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A Little Birdy Told Us Tweeting May Boost Grades

Recent Experiment Revealed Higher Marks, Increased Discussion

November 17, 2010

A Little Birdy Told Us Tweeting May Boost Grades

by Alexis Mattera

Logging onto certain social networking sites while in class may be frowned upon by some schools but at one Midwest institution, doing just that resulted in grade point averages about half a point higher over the course of a semester.

The school was not named to protect the identities of the 125 participating students but the subsequent report, entitled “The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades,” showed the 70 students who used Twitter to access information and complete four class assignments displayed higher GPAs, were more engaged in classroom discussion and more likely to interact with their instructor about course material than the 55 non-tweeting students in the control group.

But is Twitter really responsible for the grade boost? Reynol Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University, said the familiarity with Twitter (which is a lot like Facebook’s status update feature) may make students more comfortable participating in discussions outside the classroom and responding to class material. But Dave Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media at the University of Texas at Dallas who has used Twitter in his classes, had reservations. He said more specific studies needed to be conducted to determine if Twitter is the deciding factor in increasing grades and what uses of Twitter are most effective to achieve desired results.

Students, do you tweet? What do you tweet about: schoolwork, politics, gossip? Have you noticed a difference in your grades – positive or negative – since activating your account? Do you follow us?


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You’re Hired…Maybe

College Grads Get Good News on Employment

November 18, 2010

You’re Hired…Maybe

by Alexis Mattera

Finding a job has never been easy but over the past few years, that same task has become even more nerve-wracking and downright disheartening. This situation is all too familiar to recent college graduates, who – save for an internship or two – have very little experience outside the classroom but the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University just revealed the hiring of new bachelor's-degree graduates expected to increase by 10 percent this academic year.

Institute director Phil Gardner describes this news as the first step out of a deep hole – this year’s increase is over last year's hiring, which held steady after it tumbled 35 to 40 percent in 2008. The report, "Recruiting Trends 2010-2011," says hiring will not increase across the board but will instead be seen in certain industries, for specific majors and in isolated areas of the country:

  • More recent graduates will be hired by manufacturers, professional-services companies, large commercial banks and the federal government; smaller banks, state governments and colleges and universities project drops.
  • Grads with majors and experience in business, technology, e-commerce, entrepreneurism and public relations will have better luck than those in the fields of health sciences and social services; companies also plan to increase hiring 21 percent among liberal-arts majors.
  • The Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions will see the highest increases in recent graduate hiring, while the Northwest will see a 10-percent decline.

If these findings don’t relate to your situation, there’s still a chance you could snag the job of your dreams: Thirty-six percent of employers say they will consider applicants regardless of major. So, recent and soon-to-be college graduates, breathe those sighs of relief and start updating those resumes!


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Meet Your New Floormate: Your Professor

University of Houston Encourages Interaction Between Students and Faculty

November 29, 2010

Meet Your New Floormate: Your Professor

by Alexis Mattera

Now that the tryptophan has worn off (we hope!), it’s time to get back to work and start preparing for finals. But would doing so be easier or more difficult if your professor lived down the hall?

University of Houston freshmen have been testing these waters since move-in day when associate professor of history Raul Ramos, his wife, their two sons and their dogs started calling the new Cougar Village dormitory “home.” Their relocation is part of the university's efforts to engage students by encouraging more informal interactions with faculty. Ramos and his family aren't alone, either: Two other faculty members – Catherine Horn and Carroll Parrott Blue – have also taken advantage of on-campus housing.

Provost John Antel believes this initiative will make the campus more personal – "We're a big, urban research university," he said. "It can be intimidating." – and increase the amount of students living on campus: Long known as a commuter school, UH currently has about 6,500 of its 38,750 students living on campus but its target is 8,500. University officials believe it will ultimately improve graduation rates and de-mystify academic life. "As a professor, you know the first year is critical," Ramos said. "Students don't know that one mistake can take two years to fix. One mistake that first year, and you're graduating in six or seven years instead of four."

The idea may seem novel but UH isn’t the first school to promote student-faculty interaction – Rice University places faculty members and their families in each housing complex on campus, as do other universities – yet I’m interested in seeing the long-term results. If there are any UH students in the audience, has having professors living in the residence halls changed the way you study, behave or view your future? We’d love a first-hand account!


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Hummusgate 2010

Princeton Students Say Sabra Spreads Injustice

November 30, 2010

Hummusgate 2010

by Alexis Mattera

While you may not think hummus is as newsworthy as Google buying Groupon, Nina Garcia’s new baby or the death of Leslie Nielsen, a group of Princeton students would beg to differ.

The Princeton Committee on Palestine recently circulated a petition (and collected more than 200 signatures) regarding Sabra hummus, whose owner has been accused of contributing to human rights violations of Palestinians in the West Bank because the company supports the Israeli military. A referendum will appear on this week's Undergraduate Student Government election ballot and if the measure is approved, a formal request will be submitted to Dining Services to provide an alternative hummus option at all university-run outlets. “We think it’s important to allow students to have choice, and if they want to eat hummus, not have to buy a product that’s so morally problematic,” said Yoel Bitran, president of the Princeton Committee on Palestine.

This issue isn’t just isolated inside Princeton’s gates: Students at DePaul, Georgetown and other schools across the country are voicing their support for or against Sabra via – where else these days? – Facebook. Events like “Save the Hummus! -- Vote Against the Sabra Hummus Boycott” and its counterpart, "Boycott Sabra Hummus" have gained substantial followings, more evidence the matter is spreading across campus populations. But even if the measure doesn’t pass at Princeton, Bitran is just glad awareness is being raised. “In the beginning people didn’t really understand why this mattered,” he said. “People thought that it was just about hummus and kind of trivial. I think most people kind of changed their minds…. At this point the referendum itself is a detail.”

What’s your take, readers? Is a chickpea just a chickpea or does it represent much more?


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Popular Culture 101?

TV + Trends + College = Fun and Unusual New Classes

December 1, 2010

Popular Culture 101?

by Alexis Mattera

No, there are still no classes entitled “The Anatomy of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” or “The Hanukkah Snuggie’s Effect on Modern Judaism” but classes with roots in popular culture are popping up on college campuses everywhere. If you’ve yet to select your classes for next semester or have found a few empty blocks in your schedule, consider enrolling in one of these fun, weird and surprisingly informative courses. (Bonus: They could help you earn an equally unusual scholarship!)

  • Consumerism and Social Change in Mad Men America, 1960-1963: Northwestern University history professor Michael Allen teaches this freshman course, which examines the relationship between consumerism and the social and political changes of the 1950s and 1960s. Students attend lectures and read historical texts but are also required to watch several “Mad Men” episodes each week. We’d assume cigarette smoking, scotch swilling and infidelity do not earn extra credit points.
  • South Park and Contemporary Issues: This course at McDaniel College mixes sociology and philosophy while exploring the controversial contemporary social issues featured on the long-running Comedy Central cartoon. The official course description states, “Ultimately, students will gain…new knowledge of the benefits of applying an interdisciplinary approach to contemporary social issues.” No Kennys will be harmed but bring your own Cheesy Poofs.
  • Music, Video Games, and the Nature of Human Cognition: This NYU psychology class already has a waiting list and there’s a good reason for it: Professor Gary Marcus believes video games – specifically “Guitar Hero” – can be used to enhance human cognition. Some parents are upset that this is the type of class their tuition is going toward but Marcus stresses that delving into this understudied area will yield positive results. Rock on, Professor!
  • Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame: The University of South Carolina’s Mathieu Deflem has gone gaga for Gaga and he hopes his students will too with his sociological analysis of selected social issues related to the pop star’s work. Though the course is within the sociology department, the subjects of music, fashion, art, business, marketing, new media, religion and politics will be integrated to dissect Gaga’s rise to fame and impact on society. Unlike the infamous meat dress, this approach is well done.
  • Zombies in Popular Media: Vampires are so last year, people, and Columbia College Chicago has the latest undead trend – zombies – ready to take over your brain, not eat it. Literature, comics and film will “foster thoughtful connections between student disciplines and the figure of the zombie,” states the course description and the history, significance and representation of zombies will be discussed and implemented on a daily basis. Hopefully, this class doesn’t take place after dark.

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Six is the Magic Number

Report Reveals Half of First-Time Students Finish School in Six Years

December 2, 2010

Six is the Magic Number

by Alexis Mattera

Theoretically, earning an undergraduate degree takes four years. But when you factor in internships, work and extraneous circumstances, getting a diploma or certification seldom happens within that timeframe. How long does it take? The U.S. Department of Education says six years…for just half of first-time students.

The DoE’s new report, "Persistence and Attainment of 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students: After 6 Years," states that of students who entered higher education in 2003-4, about half had earned degrees or certificates by June 2009 – the breakdown is 9 percent certificates, 9 percent associate degrees and 31 percent bachelor's degrees – 15 percent were still enrolled and 36 percent had left higher education. The report further dissects trends among students who began their post-secondary education at public two-year schools and four-year colleges (both state and private) as well as whether these students stayed with their initial institution or transferred to and graduated from another school.

I was able to graduate from the same university I enrolled in as a freshman in four years but I had to sacrifice several things – studying abroad, working more, accepting additional internships – in order to do so. Graduates, does the report sound at all like your college experience? Current students, are you on track to finish school when you thought you would when you started? High school students, what are your plans for the next four (or more) years?


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No One Likes a Cheater…Except the Cheater

Study Shows Narcissists More Likely to Cheat on Tests

December 3, 2010

No One Likes a Cheater…Except the Cheater

by Alexis Mattera

Mirror, mirror on the wall…who is the most dishonest of them all? A new study shows that in the collegiate world, narcissistic students are far more likely to cheat on tests while their less self-involved counterparts employ a different tactic – studying.

The Huffington Post (which also recently published a piece about how narcissists also spend the most time on Facebook) featured findings from a Science Blog study that said vainer students were more inclined to cheat for two reasons: 1. they want to show off academically and 2. they are able to bypass feeling guilty for their actions. Amy Brunell, an assistant psychology professor at Ohio State University at Newark and the study’s lead author, elaborates, "Narcissists feel the need to maintain a positive self-image and they will sometimes set aside ethical concerns to get what they want." If she is indeed correct, a number of students attending the University of Central Florida are a morally corrupt (but extremely pretty) bunch.

Given our increasingly celebrity-obsessed society, it’s not surprising that narcissism is on the rise but the increase has been especially prominent in college students say San Diego State University and the University of South Alabama. Cheating on college exams is a serious offense but down the line, when these students graduate, the U.S. could experience more social problems associated with their risky decision making and senses of entitlement.

Students, have you noticed more classmates channeling their inner Kanye Wests and Janice Dickinsons lately?


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Nobody’s Business

Interest in the Once Most Popular Major Stalling, Falling

December 13, 2010

Nobody’s Business

by Alexis Mattera

One would think that the condition of the U.S. economy would have undergraduates declaring business as their majors in droves. One would also, however, be wrong: Federal and college data show interest in the field is mimicking the Metrodome roof and falling.

Inside Higher Ed reports business is no longer the big man on campus in terms of majors and interest appears to be static and even waning at many schools. Since 2008, Pennsylvania State University has recorded a 30-percent decline in undergraduates accepting offers from its Smeal College of Business – a trend that’s far from isolated: Though rates have remained stable and even increased at the University of Oregon and Indiana University, the share of business majors at University of Central Florida is down by nearly 15 percent this semester relative to 2008 and 13 percent fewer students are enrolled in Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management this semester compared to two years ago; last year, the number of applicants dropped 26 percent from the previous year.

John Pryor, director of the survey-conducting Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California Los Angeles, suggested student loan debt and the perceived lack of career stability in business may be fueling this shift. "Even though students have higher debt, some are seeing that business is not as likely to help them pay that debt back," he wrote. "We also saw business employees losing jobs and having lower incomes, so perhaps students see business as not providing as sure a track towards economic freedom as in the past." The survey also suggested undergraduate interest in business peaked long ago – 1987 to be precise, the same year Gordon Gekko famously declared "greed, for lack of a better word, is good” in the movie “Wall Street.” Coincidence?

Students, has the economy influenced what you’re majoring in? Are you more likely to take pages from the books of computer science majors Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg instead of emulating good ol’ Mr. Gekko?


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Big Changes in the Big Ten

New Logo, Divisions and Trophies Announced; Fans Sound Off

December 14, 2010

Big Changes in the Big Ten

by Alexis Mattera

Sure, the Golden Globe nominations are grabbing most of this morning’s headlines but in the world of college sports, “Mad Men” and “The Social Network” are riding the pine while what’s going on in the Big Ten takes the field.

Among the changes is a new logo. First off, the logo. It’s not a huge departure from the previous design by any means – it’s still blue and white and incorporates numbers as well as letters – and logo co-designer Michael Gericke tells ESPN, “The new Big Ten logo was developed to symbolize the conference’s future, as well as its rich heritage, strong tradition of competition, academic leadership, and passionate alumni. Its contemporary collegiate lettering includes an embedded numeral ‘10’ in the word ‘BIG,’ which allows fans to see ‘BIG’ and ‘10’ in a single word. Memorable and distinctive, the new logo evolved from the previous logo’s use of negative space and is built on the conference’s iconic name, without reference to the number of member institutions.” Fans aren’t buying it, though: It’s been less than one day since the logo was unveiled but the new design is already receiving some pushback a la Facebook and the Gap.

Next, the new divisions of Legends and Leaders – a change which makes sense in a way since the number of teams in the Big Ten exceeds the conference’s name – and 18 trophies. Now, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern are in the Legends division while Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin represent the Leaders division. As for the trophies, there are 18 new ones, many of which honor past players and coaches. “Our foundation is our history, and so we want to honor that history and tradition. Our goal, if we are to sustain this enterprise, is to continue to focus on the building of future leadership through education and competition,” said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

It’s my guess these changes won’t impact the players – who should be more concerned with maintaining the grades to keep their athletic scholarships – but sports writers, reporters and fans are certainly making their voices heard. What do you think of the Big Ten’s changes? Are they worth all the ruffled feathers?


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Young Alumni Give Undergrad a B-Plus

Nearly 90 Percent Say College Worth the Time, Money

December 15, 2010

Young Alumni Give Undergrad a B-Plus

by Alexis Mattera

They may not agree on politics, health care or Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds’ divorce but the consensus among recent college graduates is almost unanimous about one thing: Eighty-nine percent say they are happy they earned a college degree.

This statistic, found in a new report by the American Council on Education is surprising considering the economic climate but the 800 young alumni surveyed were more than pleased with their post-secondary educations. Close to 9 out of 10 respondents said undergrad was worth the time and money spent, and 85 percent reported their educations prepared them for their current jobs. The Chronicle of Higher Education and University of Wisconsin president Kevin P. Reilly both agree the findings will help combat the higher education budget slashing proposed by some government officials.

Some of the survey’s findings aren’t as overwhelming – only 62 percent of national respondents believed college generally prepared grads for working life – but the overall alumni satisfaction considerably strengthens the case for greater access to and increased quality of higher education. And as for the students who said they left college unprepared for the real world, an extra internship or semester abroad could have easily provided the experience they craved. College IS what you make of it, after all!


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