Some miscellaneous news reports with implications for higher ed–
The Wall Street Journal reports today on a study by Stanford researchers showing a strong correlation between media multitasking and social and emotional development for pre-teen girls. The study by Clifford Nass and Roy Pea found that the more the subjects (sample size 3,461) watched videos, emailed, texted, etc., the more they experienced “low social confidence, not feeling normal, having more friends whom parents perceive as poor influences, and even sleeping less.” It’s only a correlation, the authors warn, but they proceed to identify a common and simple antidote: face time. The direct encounter with faces, they say, teaches young girls to develop social awareness, to learn body language, to read other people’s facial expressions. Face-to-face communication is “just enormously important,” Nass asserts.
One of the common axioms of 21st-century education is the belief in diverse learning styles and the proper pedagogy that goes along with them, namely, differentiated instruction. In the current issue of Educational Leadership, however, Dan Willingham and David Daniel argue the opposite. The summary of their article reads: “Research shows that instruction geared to common learning characteristics can be more effective than instruction focused on individual differences.” One reason, they argue, is that while common characteristics of learning across students are fairly well-known, the nature and extent of different learning styles isn’t. Further, the differences of learning styles within a single student complicate things even further. The same student “may process lessons in science differently than he or she does in art or history,” the authors write. “If this student is assigned to the same group in both domains, we may actually be subverting the learning process.” Before we craft differentiated classrooms, many more facts about learning differences need to be established.
Here at the Huffington Post is a depressing story. In spite of all the encouragement for more STEM students coming from President Obama all the way down to parents at home, 60 percent of youths identify at least one barrier to taking up any of those fields. Here’s the summary: “Sixty percent of respondents ages 16 to 25 to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, which seeks to gauge innovation aptitude among young adults, named at least one factor that prevented them from pursuing further education or work in science, technology, engineering and math fields (known as STEM). Thirty-four percent said they ‘don’t know much about these fields,’ while a third said ‘these fields are too challenging.’ Twenty-eight percent said they weren’t ‘well-prepared in school to seek out a career or further … [their] education in these fields.’”
Finally, a note from a correspondent in the Netherlands who responds to my piece in The Chronicle on “The Research Bust.” Apparently, the same over-publication in the humanities is a problem in Europe as much as in the United States. Sjoerd van Hoorn, a young philosopher there, has a suggestion:
“Given the addiction to numbers that plagues current academia however, a measurable criterion may not be a bad idea. It will at least keep the auditing wolf from the doors of learning. That is why it would be a good idea if academics were allowed to publish only once every five years – were allowed to (not have to)! They would have to think hard whether they really want to put this book out into the world, since they won’t have another chance to publish anything else for the coming five years. A publication quota may not be good news to the makers of league-tables and other accountants, but it would be a blessing to the academic world. There would finally be time to think, read and write – books of course, not articles. And to read the work of your colleagues. Which will probably make fairly nice reading then.”