Around the Web: the Who and the What

In advance of the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case about affirmative action in college admissions, Census figures show that more people than ever are getting bachelor’s degrees, but the race gap is widening, and an article in Harvard Business School Working Knowledge discusses Harvard professor Michael I. Norton’s findings that people are never really colorblind, and that pretending to be so can cause more problems than openly and fairly acknowledging race. Journalist’s Resource covers two recent studies showing that women tend to be better prepared for college and more likely to feel their degree was worth getting than their male counterparts.
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What you teach can also determine who your students are. In response to the Obama administration’s new emphasis on community colleges as job-training centers, Dean Dad argues that liberal arts curricula are important for preserving community colleges’ socioeconomic diversity. (There’s also an argument to be made in favor of the liberal arts as the best broad-spectrum job training, although, as Ezra Klein writes in the Washington Post, elite liberal arts institutions have a ways to go in making their students understand exactly what skills their liberal-arts curriculum is teaching them.)

Ye olde liberal arts curriculum could also use some updating, along with the appropriate assessment tools. In L.A., a failing school is trying a new turnaround tactic based in a kind of service learning: working in “small learning academies,” teachers structure the curriculum around solving problems in the local community, so that students get an interdisciplinary perspective on how their work in school can train them to be better advocates for their neighbors and families. Internships cement those lessons with hands-on experience. At Colorado College, the college’s new president teaches econometrics using the school’s own data, in the process teaching students about the economics of higher ed and herself about what sets Colorado College apart. The MCAT is adding sections on social science and critical thinking in an effort to broaden the backgrounds students bring to medical school. In the same vein, MIT’s dean of admissions argues that colleges should weigh life experience as much as AP courses when making admissions decisions. Also at Inside Higher Ed, a long GlobalHigherEd post discusses the search for a test that can accurately measure these broader kinds of learning outcomes. At the Chronicle, Geoffrey Pullum thinks colleges need to keep teaching foreign languages, but they also need a better rationale for doing so.

There always remains the challenge of getting the students to absorb the content. Faculty Focus shows how reading prompts can help students learn critical thinking and argues that a Readiness Assessment Test, which asks open-ended questions, is more effective at getting students to do the reading than a quiz that asks factual questions. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a long in-depth report on the trends driving the flipped classroom and whether it’s the flipping or the focus on learning outcomes that really makes a difference. On Monday, Jason Dowd reviewed Understanding by Design, a book that teaches you how to think about your course content in terms of learning outcomes rather than topics to be covered.

P.S. New York’s new teacher evaluation guidelines have been creating a lot of buzz; Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently weighed in.

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