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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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CBS Announces Top 25 Colleges with the Best Professors

Money Watch Ranks the Collegiate Cream of the Crop

December 8, 2010

CBS Announces Top 25 Colleges with the Best Professors

by Suada Kolovic

There are myriad reasons to attend a particular university – from prestige and academics to athletics and diversity. But if you’re in search for the universities with the top rated professors, CBS Money Watch has created the ultimate list for you. To compile the list, CBS relied on data from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, which referenced information from RateMyProfessor.com. If you’re unfamiliar with the website – which I doubt you are – it allows students to anonymously rate their university professors as well as view the ratings college teachers have received. And with over one million professors and 10 million opinions, it’s the most comprehensive online source of student feedback on instructors.

After perusing the list, it’s clear there’s a common denominator: For the most part, a majority of the schools are liberal arts colleges with student bodies under 4,000 students. That’s not surprising considering smaller student bodies translate into smaller classes, greater hands-on learning opportunities and, most importantly, more individual attention. For additional information on any of these school – or thousands of others – check out our college search.

  1. Oklahoma Wesleyan University
  2. United States Military Academy (NY)
  3. Clarke College (IA)
  4. Wellesley College (MA)
  5. North Greenville University (SC)
  6. Master’s College and Seminary (CA)
  7. Wabash College (IN)
  8. Carleton College (MN)
  9. Sewanee-The University of the South (TN)
  10. Marlboro College (VT)
  11. Corban College (OR)
  12. Randolph College (VA)
  13. United States Air Force Academy (CO)
  14. Wesleyan College (GA)
  15. Pacific University (OR)
  16. Whitworth University (WA)
  17. Doane College (NE)
  18. College of the Ozarks (MO)
  19. Bryn Mawr College (PA)
  20. Sarah Lawrence College (NY)
  21. Emory & Henry College (VA)
  22. Wisconsin Lutheran College
  23. Hollins University (VA)
  24. Trinity International University (IL)
  25. Cornell College (IA)

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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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Finals Week Goes to the Dogs

Furry Friends and Other Quirky Events Ease Exam Stress

December 16, 2010

Finals Week Goes to the Dogs

by Alexis Mattera

Ah, finals week. It’s been almost six years since my last one but all the hairy details – the tensing of muscles, the firing of brain synapses and the pain of paper cuts as I shuffled through my notes the night before a huge exam to absorb one last piece of information needed to fill a blue book – still come rushing back to me like clockwork every December and May. It’s far from fun but some college students are actually enjoying this time of year thanks to some furry friends. No, not Joakim Noah...puppies, you guys!

First featured on the Jumbo Shorts blog last month (by my good friend, University of Connecticut alum and web content specialist Kaitlin Provencher, no less!) and now making headlines in a variety of news outlets, Tufts University has foregone the traditional finals week perks like extended library hours and wider availability of counseling services and is instead giving its students a much-needed reprieve from exams by bringing therapy dogs to campus for them to play with. Resident director Michael Bliss fashioned the idea after a similar program he participated in as an undergrad at NYU and the results were just as positive then as they are now. "Every college student has stress around finals," said Bliss. "And taking a break out from that with something as easy and simple and loving as petting dogs is really helpful."

Tufts isn’t alone in its quest to bust stress (though its program is by far the cuddliest): Over the last decade, community, state and private schools have been employing untraditional finals week events to keep students less frazzled and more focused including late-night yoga, massages, oxygen bars, impromptu dance parties, pizza fairies and rubber ball deluges. "These events help students acknowledge the fact that you have to put these more stressful times in perspective," said Lori Morgan Flood, director of wellness and health promotion at Oberlin College. "You'll get through it."

College may be about learning the information and skills to prepare students for jobs, graduate school and life after college in general but throwing a little something unexpected or unusual into the mix is just what many students need to perform at their absolute best. My advice: Step away from the books if only just for a moment and have some F-U-N!


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Happy Holidays…We’re Eliminating Your Degree!

U. Missouri to Reduce Degree Offerings by 16

December 27, 2010

Happy Holidays…We’re Eliminating Your Degree!

by Alexis Mattera

Welcome back, everyone! Have the holiday hazes, mall bruises and food comas worn off yet? If not, this next story may snap you back to reality…especially if you’re a University of Missouri student.

Just before our break, the Chronicle and Columbia Daily Tribune reported the university is poised to truncate its degree offerings by 16 - a decision that came after a state-mandated review revealed multiple programs graduating on average fewer than 10 bachelor’s, five master’s and three doctoral degrees per year. While a change like this isn’t new – SUNY Albany announced similar changes a few months ago – the method is: Some programs will be disappearing all together but the majority will merge with existing programs and create new degrees. Among the changes, Spanish and French programs will join to form a Romance language degree and the three master’s programs within the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources may be rolled into one catch-all degree covering forestry parks, recreation, tourism, and soil, environmental and atmospheric sciences; education specialist and doctoral degrees in career and technical education, a specialist degree in special education and communication sciences and disorders doctorate and a clinical laboratory sciences bachelor’s program within the School of Health Professions will be eliminated completely.

The proposed changes are expected to be approved by the Missouri Department of Higher Education and the Coordinating Board of Higher Education in February. The affected programs, however, will continue for a while – even years – because, says Deputy Provost Ken Dean, the university will not implement anything that would have a negative impact on current undergraduate and graduate students. Are you enrolled in any of the programs mentioned? Will this news impact your decision to remain in your current major? Are you considering transferring to a different school with a more specialized program?


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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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