Monday, June 20, 2011

I've moved to a new blog

I've closed up shop here and moved my blogging to Cost of College, where I write about the various costs that we face in the years before, during and after college.  My focus is on the financial as well as the academic factors, with an eye for exploring the trends in higher education that may profoundly affect our children’s lives in the coming years. I thank you for reading Education Quick Takes and invite you to check out my new location.

--  Grace

Friday, June 17, 2011

What to do between graduation and first job

In this NY Times piece, various experts advise college graduates unable to find jobs in their fields.

You do not want it to appear that you were idle during your time of unemployment.

Focus on "developing skills you need for employment and learning about your industry".    Research, taking advantage of your college's alumni network to talk with people in your industry.  Master relevant software, like Excel and PowerPoint.  If you are volunteering or working at any job, focus on the skills that transfer to your desired career.  Even the lowliest customer service jobs can provide training for a future professional track.  (I can attest to this.)

Take advantage of social media for networking.  For example, start tweeting or blogging about the latest research in your career interests.  Polish up your LinkedIn profile.

Start a business, any business, either high-tech or low tech.  Even a dog walking service can showcase your entrepreneurial bent.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is higher education on track to lose its credentialing monopoly?

Higher education may be at a crossroads, facing the possibility of losing its role as the main merchant of career credentialing.  Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote about this in her commentary on Peter Thiel's initiative to lure entrepreneurial students away from college.
Colleges have long been engaged in an odd deal with students and their parents. Paying for a college education — or taking on a huge amount of debt to finance an education — is a transaction in which most of the buyers and most of the sellers have fundamentally different understandings of the product....
In the college transaction, most parents think they’re buying their kids a credential, a better job and a ticket, economically speaking at least, to the American dream. Most college professors and administrators (the good ones, anyway) see their role as producing liberally educated, well-rounded individuals with an appreciation for certain kinds of knowledge. If they get a job after graduation, well, that’s nice, too.
The students, for the most part, are not quite sure where they fit into this bargain. Some will get caught up in what they learn and decide to go on to further education. But most will see college as an opportunity to have fun and then come out the other end of the pipeline with the stamp of approval they need to make a decent salary after graduation.
Here's a dirty little secret that's quickly becoming common knowledge.
Thanks to the wonders of grade inflation and the lack of a serious core curriculum, it is possible to get through Harvard and a number of other high-price universities acing your computer science classes and devoting very little effort to anything else.
College students are spending less time studying, graduating with minimal evidence of academic growth.   Their course work often consists of random bits of dumbed down fluff classes.
Beyond the top tier, there are also gaping holes in higher education. Executives at U.S. companies routinely complain about the lack of reading, writing and math skills in the recent graduates they hire. Maybe they too will get tired of using higher education as a credentialing system. Maybe it will be easier to recruit if they don’t have to be concerned about the overwhelming student debt of their new employees.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How much do parents influence their children?

Bryan Caplan and Amy Chua debate parenting styles....
Chua:  Some people don't need parental commitment, they will still come out great, but for others, parents can be critical in providing moral and academic guidance....
Caplan:  ...what the adoption and twin evidence says is that the feeling that parents are changing their kids is based on an illusion. There is a big short-run effect, but the long-run effect is very different....
Chua:  Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done. I tried to find the balance between the strict, traditional Chinese way I was raised, which I think can be too harsh, and what I see as a tendency in the west to be too permissive and indulgent.
Caplan:  Parents seem to think their kids are like clay, that you mould them into the right shape when they're wet. A better metaphor is that kids are like flexible plastic – they respond to pressure, but when you release the pressure they tend to pop back to their original shape.
Chua says her book is "a bit of a spoof", and my opinion is she purposefully went for the exaggerated tone as a way to sell more books.  But it's clear her perspective is one where a parent needs to exert more control and dominance than is typical among American families.

Most children need parental commitment, but to varying degrees.  Some kids need a heavier hand than others do, and we should keep in mind that our personal parenting experience may be vastly different from others we may criticize.  I never thought my own kids would benefit from corporal punishment, but I've seen others who seemed to respond well to an occasional whack to the behind.

Found at Instapundit

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Problems with study that claims groups are better than lectures for learning

Last month the NY Times reported on a study that showed interactive group instruction is superior to traditional lectures.
In one of the initiative’s most visible studies, Dr. Wieman’s team reports that students in an introductory college physics course did especially well on an exam after attending experimental, collaborative classes during the 12th week of the course. By contrast, students taking the same course from another instructor — who did not use the experimental approach and continued with lectures as usual — scored much lower on the same exam.
Not so fast.
Yet experts who reviewed the new report cautioned that it was not convincing enough to change teaching. The study has a variety of limitations, they said, some because of the difficulty of doing research in the dude-I-slept-through-class world of the freshman year of college, and others because of the study’s design. “The whole issue of how to draw on basic science and apply it in classrooms is a whole lot more complicated than they’re letting on,” said Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia.
Dr. Willingham said that, among other concerns, the study was not controlled enough to tell which of the changes in teaching might have accounted for the difference in students’ scores
Here are Dr. Willingham's candid comments from his Facebook page.
There were a lot of problems with this study. The two methods compared were each tested in just ONE classroom--so no way of knowing whether the observed effects were just due to the teacher. The "group learning" condition was taught by a new teacher--the "lecture" was the same professor as had been teaching all semester. The critical test was opt-in, and lots of students decided not to take it--and the proportions were unequal across conditions. The study was a mess. I can't imagine why Science published it....
Studies like this are fine for what they are--they are really more pilot studies, or they could be useful as qualitative research. (I think qualitative research *is* really quite useful.) But it didn't have the strengths of qualitative research and was pitched as a quantitative study.
Other articles about this study:
The Economist
The Chronicle of Higher Ed

Monday, June 13, 2011

Perceptual learning by 'brain calisthenics'

Cognitive scientists have found that pattern-recognition exercises speed up learning by enabling students to develop a "gut instinct" for problem solving.
NY TimesFor about a month now, Wynn, 17, has been practicing at home using an unusual online program that prompts him to match graphs to equations, dozens upon dozens of them, and fast, often before he has time to work out the correct answer. An equation appears on the screen, and below it three graphs (or vice versa, a graph with three equations). He clicks on one and the screen flashes to tell him whether he’s right or wrong and jumps to the next problem.
“I’m much better at it,” he said, in a phone interview from his school, New Roads in Santa Monica, Calif. “In the beginning it was difficult, having to work so quickly; but you sort of get used to it, and in the end it’s more intuitive. It becomes more effortless.”
For years school curriculums have emphasized top-down instruction, especially for topics like math and science. Learn the rules first — the theorems, the order of operations, Newton’s laws — then make a run at the problem list at the end of the chapter. Yet recent research has found that true experts have something at least as valuable as a mastery of the rules: gut instinct, an instantaneous grasp of the type of problem they’re up against. Like the ballplayer who can “read” pitches early, or the chess master who “sees” the best move, they’ve developed a great eye.
Now, a small group of cognitive scientists is arguing that schools and students could take far more advantage of this same bottom-up ability, called perceptual learning. The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, after all, and when focused properly, it can quickly deepen a person’s grasp of a principle, new studies suggest. Better yet, perceptual knowledge builds automatically: There’s no reason someone with a good eye for fashion or wordplay cannot develop an intuition for classifying rocks or mammals or algebraic equations, given a little interest or motivation.
“When facing problems in real-life situations, the first question is always, ‘What am I looking at? What kind of problem is this?’ ” said Philip J. Kellman, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Any theory of how we learn presupposes perceptual knowledge — that we know which facts are relevant, that we know what to look for.”
The challenge for education, Dr. Kellman added, “is what do we need to do to make this happen efficiently?
Yes, this is the challenge.  Using pattern recognition exercises to grasp principles quickly sounds reasonable, but only if preceded by background knowledge gained through "bottom up" methods of instruction and practice.  Otherwise, this new "top down" method used by itself would seem to create rote knowledge that lacks meaning.

Joanne Jacobs makes a good point.
Reading the comments reminded me of the parable of the six blind men and the elephant. Every reader seems to think the research proves their theory: Kids need more practice; kids need to construct knowledge, kids need real-world examples, kids need visuals.
Daniel Willingham:
Pretty interesting, and a fairly solid research base. . .it's a little early to get super excited about it. . .and "brain calisthenics" is kind of misleading. . .

Friday, June 10, 2011

How's that urban studies degree working out for you?

This story comes from a comment on an article about which college majors do best in the job market. The writer has been gainfully employed for most of the time since she graduated college, but not in any jobs where she has used her degree. Her story sounds familiar.
I have a B.A. in Urban Studies (city planning). I graduated in 2003 (as a married mom of two, who was temporarily a stay at home mom, after working full time for years). I found another job a few months after my graduation, in the mortgage industry, making $30,000 a year. I left that job after a year and a half, when the bank went through massive downsizing, and announced that the entire division I worked in would be eliminated. I found another job as a research assistant with the national offices of a church, still not really using my degree, but making $35,000 a year.
I got laid off from that job in 2008, and was out of work for 5 months until I got a $10 a hour temp job with no benefits, with my local county. I worked in that job off and on for a year (got laid off once), until I found my current full-time job as an administrative assistant for a small nonprofit organization. I make a little less than $30,000 a year, still not using my degree. I would feel downright rich if I could find a job paying $50,000 a year.
I am convinced that college degrees have lost much of their value over the past decade, as employers have figured out that with the economy being so bad, college graduates will work for pennies, rather than go hungry.
My husband has a high school diploma, and works as a mechanical maintenance technician and welder for a factory, and makes significantly more money than I do. I have a brother who is a plumber, and owns his own small plumbing company, and who earns in the six figures.
I loved college, but nowadays I would recommend to any high school student who is considering a 4 year degree to instead either consider going into the trades or get an associates' degree in a high demand health field like nursing, and wait until when or even if the economy improves, and then go for the bachelor's degree.
Here's a graphic from the article, showing area studies as the lowest ranked college major.