Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Problems recruiting men for college

Taking Care of Their Own :: Inside Higher Ed :: Higher Education's Source for News, Views and Jobs

This is an interesting and growing problem. There are now officially more women enrolled in college than men, and it is a growing differential - with declining numbers of men each year.

There is a lot of discussion about getting more women into the sciences (especially the math-based sciences) and how big a problem it is that women don't join those disciplines in the numbers to equal men. However, I have a question regarding an even bigger gender disparity - what about education?

Degrees in education are quite simply dominated by women. I'm in the education department and I'm easily out-numbered 3 to 1 by women (I don't have hard data, and anecdotal evidence is not data - but I also haven't really looked for hard data yet). Why isn't there a push (or even barely a complaint) about the lack of men in education? Wouldn't that be a cause for equal concern? If we're shooting for gender equality across the disciplines then we should hear something about disciplines wherein there is a disparity either way.

I'm not sure why there isn't any real concern over the declining trend of men in college in general, or female biased degree programs - but it is definitely a problem.

Related thoughts here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mixed Results on Paying City Students to Pass Tests

Mixed Results on Paying City Students to Pass Tests - NYTimes.com

Well, duh. Seriously, do these folks not read experimental literature? If motivational research has taught us anything it is that expectation for reward does not yield significant positive results. In fact, in some situations, it can even be detrimental to self-regulated behavior.

Heck, even behaviorism (which would be the theoretical approach that this would be most closely tied with) leaves this one as a mixed result at best. The Premak principle, if nothing else, would tell you that the reward of money will mean a lot to some and remain almost meaningless to others. Picking one reward and trying to make it universal will always yield mixed results.

What did they expect? Was there anyone in the administration that honestly thought this would suddenly make everything better?

This is on par with the moronic decision by the Dallas ISD to not make homework count (essentially).

What is wrong with policy makers?

Biology Videos Now Available on PubMed

Biology Videos Now Available on PubMed | Wired Science from Wired.com

Not strictly brain-related, but this is still pretty fun.

Professor McLain - officially

It's not a full-time professorship at a major university or anything, but I've recently been hired as an adjunct professor at a local community college. I'm very excited about it - and it was much easier to get the gig than I thought it was going to be.

So, although I have been teaching a class at ASU for some time, it was as a Teaching Assistant, not as an official Professor. Now it's official. I'm a professor.

A small step in the right direction.

The Value of Believing in Free Will

91974.pdf (application/pdf Object)

This has been referred to numerous times in the last couple of months, but here is the original study. The basic results are that when you prime students with the idea of determinism (they don't have free will) then they are more likely to cheat.

I'm looking forward to reading through this to see how it was all done. It's created quite a bit of controversy so seeing the original material is always valuable.

Music and the brain

Science Weekly podcast: Music and the brain; plus evolutionary psychology | Science | guardian.co.uk

I haven't listened to it yet, but it looks interesting.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why not to use the Socratic method

Law & Business | Professor Bainbridge

Absolutely brilliant post by Professor Bainbridge. He's a law professor, but his thoughts on teaching are quite salient for anyone that teaches reasonably complex subject matter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dallas does lame grading standards

Dallas schools plan to ease grading standards angers teachers | Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News

Read the article - you won't believe what you're reading. This is absolute crap. You're basically removing responsibility from the students and placing it all with the parents and teachers. While this may seem good in theory (in some cotton-candy universe) it is just a horrible idea.

I won't argue that a lot of homework for students is very much in the vein of "busy-work" (homework for the sake of homework), and if that is the complaint then you need to address that at the teacher level. But simply removing all responsibility for completing work and doing additional learning outside of the classroom is sending a horrible message.

What kind of an uproar would this create if, for example, a college did this? School serves many purposes including creating a "well rounded" individual and helping create or encourage in the students the tools for success later in life - and the two are not mutually exclusive. In the real world you are ALWAYS going to be responsible for the work assigned to you - there are very few exceptions. Students need to learn how to handle a little personal responsibility for their own learning - a lesson which they will certainly learn in the collegiate ranks.

This kind of policy will only widen the gap and make it even more difficult for students to negotiate the transition to college.

And - I'm not alone in my criticism.

Gender and Law Journal Submissions

The Volokh Conspiracy - -

I'm fairly certain that this is not the case in educational research, but I would like to see the very thing he is describing (a study of gender submission trends) by the major journal publications for the various sciences. That could prove to be very interesting.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Do Subatomic Particles Have Free Will?

Science News / Do Subatomic Particles Have Free Will?

Oh, for cryin' out loud.......now sub-atomic particles are getting in on the debate?

Science cannot answer the question from a human perspective, how the heck are they going to prove this from a sub-atomic particle perspective? Heck they're not even sure that they have the correct standard model yet!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time

For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time - WSJ.com

The basic conclusion of the introduction is depressing, but generally true. The approach suggested by the author has merit as well.

Of course, the familiar argument (which the author addresses somewhat gamely) is that a BA is supposed to provide a "well rounded" education (hence the requirements for things like English, math and humanities based courses). However, I'm not convinced that goal is actually being realized. The 'required' classes are increasingly being taught almost exclusively by graduate TAs and are usually taught in 'auditorium' style classrooms with large numbers of students per class. I'm just not convinced of the effectiveness of a system like that.

However, all that being said, there is simply far too much money involved in education (especially government-backed state universities and colleges) for the system to change anytime soon.

Great idea though.

What to Do about Global Warming

Cato Unbound » Blog Archive » Keeping Our Cool: What to Do about Global Warming

Again, normally I don't post a lot about politics or other science here (unless it's exceedingly cool science) - but I just read this article on how governments (and the western nations generally) should react to and plan for global warming and it was so good I had to link to it.

Of course, this extremely rational approach will never, EVER be actually implemented by politicians because it makes too much sense. You make headlines by doing something that appeals to your base, and more specifically if it appeals to the more vocal (read: extreme) groups within your base. The approach the author speaks about is a moderate, relatively hands-off approach (the basics are that we should be providing small-scale rewards based on very specific or narrow parameters similar to the much publicized X-prize competition for space). While wonderfully simplistic and realistic in terms of effect - it doesn't have the pizazz of a "We're going to stop global warming with our 'Man to the Moon' style massive government program!"

But here's hoping that some politician somewhere listens.

P.S.: there is some of this going on, but only a very small amount - for example McCain's proposal for a prize to be offered for a new type of battery technology. More of that, please.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Textese May Be the Death of English

Technology: Textese May Be the Death of English | Newsweek International Edition | Newsweek.com

Kind of a misleading title again as right off the bat they show that recent studies have shown that people who are proficient at "texting" are also proficient at spelling.

As I have preached again and again on this blog, this is not a question of the "death" of the English language. It is an adaptation to current technology. And even if it is the "death" of the English language, so what? Languages adapt and change all the time - history has shown us that fact admirably (just try reading Beowulf sometime - ugh...). A little adaptation of language to incorporate current cultural trends in technology is not a bad thing - it's an inevitable thing. All the complaining is from mainly from conservative minds who probably had the same reservations on the inclusion of calculators into the classroom and the death of "hand writing" in favor of word processors.

My message to them? Relax. Go with the flow. You'll be much happier.

The Neurological Roots of Genius

High-Aptitude Minds: The Neurological Roots of Genius: Scientific American

Not a bad article overall. A good summary of a lot of recent studies. I like particularly their final statement: that practice and perseverance account for more than "smarts" - as a big proponent of motivation and self-regulatory behavior I firmly believe in that concept.

Nature vs. Nurture - raising your child

What Your Child's DNA Can Tell You About Parenting

Not really surprising to anyone that has studied this type of thing. The percentages shift as to what is most dominant for any given child and shifts further in a given domain in the environment vs. genetics debate. But to assume that environment can completely override genetic conditions is a rather naive position.

Although I am of the opinion that a large amount of genetic pre-conditions (if you want to call them that) can be, at the very least, significantly mitigated by environmental factors.

Brain chemistry and reward centers

Nature or nurture -- Are you who your brain chemistry says you are?

The headline is a bit misleading as the study has to do with brain chemistry as it relates to the reward dependency. So, while it could potentially relate to motivation, there is no specific research right now that points to motivation being 100% tied to biochemical rewards in the brain.