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Report Looks at Wikipedia Use of College Students

March 17, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you've had classes since 2001, the year the (in)famous online, user-edited encyclopedia was launched, chances are you're guilty of using Wikipedia as a source of information while completing your coursework. A new report from First Monday, an online peer-reviewed journal, took a look at just how prevalent the site has become on college campuses in particular (although high school students are probably just as bad offenders), and how students have begun to rely on Wikipedia as a resource.

According to the study, more than half of all respondents use Wikipedia frequently or always for course-related research. Students in architecture, engineering, or the sciences were more likely to use the site in their courses than other majors. (This could have something to do with the fact that students in social sciences like psychology or history must provide reference lists more often for papers they turn in, and citing Wikipedia simply won't fly on a college level essay.) The study surveyed 2,318 students, and took qualitative data from 86 of those students who participated in focus groups.

Other major findings of the study include the following:

  • Most students said they used Wikipedia for a summary about a topic (82 percent), the meaning of related terms (67 percent), and to get started on research (76 percent).
  • About 52 percent of the respondents were frequent Wikipedia users, even if an instructor advised against it.
  • Only 22 percent reported that they rarely, if ever, used Wikipedia.
  • About 17 percent used Wikipedia because they thought it was more credible than other sites.
  • Only about 2 percent used Wikipedia toward the end of their research process.
  • Overall, the strongest predictor of using Wikipedia was being someone who also used Google for course–related research.
  • Those enrolled in two–year campuses were less likely than those in four–year institutions to report that they used Wikipedia.

Whether you're writing a college essay or applying for an essay scholarship, here's a good rule of thumb on citing Wikipedia as a reference—don't do it. While the site can be an excellent tool for you to kick off your search, as the study above suggests, it simply isn't reliable enough to be taken seriously by academia. Anyone can add to and edit entries on the site, so it's always best to do some fact-checking after you get your Wikipedia summary prior to the start of the rest of your research. (Stephen Colbert proved this point when he edited Wikipedia articles on his own show, George Washington, and elephants, all while viewers watched. He also coined the term "wikiality," which refers to the reality that exists if you make something up and enough people agree with you.)

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College Students Expect More from Dorm Living

March 19, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Not too long ago, the furnishings in a typical college dorm room included things like posters of your favorite band, boxes of ramen noodles for late-night snacks, and a land-line phone. The rogue mini-fridge that you covered with a bed sheet to avoid a fine (as mini-fridges were on the "banned" list, along with candles and stolen street signs) was probably the most controversial item in your shared room.

Dorm living today seems to have undergone a makeover. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune took a look at what college students at the University of Illinois bring with them as part of their dorm experience, including flat-screen televisions (on which they immediately install cable, often in HD), sleek laptops, and cell phones to replace land-lines. In fact, the school no longer even offers connections for land-line phones to students, as it became clear to administrators students just didn't need them anymore. In that article, a school spokeswoman said students didn't even notice they removed phone lines in the rooms; students are now able to get everything they need on their cell phones, including emergency text messages when the school is under a weather advisory or another safety-related incident. In one dorm, according to the Tribune, students are able to get a text message or e-mail when their laundry is done, or when there's an available washer or dryer.

Elsewhere, dorms are changing in different ways, unrelated to changing technologies. Mixed-gender dorms are becoming less taboo, with members of the opposite sex not only sharing bathrooms (taboo enough as recently as the 1970s), but rooms, as well. Students at Pitzer College have the option of choosing a roommate of the opposite sex to dorm with, one of about 50 schools across the country that offer incoming freshmen that choice. Still, few students take advantage of the option, with only about 1 to 3 percent choosing to do so at schools where they are allowed room with the opposite sex.

Dorm cafeterias have also been changing dramatically. Some have begun offering healthier fare in the dining halls, or catering to incoming students' food allergies. Others look more like the local Flat Top, with stir fry stations where students are able to pick and choose exactly what they'd like grilled up for them that day, or brick oven pizza days where students choose their favorite toppings.

What changes have you noticed at your dorm? If you've been away from college for a while and are not returning as an adult student, what do you remember about dorm living from your first year on campus?

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Show Choirs Become More Popular on College Campuses

April 13, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A Capella groups, vocal troupes and pitch-perfect singing clubs are fairly common on college campuses as a diversion from academics and another option among the dozens of extracurricular activities students have to choose from. But show choirs have always been more popular at high schools. That is, until the television show "Glee" came onto screens across the country with aims to popularize glee clubs and add some levity to the mood of the country.

Colleges have taken notice, forming their own glee clubs and show choirs that have students singing, dancing, and performing for their student populations and, in some cases, in competitions across the country. An article in USA Today takes a look at some of the new college programs, and what they've done to not only ride the wave of the popularity of "Glee," which returns from its hiatus tonight, but to make their music programs more current and adapt to the tastes of those who buy tickets to their shows.

At Millsaps College, a group of 15 students came together to form a show choir that now performs songs like the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling." The group has its first show in two weeks. The University of North Texas created a new singing group shortly after the first season of the Fox show came to an end; more than 100 students auditioned, according to the USA Today article. That group has 30 student members, and will premiere its first performance next month.

High schools across the country have also revamped their concert choirs and chorus groups, incorporating what some say is more audience-friendly music. (Some choirs that aren't too enthusiastic about the show say "Glee" hurts rather than helps them by giving the impression that all choirs perform top 40 hits and include extensive choreography.) The choir at Hoquiam High School in Washington state still performs the traditional tunes one would expect from a conventional vocal group, but the addition of a show choir at the school has allowed Hoquiam to give students the option of performing classic choral styles with the concert choir, and more mainstream country, rock, and hip hop with the show choir. The school's show choir has even performed a song by Weird Al Yankovic.

Tell us about your college or high school show choir or glee club. What kinds of things does your group do to get more students involved in music on campus? Do you still prefer a traditional concert choir over the more unconventional show choirs? And if you are a performer, don't forget that there are music scholarships out there for those with not only vocal talents, but instrumental abilities as well.

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College Graduations Go "Green" with Eco-Friendly Gowns

May 11, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As further evidence that “going green” is here to stay, college graduations across the country may be looking a bit more environmentally-friendly this commencement season. According to a recent article from the Associated Press, at least 100 schools will have their graduates decked out in gowns made of recycled or biodegradable materials.

The gowns come from a number of manufactures, and a number of materials. Plastic has proved to be one of the more popular options, although schools have explored gowns made of sustainable bamboo and acetate, a material that decomposes within a year, according to the article. (Those made with the acetate come in a variety of colors; the plastic bottle gowns come only in black.)

Wake Forest University is one school that will have its graduates dressed in gowns made of recycled plastic bottles this season; each gown is made of about 23 plastic bottles. Students at Lafayette College and the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh will be trying out the biodegradable gowns instead. According to an article in The Christian Science Monitor, administrators at those schools said they wanted to test the product’s claims that the gowns would biodegrade within a year’s time, as they assume students will most likely toss their gowns after the ceremonies rather than looking for recycling bins set up campus-wide.

The gowns made out of the plastic bottles cost about $2 more apiece, although most colleges will be absorbing those costs. The biodegradable gowns range in price, although administrators have said they cost about 18 percent more than the gowns they had been using. Traditional gowns are made out of petroleum-based polyester. Students who have already tried out the varieties of “green” gowns made say they’re much lighter than the alternative, making them ideal for warm weather ceremonies.

It may no longer even be accurate to say that colleges are “going green.” Many of them are already there if you consider lists like the recent ranking of the 286 greenest colleges in the country from The Princeton Review. Commencements have also been a target of the environmentally-conscious for quite some time, with schools making sure to print programs on recycled paper, sending emailed invitations and tickets rather than printing them, using recycled cardboard in caps, or looking for ways to cut down on electricity use at the actual ceremonies. Would you describe your impending graduation ceremony as “green”? What has your college been doing to become more environmentally sound, or what more can they do?

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Dorm Room Living May Come With Unexpected Perks

June 9, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Many of you have already made your decisions on the school you’ll be attending come fall. The next step (outside of the obvious, determining how you’ll pay for that choice and evaluating your financial aid letter) will be figuring out where you’ll be living once you’re on your chosen campus.

Many colleges will require freshmen to live in dorms, to build a sense of community and give those first-year students better access to campus offerings and guidance. You’ve probably heard quite a bit about communal living already, either through older siblings’ roommate horror stories or warnings of consuming too many calories in the dorm cafeterias. A number of recent articles have taken a lighter approach to dorm living, looking at the unique options you may have when determining where you’ll be spending most of your time come fall. (You may remember reading about college students demanding more from their dorms; it seems like schools are taking notice.)

One article in The New York Times took a look at dorm rooms that came with “bragging rights” and an air of celebrity about them. While wait lists for them are typically high, some students discover only after they’ve moved in that they’re bunking in the same space as a former politician, celebrity, or historical figure. Princeton University in particular has quite a few of these famous spaces—Michelle Obama had a single room there, and four freshmen currently live in Adlai E. Stevenson’s old room. (The school razed the building where James Stewart spent his evenings.) Yale University boasts Anderson Cooper’s and Paul Giamatti’s old rooms. While colleges are often hesitant to disclose where famous alums lived while attending their schools, the article suggests it’s not too hard to figure out using old yearbooks, and the Times piece alone discloses quite a few of the celebs’ previous addresses.

For those who would rather bring a furry friend from home to college than boast of their rooms’ history, a number of colleges have become more amendable to allowing students to bring the family pet to live with them in the dorms. Another recent Times article took a look at the trend, as colleges begin setting aside dorms specifically for pet owners. The dorms include daycare facilities for when students are in class—although hours are limited to prevent pet neglect—and other amenities staffed by work-study students interested in working with animals. According to that article, about a dozen colleges currently have policies allowing pets access to the dorms. Typically, the policies are limited to cats and small- to average-sized dogs.

What kinds of things will you be considering when you’re ready to make your housing choice? Are you looking for a more traditional dorm room experience, without the frills or additional options now offered by colleges?

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College Cuts Housekeeping Services

George Washington University Says Students Too Messy for Perk

July 2, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

New freshmen at George Washington University this fall won’t be as pampered as their predecessors. Administrators there have decided to cut the housekeeping services they had offered in the past, in part to keep the costs of room and board at their current levels.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the services included vacuuming students’ residence hall rooms and cleaning their private bathrooms. Come fall, it will be up to the students to tidy things up, although administrators said some housekeepers were unable to vacuum a number of freshmen’s rooms properly anyway because of the messes students would leave on their floors, which first prompted the school to look into eliminating the service. About 80 new freshmen have been vocally opposed to the school’s decision to cut the service, signing Facebook petitions to demand it be added back. In one article, one incoming student said it was one of those things that “semi-convinced” her to come to GW, and that with tuition at $54,000, it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep such perks in their communal living spaces.

It may seem silly to have a housekeeper keep your dorm room tidy, but GW wasn’t unique in offering the service. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology still offers the service, with housekeepers there changing linens, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and taking out students’ trash. According to the Inside Higher Ed article, administrators there said if they needed to trim their budgets, they would cut housekeeping staff rather than eliminating the program altogether, as they describe it as “one of the top selling points” of the college. At Xavier University, administrators use their housekeeping service (offered in three out of four dorms) as a way to relieve parents worried about their sons and daughters living in messy rooms now that they’re out on their own.

At other schools that have instituted cuts to housekeeping services, the reaction from students has been mixed. The College of the Holy Cross and Claremont McKenna College both reduced their service from twice a week to once a week, which may not seem like that big a deal to students without any kind of formal cleaning service. Administrators at Holy Cross said having housekeepers allowed the school to maintain a sense of upkeep in residence halls, and keep rooms in better shape for the next round of freshmen. The Inside Higher Ed article closed with a rising senior at Claremont deriding what he thought of as an excess: “Do we really need maids cleaning up after every mess? It’s pretty ridiculous. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love it. Who wouldn't? But I think for college students trying to become adults, people shouldn't be cleaning up our mess. That is a mother thing to do when you're 10 years old.”

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Fox News Commentator Starts Online University

July 8, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Those interested in what conservative Fox News commentator Glenn Beck has to offer in terms of an academic experience will have a chance to explore that idea for themselves starting this week. The broadcaster has officially launched his own online summer program, Beck University.

The program, which does not give those enrolled college credit, offers online lectures and discussions based on the concepts of faith, hope and charity instead. Those enrolled don’t pay tuition, but must instead subscribe to Insider Extreme, which comes at a cost of $6.26 per month.

Beck isn’t an academic by any means—according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, he dropped out of Yale University after taking one course—but he has given the reigns of the program to outside experts. According to the program’s website, this week’s schedule includes Faith 101 with David Barton, the founder and president of a “pro-family organization.” Courses later this summer include Hope 101 and Charity 101, with the philanthropic course led by James R. Stoner Jr., a professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Beck isn’t the only famous face to have ventured into the world of online education. Donald Trump started the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, renamed from Trump University after he was told calling the school such violated New York Education Law and the Rules of the Board of Regents in the state. The program, which does not offer college credit, describes itself as a resource for business leaders and those interested in wealth creation. Bassist Bootsy Collins has started the online Funk University, which gives aspiring musicians access to online lectures on music history and funk from “Professor Bootsy” and lessons in advanced bass and rhythm. The program is more a tutorial in bass Bootsy-style, as it doesn’t offer college credit either.

However you feel about such programs, make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into no matter what you sign up for. If you’re up for a few classes in funk to supplement your coursework elsewhere, that’s perfectly fine, but know that many of these entertainingly-named “schools” don’t offer college credit and certainly won’t be accepted by your home institution as transfer credit. That probably means they won’t exactly give your resume a boost either when you’re out there applying for jobs. Check out the information we’ve come up with on choosing the right school if you’re unsure, including tips on finding an accredited distance learning program if you’re looking for an online college in particular.

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Should You Skip Class? A New Online Tool Weighs the Risk

August 18, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

You’ve already read about the website that allows college students to wager on their grades. A new online tool allows students to calculate not whether they should risk some cash on their academic performance, but whether sleeping in and skipping class is worth their while.

The “Should I Skip Class Today?” calculator asks users 10 questions that glean information about how many times that user has that class in question, when the next major test/quiz will be held, and whether that class has an attendance policy, among other criteria. Once they hit submit, users are told whether they’d be safe or sorry if they stayed in bed and skipped class. For example, I was told it was OK to skip class but that I wasn’t completely safe when I gave the calculator a whirl. I used a hypothetical class that met twice a week, included regular handouts in class, and had an attendance policy where my instructor did not take attendance, but where participation mattered in my final grade. The results also told me that I had already skipped 7 percent of my classes this semester (I had informed the web tool that this would be my third absence), and when my next test or quiz was (I offered that information up as well).

The calculator is the brainchild of Jim Filbert, who thought of the idea “one cold morning” in February of this year. Filbert, a telecommunications management student at the time, didn’t want to go to class that day, and found himself wondering what the risks were to stay in his warm bed. Following a quick search online, he was unable to find a similar tool, so he took it upon himself to create an online risk calculator himself. He did end up skipping class that day, according to his bio on the site, but he spent his free time working on the calculator, instead.

While you should probably go to class as often as you can, barring an unfortunate illness, flat tire, or other incident that would stop you from doing so, it’d be interesting to see how “accurate” this calculator is in a real situation. How you’d measure its accuracy, though, I’m not exactly sure. Have you tried out this new online tool? How do you go about determining how risky it is to skip class? What’s an appropriate excuse? If you’re feeling swamped, check out our College Classes and Study Smart sections before deciding whether you’re really too overwhelmed to go to class; we have tips on everything from preparing for exams to choosing which courses you should sign up for.

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Beloit College Releases Latest "Mindset List" Describing Freshmen

August 19, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you’re entering college this fall, Beloit College has you pegged as a group that doesn’t know how to write in cursive, believe email is too slow, and can’t relate to those who don’t know what it’s like to have hundreds of cable channels on their televisions.

The school’s annual Beloit College Mindset List includes 75 items that go beyond the technology gap to describe the incoming class of freshmen (in somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek manner), as a way to remind professors and instructors that there are vast cultural differences between them and the new students. The list is put together each August by a Beloit College professor and a former official at the school, and represents the at times amusing world view of new freshmen, in this case the Class of 2014. The officials putting together the list began to do so in 1998, when they realized how outdated the references many instructors used in their classrooms were.

Included on the list:

  • “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.
  • Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.
  • Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.
  • They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.
  • The first home computer they probably touched was an Apple II or Mac II; they are now in a museum.
  • Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.
  • Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

The originators of the list feel knowing these tidbits will help professors create more meaningful discussion in the classroom. It may also help instructors avoid blank stares when they use a cultural reference beyond the experiences of those new students. The 46th item on the list, for example, “Nirvana is on the classic oldies station,” may make some instructors feel old, but may also be a wake-up call for others when they’re looking to relate to students.

An article in USA Today this week quotes students that both disagree and agree with the list. While some say they do indeed still know how to write in cursive, one described the only time she’s ever used a telephone with a cord as such: “Yes, I’ve used them but only at my grandparents’ house.” Take a look at the list. Do you have anything to add? Is there something on the list you’d remove? We’d love to hear your ideas!

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Why So Serious? Course Promotes Laughter as More Than Best Medicine

August 24, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

There hasn’t been much to laugh about at many schools across the country, what with budget cuts and creative cost-saving measures affecting course offerings and faculty positions. At one North Carolina community college, however, a new course is teaching students how to chuckle, giggle and guffaw, no matter how they feel about the state of affairs outside of the classroom.

While the class is targeted at retirees—the noncredit eight-week “Laughter in the Sandhills” is put on by Sandhills Community College’s Center for Creative Retirement—it’s a good example of the kinds of offerings you may not know existed as you focus your attentions instead on the general education requirements in your course catalog. This class is taught by a “certified laughter coach,” according to an article about it in The Fayetteville Observer, and focuses on the positive health benefits behind a good laugh and the right and wrong way to let out a chortle. The class isn’t about perfecting your stand-up comedy routine, but about learning to induce laughter; students spend about 15 minutes of the start of each class greeting each other with silly handshakes, for example, or high-fiving to the sounds of “Alo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”

If you’re more interested in virtual LOLs rather than learning appropriate laughter techniques, and have the time (and funding) to explore unique courses at your college, do so. You may not use your new underwater basket weaving skills (courses in the craft are offered at the University of California-San Diego), but you may meet some interested characters along the way. Or you may find a hidden talent for analyzing pop culture (the University of California-Berkeley has a class on the philosophy behind the Simpsons). Or, that quirky course may even add to your skill set. Courses on social networking, especially Twitter, for example, may be more useful than you think. (DePaul University has a course in how Twitter has changed the way reporters do their jobs.)

It’s important to choose college courses wisely so that you’re able to graduate in a timely fashion and meet the requirements of both your school and chosen field of study. But it’s also important that you keep going to your classes, and a fun course here and there may help keep you motivated. We’ve all taken that intro to bowling/ice skating/curling course, and some colleges may be more lenient about how you fulfill certain general education requirements. Just remember to talk to your counselor or adviser about how much leeway you have when it comes to coming up with your schedule of courses.

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