in the Daily Bruin – but the school’s reaction was less than typical: Administrators posted a response on the same site.

Chancellor Gene D. Block called the debacle a "sad day at UCLA" and talked about how the school was "appalled by the thoughtless and hurtful comments" in the clip posted on Monday. Despite UCLA's disappointment in Wallace, disciplinary action has not yet been taken because the school is focusing its efforts on ensuring Wallace’s safety, as she has received numerous threatening e-mails, which are being investigated by the campus police department. Campus spokesman Phil Hampton hopes the incident will serve as a lesson about the impact of posting material to public websites. "Once you put information out there, it’s difficult to take it back," he said.

I personally applaud UCLA’s course of action thus far because the video was produced using the school’s own broadcast studio and released through channels (YouTube, Facebook and the UCLA website) favored by and accessible to all students. "If it’s a response to something that was seen by people in a new-media format, it’s important that the response be made in a new-media format," Hampton said. I agree...do you?

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