Thursday, October 30, 2008

Students and Their Social Networking Habits

In just one year, Inside Higher Ed reports that the questions educators are asking about social networking sites (SNSs) have changed. Instead of wondering what to do about their students' technology habits, today, educators are pondering whether to adopt students' existing technology habits. Researchers from Arizona State University conducted a study to address this issue, and presented their findings at this year's EDUCAUSE Conference.

The study, led by Dr. Laura Brewer, involved an online survey of 3,000 first-year students living on campus (21% response rate). The questions were designed to assess how the respondents used Facebook to create their identities (academic and social). In addition, the researchers wanted to assess how this form of identity creation might affect student retention rates.

Some research has shown that web-based tools can improve retention; however, according to Brewer, it is unclear how students' technology habits relate to the teaching and learning process. Nonetheless, SNSs were popular with the respondents - a little more than 93% use Facebook and almost 89% are active users. In terms of academic-related use, slightly more than 68% joined Facebook for their dorm; only 37.4% said that Facebook enriches their academic life, which means that approximately 70% said it did not. Very few of the students are using Facebook to connect to the faculty. Instead, they are using this SNS to stay connected to classmates or work in groups. On a more negative note, some respondents stated that Facebook could be a distraction and encourage cheating.

The findings of this report appear to be aligned with the latest ECAR study on undergrads and technology in that SNS are popular among young people for personal use. However, these same individuals may not want to incorporate SNS into their academic lives.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blackboard's Foray into OSS

The for-profit, course management system (CMS), Blackboard, is trying to attract the attention of institutions that prefer an open source approach. They're doing so by creating plug-ins (some of which are referred to as "Building Blocks") for systems such as Sakai. Similar connectors are in the works for Moodle as well.

While Blackboard is the top dog among CMSs in higher education, there is a growing number of individuals and developers moving toward the open source approach. Blackboard obviously recognizes this and wants to make sure they are in on the action. But will this mean the end of open source CMSs? Or, alternatively, will a for-profit become more open?

More on these Blackboard partnerships can be found here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Future of Higher Education

Hot off the presses! NMC, along with The Economist and Apple Computer, Inc. just released a white paper on the ways in which technology is shaping the future of higher education. The paper reports on the findings of a survey of almost 300 executives - CIOs and tech leaders both inside and outside education. Twelve interviews were conducted with individuals from this group as well. The results suggest that technology will profoundly change higher education over the next five years. Here are some specifics from the survey data:

  • 60% of all respondents expect that professors will teach in more than one medium by 2013
  • 60% say that online learning will be a fundamental component of the education experience
  • 64% of respondents expect that universities will frequently partner with corporations and other third parties to create new areas of study over the next five years

As was the case with the students who participated in the 2008 ECAR study, the respondents of the NMC survey reported that social networking sites (SNSs) were popular tools among those in campus administration. Career services and alumni groups are examples of units that favor the use of SNSs.

Also becoming more popular in higher education throughout the world is online learning. Many of the institutions are making connections with other countries through the formation of foreign location sites. Overall, many of the higher education respondents said that technology has positively impacted their institutions.

While this NMC report is suggesting that we will see more technology in our classrooms over the next five years, the ECAR students stated that they wanted only moderate amounts of technology. In fact, they claimed that face-to-face interactions with their instructors was very important to them. So, who is driving this push toward more technology? Because this report was produced, at least in part, by those with corporate interests (The Economists, Apple Computer, and tech leaders inside/outside academia), one could posit that they have a vested interest in promoting the use of technology and encouraging more partnerships corporations and higher education institutions.

If we as educators blindly accept technology without assessing the actual learning benefits associated with the technology, are we really serving our "tech-savvy" customers? Based on the ECAR study, these customers may say "no." It appears that today's students make a clear distinction between use of technology for personal and academic reasons. While they are enthusiastic technology users in their personal life, they are less enthusiastic about these tools for learning purposes. Perhaps the tech leaders are viewing higher education their their own adult, corporate lens rather than really finding out what the users want.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

ECAR Study on Undergrads and Technology Use

A new ECAR study, with a focus on social networking sites (SNSs), was released earlier this week. For those new to the ECAR study on undergraduates, this work began in 2004 and the reports are produced on a yearly basis. More than 27,000 student participated in the 2008 study, and a majority of those were "traditional" students (i.e., individuals under the age of 25, attending 4-year institutions full time).

The findings: Slightly more than 80% of the students had laptop computers, and the majority of those were new devices. More than 65% of the respondents owned an internet-capable cell phone; however, they don't access the internet in this manner because of cost, difficulty of use, and slow response times. On average, these students spend more than 19 hours/week online for work, school, or recreation. But, 69% spend less than 20 hours/week online. This varies by major: engineering majors spend more time online; education and life/biological sciences majors less. Almost all of the students have high-speed internet. Less than 2% still used a dial-up connection.

For these students, technnology is about communication. Social networking sites (especially Facebook) and text messaging are popular with over 80% of ECAR respondents communicating in this fashion. While many students are involved in creating audio and video materials, as well as engaging in gaming activities, the males do so more than the females. There are also gender differences when examining early adopters: almost 53% of the males considered themselves early adopters; in contrast, only 25% of female students responded in a similar fashion. When looking at Second Life specifically, only 8.8% (or only 1 student out of 11) are involved in this world.

Many students consider themselves tech-savvy; however, many educators are beginning to question these students' abilities. While the students are enthusiastic about technology, they report that they only want moderate amounts of technology in their courses. This is consistent with the 2007 ECAR findings. According to the authors of the 2008 report, this is consistent with the findings over the past 5 years. Males prefer slightly more technology in courses than females, yet both value face-to-face time with instructors. When asked what specific technologies students liked to learn through, more than 50% said they preferred video games and simulations. Only running internet searches ranked higher.

Almost 12% said they were taking an online course(s) during the time of this study. Most of the comments about online courses were negative: 1) lack of face-to-face interaction; 2) online courses facilitate cheating; 3) technical problems; and 4) online courses are more demanding because students have to "teach themselves." Less than 25% of ECAR respondents believe that institutions should require them to take an online course. Most have used a CMS.

Overall, less than 50% said that IT improves their learning or improves their engagement. Convenience is listed as the top benefit of IT in courses. This report includes a section that focuses on SNSs. One issue that is also examined is related to privacy and security. As Genevieve Bell suggested in yesterday's talk, students aren't really concerned about this. The authors of the ECAR report speculate that the lack of concern may be due to a lack of knowledge about the risks associated with SNSs. Further, they point to the ability to place restrictions on the type of information SNS participants can make public. While the ECAR students are enthusiastic about technology for personal use but are less enthusiastic about it for educational purposes.

An aside: According to this report, 1.5% of students do not own a computer. Who are these people? It would be very interesting to do a more in-depth study of these individuals to find out why they don't own a computer. Do they access the internet in other ways?

The Sacrifices IT Women Make

I'm in the process of revising my gender and computerization syllabus for the spring and came across this report. The study, conducted by the Anita Borg Institute and the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University, examined IT women at the mid-level of their careers. What the researchers found was that women in these positions were making personal sacrifices such as delaying marriage and motherhood to promote their careers. In other words, these women felt that they had to make a choice between career and family to be successful in the male-dominated world of IT. Unfortunately, these sacrifices did not led to great rewards. Gender stereotypes (women aren't as technical as men) are still prevalent, which result in women being passed over for promotions. Instead women are placed in low-level positions that have minimal visibility. While some women interviewed for this study claimed that promotions in their early careers were based on merit, they found that gender became an obstacle at the middle management levels. Thus, it is not surprising that 56% of mid-career IT women choose to leave their organizations and pursue other opportunities. One thing both the men and women interviewed for this study noted is that women have to be assertive in order to survive in IT.

The gender bias and stereotypes in IT fields is not new. Women (and their male colleagues) have been aware of this situation for quite some time now. Yet year after year, reports like this one surface. The problem is that these studies report similar results. The IT industry claims that it needs more workers and would like to recruit more women. However, the IT workplace of today continues to be a good ol' boys club. Because of the current financial situation, the number of IT jobs filled by people in places like India are no longer as cost efficient as they once were. Therefore, they are looking to fill those positions with people in the U.S. But, the number of students enrolled in computer science has been on the decline since the mid-1990s. This is true for men and women. So, who is going to fill these positions? If middle management continues to foster a climate that promotes gender bias, it won't be women who will be there to save them. It's time for a change.

Andrew Keen and the Web 2.0

Wonder how the latest financial crisis will impact the future of the internet? While Genevieve Bell didn't address that issue in her discussion of the future of the Internet, Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur recently did pontificate on the topic. In this piece, Keen paints a dire picture for Web 2.0 and the participatory age. As Keen remarks, "'Free' doesn’t fill anyone’s belly; it doesn’t warm anyone up."

My thoughts: I think Keen oversimplifies the behavior of those who participate in the Web 2.0 economy. While financial reasons may drive some people, I posit that it is more complicated than that. Keen fails to factor in the need for attention and the way that impact people's willingness to freely contribute to Wikipedia, for example. Also neglected by Keen are the following: the belief in the community; the expectation of future reciprocity from the community; the creation (and maintenance) of reputation; and a sense of efficacy (e.g., Bryant et al., 2005; Donath, 1999; Kollock, 1999) . The current economic crisis may indeed impact the Web 2.0, as Keen suggests, but I would argue that financial reasons are only one part of the equation.

Update: According to a recent Time magazine article, the traffic on one Web 2.0 site has increased during this economic downturn.
LinkedIn, a site that allows visitors to post resumes and contact information, is finding that its use by job seekers and recruiters is one of its main revenue sources. For example, from August to September 2008, the number of job searches in LinkedIn rose 19%. Using the Web 2.0 to connect employers and employees may be one use Keen neglected to consider.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Genevieve Bell

Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist at Intel, spoke on campus this afternoon. While I was initially reluctant to brave the elements, I am so glad I decided to attend. Bell's talk was one of the best I've heard since I arrived more than 3 years ago. While not the speech Bell gave today, this clip does give you an idea of what her presentations are like.

In her talk -
"The next internet revolution is already happening!" - Bell used an ethnographic lens to examine what the Internet might look like in 10-20 years from now. She began by noting that the internet is not just about technology: it a social product; it is ideas; it is a set of forces. In other words, the internet comes with cultural baggage wrapped around it. And now, the internet, according to Bell, is fragmenting into a series of technologies.

Bell outlined six different signs that the next internet revolution is currently underway. First, the internet is not just in laptops and desktop computers. Its is "feral" and on the move. It is in mobile devices such as cell phones. It is also in televisions, game consoles, etc. Bell argues that this move to a feral internet changes people's behavior. For example, people don't surf on an iPhone; instead they locate very targeted information. Further, Bell pointed out that not all individuals use the internet in real time. They may drive 150k to access it at McDonald's. They may tell a relative what to say in a message, and the relative goes to an internet cafe to compose and send the message. This relative then prints any received messages to read to the relative the next a.m.

Second on Bell's list is the end of the "anglosphere"; there are more languages appearing on the internet, and Bell contends that this trend will increase. Also, Bell suggests that a lot of information is hidden in plain sight. It is no longer about what is being said that's important; rather what is not said. Thus, Bell argues that language on the web is not just a translation problem.

Next on the list is infrastructure and the range of upload and download speeds. This will look different in different cultures. Bell believes that internet behavior and the way people participate online will change depending on these speeds. Moreover, the costs associated with participation is likely to increase not decrease, and in Bell's mind, the concept of a free and open internet is unrealistic.

Fourth is regulation of the internet. Many countries are connecting good citizenship with technology use. Korea's U-Society is one example. Bell says that this is a new frontier for government activity and agendas; each one is different from the other.

Number five on Bell's list was related to porn, trolls, and social regulations. According to Bell, everyone lies on the internet, and she points to the Cornell study on online data as one piece of evidence to support this claim. She continues by noting that crafting ourselves online is an art.

And finally, the sixth item are socio-technical concerns. Bell refers to the internet as a form of aggressive self-presentation. We worry about what other people think about us, which impacts what we post online. Also, Bell notes that what we worry about has moved away from discussions about privacy, trust, and security. "Creepy" as in your Mom is in the house with you all the time creepy is the latest term used rather than privacy violations. Today, we worry about authenticity, ownership of information, digital literacy (e.g., Is the internet making us stupid? Is the internet destroying our language? Is the internet making us homogeneous?), and the identity of "Big Brother."

So, what does Bell foresee in the future? She believes that there will not be a single web - there will be no single use and no single trajectory. Bell mentioned that a really interesting group of people to study are the non-internet users and ex-internet users. Why do they choose not to have the internet? Another area for future examination are the ways in which people are beginning to resist technology. Some of Bell's interviewees remarked that they intentionally book vacations to areas where they cannot get a signal to connect to the internet. Maybe that's why I like being out on the XC - no internet, no phones, no computers, just me and Mother Nature.


For individuals who are familiar with the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, much of this article by Simson L. Garfinkel (not Simon Garfunkel), a professor of computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, will not be new.

What is interesting about the discussion put forth by Garfinkel is the distinction between truth and verifiability. According to the author, the Wikipedia model supports verifiability through policies that encourage the use of third-party sources rather than self-published original research. Editing your own entry is another act discourgaged in the Wikipedia structure. One example given by Garfinkel is about Jaron Lanier, whose Wikipedia entry stated that he was a film director (he claims he is not). Every time he deleted that statement, it returned. (NOTE: On October 24, 2008, the Wikipedia entry on Lanier did not list him as a film director.) Lanier also was criticized for his self-editing practice, which some consider a "wikisin." One would assume that Lanier would be an "expert" about himself, moreso than others.

While many consider Wikipedia a useful tool, especially when gathering preliminary information about the topic, and is considered a model of the wisdom of crowds concept, the question remains: What is truth? In Wikipedia, according to Garfinkel, truth is "the consensus view of a subject." Given the approach used for more mainstream publications where only a few individuals are involved, the Wikipedia method potentially allows for more input on what counts as complete and accurate information. But do more eyes taint the information or improve it? Who counts as an expert when it comes to a particular topic? What is the difference between expertise and self-promotion/self-marketing? Can information seekers ever expect to find the truth, or is verifiability good enough?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Games for Education and Social Change

Mary Flanagan, a professor of film and media studies at Dartmouth College, believes that video games can be used in the classroom. At present, Flanagan is involved with the Games for Learning Institute to examine ways to effectively use video games to teach math and science to middle school children. If that isn't enough, she is also the director and founder of a research group at Dartmouth that designs social activist games - Tiltfactor.

While there are substantial barriers to the adoption of games for educational purposes - the steep learning curve being a big one - Flanagan contends that there are benefits to the students. She notes that games enable players to make decisions, engage in exploration activities, and experiment with novel approaches to problem-solving in a "safe" environment. The work Flanagan does is also attempting to capitalize on what young people do when using technology - searching and socializing. Overall, Flanagan and the Games for Learning Institute hope to better understand what makes video games engaging and what aspects of them players like.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Female Online Students

According to a summary of a report presented in The Chronicle of Higher Education, female students rate conformity as one of their key motivators. However, what conformity means is unclear in the CHE piece, and a link to the full report was not provided. So, what was discussed in this piece?

Here's what we know: Brett Jorge Millan, interim director for distance education at South Texas College, collected data from 157 online students and 486 face-to-face students at that institution. He used the Schwartz Value Scale to measure 10 motivational types (self-direction, stimulation, hedonism, achievement, power, security, conformity, tradition, benevolence, and universalism). And, in addition to the conformity finding, Millan's data suggest two things: 1) the values of online students and those in face-to-face courses tend to be similar; and 2) online students are typically older than their f2f counterparts.

While these results are potentially worthwhile, there are a number of missing pieces. Hopefully, the report will be made available in the near future.

Update: Schwartz defines conformity in the following manner: “Conformity values restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms” (Schwartz & Boehnke, 2004, p. 235). It also values politeness, obedience, and subordination to parents, teachers, bosses, etc.

Sounds like very female-like behavioral characteristics - ones that are not uncommon in online spaces.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Volunteer Teachers

A new university is scheduled to begin offering courses in February. While an announcement of this type may not seem terribly newsworthy on the surface, one thing sets this university apart from many others: the faculty members will be volunteers. Founders of P2P (peer-to-peer) University, including Joel Thierstein (executive director of Connexions at Rice University), believe that the time is right for the initiative, and point to current successful models such as Wikipedia and the MIT OpenCourseWare project. Working professionals and retirees are the target market for the P2P University courses. These individuals will not received credit for the courses they take through this institution; rather the hope is that credit will be obtain via other institutions such as Western Governors University.

The big question is: Who are these volunteers who will teach the courses? At present, the founders have 10 professors who are prominent in their respective fields (no names are being released yet). Those at P2P hope to continue along this trajectory and attract more celebrity professors to the program. Even with star profs participating in this "design research experiment," a major concern is student retention.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Networked Family

Is technology bringing families closer together? Tracy Kennedy and her colleagues say "Yes." According to research conducted by Kennedy et al. (2008, October 19) for the Pew Internet and American Life project, today's family households have multiple technologies, and use these devices to stay in touch. This includes what Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project, calls "love taps." However, this form of connectedness does not always translate into face-to-face time. For example, the findings of this study suggest that busy, tech families are less likely to eat meals together and are not as likely to report satisfaction with their leisure time when compared to their less tech-connected counterparts.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Late Bloomers

What do the painter Paul Cézanne and the writer (and former lawyer) Ben Fountain have in common? They were both late bloomers. They did not "discover" their artistic and creative talents until later in life. In the "Annals of Culture" section of The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the concept of creative genius, and argues that it is not a characteristic that is unique to the young. This is not to say that there aren't prodigies; there are. In fact, Gladwell uses Pablo Picasso and Jonathan Safran Foer as examples of individuals who discovered their talents early in their careers. Success comes easily for these prodigies. For the late bloomers, however, their success greatly depends on the other people - a spouse, a patron, a friend - someone who believes in the late bloomer's art. As Gladwell concludes, the story of the late bloomer is really just a love story.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Texting and David Crystal

The October 20, 2008 issue of The New Yorker includes a review of David Crystal's new book, Txtng: The Gr8 Db8. Responses to Louis Menand's review can be found here, here, and here.

Opening Up Education

MIT's M. S. Vijay Kumar, the editor of Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge, was yesterday's guest on EDUCAUSE Live! For those like me who were not able to connect to this free talk, the event was archived. Multimedia, HTML (session details and the book), and PowerPoint slides from the session are available.

Free Courses at Yale

Yale just announced that the institution is adding eight new, free courses to its roster. The courses are available here, and they cover topics such as game theory, biomedical engineering, financial markets, and Greek history, just to name a few. The only licensing restrictions on these courses is that they are not to be used for commercial purposes. This means that instructors can download, redistribute, and remix the content. Yale hopes to add more courses in the future.

Video Game Myths

Many scholars are excited about the potential of video games to promote learning, but Fran Blumberg, a professor of education at Fordham University, takes a more reserved position. In fact, she is skeptical about the educational benefits associated with video games. While she admits that individuals acquire certain skills when they play these games, she questions the impact this will have in school. Further, Blumberg doubts that the skills acquired in these virtual environments will transfer elsewhere. Part of her reservations regarding games stems from the fact that the individual is the one in control when playing video games. However, when these same games are appropriated for school settings, the teacher then becomes the one in control. In other words, video games + school/class = not fun.

Blumberg recently presented these findings at a conference, and despite the enthusiasm for video games, the audience members were not surprised by her conclusions. While Blumberg is less enthusiastic about the teaching and learning potential of video games than her peers, she has not totally discounted them. She simply believes that educators need to better understand them before declaring them the savior of education.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Babies and Science

Are babies to blame for the lack of women in the sciences? Or are the low numbers due to a lack of interest in science on the part of women? Mary Ann Mason explores the issue of women in the sciences. She claims that despite the fact that laws such as Title IX have been in place since the 1970s, it is only recently that people have discovered that the sciences may still be a problem for women. While evidence of gender discrimination in this field is not difficult to find, some claim that the quality of this evidence is questionable. The evidence also puts forth a conflicting picture. For example, the book, The Sexual Paradox, suggests that women simply aren't in the sciences because they lost interest in the field. In contrast, Mothers on the Fast Track claims that women are discriminated against. To support this claim, the individuals the authors interviewed were candid about the messages they received from their advisers and departments when it came to babies. Babies are verboten.

Even though female scientists are discouraged from having families, their male counterparts receive a different message. For males, getting married and having kids is the key to academic success; for women, this same formula often equals the end of their academic science career. Mason argues that solid policies related to family leave, childcare, etc. are needed to help women combat this discrimination. While policies are a positive first step, they are meaningless if the unwritten rule in the department is that they are not meant for anyone to use.

Chat and Critical Thinking

Much of the literature illustrates ways chat can be used to support learning; however, very few of these pieces discuss ways chat can foster critical thinking skills. Ruth Reynard attempts to address this gap in her two-part series, "Using Chat to Move the Thinking Process Forward."

Reynard begins by noting that while chat can become fully engaged in class discussions conducted synchronously via chat, this medium can also be problematic. Also, it is not uncommon for teachers to use the chat sessions in a lecture-like manner. For teachers attempting to create a more student-centered learning environment through chat, the chat lecture approach - one that enables students to passively read/listen to the conversation - is not effective.

In the final sections of the article, Reynard outlines five basic elements of a working chat session: presentation, interaction, reinforcement, capture, and application. She continues by contending that instructors who control the inputs and interactions will continue along a linear path. According to Reynard, it is this linear flow that enables students to passively "participate" in the learning process rather than actively interacting and building knowledge.

The concepts presented in this part of the article series are not new and have been stated repeatedly in the literature. Thus far, the development of critical thinking skills has not be addressed. Perhaps that will appear in the next installment of the series.

Stay tuned.

Darwin in SL

A group from the University of Cincinnati has developed a SL recreation of Darwin's research. This project is one part of the university's 2009 Darwin Sesquicentenial Celebration, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of Darwin's The Origin of the Species. Starting in January 2009, visitors to the SL Galapagos Islands will be able to retrace Darwin's steps and examine his research in a virtual venue.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Gender Gap in College

In a new book by Linda J. Sax, a professor of education at UCLA, she examines the differences between the male and female college experience. Sax stresses that even though the majority of college students are female (more than 60% female at many institutions), the numbers don't tell the whole story and hide some key concerns.

For this study, Sax collected data from 17,000 male and female students from 200 institutions. One difference her analysis revealed was that females enter college with a lack of confidence. In contrast, their male counterparts have much more confidence at this stage. In other words, even if the females are doing better academically than the males, they do not believe they are doing so. Perhaps even more troubling is that the confidence levels of female college students decline during the college years. However, female students who have positive interactions with the faculty gain self-confidence over time.

Another interesting finding is related to the gender makeup of the students and the faculty as well as the peer groups for students. Students (males and females) do better academically at institutions with a high proportion of female students and faculty. Further, males perform better academically at institutions that have peer support groups that support "traditional gender roles."

There are many other findings outlined in Sax's book. In fact, she found 584 “college effects” that differ between male and female students. While the number of females may equal or exceed the number of males on college campuses around the nation, their experiences may be quite different.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Only the "Best" Scientific Work

This article, which highlights the work of Dr. Ioannidis (an epidemiologist at Ioannina School of Medicine, Greece) and his colleagues, suggests that research published in the top journals may be wrong. After reviewing 49 articles that had been cited by more than 1,000 other scientists, Dr. Ioannidis discovered that the findings of almost one-third had been refuted. Further, he notes that there is a bias toward positive rather than negative findings. One example can be seen with recent research on antidepressants - studies that showed positive results from these drugs were published, whereas those that showed negative results were not.

Friday, October 10, 2008

RIP Web 2.0

Michael Arrington claims that the latest economic downturn signals the end of the Web 2.0.

Larry Summers was Wrong!

Yet another study arguing that girls are good at math but are rarely identified. Not only that, but girls who may have a talent in math are not encouraged and supported in beneficial ways. And to think, people like Larry Summers thought the reason why there weren't more women in mathematics was because they lacked aptitude. Recent research is proving what a lot of girls and women knew all along -that the lack of females in mathematics and related fields has NOTHING to do with ability.

Women and Online Degree Programs

Several studies have examined retention rates of online programs but few delve into why students complete their studies or abandon the program. This is especially true when it comes to investigating the differences between the retention rates of male and female online students. Terry Müller (2008) attempts to close this gap by investigating women in online undergraduate and graduate programs at a college in the northeast. These programs are designed for individuals working in public schools in the U.S. Like other online programs (e.g., LEEP), the programs Müller concentrated on begins with a summer residency component. Out of the 308 students in these programs, Müller randomly selected 20 for a more in-depth analysis.

In analyzing the reports of these 20 women, Müller found that the top barriers for women participating in and completing online programs are multiple responsibilities, disappointment in faculty, and face-to-face preference. The factors the author found that provided support to these women include engagement in learning community, schedule convenience, personal growth, and peer support.

Following a series of recommendations that follow the barriers and supports these women face in their online learning experience, Müller concludes that gender roles should be considered when designing online course programs.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Tipping Point?

According to a report by The American Council on Education, the U.S. may have reached the "tipping point" in terms of educational advancement of young people. For the first time, this generation is not better educated than the previous one. They speculate that this may be due to differences in educational attainment among different racial and ethnic groups. One group of note are Hispanic youth who appear to have acquired less education than their parents and grandparents, for example. These findings are concerning given that a two-year degree is a requirement for many jobs.

Not only is there no increase in general, but some fields have seen a decline. One example is computer science. The number of both Whites and minority groups has dropped in this field. Engineering, especially at the doctoral levels, has also seen fewer students gracing their programs. Other portions of the report examine college persistence (declined slightly), degrees conferred (minority women outpaced minority men at all degree levels), and employment in higher education (minorities have made gains but are still trailing Whites).

In addition to the ACE website, The Chronicle of Higher Education has a brief summary of this report.

One question: What happened to our tech-savvy students are are learning anytime, anywhere 24/7/365?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Video Games and Math

The New York Times must have a video game theme this week. First, there was the article suggesting that video games were the new reading (or could lead to harder types of activities such as reading). The latest piece in this "series" profiles a video game to designed to promote the learning of algebra. Dimension M, which is touted as a "modern twist on the game show 'Jeopardy'," is a three-dimensional game where pre-algebra and algebra students complete missions within the virtual world setting. According to the Dimension M website, "Students become so captivated in solving problems that they forget they're learning but they don't forget what they've learned."

Using video games and virtual worlds to teach math is nothing new. Elliott and his colleagues (2002) created a game called AquaMOOSE. Like Dimension M, the purpose of AquaMOOSE was to "facilitate new kinds of math learning" (Eliiott et al., 2002). In the end, however, there were no statistically significant differences between the control group (traditional curriculum) and the experimental group (students who were able to use AquaMOOSE during classroom lab sessions). Moreover, some students in the experimental group claimed that the game confused them even more than the text-based lessons. Wonder if the outcome for Dimension M will be different?

As the most recent NYT article notes, the key question is whether video games can effectively teach math and other topics. Research initiatives at the Games for Learning Institute (G4LI), which is based at New York University, will concentrate on the use of games to teach math and science in middle school classrooms. Like the other programs, the goal of the G4LI games is to determine what is fun for children and tie that to what they are learning. Making learning fun is something that scholars such as Barab and his colleagues having been working on for several years with the Quest Atlantis project.

While the cost of Dimension M between $10 and $20 per child range , so far, the reports from schools using the game are positive. Principals are claiming that students are playing the games at home and after school. They also note that the game has reduced math phobia. And finally, the students contend they are studying more, because they want to play the game.

One thing the article doesn't discuss is how much of this enthusiasm toward the game is the result of a novelty effect. This isn't surprising because even results presented in peer-reviewed journals don't. I'm sure the G4LI group will be researching the reactions to the game over time, as well as the resulting student learning outcomes. It will be interesting to see whether the results of this project differ from ones such as AquaMOOSE.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Gateway Drug for Literacy?

Do video games lead children to reading? An article in The New York Times suggests that some librarians, educators, publishers, etc. believe they do.

I agree that video games may foster certain types of learning and may help children acquire digital literacy skills; however, I'm skeptical that having a video game tournament at the library or bookstore will result in long lines of gamers at the check-out line.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Locomotor Play

I'm reading a fascinating book by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson on animal behavior and autism. In the section on animals and play, the authors examine locomotor play, which includes running, leaping, and chasing. They mention goats as an animal that performs this type of action frequently. Part of the discussion involves children and video games (see p. 120). Many individuals and scholars think video games are bad for children. Eugene Provenzo, an education professor at the University of Miami, is an example of one of the more outspoken critics about the use of video games by children. He strongly believes that educators need to exercise great caution when incorporating games into the curriculum (e.g., Provenzo, 1991, 1992). Grandin is of the same mindset but for a different reason. She suggests that locomotor play is an important part of brain development. She points to the work of Piaget who also emphasized the importance of movement to learning.

Researchers know that locomotor play is important for the development of coordination skills. But what about it's impact on learning? If children are substituting video games for locomotor play, are they sacrificing learning as well as coordination?