Monday, November 22, 2010

More Professors Give Out Hand-Held Devices to Monitor Students and Engage Them

If any of the 70 undergraduates in Prof. Bill White’s “Organizational Behavior” course at Northwestern University are late for class, or not paying attention, he will know without having to scan the lecture hall.

Their “clickers” will tell him.

Every student in Mr. White’s class has been assigned a palm-size, wireless device that looks like a TV remote but has a far less entertaining purpose. With their clickers in hand, the students in Mr. White’s class automatically clock in as “present” as they walk into class.

They then use the numbered buttons on the devices to answer multiple-choice quizzes that count for nearly 20 percent of their grade, and that always begin precisely one minute into class. Later, with a click, they can signal to their teacher without raising a hand that they are confused by the day’s lesson.

But the greatest impact of such devices — which more than a half-million students are using this fall on several thousand college campuses — may be cultural: they have altered, perhaps irrevocably, the nap schedules of anyone who might have hoped to catch a few winks in the back row, and made it harder for them to respond to text messages, e-mail and other distractions.

In Professor White’s 90-minute class, as in similar classes at Harvard, the University of Arizona and Vanderbilt, barely 15 minutes pass without his asking students to “grab your clickers” to provide feedback

Though some Northwestern students say they resent the potential Big Brother aspect of all this, Jasmine Morris, a senior majoring in industrial engineering, is not one of them.

“I actually kind of like it,” Ms. Morris said after a class last week. “It does make you read. It makes you pay attention. It reinforces what you’re supposed to be doing as a student.”

Inevitably, some students have been tempted to see clickers as “cat and mouse” game pieces. Noshir Contractor, who teaches a class on social networking to Northwestern undergraduates, said he began using clickers in spring 2008 — and, not long after, watched a student array perhaps five of the devices in front of him.

The owners had skipped class, but their clickers had made it.

Professor Contractor said he tipped his cap to the students’ creativity — this was, after all, a class on social networking — but then reminded them that there “are other ways to count attendance,” and that, by the way, they were all signatories to the school’s honor principle. The practice stopped, he said.

Though the technology is relatively new, preliminary studies at Harvard and Ohio State, among other institutions, suggest that engaging students in class through a device as familiar to them as a cellphone — there are even applications that convert iPads and BlackBerrys into class-ready clickers — increases their understanding of material that may otherwise be conveyed in traditional lectures.

The clickers are also gaining wide use in middle and high schools, as well as at corporate gatherings. Whatever the setting, audience responses are received on a computer at the front of the room and instantly translated into colorful bar graphs displayed on a giant monitor.

The remotes used at Northwestern were made by Turning Technologies, a company in Youngstown, Ohio, and are compatible with PowerPoint. Depending on the model, the hand-helds can sell for $30 to $70 each. Some colleges require students to buy them; others lend them to students.

Tina Rooks, the chief instructional officer for Turning Technologies, said the company expected to ship over one million clickers this year, with roughly half destined for about 2,500 university campuses, including community colleges and for-profit institutions. The company said its higher-education sales had grown 60 percent since 2008, and 95 percent since 2006.

At Northwestern, more than three dozen professors now use clickers in their classrooms. Professor White, who teaches industrial engineering, was among the first here to adopt them about six years ago.

He smiled knowingly when asked about some students’ professed dislike of the clickers.

“They should walk in with them in their hands, on time, ready to go,” he said.

Professor White acknowledged, though, that the clickers were hardly a silver bullet for engaging students, and that they were just one of many tools he employed, including video clips, guest speakers and calling on individual students to share their thoughts.

“Everyone learns differently,” he said. “Some learn watching stuff. Some learn by listening. Some learn by reading. I try to mix it all into every class.”

Many of Professor White’s students said the highlight of his class was often the display of results of a survey-via-clicker, when they could see whether their classmates shared their opinions. They also said that they appreciated the anonymity, and that while the professor might know how they responded, their peers would not.

Last week, for example, he flashed a photo of the university president, Morton Schapiro, onto the screen, along with a question, “Source of power?” followed by these possible answers:

“1. Coercive power” (sometimes punitive).

“2. Reward power.”

“3. Legitimate power” (typically by virtue of one’s office).

“4. Expert power” (more typically applied to someone like an electrician or a mechanic).

"5. Referent power” (usually tied to how the leader is viewed personally).

To Professor White’s seeming relief, a clear majority, 71 percent, chose No. 3, a sign that they considered his ultimate boss to be “legitimate.”

And then, to his delight, the students emerged from their electronic veils to register their opinions the old-fashioned way.

“They can be very reluctant to speak when they think they’re in the minority,” he said. “Once they see they’re not the only ones, they speak up more.”

Written by Jacques Steinberg for The New York Times
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, November 11, 2010

6 College Admissions Tips for Artistic Students

If your child wants to major in musical theater or some other performing art, go ahead and blame it on Glee, American Idol or America's Got Talent.

Television shows make performing look fun, but the process of applying to colleges as a prospective visual or performing arts major is anything but. For these students, the admission process can be even more nerve wracking and time consuming because of requirements for auditions or portfolios.

To learn more about what's involved in being a prospective visual or performing art major, I talked with Halley Shefler, former dean of admissions at both the Boston Conservatory and the School of Music at Boston University. She is now a college consultant at The Arts Edge, which works with students who want to major in music, theatre, arts, and dance.

Here are six of Shefler's suggestions on how artistic students—and their parents—can navigate the admission process:

1. Don't apply where everybody else is. Ambitious students who are aiming for the same elite schools that are on everyone's short list will usually be disappointed. These schools are overrun with applications and will reject most students. In musical theater, for instance, applicants tend to flock to the University of Michigan, New York University, Boston Conservatory, Carnegie Mellon University, and the College-Conservatory of Music, which is part of the University of Cincinnati.

Other wonderful school in musical theater, Shefler suggests, include Syracuse University, University of the Arts, Elon University, Otterbein College, Point Park University, Millikin University, Montclair State University, and Florida State University.

"You don't need to go to Juilliard, NYU, or the Cincinnati Conservatory to make it in the arts," Shefler emphasized.

2. Solicit opinions from experts. It's a reality that many stage parents believe their teenagers are far more talented than they are. With inflated opinions of their abilities, Shefler has seen countless teenagers apply to highly selective schools where they have no hope of attending. Families should ask outside experts to critique their students' talent.

3. Look for joint auditions. Going to auditions can be expensive, which is why some schools in the art fields hold joint auditions.

Some schools that offer a bachelor of fine arts program in theatre get together every year to hold a "National Unified Audition." In 2011, the audition will be held on different dates in February in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.

For visual art and design majors, there is "National Portfolio Day." Representatives of schools will review artwork and offer feedback for the students who attend.

4. Consider traditional universities or colleges. For lots of students, art schools and conservatories are going to be unaffordable. Many of these institutions are expensive and yet the financial aid students receive is often modest compared to traditional colleges and universities that offer a broader array of majors.

The Savannah College of Art and Design, for instance, only meets 20 percent of the typical student's financial need, according to College Board statistics. This is a school costs more than $41,000. The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where tuition with room and board costs $47,050, typically covers 59 percent of a student's financial need. The Boston Conservatory meets an average of 40 percent of a student's need. In contrast, many elite colleges meet all or nearly all of students' financial need.

5. Be prepared for the audition. When you are at an audition, don't wear a T-shirt and jeans. You should also not wear anything that would draw attention away from your performance. You don't need to buy a suit, but consider choosing an outfit that you would wear on a first date, Shefler suggests.

You should also perform appropriate material during an audition. A 17-year-old, for instance, shouldn't perform a piece that requires her to pretend to be a middle-aged woman.

6. Parents, take a chill pill. In this time of high unemployment, more parents than ever seem to be hoping that their children major in something practical like business or engineering. But art majors end up with many desirable skills such as being able to present in front of a group, taking constructive criticism, and being equipped with excellent speaking skills. Remember, what's most important is that students graduate with a degree!

Written by Lynn O'Shaughnessy for U.S. News & World Report
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Study Finds Teens' Late Night Media Use Comes at a Price

Staying up late to play video games, surf the Internet and send phone text messages may lead to learning problems, mood swings, anxiety and depression in children, a pilot study suggests.

The research, conducted at the Sleep Disorders Center at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J., found that children who snuck time on their cell phones, computers and other electronic devices after supposedly going to sleep had a greater chance of sleep disorders that cause other difficulties.

"These activities are not sleep-promoting, like reading a novel or listening to music. They stimulate the brain and depress normal sleep cycles," said study author Dr. Peter G. Polos.

His team was scheduled to present the findings Monday at the American College of Chest Physicians annual meeting in Vancouver.

The study was based on a survey of 40 boys and girls with an average age of 14. The researchers focused on their activities after they had gone into their bedroom for the night and were supposed to be sleeping.

Participants reported an average of 34 texts per night after bedtime, and an average of 3,400 night-time texts per month. These texts occurred from 10 minutes to four hours after going to bed. The average participant was awoken once a night by a text.

Girls were more "text happy," while boys were more likely to stay awake playing video games, said Polos, a physician at the hospital and a clinical instructor at its Sleep Disorders Center. All of the participants had gone to the center for help with sleep problems.

The research found correlations between late-night electronic media use and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, mood swings, anxiety, depression and poor cognitive functioning (thinking skills) during the day.

About half of the parents of study participants didn't know what the kids were up to, said Polos. The others knew, but had a fatalistic attitude.

"They [parents] thought, 'This is the world we live in, what can you do?'" said Polos. But parents need to monitor electronic media use, he said, because "at the end of the day, the parent is still the parent, the child is still the child."

Polos said doctors need to start asking children and teens routinely about night-time media use and talk to the child, along with the parents, about the negative consequences of poor sleep.

Calling America a "sleep-deprived culture," Polos noted that teens get little enough sleep "with sports, homework and getting up early for school." Late-night media use "really isn't helping," he said.

Expert Richard Gallagher said another reason parents need to monitor media use is to know what is going on in their children's lives.

"Parents need to take the perspective of what their own lives were like growing up," said Gallagher, director of the Parenting Institute at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

Parents used to know who their children were talking to on the phone or hanging out with because it was all done in the real world when families typically had one or two phones, he noted.

"Parents knew if someone came to the door to see their daughter or son," said Gallagher, an associate professor of adolescent psychiatry at New York University, adding that "children should have some privacy, but parents need to make it more comparable to when they were growing up."

Parents need to set rules such as no computers in the child's bedroom, no phone calls during mealtimes, and establish a phone use curfew.

"Then have the kids turn over the phones," said Gallagher.

Gallagher also noted that the effect of media can be good for some children who have "more contact with others than they might normally have had" as a result. But parents also need to be aware that all the messages sent back and forth "aren't necessarily friendly, or about things they want their kids to constantly think about," he said.

Because many kids are messaging or texting throughout the day, "there is no break from any kind of drama," or peer-related problems their children might be having, said Gallagher.

Both experts said the long-term effects of children's constant use of technology is unknown and needs more study. Also, they both emphasized the need for parents to talk with their children, and start early.

Citing the example of a parent who resorted to turning off the router at night, Polos said it's important to get a jump on things before it becomes a big problem.

"By then, the horse is out of the barn," said Polos, when parents delay getting involved.

Written by Ellin Holohan for HealthDay News
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC


I am an educational consultant in private practice advising families on day/boarding schools, college admissions, schools for teens and young adults who have emotional/behavioral problems, learning issues, neurological and psychiatric problems.

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