April 23, 2013, 11:11 am
In 1937, as she lay ill in bed, Annie Oakes Huntington, a writer living in Maine, thought of ways to spend her time. She confided in a letter: “The radio has been a source of unfailing diversion this winter. I expect to enter all the courses at Harvard to be broadcasted.” Huntington was joining in an educational experiment sweeping the country in the 1920s and 30s: massive open on-air courses.
As educators contemplate the MOOCs of our day—massive open online courses—they would do well to consider how earlier generations dealt with technology-enhanced education.
We are not the first generation to believe that technology can transcend distance and erode ignorance. Nearly a century ago, educators were convinced that radio held that same potential. The number of radios in the United States increased from six or seven thousand to 10 million between 1921 and 1928. Many…
April 19, 2013, 12:35 pm
The controversy over a recent neonatal clinical trial of oxygen therapy for premature babies offers two starkly different prescriptions for protecting babies from risky treatments in neonatal intensive care units.
One view, advocated by the federal Office for Human Research Protections and the advocacy group Public Citizen, is to warn their parents that participating in important, well-designed clinical trials is risky. Public Citizen even suggests prohibiting such studies altogether. The OHRP views the trial as one that involved “substantial risks,” because “the level of oxygen being provided to some infants, compared to the level they would have received had they not participated, could increase the risk of brain injury or death.” Public Citizen viewed the study as “highly unethical” because it “exposed 1,316 extremely premature infants to increased risks of either…
April 18, 2013, 10:50 am
It started with that pesky “reply all” option.
It was April 26, 2012—Poem in Your Pocket Day, according to a news story on NPR, part of National Poetry Month. How wonderful, I thought, and then shared the news via e-mail with my faculty and staff colleagues at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
The first person to respond hit “reply all,” sending her favorite poem to the whole campus. Another person did the same. Then another. And another. Soon the whole campus seemed awash in poetry. It also happened to be Project Panic Day, a whimsical name we give for the date by which seniors must submit their final projects, meaning our students were scrambling to finish critically important work, while our faculty was already busy poring over lengthy project reports. What had I done?
The humanists on our campus didn’t dominate; it was the scientists and technologists who came out…
April 18, 2013, 12:01 am
Some have detected a revolutionary message behind the choice of today as the date to launch the Digital Public Library of America—a project to make the holdings of libraries, archives, and museums freely available in digital form to all Americans. They’re right.
“On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five,” as Longfellow put it in “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” Paul Revere did not merely warn the farmers of Lexington and Concord that the redcoats were coming. His “midnight message” was a call for liberty. To free Americans’ access to knowledge may not be so dramatic, but it is equally important; for Revere and all the founding fathers knew that a republic could not flourish unless its citizens were educated and informed.
Nor is it a coincidence that the launching pad of the Digital Public Library of America is the Boston Public Library, the first great…
April 17, 2013, 12:00 pm
In the uproar that followed Suzy Lee Weiss’s “To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me,” one assumption was left untouched: that Weiss, like any student, would be better off at an Ivy League college than at one of the Big Ten universities she now plans to attend.
As someone who split her undergraduate career between a large public university and an Ivy, I’d like to suggest something different: Weiss (who, full disclosure, is the sister of a friend) is lucky to have gotten those rejections.
I, like Weiss, was a middle-class white girl from the suburbs who started her freshman year at a big state university feeling entitled to a fancier education. When I secured a spot in Harvard’s transfer class, I was sure I stood only to gain: My classmates in the University of Maryland’s upper-level English classes asked questions that struck me as hopelessly naïve, I got A’s on…
April 16, 2013, 2:17 pm
Recently, David Warner, a colleague in our department at Washington State University, was severely beaten outside an off-campus bar. While the facts are still unclear, the police have indicated that drinking was most likely involved. The incident was among countless acts of violence and violation perpetrated on and around college campuses in recent weeks, all by-products of a culture of excess that celebrates intoxication. At Washington State, we have seen a semester in which police officers reported that alcohol played a role in three students’ falling from buildings and another student’s death, from alcohol poisoning. Such events are a tragic reminder of the costs of America’s collegiate party culture—which parents and administrators often lament, but which the structure of higher education tacitly endorses.
Of course, collegiate partying is nothing new. It is the stuff of local…
April 12, 2013, 2:33 pm
One need not look far these days to find people skeptical (at best) about the value of higher education. Most of these people particularly question the value of a liberal-arts education, which they view as outdated and elitist. Claiming economic pragmatism, they seek the curtailment or even outright elimination of arts and humanities programs. Liberal arts, they say, are a luxury we can no longer afford, because students who study the liberal arts do not develop the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. This is an absurd and entirely unsubstantiated claim that I will not bother to debunk here (for an excellent takedown of this position, see Brian Rosenberg’s January 30 article in the Huffington Post). Still, absurd though it is, those of us in the sciences may think to let the humanities fight their own corner. What does this have to do with us? we may well ask.
April 10, 2013, 11:17 am
All college teachers know the heartache of students who, for one reason or another, are indisposed to what teachers have to offer, but freshman-composition instructors suffer a special despair. Nineteen-year-olds enter their classroom three months out of high school, and few college tasks irk them more than a five-page paper on a literary work or social topic.
Worse than that, all too many of them don’t have the basic ability to write crisp sentences and coherent paragraphs. They don’t know where commas go, they can’t set the pieces of a periodic sentence into tight relations, they haven’t the vocabulary to say what they want to say, and the well-turned phrase and sparkling metaphor baffle them. Academic prose is a struggle, freshman comp a torture.
Other first-year subjects uncover daunting college unreadiness, of course, but there’s a difference. Students falter in…
April 8, 2013, 6:40 pm
President Robert L. Barchi of Rutgers U. speaks at a news conference last Friday to announce the resignation as athletic director of Tim Pernetti. (Andy Marlin, Getty Images)
Public universities are not corporations. They are not sports franchises. They are not dysfunctional families in which the powerful can abuse the less powerful by enforcing silence.
As faculty members, we were deeply dismayed to learn that some Rutgers University administrators had known for months about Mike Rice Jr. and his assistant coach’s physical and verbal abuse of student athletes, yet remained silent. Homophobic slurs and physical abuse teach students a deformed version of athletic masculinity.
We were equally dismayed by the institutional implications of this culture of abuse. The corporate vision of Rutgers’s president,…
April 4, 2013, 1:45 pm
President Obama last month took a group of Republican senators to dinner at the Jefferson Hotel, in Washington, to discuss the sequestration crisis and a wide range of other policy matters. The next day he asked Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the former vice-presidential candidate, to lunch at the White House. Another meal with Senate Republicans is planned for April 10. The goal of those meetings? To score PR points—but also to build personal relationships that might erode partisan gridlock.
It’s too early to tell whether the president’s outreach will work, but social-science research suggests that friendships that reach across the political aisle may be good for democracy: They facilitate cooperation by reducing extremism and enhancing trust. In a 2002 study, the political scientist Diana Mutz assessed the effects of political diversity among friends. Study participants who…