Thursday, September 29, 2016

New Policy Brief by Alumna Megan Gisclon

Megan Gisclon graduated from AU a couple of years ago, after writing a senior thesis on military-civilian relations in Turkey.  She then did an MA at a university in Turkey and now works as an editor at the Istanbul Policy Center, a public policy think tank there.  She lived through the recent coup attempt and has now co-authored a policy brief on its consequences.  Here is a photo of the cover:

Monday, September 26, 2016

STEM Education is Vital - but Not at the Expense of the Humanities

That is the title of an op-ed by the editors of Scientific American in the October issue. The argument is not that it is good to have around some specialists in music theory or poetry or East Asian studies, but that the dynamism of the US high tech economy and Hollywood is based on people who have both "music theory and string theory," that is, who unite the arts and sciences. Here's the column: 

Kentucky governor Matt Bevin wants students majoring in electrical engineering to receive state subsidies for their education but doesn't want to support those who study subjects such as French literature. Bevin is not alone in trying to nudge higher education toward course work that promotes better future job prospects. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a former presidential candidate, put it bluntly last year by calling for more welders and fewer philosophers.

Promoting science and technology education to the exclusion of the humanities may seem like a good idea, but it is deeply misguided.Scientific American has always been an ardent supporter of teaching STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But studying the interaction of genes or engaging in a graduate-level project to develop software for self-driving cars should not edge out majoring in the classics or art history.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

New Study Questions Validity of Student Evaluations of Teaching

Student course evaluations, or Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET), which are now almost universal practice in colleges and universities, play a very important role in evaluating faculty, sometimes even for promotion and tenure.  But what if there is no relation between what students think of a course and how much they learned in it?  A new study reported on in Inside Higher Education "suggests that past analyses linking student achievement to high student teaching evaluation ratings are flawed, a mere “artifact of small sample sized studies and publication bias.” Here is a key part of the explanation:
The entire notion that we could measure professors' teaching effectiveness by simple ways such as asking students to answer a few questions about their perceptions of their course experiences, instructors' knowledge and the like seems unrealistic given well-established findings from cognitive sciences such as strong associations between learning and individual differences including prior knowledge, intelligence, motivation and interest,” the paper says. “Individual differences in knowledge and intelligence are likely to influence how much students learn in the same course taught by the same professor. 
So, apparently there is good data against the use of SETs, at least to measure teaching effectiveness (maybe they are useful for something else), and the cognitive sciences offer solid reasons why we shouldn't expect them to be a good measure of teaching effectiveness.

Here is the whole story:

Friday, September 2, 2016

Employers Seek 'Soft Skills'

Kate Davidson in the Wall Street Journal (August 30, 2016) argues that "Employers Find 'Soft Skills' Like Critical Thinking in Short Supply."  According to the article, in a "Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives last year, 92% said soft skills were equally important or more important than technical skills. But 89% said they have a very or somewhat difficult time finding people with the requisite attributes."  One reason for the problem is that "Companies have automated or outsourced many routine tasks, and the jobs that remain often require workers to take on broader responsibilities that demand critical thinking, empathy or other abilities that computers can’t easily simulate."  Similarly, a Linked In survey of 291 hiring managers, revealed that these were the most sought after "soft skills:" "The ability to communicate trumped all else, followed by organization, capacity for teamwork, punctuality, critical thinking, social savvy, creativity and adaptability."

So, "soft skills" means the basic human skills, which are the ones developed through liberal education, the kind of education you get studying history and political science.

Here is the full story:

The job market’s most sought-after skills can be tough to spot on a résumé.

Companies across the U.S. say it is becoming increasingly difficult to find applicants who can communicate clearly, take initiative, problem-solve and get along with co-workers.
Those traits, often called soft skills, can make the difference between a standout employee and one who just gets by.

While such skills have always appealed to employers, decades-long shifts in the economy have made them especially crucial now. Companies have automated or outsourced many routine tasks, and the jobs that remain often require workers to take on broader responsibilities that demand critical thinking, empathy or other abilities that computers can’t easily simulate.