Archive for December, 2012

5 College Newspapers Giving up on Print

Dec. 28th 2012

In October 2012, Newsweek instigated a shockwave throughout the journalism community and mainstream readership alike with its announcement of a move to an all-digital format come January 2013 after almost 80 years as a magazine. The expected outcries of how this signifies the death of traditional print media followed. While it likely will not phase out entirely — books still exist even though .pdfs and other file formats exist — news outlets are undeniably adapting to the major technological shifting toward soaking up the latest stories online. Unsurprisingly, this trend certainly exists on college campuses as well, with student-run papers and other periodicals shifting to either all-digital or digital-first strategies. Not only does this move so often save money, it also addresses consumer demands for instant, on-the-go reads and a desire to always know what’s up as it happens.

  1. Red & Black:

    University of Georgia’s student-run newspaper launched in 1980, eventually growing into the largest of its type in the state. By 2011, Red & Black stunned students, faculty, and college journalists across the United States when it decided to only start printing weekly. Reporting daily, of course, but shifting the most recent news and views to its online media outlet instead. Known as Red & Black 2.0, the initiative marked one of the most significant moves from print to digital at the time, considering the paper’s clout and national popularity. Staff members considered the transition something positive rather than a slow, painful death march toward traditional journalism; they went so far as to declare themselves part of a “revolution,” after all. In fact, the ad revenue from the website, which always sells out space, manages to cover costs of the reduced printed editions since about 15,000 unique visitors hit them daily when school’s in session.

  2. The Daily Emerald:

    Somewhat notoriously, The Daily Emerald released its statement regarding cutbacks to twice a week and a bulkier digital presence the same day the legendary New Orleans Times-Picayune made similar announcements. It has served the University of Oregon community for over nine decades but received an ousting in favor of The Emerald Media Group. Monday and Thursday print editions still run, with updates on sports and other campus news early in the week, with arts and entertainment later. Beyond reporting, the new look for the old paper also includes a development lab focusing on web and mobile apps as well as marketing and advertising services. And with each new generation of incoming student journalists, familiarity with how to maneuver the Internet and cater to a digital audience only increases.

  3. The Daily Skiff:

    Texas Christian University just could not quit The Daily Skiff, which started running in 1902, but it wound up the Woody to the shiny new TCU 360’s Buzz Lightyear. It prints four days a week while class is in session, but beyond that, anyone wanting to know what’s going on with the campus and its student body is pushed more toward the student-run website. So while the newspaper itself never shifted to an all-digital format, the poor little Daily Skiff wound up shunted to the side in favor of something more in line with what today’s plugged-in audiences expect from their media outlets. TCU 360, as one can imagine from the name, covers happenings and opinions at the eponymous campus all the time, every time. Staff members actually post their stories here first before publication in the original newspaper — if at all.

  4. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Post:

    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Post, as a print publication, passed away in late 2012. However, it plans to pull a phoenix and arise anew from the newsprint-scented ashes in January 2013, assuming humanity doesn’t experience the Mayan apocalypse before then (it won’t). Although visitors can already read the paper online, the official launch will not happen until after the new year ticks. Even though the Post, as it’s now called by all the cool kids, began operations in 1956, few mourn its voyage to the great Gutenberg In The Sky. In fact, they seem to enthusiastically embrace this new path paved with zeroes and ones, believing the step just another major “life event” in the periodical’s history.

  5. The Western Herald:

    Like Texas Christian, Western Michigan University is slowly phasing out its traditional print paper in favor of something more virtual by letting everyone down gently using a “digital-first” strategy. This means the website breaks all the news and views first before the monthly newspaper hits campus stands. Social media in particular plays a role in shaping The Western Herald’s new direction, as they encourage Facebook and Twitter readers to participate in discussions of events and incidents as they unfold, for a more citizen journalism-oriented look at WMU. In addition, students, faculty, and staff can sign up for the Daily Buzz, an e-mail digest keeping them informed of any pressing stories and interesting or popular tidbits they might otherwise miss.

Posted by Staff Writers | in Technology | No Comments »

Do You Need a Diploma? New Ways Schools Are Evaluating Students

Dec. 26th 2012

It’s hard to believe that in 1870, only 2% of 17-year-olds in this country had a high school diploma. Over the years that number rose and peaked at 77% exactly a century later, but on average it’s been slowly falling ever since. While of course this is troubling, there is some good news for people without high school diplomas or college degrees. New ways to evaluate students are becoming more and more mainstream, as colleges become more forward-thinking and education becomes more open. Whether they’re used in admissions or in certifying valuable skills, these are the evaluation methods of the future.

  • MOOCs

    Khan Academy. edX. Udacity. Coursera. Much has been said already about the power of these providers of massive open online courses to radically change higher education. We are right on the cusp of a new era that will see colleges using completed online classes as a way to evaluate a potential student’s … potential. The University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Caltech, and 12 other schools are signed up to evaluate courses offered by Coursera. From there it’s just one small step to accepting the courses for credit, a step that will be even smaller should the American Council on Education give MOOCs its blessing. Coursera co-founder and Stanford prof Daphne Koller has no doubt what the outcome will be: “[MOOCs are] going to push more people into college and make them more successful.”

  • Badges

    Is the future of education filled with badges? As one Brigham Young University professor put it, “Employers look at degrees because it’s a quick way to evaluate all 300 people who apply for a job. But as soon as there’s some other mechanism that can play that role as well as a degree, the jig is up on the monopoly of degrees.” Digital badges pose just such a mechanism. They’re like certificates, only they certify unique skills companies are looking for with a specificity that degrees and diplomas don’t. Forecasters predict a future where online schools — and even other organizations that are not strictly educational, like Microsoft, Mozilla, and the Manufacturing Institute — grant badges for civilian work, algebra, mentorship, and anything else an employer might appreciate.

  • Third-party assessors and proctored exams

    A critical component of the digital badge and MOOC movements is the question of legitimacy. As with anything involving online education (or online anything, for that matter), the risk of sketchy or downright fraudulent behavior by companies posing as educational is high. That’s why groups like the American Council of Education are working to “grade the graders” and bring authenticity to badges and MOOCs. While some schools will count badges like credentials, many will still require verified demonstrations of skills through proctored exams. Some are partnering with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning to learn how best to use life skills and other non-diploma factors to evaluate students’ abilities.

  • e-Portfolios

    It’s not a new innovation for students to keep collections of their completed assignments and projects from school in order to show them to admissions counselors and/or employers. What are new are the form this practice is taking and the range of schools that now require it, instead of leaving it as a suggestion to students. From high school to college to grad school, schools are capitalizing on the increasingly digital nature of schoolwork by having students assemble some of their best work from each year to demonstrate learning over time. Many require students to make these e-portfolios open to inspection by faculty throughout their stay at a school so that their progress can be monitored. The collections may include audio and video so that reviewers can see the student in action, PowerPoints, jpegs, PDFs, and any other files that are easily shared, viewed, or otherwise interacted with digitally.

  • Life experience

    The recession had yet to hit home when The New York Times ran a piece on continuing education organizations offering college credits for life experience. They noted that the allure of such “prior learning credits” was two-fold: get a degree faster and cheaper. Four years later, the cost of a college education has gone from a secondary consideration to priority number one for most students, and more people are looking at prior learning credits as a partial solution to the money problem. Older adults especially, who have been working full-time for years without a bachelor’s degree, served in the military, or even done volunteer work, can turn the skills and experiences they had in those roles into real college credits. For example, in James Madison University’s Adult Degree Program, students can earn up to 25% of the credits they need to graduate through prior learning credits.

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10 Alarming Statistics on College Graduation Rates in America

Dec. 21st 2012

Americans get it rammed into their heads at an early age that graduating from college ought to be their ultimate goal, because it’s the only way to get ahead in the business world; even those with no intention to enroll still end up exposed to the rhetoric. Education is absolutely essential for a nation (and humanity itself) to thrive and grow, and one would assume that this status would mean equal opportunities and outcomes. Nope. As the following statistics reflect, the country still has a ways to go before it achieves its postsecondary schooling goals.

  1. Black males have the lowest graduation rates

    As of the last round of statistics released by the National Center for Education Statistics. Black males enrolled in both four-year and two-year programs suffered from the lowest graduation rates, regardless of whether they attended private, public, for-profit, or non-profit institutions. When it comes to four-year programs, only 15% complete their degrees within the given time frame. The number increases amongst two-year students, though, with 20.4% finishing within 150% of the usual time frame.

  2. 1.2 million graduates don’t actually count as graduates

    When governing bodies calculate graduation rate statistics, they only check out the results of full-timing colleges. The successes and failures of part-time students do not factor into the ultimate numbers, so the nation’s real graduation rate remains utterly obscured and incomplete. So at least 1.2 million graduating college seniors are not reflected once statistic release party time excellent rolls around.

  3. And a further 2.1 million graduates are not recognized as having graduated

    Not only does the government manage to bungle its statistics regarding what sort of students complete college in what span of time, they also fail to recognize transfers. Individuals who begin their degrees at one institution before sending their credits, money, and warm bodies to another (like the very common “community college for two years, a four-year after” arrangement) do not count. When they completed their schooling within the polled time frame, 2.1 million American college kids fitting that description did not wind up in the numbers.

  4. Forty-three percent of American college students take longer than six years to finish their degrees

    Not because of some “kids today!” diatribe on laziness. Because cost stands as one of — if not the No. 1 — major concerns for college students, many minimize debt by tailoring their schedules around work. Sometimes this means taking semesters off to rake in as much moolah as possible, or enrolling part-time (even though statistics do not reflect this decision). It makes sense that students in four-year programs these days might not finish as fast as their predecessors.

  5. Only 29% of students in two-year programs finish in under three years

    And the very same logic from the above listing applies here. In addition, many non-starters drop-outs realize just how many professional opportunities in fields like tech and journalism do not even require a degree if the knowledge and/or talent are already present. Hey, it saves money and time.

  6. Private, for-profit schools have startlingly low graduation rates

    For as popular as they are for their flexibility and accessibility, private, for-profit schools lag behind any other type when it comes to graduation rates. After six years of schooling, a staggering 78% fail to complete their degrees. Disconcerting to say the least, especially since such institutions so often advertise themselves as an affordable way to complete a college education and enter into the workforce quicker than usual.

  7. Average debt for graduates keeps increasing

    Because a college education practically requires the selling of one’s internal organs on the black market to be a reasonably affordable venture, graduates manage to experience escalating debt levels every year. On average, they now walk away owing $26,600 as of 2011, marking an increase of 5% from 2010’s findings. Nationally, they owe a combined sum of $1 trillion. Since 10% of college graduates default on their loans within two years … yikes.

  8. Half of today’s college graduates are un- or underemployed

    As with the increasing debt load, the fact that attaining a college degree does not guarantee a job after graduation — no matter what mommy and daddy said – also deters many students from pursuing or completing their schooling. The actual number is slightly higher than one out of every two, though, with around 53.6% of new graduates either failing to find a job or entering into one with lower pay than they’re qualified to receive. Totally awesome, considering how much debt they need to pay off!

  9. Latin Americans receive the lowest amount of master’s degrees

    On a positive note, the number of master’s degrees conferred happens to increase every year! But discrepancies still exist when it comes to equal postbac opportunities for black and Latin American students. Only 2% of the latter demographic graduated with a master’s degree, compared to 5% for the former, and an increase did not occur between 1995 and 2010. Schools need to understand the roots of these gaps and work toward addressing them for a more diverse student body.

  10. America’s global ranking? 16 out of 26

    The United States may be the home of rugged individualism and an epidemic of “WE’RE #1!!!!!” but in reality it’s more like #16. Out of 26. When it comes to degree holders between the ages of 25 and 34, it lags behind many nations of similar economic advantages. In order to get back into a competitive groove, an additional 800,000 graduates need to enter the workforce each year, and the workforce itself needs 16 million employees to satisfy mounting demands.

Posted by Staff Writers | in Education | No Comments »

Skills for Success: Public Speaking Tips from President Obama

Dec. 18th 2012

Whatever your political persuasion, there’s no denying that President Obama is a powerful public speaker. And although you’re not likely to be speaking as the leader of the free world any time soon, anyone can make use of some of the best techniques that Obama uses in his speeches. Check out our favorite tips for speaking like President Obama, and share your own in the comments.

  • Slow down

    The most common mistake in public speaking is rushing through your material. Sure, you may be nervous, but it’s worth the effort to slow down and really make it count. Barack Obama is not in a hurry, and it helps him to stand out. He never rushes when he’s speaking, taking pauses and giving time to let things sink in before it’s time to move on.

  • Make them laugh, then make your point

    We see a lot of smiles and wit in President Obama’s speaking, and it works for him. Even when you’re listening to the President of the United States speak, it can be difficult to focus and give your uninterrupted attention. Obama takes advantage of spontaneous moments, like comments from the crowd, and uses lines that will get a laugh. But he doesn’t linger on the comedy, moving on to make his point as soon as the laughter quiets down.

  • Tell a story

    Barack Obama’s speechwriter, Jon Favreau, has shared that storytelling is one of the most important parts of every Obama speech. Favreau makes sure that every speech tells a story from beginning to end. This takes Obama’s speaking beyond the modern soundbite. Obama is talented at using stories to make a point, sharing the personal experiences of people he’s met or learned about to really bring messages to life.

  • Share a message of hope

    One of Obama’s most powerful tools is hope, a message that things can and will get better. People love to hope, and you don’t have to be the President of the United States to instill a feeling of hope in others. Discuss issues beyond the immediate, share the big picture, and remind your audience what they have to look forward to.

  • Share different moods

    Obama is great at showing light and shade, offering different moods that help create contrast and keep listeners engaged. Show a full range of emotion, building joy, humor, and seriousness into your speech.

  • Share the ideas of others

    Not even the President knows everything. Obama often brings in relevant quotes and insights from others. Quotes are especially useful because they can bring in expert support to really drive your point home.

  • Use imagery

    You could stand up with a PowerPoint slide and show a picture, but it’s much more poetic and powerful to paint a picture with imagination. When Obama says, “Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us,” it tugs at the heart strings as we imagine bleary-eyed soldiers uncomfortable and in harm’s way. These are the elements that make listeners pay attention and care about what you’re saying.

  • Make offerings, then move on to demands

    As the President, Obama has to speak to people who may not agree with everything he says, but by making offerings early on, he’s able to speak effectively and still keep their attention. Offering agreements or concessions can help bring a difficult audience over to your side.

  • Address your real audience

    Who are you really talking to? During the 2012 presidential debates, Obama looked more at the camera, while Mitt Romney focused more on the President. Although the conversation was technically between Obama and Romney, the real audience was the American people, and Obama spoke more directly to them.

  • Bonus: Own the room like Michelle Obama

    Barack Obama isn’t the only powerful speaker living in the White House these days. First Lady Michelle Obama frequently displays grace and poise in public speaking, offering a great example of how you can own the room. Even if you’re feeling rattled, be cool, calm, and collected to present your best self and instill a sense of confidence in your audience. Take your time, look at the audience, and deliver your speech with power.

Posted by Staff Writers | in Resources | No Comments »

Online Education: Non-Profits Fight Back?

Dec. 13th 2012

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Posted by Staff Writers | in Education, Technology | No Comments »

The Newest EdTech Apps: Our Favorite Picks for Students

Dec. 12th 2012

With classrooms growing increasingly more technology-oriented, it makes sense that developers latch onto the education sector when creating inspired new applications. The past year (roughly speaking) saw many different launches aiming to keep students (and, in some cases, teachers) better prepared and informed for whatever academia hurls their way. Like these!

  1. Khan Academy:

    The multimedia extravaganza overflows with high-quality video lessons in most academic subjects — especially math and the sciences — and stands at the forefront of the burgeoning trend toward open source education. Developers also included detailed study prep advice just to be sweetie pies.

  2. iTunes U:

    For iDevice users, the funtimes freebie iTunes U brings full classes and learning materials from top-notch colleges and universities like MIT and Oxford as well as institutions like the Library of Congress. Another entry celebrating edtech’s overlaps with open source initiatives.

  3. Marlee Signs:

    Learn all the basics of sign language from hearing-impaired, Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin’s extremely helpful videos available for iOS. While many reviewers discuss how they cannot fully replace working with a coach, they still tout these free, open-source lessons from an experienced professional as wholly valuable and viable.

  4. eProf.com:

    This new-ish online app sets up virtual classrooms where students of all backgrounds sign up for free or at-cost classes and full courses with experts and professionals. Unlike many interactive education platforms, this one unfolds in real-time and allows participants to consult with professors and their classmates as face-to-face as webcams get.

  5. Boundless:

    Over the past year, Boundless has connected online and device-carrying students with thousands of essential study resources, including complete textbooks. Best of all, their offerings come at absolutely no cost, making it perfect for the cash-crunched college kids out there.

  6. ClassOwl:

    Developed by Stanford students in 2011 (OK, we’re stretching the “newest,” but some warrant exceptions), this integrative organizer keeps track of assignments, events, and classes and offers up suggestions about best prioritizing obligations. Its intuitive system not only reminds kiddos of incoming deadlines but offers up personal assistance in learning how to best manage life’s little stressors.

  7. myHomework Student Planner:

    Available across most platforms, the handy myHomework provides an all-in-one planner for students on the go, as one can probably tell from the title. Schedule classes, set up due date reminders, sync, and even receive messages from connected teachers!

  8. Duolingo:

    Crowdsourcing and collaboration entice many toward online education initiatives, and Duolingo puts these concepts toward “translat[ing] the web.” Participants pick up free foreign language lessons in exchange for helping others translate websites and documents into their native tongue.

  9. iBooks Author:

    iBooks Author targets individuals hoping to compile and share lavish multimedia textbooks, though it enjoys applications amongst the student population. For one thing, the app allows them to create some beautiful, educational, book-like presentations on their iPads for creative, unique assignments.

  10. Project Noah:

    Social media meets citizen science in this biology-oriented site (with Android and iPhone apps) asking participants to upload animal, plant, and fungi photos for the pros to explore. If they can’t identify a particular specimen, the community chips in to offer suggestions, and everyone learns a little something along the way.

  11. ShowMe:

    A sterling example of merging crowdsourced content with open source philosophies, ShowMe acts as an iPad-based whiteboard for quick, easy, and painless presentations. Students not only show off their multimedia skills to their classes, but the site wants them to upload completed projects so others may learn from them.

  12. History: Maps of the World:

    Explore the world through interactive maps illustrating geopolitical and geographic shifts over time. Users peruse the various cartographies and read up on the historical (or, as the case may be, scientific) significance of each major change through text and ” in the future ” other media.

  13. Learnist Education:

    This is a new social media site (now in beta) inspired by the pinboard craze Pinterest initially launched. The education category at Learnist collects educational materials from students and teachers worldwide who want to contribute to humanity’s overarching knowledge without charging anything.

  14. Virtual Frog Dissection:

    Often hailed as a wonderful (and cheaper) alternative to formaldehyde-stinking amphibian corpses. For iPad-equipped classrooms and individuals, it makes science class run just as smoothly without compromising on the quality of understanding how the body works.

  15. Inspiration Maps:

    The old web app now presents itself on the iPad device, allowing for outlines and maps and other structures meant to get ideas down on … screen. Inspiration keeps projects organized and streamlined while ensuring those creative sparks don’t fizzle and pop into oblivion.

  16. Haiku Deck:

    Set up gorgeous slides for sharing presentations, writing stories, and mapping ideas with Haiku Deck’s simple, user-friendly interface. Best of all, said presentations, stories, and mind maps involve a right fair amount of multimedia for greater engagement and knowledge retention.

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Top 10 Issues Students Care About Today

Dec. 10th 2012

For our parents, the issues that got them out of the dorms and into the streets were war and free love. But AIDS kind of put a damper on the whole free love scene, and anti-war protests are almost nonexistent now. Though by most accounts college students were not nearly as involved in this year’s presidential election as they were in the historic ’08 race, they do have issues they get fired up about.

  1. Economy:

    When it comes to the top concern, college students are no different than the rest of Americans. They’ve seen the figures, how over half of recent college grads are either underemployed or unemployed, and they’re understandably alarmed. A Harvard Institute of Politics survey in April 2012 found nearly six in 10 young voters (ages 18-29) considered the economy their biggest worry. The issue has arguably been the most significant one facing students as far back as 2009, when the effects of the recession were first being widely felt. A national survey at the time by Money Management International found a third of students were having to change their college plans because of the poor economy.

  2. College finance:

    In visiting college campuses during the presidential race, both candidates in 2012 knew there was one subject their audiences insisted on hearing about: the soaring costs of getting a degree. More than 37 million Americans now have outstanding federal student loans, and the average student loan debt upon graduation is up to $26,500. Millions of students were closely monitoring the debate over raising the interest rate on federal loans this year, which fortunately was averted for 365 days. But you can bank on the fact that this issue is far from settled and will be at or near the top of students’ priorities list until it is.

  3. Sustainability:

    The college campus has undeniably become the epicenter of the sustainability movement in the U.S. Combining the sense of community inherent to university with a shared realization that certain global resources could disappear in their lifetime, college students have taken action by recycling, raising their own food, and living green. For example, Recyclemania has grown from a contest between Ohio and Miami Universities in 2001 to a nationwide battle involving hundreds of schools and millions of college students, while preventing the release of hundreds of thousands of metric tons of CO2 and waste. Really, it’s harder to find a school that doesn’t have some kind of sustainability or recycling program, and more often than not it’s the students who have called for these initiatives.

  4. Gay marriage:

    This one’s such a hot-button topic it’s no surprise to find college students getting involved. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum (remember him?) got some students’ opinion on the matter first-hand in the form of boos to his comparison between same-sex marriage and polygamy. When Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy waded into the debate this summer, college students from NYU to Appalachian State and a handful of other schools protested and drafted petitions calling for the closing of their campus Chick-fil-A branches. And as more red state governments vote on gay marriage bans, it has been college students who have become some of the loudest voices of opposition.

  5. Reproductive rights:

    Birth control and reproductive health became a major point of contention this year, and it was a college student who became the face of the story. After originally being denied a chance to testify to the House about a new contraceptive coverage law for religiously affiliated universities specifically because she was a college student, Sandra Fluke of Georgetown Law showed the country just how important the issue was to college women specifically. From the large crowds that gather to hear panel discussions to the popularity of roving “love labs”, students clearly value their reproductive freedom highly and will make their voices heard when attempts to restrict that freedom are launched.

  6. Abortion:

    Abortion is a part of the reproductive rights discussion, but it’s such a big issue by itself it deserves its own mention. While some subjects like gay marriage tend to bring out mainly pro voices at the collegiate level, abortion prompts heated vocalizations of opinion on both sides among students. Often these strong stances pit student against student, with the administration either looking for the nearest rock to crawl under or going the other direction and getting all disciplinarian. Of course, there are also times when the debate is civil, but unfortunately such occurrences seem to be in the minority.

  7. Health insurance:

    As with reproductive rights and student loans, health insurance has become a dominant issue in the minds of college students because of government action on the subject. Cash-strapped students were relieved to hear that with the Supreme Court’s upholding Obamacare, they would be allowed to remain on their parents’ plans until the age of 26. College papers dutifully attempted to point this out to their readers, who unfortunately have been shown to be out of touch with reality when it comes to their chances for receiving health care coverage from their first employer out of college. All they know is, with real wages going down and medical costs going up, they don’t want to be caught uninsured should a need for medical care ever arise.

  8. Internet censorship:

    College students really do care about protecting their Internet privacy; they just suck at doing it themselves. On one hand they want to tweet photos of themselves half-naked in the bathroom, but mention SOPA or PIPA to them and they will climb on the nearest soap box. College students are one of the biggest blocks of users of sites like Wikipedia, which went dark for 24 hours in January to protest the allegedly malicious Stop Online Piracy Act, with the full support of many colleges around the country. Two Canadian college students even created an app called “Boycott SOPA” to register their disgust.

  9. Immigration:

    No fewer than 700,000 students are illegal immigrants, who obviously have a serious stake in the debate over whether to allow them to remain in the country. But even though they aren’t directly affected by the DREAM Act, homegrown students also stay informed on the issue. When undocumented university employees are let go, for example, they take the administration to task and even discourage freshmen from enrolling. However, that’s not to say the issue is completely one-sided. The subject is also an important one to conservative students and even independent students who aren’t always thrilled with what they’re seeing regarding immigration.

  10. Climate change:

    Remember how we said college students are all in about sustainability? Well, this is why. With academics on hand drilling into them the very real danger of climate change, students have taken notice and are beginning to join the conversation in real ways. Whether its demanding their administrations pull funds out of dirty energy companies or beating the pavement to spread the word about global warming, students are clearly giving the issue more than the passing attention much of the rest of the country is currently offering.

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10 Techy Career Paths for Liberal Arts Majors

Dec. 6th 2012


In a national dialogue around education that seems to be getting increasingly heated, one of the main bones of contention is whether, and to what degree, we ought to emphasize STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at the expense of a more classical education in the liberal arts. Thanks to public statements by Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs, we can even fit this controversy neatly into the rubric of everyone’s favorite argument: a Mac vs. PC flamewar! While we’re more partial to the Jobs perspective that “computer science is a liberal art,” the bottom line is, any education is good education, and we should help people pursue what they’re most talented at. That said, there are plenty of opportunities in high tech even for students who prefer Stendhal to STEM. Career paths of this nature will tend to be highly individualized and idiosyncratic. Furthermore, at the most innovative tech companies, job titles are often totally arbitrary, empty conventions, with responsibilities divided ad hoc and constantly changing. But just as examples, here are 10 jobs in the field that liberal arts majors may find particularly congenial:

  1. Blogging/Copywriting

    Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The World Wide Web has grown from a hobbyists’ paradise to a vast and lucrative ecosystem of both ideas and commerce. One thing remains true, though, as Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone (and later Bill Gates) famously said: “Content is king.” Even as the Web 2.0 model of monetizing free user content continues its apparent dominance, there remain many ways to get paid for your writing online. You can start your own site and figure out a way to monetize it, or you can go the other route and find a job (ahem, ahem) writing for an established web company. This has benefits such as, well, benefits, and a steady salary.

  2. Game Design

    Video games have been called the next Hollywood. Measured by fandom, by sheer profit, or even by artistic innovation, the industry is on the tantalizing verge of eclipsing the movies. Just like that great, defining 20th century art form (or any art form), however, producing the games themselves is partly a matter of technical know-how, and partly a matter of creative artistry. Storytelling, aesthetics, psychology, and so many more factors go into this incredibly interdisciplinary undertaking. It’s a competitive (of course) industry that requires a real passion and a ton of work, but there are many angles from which to approach a career in it.

  3. Customer Support

    There are still some good tech support jobs in America that haven’t been outsourced to foreign countries. In fact, there’s been a backlash against that practice, and for good reason. The main skill required for the job is an ability to work through confusion to clarity, with other human beings, via conversation, in real time. Coincidentally, this is precisely what liberal arts students do in those silly seminars of theirs all afternoon. The technical aspect of this job is surprisingly secondary, especially since it’s often for a single product that you’ll come to know like the back of your hand (which you’ll also, despite your well-practiced diplomacy, want to give to the millionth customer who didn’t try a simple restart).

  4. Technical Writing

    So maybe you weren’t the extroverted and spontaneous type who rattled off brilliant ideas in the aforementioned seminars. Maybe you made up for it with A+ term papers at the end of each semester: rigorously argued, meticulously sourced, and precisely worded to nail your thesis down. If that kind of solitary, painstaking work is more your style, then technical writing may be for you. Effective communication skills are still the name of the game, but in a more premeditated context.

  5. Project Management

    Project managers must be generalists who are able to read people well and synthesize diverse areas of experience. They must know every team member’s task just well enough to understand how it works and its importance to the whole. This holistic thinking is cultivated in the liberal arts domain, and perhaps even more so in extracurricular activities: the best example might be putting on a play, where you have to integrate so many working parts into a seamless human machine in time for a strict deadline (opening night).

  6. Social Media

    In a difficult job market for recent graduates, this has become almost a cliche entry-level job for twentysomethings. Managers naturally assume we’re better at it than older people (and thank God, because otherwise baby boomers would be hogging all the jobs); it’s basically the corporate equivalent of helping your grandparents learn how to use email or program their VCR. As this linked article from PR pro Nathan Burgess explains well, liberal arts students are often naturals at social media, because they’re trained to be inquisitive and hone in on interesting things to talk about.

  7. Quality Assurance

    QA is essentially preemptive tech support. You’re checking a product for bugs, glitches, unexplored contingencies, and just plain annoyances. This job can be very rigorous and technical, but it requires gestalt thinking and an understanding of how non-techie people will approach technology. Ignoring this latter factor is a common mistake that can lead to commercial failure, whereas paying attention to it is a huge part of Apple’s success, for instance.

  8. Digital Humanities

    If you’d prefer a career in the ivory tower, but still want to combine your interest in the cutting edge of technology with your love of the timeless verities, here’s a chance to get in on the ground floor. Digital humanities is the name for efforts to integrate the latest information technology advances in a meaningful way that creates genuinely new ways to understand and promulgate the traditionally paper-bound world of arts and letters. This is guaranteed to be a growth field; academic funding will increasingly move in this direction, and these skills provide an edge in a workplace where seniority otherwise carries disproportionate clout. If you’re someone who can both translate ancient Greek and code iOS, there’s not just an app, there’s an endowed chair for that.

  9. Entrepreneurship

    Granted, this one’s a little easier if you don’t have mountains of student loan debt, because you’re likely to incur some more (on your way to billionaire status, of course). Also, all the same people who told you you were crazy for double-majoring in Art History and Slavic Studies will also tell you you’re crazy for starting a business. They’re probably right, but screw ‘em. After all, Steve Jobs dropped out of his degree program altogether, studied calligraphy, then went backpacking in India. Did that make him any more or less qualified to be an entrepreneur than you are now?

  10. Software Development

    Yes, even this path is not foreclosed to you just yet, and here are a few reasons why. For one thing, the demand is huge. If you’re a decent coder you can pretty much literally write your own ticket to success. For another thing, because the popular and lucrative programming languages are always in flux, years of experience and study don’t always count for as much as you’d think. Even the original gangstas of programming need to constantly update their skills. Furthermore, this is just as easily done through practical on-the-job experience as through formal education. However, that’s another thing to consider for all of these jobs: additional training and certification can never hurt. Most of the time it doesn’t matter what you’ve studied in the past, as long as you can hack it in the present. If you’re a quick study, there’s no reason you can’t bone up on this stuff, pass some certifications, and start working.

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Mobile Lives of College Students

Dec. 4th 2012

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Where’s Siri in the Classroom?

Dec. 4th 2012

At the time of its release with the iPhone 4S on Oct. 4, 2011, the personal assistant software known as Siri was touted as AI without compare in consumer electronics. It was going to revolutionize computing just as the Mac had done. Though not specifically an educational program, many in the academic field believed Siri could soon come to play a big part in the classroom … but that hasn’t happened. We’re looking into where Siri has made some inroads and why the smooth-talking lady has had a rough go.

How it’s being used

  • Record-keeping:

    This seems to be the most common way Siri is being employed in classroom settings. Today’s teachers have to maintain copious amounts of documentation on their kids, and many have streamlined the process of note-taking and documenting conferences with students and parents by using Siri.

  • Calling and emailing:

    These are among the top uses of Siri in the general population, and teachers are no exception. With her they don’t have to lose their place in gradebooks and exams when they come across the need to call or email a parent or a colleague about a troubled student or an upcoming meeting.

  • Problem solving:

    Kansas teacher Marsha Ratzel’s students used their iDevices to gather info for an estimation problem involving diapers in a large shipping package. While it couldn’t give them the exact answer, it did help them discover info on the different sizes of diapers that helped them reach a solution.

  • Setting reminders:

    The reminder function of Siri is one of its biggest draws for adult users. With it, school kids are able to keep track of homework, projects, and tests with just a word to their animatronic friend.

  • Note-taking:

    Although better options exist (see below), older students in high school and college can and are putting Siri to work taking notes and transcribing lectures.

  • Opening apps:

    If anyone has their hands full on a typical work day, it’s teachers. Siri now has the ability to open apps by voice command and teachers, who are always looking for ways to save time, are taking them up on it.

  • Cheating:

    Oh dear. As the student in this video discovered, Siri makes cheating a cinch for the right classes. And if it’s that easy, we have to assume other unscrupulous kids are using the software dishonestly.

Why Siri hasn’t caught on

  • Siri kind of sucks:

    Reason numero uno for why Siri is unpopular: a lot of people think it doesn’t work very well. And these people aren’t just Google fanboys; everyone from TechCrunch to Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak have voiced their displeasure with her abilities. Either she’s having trouble connecting, or she’s turning your dictation into gibberish, or she’s bringing you web results you didn’t ask for. Apple has even been sued for overstating its claims of Siri’s abilities.

  • She doesn’t play well with children:

    Today’s kids are not an audience that is going to be patient with technology that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. They’re too used to products that deliver what they want, quickly and accurately. As The Digital Shift pointed out just a month after Siri’s release, when the software malfunctions in kids’ hands, learning moments are lost and curiosity wanes. In such a case, no tech is better than high tech.

  • Apple doesn’t really stand by her:

    To date, Apple’s website continues to refer to Siri as “beta only” (in fine print at the bottom, of course). As in, beta testing, a stage usually reserved for unfinished, unshipped products. It’s like they’re leaving the designation in place as a way of writing off complaints. Their answer to the functionality lawsuit? If you hated Siri so much, you should have brought the phone back. It’s easy to see why teachers have little motivation to introduce the software into their classes, as Apple’s push to get Siri into classrooms has been nonexistent compared to their efforts to sell iPads as an educational tool.

  • Siri has privacy issues:

    What goes on in a classroom should obviously be above-board and open to inspection by anyone. Still, Siri’s data collecting is vague and advanced enough to reasonably give parents and teachers pause before allowing it to be used in school. Siri gets her amazing ability to learn by collecting info on what is being searched for, where she’s being used, patterns of usage like what time of day and for how long, even the tone of voice of the speaker, all things people have been uncomfortable turning over to Apple.

  • She hasn’t been very available:

    iPads are taking education by storm. One-to-one iPad initiatives, where every student is given a device, are all the rage. However, Siri has not been a part of the equation because neither the original iPad nor the iPad 2 came with Siri compatibility. The iPad 3, released Sept. 19, 2012, was the first to have Siri functionality, meaning Siri’s only appearance in the classroom until very recently has been on the iPhone. To get iPads with Siri now would require schools to replace their current iPads, which are at most barely two years old.

  • There are other simpler and/or better options out there:

    Google Voice Search is Siri’s main competition in the “personal digital assistant” niche and many claim it’s more popular than Siri even with iPhone users. But for dictation, there’s market leader Dragon (for both Android and Apple), plus a new app called Evi by the same company. For other functions like web searching and reminder setting, there are dozens of apps and programs that work just as well as Siri, only they require button-pressing, which it seems has not been burdensome enough for teachers or students to make the switch to voice.

  • Teachers may be wary Siri could inhibit learning:

    Granted, it would be difficult for a student to use voice recognition software to cheat on a test in a small, quiet classroom. But educators have to think beyond the classroom walls, and they probably aren’t wild about the notion of Siri replacing learning. Teachers could hardly be blamed for keeping Siri at arm’s length, seeing as it is specifically designed to take the work out of daily life, and a student’s daily life revolves around learning. The teachers that are using Siri are having to get creative with the software, restricting questions to only ones Siri can’t answer. In other words, Siri seems almost more trouble than it’s worth.

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