Improving Higher Education through Undergraduate Research

Currently many undergraduate programs in the U.S. do not require much research from their students, and if they do it is usually during the student’s final year of school. Students otherwise have to find research internships in the summer, which often requires money and the ability to relocate. Not all students can afford to do this. Therefore, changes related to undergraduate research should happen during the academic year and should begin earlier than a student’s final year.

There are several benefits that research experience has for undergraduates. Undergraduate research is when many students first experience the scientific process. This includes reviewing others’ past research, gathering data, and then conducting tests to reach new conclusions. As David Lopatto notes in his 2010 article published in Peer Review (see reference), these tasks improve students’ self-confidence and critical thinking skills, and also force students to face the difficulties and setbacks that are often also part of the research process. Lopatto then argues that when students get research experience and then take later courses they are better able to think independently and are more active learners than students with no research experience. In addition to school performance, I believe that having research experience early as an undergraduate will help students decide if they want to enter a career in research or if they want to continue onto graduate school.

Universities should offer course credit for research-intensive courses because it is difficult for many students to balance a full academic schedule with the additional work required for a research internship. Courses can be designed to promote undergraduate research by requiring group work, literature reviews, and data analysis. In his article, Loretto also highlights the importance of letting students have some input on the research topics and process. This increases students’ engagement and motivation. Later in the undergraduate process, I think that in the universities could also offer credit for more independent research courses that give each student a research mentor (either a faculty member or a graduate student). In these ways increasing the use of undergraduate research will change higher education by giving students important skills that will better prepare them for later courses and for life after graduation.

Reference:

Lopatto, D. (2010). Undergraduate research as a high-impact student experience. Peer Review12(2), 27-30. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/undergraduate-research-high-impact-student-experience

Social Media, MOOCs, and other Disruptive Tech: Faculty use of Social Media

In a Faculty Focus article published online in October of last year (see reference), Mary Owens gives a very clear overview and summary of the social media tools used and how faculty and students can communicate with each other using these tools to improve learning. Owens focuses on three main social media websites: 1) Facebook, where people can share information about their lives and can create smaller “groups” of information sharing; 2) Instagram, which allows photos to be published and shared online; and 3) Twitter, which allows short messages to be quickly shared and which organizes messages by topic through the use of “hashtags.”

These social media tools have often been criticized because they are seen as a disruption to classroom activities and a distraction from studying outside of the classroom. Owens does not disagree that this has been a problem and even cites research that has shown that students who use social media the most are likely to have lower GPA averages than other students. This is not surprising to me, since students who participate in any activity that is not related to their studies (such as watching TV or even participating in a sport for the university) for a long period of time will have lower grades than those who spend more time studying.

While too much use of social media for non-academic reasons is a problem, the wide use of social media websites by students presents university faculty with new opportunities for teaching. If faculty use social media websites that students are already actively engaged in and excited about for teaching purposes then they might have more success in getting the students’ attention and participation. Because the privacy is often a concern with using the internet, Owens suggests that faculty should create separate professional (instead of their personal accounts) accounts on social media websites for teaching purposes.

I found the ideas Owens presented for how Faculty can use social media for teaching very interesting and innovative. These ideas were specific to individual social media websites. For Twitter, faculty can “create hashtags that allow students to tag their academic posts, and subsequently view submissions to see what the collective has creatively produced.” Twitter can also be used by Faculty to host live lectures and provide support and information to students outside of typical office hours. With Facebook, faculty can have their students create Facebook groups for group projects so that they can share project information with each other at any time. Although the article doesn’t mention it, Facebook could also be used by professors to create a larger Facebook group for an entire class where students and teachers can post, share, and debate information and topics related to their course. For Instagram, Owens suggests that faculty and students can use Instagram “for capturing real-time visual concepts in the real world, not only when the student sits down to write a paper or work on a project in the musty library long after inspiration has passed.”

The internet and social media will not go away, and for many students these websites are daily tools for personal and networking purposes. Faculty can use these tools that are already created and being used by students in order to reach students at any time and to get students to participate in new ways. I believe that faculty and universities should adopt at least some of these tools now because if they do not then they will be even more removed from their students as time goes on and social media becomes an even larger part of daily life.

Reference:

Owens, M. (2014, October 23). Using Social Media in the Classroom: Why There’s A Lot to Like. Retrieved April 28, 2015, from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-with-technology-articles/using-social-media-classroom/

Bullying Across the Disciplines

One topic of our course is civility in higher education. Bullying is usually associated with children on the playground, or more recently, “cyber bullying” on Facebook and elsewhere online, usually involving high school students. Many think that after graduating high school people grow up, move on, and bullying stops. Unfortunately, that is sometimes not the case.

The topic of civility and bullying has gained increasing attention in recent years, as have efforts made by universities to address this issue. Two recent articles by the Guardian highlight this issue. The first article, dated from October 2014 (Source 1) is from a British professor who claims that “bullying is rife in academia”, and provides his experience as a case study in how faculty can bully each other. The author describes how university counselors can be reluctant to step in when professors are not civil to each other, and described how he resorted to drinking to help cope with stress. When the author claims to have at last confronted his superior within his department about his stress, his advisor replied that “You’re supposed to be stressed! Professors here are supposed to be stressed! That’s the job.” The author suggests that, more broadly, in higher education heads of departments have “absolute power” over those they supervise, and many people do not go to HR when they are being bullied by these people because of fear that their careers will be ruined.

The second article by the Guardian (Source 2), dated November 2014, looks at the issue and causes of bullying within academia more broadly, and cites “Characteristics of our jobs, such as low autonomy, boring tasks, unclear roles and high workload have … as possible causes of bullying” (Source 2). The article also states that within the United Kingdom between 18% and 42% of academics experience workplace bullying, which is higher than average for industries. To help resolve bullying issues, the article suggests that individuals:

  • Keep a written record of events, along with any evidence of negative acts (such as emails or memos)
  • Seek informal resolution early in the conflict by speaking to the perpetrator early on, which may allow for a resolution without a formal process.
  • If the bullying continues, then identify the university’s grievance policy and then Identify report the problem to a relevant individual; and finally
  • Discuss the problem with your support network inside and outside of work.

In the U.S. some universities in which academic bullying has occurred have taken actions to put policies in place to prevent this behavior. For example, recently the University of Wisconsin-Madison put in place a policy that defines academic bullying as “Abusive expression” — including verbal, written and digital offenses, as well as “unwarranted” physical contact, and “conspicuous exclusion” or isolation, sabotage of another person’s work, and “abuse of authority” (Source 3). The policy allows for individuals to resolve issues informally by going through a university ombudsman or vice provost, or else formally through a written complaint with a department head or union representative. However, “if the conflict is with the chair, the complaint may be filed with the dean.” The result of a formal complaint may then result in discipline or dismissal of an individual.

These articles provide an interesting personal as well as organizational view of the issue of bullying and civility in higher education. They also show that the issue is not specific to any one country or university. While it is tempting to at times pretend like bullying stops becoming an issue in life after childhood or graduation, these articles are a good reminder of the problems that can be caused when people within higher education are not civil with each other. They also provide needed advice and solutions for both individuals and universities to help prevent bullying and also to resolve such issues once they occur.

Sources:

Future of Higher Education: A New Era of Online Education

Inside Higher Ed’s 2014 article, “The Future of Higher Education” (see reference) highlights many current and newly developing trends in higher education. I believe the trends that the article discussed which have the greatest chance for growth are those that involve the use of the internet in higher education. The expansion of the internet as a tool for teaching and providing course content will likely be the main driver of change in higher education both in the U.S. and internationally.

One of the main reasons I believe the use of the internet will continue to expand in higher education is the desire to cut costs. Across the U.S. there has been a steady trend of states cutting funding to public universities year after year. As a result, many universities have increased tuition at rates that are not sustainable. Therefore, pressures to reduce costs will help drive the use of the internet to deliver courses at a lower cost through online classes.

The Inside Higher Ed article also mentions the growing use of “open educational resources.” In class we have discussed the related concept of open access journals as well. As a result of both universities and students wanting to reduce costs and share resources, I expect that the internet will continue to drive these open access trends. Besides reducing costs, the use of open educational resources will have the additional benefit of increasing the speed and depth of knowledge transfer between academics. This may result in academics and students conducting higher quality research.

Providing courses through the internet can allow one faculty to reach a very large number of students at once. This has led to the use of massive open online courses (MOOCs). These types of courses are still few in number, but I expect the use of MOOCs to grow. In the future, MOOCs can integrate students and universities from across the world, allowing a wide range of academics and students to interact and learn from each other. This integration through the use of MOOCs could be done in part through inter-university agreements that allow faculty and content sharing through MOOCs. In this way universities could reduce costs by sharing resources, but also increase cultural exchanges.

The internet will also be used with the expansion of competency-based education. Within higher education competency-based education will most likely be used in disciplines that require a professional certification or that have narrow focus such as disciplines in the medical, engineering, or scientific fields. Online competency-based education can be used to serve non-traditional students who have full-time jobs and/or families, and who also have skills that would make taking traditional course credits repetitive and unnecessary.

These are some of the ways that I believe the future of higher education will be changed because of the internet. I am excited to see how different universities will use the internet to solve their problems and share information. In time, I believe the discussed trends will allow higher education to become more global and accessible to all.

Reference:

Mintz, S. (2014, September 30). The Future of Higher Education. Retrieved April 16, 2015, from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-beta/future-higher-education

Open Access Journals in the Wood Products Industry: The Journal of Forest Economics

The journal I have selected is the Journal of Forest Economics. This journal published in affiliation with the Department of Forest Economics at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, in the city of Umeå. Figure 1 below identifies this location on a map of Europe.

Figure 1

Umeå, Sweden

open access

The Journal of Forest Economics has a very broad scope, which includes the national, regional, and international, and which covers a variety of specialized topics related to the production and trade of forest products. These topics include:

  • forest management problems, such as forest regulation;
  • forest industry analysis, such as analyzing the supply, demand, and international trade of forest products;
  • the multiple use of forests, such as cost-benefit analyses of timber production and the environmental effects of forest industries; and
  • forestry and economic development, such as deforestation problems as well as the industry’s contributions to employment and income.

Beneath the journal’s icon is a prominent button stating “support open access”, which leads to a page dedicated to discussion the journal’s relationship with open access. The Journal of Forest Economics positions itself as publisher of research both in an open access format and through subscription. The journal explains its open access option by saying that “articles are freely available to both subscribers and the wider public with reuse”, but this open access option requires either the article’s authors or its research funders to pay an “open access publication fee” of $1,500.

In addition, the Journal of Forest Economics allows for “green open access” publication of research. It describes “green open access” as when authors post “a free draft copy of their article to a repository or website.” While this option does not require an open access fee, the publication cannot be viewed immediately. Instead, “Access is granted after an embargo period has expired … because libraries understandably will not subscribe if the content is available for free immediately.”

The journal’s more traditional subscription option for publication only makes articles available to read for subscribers of the journal. The journal makes a point to say that the author’s choice of whether or not to publish via open access or subscription “will have no effect on the peer review process or acceptance.”

This review of the Journal of Forest Economics showed the variety of publishing options that authors have both within and outside of open access. Reviewing this journal’s website also showed the tension between wanting to support open access principles and needing to earn enough money to keep the journal operating. Most authors will not be able or willing to pay the $1,500 open access fee for immediate open access publication unless they have much funding. The most likely option for researchers to publish open access will be the “green open access” option. This means that the most recent research will not be available free to everyone, but it seems the most practical option for authors with limited funding.

Source:

http://www.elsevier.com/journals/journal-of-forest-economics/1104-6899/open-access-options

Academic Freedom Cited on Both sides of the Debate over AP U.S. History

As part of our second topic in our course we learned about and discussed academic freedom in higher education. Several articles have been written lately on several state governments have tried to introduce laws that limit what can be taught as part of high school AP U.S. History courses. Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college-level courses taught in high school, and at the end of the course students may be able to earn college credit if they score well on a standardized AP course exam. While AP courses are taught to high school students, it is the first experience many students have in the deep level of critical thinking on issues that characterizes university-level education. This is especially true in a humanities or social studies topic such as U.S. History, where critical thinking and interpretation is more important that simply remembering and repeating names and dates of events.

 According to a recent Inside Higher Ed article (Source 1) Oklahoma state lawmakers have introduced a bill to change the law that would review and change the newest version of AP U.S. History curriculum. The article’s author states that similar efforts are currently in progress in Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Colorado.

 Some in these states and elsewhere have issue with the new AP U.S. history curriculum because they believe the course’s final exam for college credit ignores “important aspects of American history and cast it in too negative a light.” For example, issues have been raised with how the new curriculum considers the westward expansion of the U.S. into Native American and Mexican lands. The Republican National Committee, which organizes policy for one of the U.S.’s Republican political party, has asked state legislators to pass laws that keep funding away from the College Board (a private organization that oversees AP courses and curricula) until changes are made to the AP U.S. History curricula. Those seeking changes state that the new curriculum is limiting academic freedom because the new curriculum has reduced “the freedom of states, school districts, teachers and parents to choose the history they teach their children.”

 In contrast, those in support of the AP U.S. History curriculum changes see the attacks on the curriculum as attacks on academic freedom. For example, the Chair of Western History at the University of Oklahoma, claimed that there is “universal” opposition to the bill among higher education and high school faculty in the state. Defenders of the AP curriculum also state that the new AP curriculum supports academic freedom by asking “students to think critically about different pieces of evidence and different perspectives.” Those in favor of the curriculum also note that the new test focuses more on the issues of poverty and American culture and policy after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which previously received little discussion as part of the AP U.S. history exam.

 This article was interesting to me for multiple reasons. It shows that those in the U.S. with very different political and cultural views toward history and higher education each see “academic freedom” as a positive thing, or else each side would not have claimed to be supporting academic freedom as part of their arguments. While conservatives claim to be defending the academic freedom of individual teachers and high schools, the College Board and other higher education professionals claim to be defending the academic freedom to consider and analyze new historical topics in new ways. This shows that the topic of academic freedom is not always a simple issue. However, the freedom for students to think critically about—and teachers to teach about—history and other topics is important. To the extent to which the AP U.S. History curriculum allows for new and multiple interpretations of past events and trends, this should be encouraged. As this issue continues to be debated, it is important to support academic freedom both in terms of the topics to be discussed as well as allowing different interpretations of these topics by students.

 Sources:

Flaherty, C. (2015, February 23). Whose History? Retrieved from

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/02/23/oklahoma-legislature-targets-ap-us-history-framework-being-negative

What it Means to Be a Faculty Member

I had previously defined what I thought it meant to be a faculty member as being involved in the university community in order to maintain an open environment for accepting new ideas. In this way the faculty member can help a higher education institution improve the quality of education and, ultimately, improve society. While I still believe this is part of what it means to be a faculty member, information covered over the course of this semester has broadened my idea of what the roles and responsibilities of a faculty member are.

To be a faculty member means to be able to effectively balance the position’s research versus its teaching responsibilities. This balance is sometimes difficult because a faculty member’s research duties are more likely to be of immediate benefit to the faculty member’s career and reputation than are duties related to guiding students through teaching. When an effective faculty member does conduct research, he or she investigates meaningful and new topics, even if it takes a long time to complete, instead of publishing many articles of little significance or originality in order to lengthen one’s publishing resume.

Our course’s discussion of the “publish or perish” issue relates to this tension. I believe that in order to be most effective, faculty members should try to worry less about “publish or perish” and not forget to put time and care into their lesson plans, lectures, and their students’ assignments. Putting an equal focus on teaching duties will help the faculty member grow their higher education institution from within by creating a more knowledgeable and engaged student body. In addition, a faculty member should act as a mentor to individual students, in particular advisees. This mentorship should provide professional guidance and training, and should prepare students for life after graduation.

The ability to create an open culture of learning is another large part of what I believe it means to be a faculty member. This can be accomplished on several levels. In the classroom I believe an effective faculty member should engage students to share and discuss ideas between themselves so that issues can be looked at in new ways. When possible, the faculty member should ask students to apply lessons and themes from course material to current and relevant topics.

Materials for this course have shown me that creating an open culture within an academic institution goes beyond what I had first thought. This concept should also apply to creating an open and respectful environment among faculty members, department heads, students and advisees. For example, it is a faculty member’s role to stop academic bullying in higher education at all levels.

Finally, I believe to be a faculty member means to try, improve and engage with their community. When possible, faculty members should try to attend and participate in community forums, guest lectures, or discussions on relevant topics. This can help improve how others in the community think about different topics and make decisions. When faculty members engage with the community, it also highlights the import role higher education institutions play within each community.