Not a College Student, But a Colleague Student


I was once a college student. I went to college full time and I worked part time. That's the way it is supposed to be. Right? When I did my graduate work, I was working full time and going part time to classes. That is fairly typical these days. In my case, I was teaching in a public school while I went to grad school.

A post by Joshua Kim got my attention because he put a label on the kind of student who is working full-time and pursuing a graduate degree. In his post, he was really considering "colleague students" who work in higher ed while pursuing degrees in higher ed. But it is true of almost anyone working in a field while working towards an advanced degree in that field.

Are colleague students (the term is still open for suggestions - another suggestion is 
matriculated colleagues) a special class of student? I know that when I teach my graduate classes, they are comprised primarily of people already working in a related field. That means that they might bring more work experience to some topics than I have. That can be threatening to a teacher. I like it and try to use those students as experts or teachers when possible.

I think these students are better about delayed gratification. Joshua Kim calls them "Long-Term Career Thinkers" because they are committing to the years that it takes to get an advanced degree while working full-time.  That perseverance and time management is needed to make work, school and personal relationships and family work and are traits that are valued in professional settings.

Many undergraduates, even after choosing a major, are not sure about their career path. That is part of what the college experience is meant to do.

towards that advanced degree while working full-time indicates commitment to a field and a career. Of course, this is not all graduate students. I have students who are pursuing a degree (or the popular graduate certificates) because they want to move from the profession they are in currently. Those students are sometimes at a disadvantage in comparison with colleague students. They don't have any real world working knowledge of the field, and oftentimes they don't even have an undergraduate degree related to the field. The biology student who decides to go into computer science may bring an interesting perspective to the course, but not the foundation courses.

I'll close with two questions that Kim asked in his post: Do you think that the value of colleague-students is recognized on your campus and in higher ed in general?  Do we do enough to support and encourage our colleagues who are in the midst of pursuing graduate work?

What Makes Learning Authentic?

authentic You hear the term "authentic learning" used, but I can't imagine that everyone using or hearing the term thinks of the same things as examples of learning that is authentic. And does that mean that there is inauthentic learning?


Problem Based Learning (PBL) and "real world" assignments are other terms that often come up in an authentic learning discussion. There are several "reals" that are usually mentioned: learning that has a real purpose, real product, and a real audience.

Solving a real world problem doesn't mean having students find a way to bring peace in the Middle East. It might be to create in a STEM classroom a way to automatically vent a greenhouse when the temperature reaches a certain temperature. It might be to create an electronic newsletter site online for a school or class project. It could be to redesign an existing playground to make it safer, more engaging and green. The product might be a video explaining how to do a project for others that is posted to YouTube or another sharing site. All of these can be done using concepts of PBL.

Assignments, products and solutions that are seen and graded by only the teacher are less real than ones that are shared with people who need the information or would be interested in the work, including those who may want to collaborate. The rise of Web 2.0 blogs, wikis and social media have done a lot for making "schoolwork" available to the world.

In these examples, the product is less likely to be an essay or research paper, but if it is, the way the product is shared, reviewed and possibly revised is not 1:1 with a teacher.

In reading about the Common Core Standards, I find one of the complaints often heard from teachers is that the work required seems inauthentic. Of course, the standards are not authentic or inauthentic. Only the way they are taught and implemented can be judged as such. In fact, successfully or not, the idea of the standards is to prepare students better for the real world tasks of college and work.

To that end, I like some of the suggestions in this article on using Common Core to do authentic learning.

In planning, the authors suggest some backwards design: Start by deciding on the standards that needed to be covered. They suggest that social science or science standards may be easier to connect to current events that make the learning more relevant for students. Then look to the English and math standards can also be integrated.

Launch the lesson with students to get their input on what the "problem" is, who an authentic audience might be (who needs or will benefit from the product) and what that product will be (wiki, blog, podcast, video etc.).

While the teacher may still be teaching the initial concepts, standards, critical content and skills, the students should be determining the products, audience, how to deliver to that audience and even how to assess their product as a way to reflect on the process and their learning.

This is not a way of teaching that many teachers are used to employing in class. It is not a way of learning that students associate with school learning. But sometimes getting out of your comfort zone puts you into a zone that turns out to be even more comfortable.

"What Is Authentic Learning?" by Ken Ronkowitz was originally published on LinkedIn

Desire2Learn Becomes Brightspace

The edtech company Desire2Learn said on Monday that it was renaming its learning-management system Brightspace and will add new features including game-based learning.

The company also said it was teaming up with IBM to improve the LMS's predictive analytics and partnering with Microsoft to add a Windows 8 mobile app for e-books to their offerings.

That Facebook Research and Academia

I have waited a few weeks for the Internet to react to the Facebook research that was revealed and caused a big buzz (again) about privacy. The short summary: Facebook manipulated the news feeds of thousands of its users, without their knowing consent, in order to do some research. They wanted to know if they could have an effect on people’s behavior in the network.

Oh wait - that was back in 2010 when they were looking at U.S. voting patterns in the midterm elections. That story was told in 2012 by Nature magazine. Not much of a public reaction. No real outcry about questionable ethics.

But this latest study that Facebook conducted was co-designed by researchers at Cornell University. This research examined how positive or negative language spreads in social networks. If you see more negative comments and news, do you become more negative yourself in your posts?

This time there were two negative reactions by the public and the press. First, in this year following the NSA and Snowden revelations, there was a very vocal outcry of criticism about whether
Internet users should be informed about experiments that test human behavior. (Facebook likes to point out that users did "allow" the study by agreeing to the terms of service.)

The second concern was that a university played a role in the research design.

What were the results of the research? Users who saw fewer positive posts were less likely to post something positive, and vice versa, but the effect was small and faded as days passed. That sounds like common sense, right? Actually, existing research had seemed to indicate that seeing a number of happy, positive news feed items from friends, they felt a negativity about their own lives.

Researchers in academia are used to having research approved first by an Institutional Review Board. Did that happen at Cornell?  The data scientist at Facebook conducted the actual research. He collaborated with a Cornell researcher and his former postdoc on the design and subsequent analysis. But, since the Cornell researchers did not participate in the data collection, the university’s IRB concluded that the study did not require oversight as it would usually require with human-subjects research. 

The research study was published in early June in the respected journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The revelations about the NSA snooping had a split reaction. Some people saw Snowden as a hero whistle-blower alerting us to wrongdoing and wanted changes to be made in what was allowed. Others saw him as dangerous because he revealed a kind of research that the government needs to do to protect us.

The Facebook/Cornell research certainly doesn't come anywhere near the complexity or seriousness of the NSA case. Nevertheless, some people want to see this kind of research controlled or stopped and our online privacy protected better. A smaller number think that this is part of the price of using the Net and social media.

My conclusion? This kind of social research will continue. BUT - it will be done (with your approval, even if you don;t read the fine print before clicking that AGREE button), but it is unlikely to be public. It will be kept private and will not be published. And colleges will be much more careful about making research collaborations with corporations - especially those that operate online.

33 Ethicists Defend Facebook’s Controversial Mood Study

A group of bioethicists wrote in a column that Facebook’s controversial study of mood manipulation was not unethical, and harsh criticism of it risks putting a chill on future research. The article was written by six ethicists, joined by 27 others.

Maybe Reading This Post On A Screen Is Making You Stupid

Before you start this post, concentrate on trying to identify the main point from cognitive research while you are reading.

"Do Screens Make Us Stupider?" asks Julie Sedivy in a Discover article subtitled "Time for a Rethink of Reading."

She teaches at a university and the company that just published her textbook tells her that 90 percent of students prefer the paper version to the e-book. Why?

Is it true that information is more securely fixed in people’s minds when they read it from paper?  Does the visual fatigue of navigating text onscreen interfere with the processing of information? Have we developed superficial reading habits while online or onscreen - and might it be even shallower on a phone screen as compared to a traditional computer monitor?

Sedivy gets into a bit of the cognitive research on reading, which is inconclusive. The way we read varies widely in different settings, with text acting as a prompt for very different kinds of mental pursuits.

The same material can trigger very different thoughts depending on the reader's cognitive goals. Telling a reader to focus on imagery seems to lead to better retention of the material.

But those goals can also be unintentionally triggered.  Researchers asked people to unscramble sentences that contained words like evaluate, judgment, and personality before reading and just seeing those seemed to have the same effect as asking them explicitly to judge character in their reading.

Does simply encountering words on a screen rather than a paper page now create an unintentional "goal" in our mind?

Researchers keep playing with the experience. Given a product review in a harder-to-read font, readers more carefully evaluated the merits of the arguments. Did they turn on their focu because the information felt harder to process.

Should I write my posts in harder-to-read fonts and set up reading goals before each post?

One takeaway from the research is the idea that the presentation of text plays an important part in what a reader does cognitively while reading and also what the reader retains after the reading experience.

Did the goal/prompt at the start of this post change your reading or retention at all?

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