Study Shows College Education Often Worthless

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

According to a New York Times article (“The Economic Price of Colleges’ Failures,” 2 Sep. 2014), our colleges and universities are doing a terrible job of educating our youth. The conclusions are academic dynamite.

The article, by Kevin Carey, depends on two books by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa: Academically Adrift (Jan. 2011) and Aspiring Adults Adrift (Sep. 2014). According to Carey, Arum and Roksa lean heavily on a test of critical thinking and other skills known as the “Collegiate Learning Assessment” (CLA). For this reason, conclusions depend on the value of this particular test instrument, which some have called into question.

Even if the CLA is flawed, it cannot be totally inaccurate, and the findings should indicate a general direction. According to the article, students who graduated from college “improved less than half of one standard deviation” in the test.

All of that time and all of that money resulted in little benefit to the students. Interestingly, the students themselves did not see it that way. They thought they received a good education. The problem, as the second book pointed out, is that the job market does not agree with their self-assessment. According to Carey, “Because they didn’t acquire vital critical thinking skills, they’re less likely to get a job and more likely to lose the jobs they get than students who received a good education.”

Reading between the lines, some colleges still provide a good education, but a great number do not. Note the emphasis on critical thinking skills that stand in strong contrast to the memory skills that so many courses support. The CLA claims to test critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and communications.  Continue reading

The XPRIZE Innovation Competitions

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

The XPRIZE Foundation is a nonprofit with the purpose of accelerating innovation to solve the world’s most difficult problems. Energy, ocean health, transportation, and space are just a few of the areas that the XPRIZE competitions intend to affect.

If you teach science, you can watch for announcements of new XPRIZEs and use the information to spark the interest of your students in various areas of science and engineering. Have them research the ideas and come up with their own plans for meeting the challenges.

Recent announcements include the Google Lunar XPRIZE, the Tricorder XPRIZE, and the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE. A quick Internet search will provide you with the details for each, including team selection for those competitions that have progressed to that stage. Millions of dollars are at stake. The Lunar prize has total awards of $30 million.

The Ocean Health XPRIZE will create pH sensor technology to measure ocean acidification across thousands of miles of ocean. You can introduce a great deal of chemical and biological science by investigating this challenge just as though your class were competing.

The Tricorder challenge seeks to make a health sensor like those in the well known Star Trek television series of the 1960s. Ten teams have been selected and are taking ten different approaches to the problem. Just having your classes evaluate each team’s ideas would be a great project. Which will win?

Of interest to those who are not science teachers is the learning category. No prizes have been officially announced yet. Unofficially, the first learning prizes will focus on literacy and will require low-cost and effectiveness to win.

Universal education made possible by technological innovation is a recurrent theme of the Educational Technology and Change Journal. Which areas of technology are already well developed, and which are far behind and must be boosted? The XPRIZE Foundation has a great number of expert advisers to help make those decisions. Will they make the right ones?

I will be following developments closely.

Reading, Vocabulary, Glogster, Funding, ESL Teachers, VoiceThread


Cutting to the Common Core: The Positive Side of the Digital Divide by J. Zorfass and T. Gray in Language Magazine: The authors make the case for using digital texts to support the reading process for all learners.

Computer games give boost to English. The University of Gothenburg in Science Daily Success in the world of computer games and a good English vocabulary go hand in hand. A recent study has shown that players who are good at computer games increase their English vocabulary. The study also showed a difference between the genders. Boys spend about twice as much time a week playing computer games as girls. However, girls spend about twice as much time a week on Facebook and other language-related activities.

Tools for achieving oral fluency by Marsha Appling-Nunez in Language Magazine: The author makes suggestions for helping English language learners with their speaking and presentation skills. Glogster is a graphical blog that students can use when doing oral books reports, or other presentations. She also recommends PechaKucha Prezi, which is a method of presenting information using pictures only which requires the speaker to focus on good pronunciation, filler reduction, and vocabulary.

For Public Schools, the Long and Bumpy Road to Going Digital by Kathy Baron in Mindshift: Equipment, software licensing, training. Funding – or lack of it – is the number one issue facing school districts as they convert to the digital learning world.

Preparing Teacher Candidates to Work with English Language Learners in an Online Course Environment by Stephanie Dewing in TEIS News: The author reports on a study she did on the efficacy of an online course for ESL teachers. She found minimal evidence of transformative learning experiences. She proposes several changes in course design to try to produce a context more conducive for transformational learning.

Using Web 2.0 Tools, Such as Voicethread™, to Enhance ELL Instructor and Student Learning by Kelly Torres In TEIS News: Torres advocates using tools such as VoiceThread™, a multimedia tool that can provide a slide show with pictures, documents, and videos to engage students in online course materials by allowing them to see and hear their peers.

Real Aliens: What Will They Look Like?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

We live in a very large universe. By all accounts, it’s over 14 billion light-years to the edge from here. That’s nearly 10,000 billion billion miles. Our galaxy contains billions of stars. Our universe contains billions of galaxies. Somewhere out in those vast spaces, there must be, or have been, or will be another advanced civilization.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured a new, infrared view of the choppy star-making cloud called M17, also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula.

Unfortunately for those yearning to communicate with aliens and fortunately for those who fear alien contact, we are very unlikely — in the extreme — ever to communicate with an alien civilization. Our only real hope lies in violating Einstein’s laws of relativity, and so far they’re as solid as granite.

The vastness of space that makes the existence of aliens, at some time, likely also means that they will be too far away for any meaningful communication. If any are in our galactic neighborhood, they may have broadcast pictures of themselves just as we are doing every day with television, and we may intercept them if we can tease them out of the background noise of quasars, exploding stars, and so on.

Even an image of an intelligent, technologically advanced alien would add enormously to our knowledge of science. Speculation about what an alien would look like may seem like a waste of time, but it can help us if we ever do see one to recognize it.

The topic of what an alien, one with technology, with whom we could, in theory, someday communicate, will look like, act like, and so on has been in science fiction books and movies for many decades. Hollywood tends to reach for the extreme and depict aliens as very frightening. The movie, Alien, is a good example of that trend. Going back very far, there’s It Came from Outer Space.

The science suggests otherwise. Not that real aliens wouldn’t be, well, alien. The likelihood of them passing for one of us is rather remote. If you are teaching science, this concept can begin an excellent and engaging project investigating the possible parameters of alien beings capable of broadcasting images of the themselves. Before heading into the appearance of aliens, consider two separate issues that bear on this topic.  Continue reading

Dinosaurs Among Us?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

You may have noticed one of the many articles such as this one that cast doubt on the asteroid (or comet) strike that annihilated the dinosaurs. Oh, the asteroid did the job, they say, but it had some help.

Careful examination of North American fossil records strongly suggests that the dinosaur population was under stress from lower than usual herbivore diversity. What say?! There just weren’t as many plant-eating dinosaurs as usual, which means that dinner for the large meat-eaters was a bit harder to come by.

The Earth was undergoing extreme changes 66 million years ago when the great impact took place. Massive volcanic eruptions in what is now India were the result of a collision of the Indian and Asian continental plates. Climate was undergoing change. And dinosaur herbivore diversity was down.

The above was really no big deal. Dinosaurs had been around for well over 100 million years and had survived many environmental challenges. This was just another that would kill off lots of individuals and perhaps a few species. As a whole, the dinosaurs would come roaring back soon enough, however.  Continue reading

Out of School STEM Learning Summit: National Academy of Sciences

By Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Associate Editor

What I liked about this summit was that it was representative of various places in the US and very diverse. It was interesting that all of the researchers used terminologies that even I did not know, but I learned during the process.

This seminar was basically on extended-learning projects and outside organizations that aim to further STEM education. The authors call these joint efforts “STEM learning ecosystems,” and they can deepen student understanding and engagement and broaden access to a well-rounded education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I had to get used to the terminology and wondered if people who are interested would be scared away by the eduspeak. I think people at the Summit heard the terms often enough to finally be comfortable with “learning ecosystems.”

I looked online because I still, at the end of the day, did not have a fluid understanding of ecosystem in this context. This is what I found that may be helpful so you don’t have to puzzle the term.

They share this common term: Learning Ecosystem.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

After school programs come in many varieties. Since we were dealing with understanding of a variety of groups, museums, networks and other providers, I thought that the diagram above would aid understanding.  Continue reading

Thoughts on the Surface Pro 2 After 8 Months

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Updated 7/21/14, 7/26/14

(Related articles: “The Surface Pro 2 Will Be the Death of Notebooks” and “Why the Surface Pro 2 Will Be a Game Changer in the Tablet World Series.”)

Steven Brown, in a 15 July 2014 comment, asked, “Curious to hear how it went after 8 months –- any updates?” His question refers to my October 2013 article, Why the Surface Pro 2 Will Be a Game Changer in the Tablet World Series, and the follow-up in November, The Surface Pro 2 Will Be the Death of Notebooks.

Steven, thanks for the question. Microsoft’s recent offering of SP3 means that the SP2 is no longer a viable purchase option — except for those interested in picking up a bargain. Used, they’re currently going on eBay for about half the original price. However, the differences between the 2 and the 3 are small enough to justify this article update.

For me, the critical variable is weight. The quarter pound difference between the 3 and 2 is negligible. To put this in perspective, it’s the difference between my first-gen iPad and the SP2. They’re both equally heavy — or light, depending on your perspective. The SP3 screen size is touted as a breakthrough, but the 1.4″ difference isn’t that impressive considering the bulk that it adds to the overall size. By desktop and notebook standards, it’s still far too small for serious work for prolonged periods.

The 2160 x 1440 resolution seems enormous compared to the SP2’s 1080 x 1920, but it’s negligible considering the pixels per inch, which is 216 vs. 208. The SP2’s resolution is excellent. I’m using it right now, with the power cover, to write this article. I have it connected to a 32″ 1080P monitor via the SP2’s proprietary HDMI adaptor, and the clarity is equal to my desktop’s.  Continue reading


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