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Study finds gender gap in who asks questions in academic seminars December 14 2017
Men are two and a half times more likely to ask a question in an academic seminar than women, according to a major study that offers further explanation of female underrepresentation in science. Researchers who collected observational data from 247 departmental seminars at 35 institutions in 10 countries found that the two and a half times difference significantly misrepresented the gender ratio of the audience, which was, on average, equal. In a paper published on the ArXiv preprint server, the authors argue that the lack of female visibility in seminars may be both a symptom and a cause of the “leaky pipeline,” which describes the high attrition rate of women in science fields, with a lack of female role models leading junior researchers to believe that the academy is not a place where women succeed and subsequently to choose a different career. The observational data were backed up by an online survey completed by 638 academics in 20 countries, which found that 60 percent of women and 47 percent of men believed that there was bias in favor of men asking questions. While the vast majority of both male and female survey respondents (92 percent) admitted that they did not always ask a question when they had one, women were much more likely to report that they “couldn’t work up the nerve,” that they found the speaker too “intimidating” or that they did not “feel clever enough.” Alecia Carter, Alyssa Croft, Dieter Lukas and Gillian Sandstrom write that most men are simply “not aware of the bias” and most women “identify internal factors as holding them back from asking questions.” Interestingly, the observational data indicated that if a woman asked the first question, the people who asked subsequent questions were generally representative of the audience. If a man asked the first question, however, men were disproportionately more likely to ask questions. The length of time allowed for questions also had a significant effect, with the imbalance shrinking over time and typically disappearing at about 50 minutes of questions. The paper suggests that moderators could play an important role in stopping questioners “showing off,” taking too much time or digressing. But speaking to Times Higher Education, a number of academics argued that the problem was more deep-seated. Leonor Goncalves, a postdoctoral research associate in neuroscience at University College London, said that asking questions in a seminar was a “minefield.” “You find that a lot of men asking questions do it as a way of making sure people know who they are … It’s not about how good or pertinent you are, it is ultimately about how loud and confident you sound.” Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary care health sciences at the University of Oxford, said that most men “are respectful of women and motivated to ensure balanced panels.” But, she added, “The problem is it only takes one man in a room full of 500 to let out a wolf whistle, cackle, groan or other off-putting comment, and (to a young researcher who has just plucked up the courage to ask her first question) it feels like the whole room is against you.” One of the authors, Carter, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Cambridge, said that the researchers did not aim to “imply that women should ask questions when they don’t want to or to discourage men from asking questions.” “With these caveats, I do hope that if both men and women are aware of the imbalance in question asking that we highlight, then it could help to address the issue of women’s visibility at a local level, which would, hopefully, help to address the larger problem of gender imbalance in academia.” Editorial Tags: Sciences/Tech/Engineering/MathTimes Higher EdWomenIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 
Footnote relishes fact that no one will read it December 14 2017
This story is about a textbook, specifically a textbook on statistics, published in 2007. Still reading? Hoping to combat inattentive, lazy or uninterested students, the authors of Stats: Modeling the World titled their introductory chapter “Chapter 1: Stats Starts Here.” They explained their methodology in a footnote, found on the first page of the chapter. The footnote boldly declares: This chapter might have been called “Introduction,” but nobody reads the introduction, and we wanted you to read this. We feel safe admitting this here, in the footnote, because nobody reads footnotes either. But it appears that at least a few people have indeed read the footnote. The passage was recently pointed out by the Twitter account Academia Obscura, which aims to highlight the weird and obscure side of academe, often highlighting passages from books. The book was quickly identified in the replies to the tweet as the 2007 edition of Stats: Modeling the World. That identification was confirmed by a PDF version of the book found online, and in other instances it’s gone semiviral on other sites. Nobody reads footnotes… — Academia Obscura (@AcademiaObscura) December 13, 2017 A sociologist picked it up on her blog in 2011 from College Humor, and the picture appeared on Reddit in 2013, where it was lifted from Those weren’t the last times it was posted on Reddit or Imgur, though -- it appeared on both sites again in 2015. It’s also appeared on Pinterest. It’s not clear who first posted the footnote. Like an introductory chapter in a college textbook, that part appears to have been skipped over in the never-ending race to post viral content. Unlike an introduction chapter, however, people appear to keep reading the passage, spreading it around to different corners of the internet as they do. Based on Inside Higher Ed's rigorous research, there appear to be at least two different versions of the photo, based on the way shadows fall in the pictures depicting the passage. At least two students assigned to read the book, perhaps, were not fooled by the footnote. But how well did the footnote work? How well did the authors really evade detection of their trickery before it was picked up by College Humor? Were they called out earlier? Contact information for one of the authors, David E. Bock, was not immediately available, although he has posted a comment to this article. Richard De Veaux, a statistics professor at Williams College, replied in an email sent to him and the other co-author, Paul Velleman, of Cornell University, to say he couldn’t properly open the link, but he posited that “it’s important enough that we should write something together.” By press time, and after a follow-up inquiry, no response had come. It appears the origins of the footnote’s history prior to 2011 will remain a mystery. But who came up with it? Had the authors ever gotten feedback on it? How well did their strategy to rebrand the introduction as “Chapter 1” work? How long did it take for students to notice the footnote? Answers to these questions -- much like a student’s will to read an introductory chapter of a statistics textbook -- remain nonexistent. Update: In an email sent after this article's original publication, Velleman delivered some clarity on the footnote. "Of course, our purpose wasn't to get students to read the footnotes, but to entice them into reading the book itself," he said in an email that he declared was "more useful than what you posted." "Our gambit seems to have worked well. We’ve had many responses to this footnote, including emails from students assuring us that they do indeed read the footnotes. And more notes from students saying that they have read the book. Some even express wonder that they did that when they aren’t used to reading textbooks. We’ve even had notes from parents like the one that said, 'My daughter doesn’t read books. But she’s reading your textbook!'" he continued. "So it is a good example of how some well-placed humor can help instruction." Editorial Tags: BooksIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 
Should professors talk about now-notable former students? December 14 2017
Sometimes professors have positive memories of students, and sometimes they don’t. They usually don’t share their memories publicly -- at least with names -- either way. Yet sometimes they’re asked to weigh in on the intellect or character of a former student, or feel the need to do so -- particularly when those students become public figures. Case in point: Guy V. Martin, an adjunct professor of law at the University of Alabama, wrote a deeply unflattering op-ed for earlier this year about the Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Much of the piece was about teaching Moore -- or trying to, unsuccessfully. “If Moore's analysis of a case was tantamount to thinking 1 + 1 = 3, and his classmates reasoned otherwise, there was no backing down by Moore,” Martin wrote. “The class was willing to fight to the death against illogic that no legal mind but one in America would espouse.” Moore never won a single argument, “and the debates got ugly and personal. The result: gone was the fulfillment a teacher hopes for in the still peace of logic and learning.” Martin added, “I had no choice but to abandon the Socratic method of class participation in favor of the lecture mode because of one student: Roy Moore.” The op-ed, published in September, didn’t stop Moore from winning his state’s Republican primary. (Rather, it seems an entirely different kind of specter from Moore’s past -- his alleged predatory behavior involving young teenage girls -- was his undoing in this week’s general election.) Martin’s impact aside, can and should professors talk publicly about their past students? FERPA and Beyond Institutions guard their students’ privacy, and indeed, they’re required to under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA, as it’s known, prohibits the disclosure of personally identifiable information gleaned from education records. Records, according to the U.S. Education Department, mean documents directly related to a student, maintained by an institution or agency. Information obtained through personal knowledge or observation are not records under FERPA, however. So, legally speaking, professors are clear to talk about their students -- past or present -- as long as they’re not disclosing anything they’ve learned from official documents, written or recorded. They might say a student is bright (or not), but not disclose that students' grade, for example. Brett Sokolow, an attorney and president and CEO of the campus safety consulting firm the NCHERM Group, said this week that FERPA-protected information remains so “even many years after graduation.” But professors and even administrators can share what they know about someone based on talk or direct interaction. That includes what “might leave a perception of someone’s intelligence,” Sokolow said. Martin is not the first professor to talk about a student. Robert George, McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence at Princeton University, talked to The Atlantic earlier this year about his former advisee, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. But he did so, glowingly, in a joint interview with Cruz. The late William T. Kelley, former professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, also allegedly told a friend many times that a former student, one Donald Trump, was “dumbest goddamn student I ever had.” Yet Frank DiPrima, the friend, shared those comments in a piece for Daily Kos some six years after Kelley’s passing, after Trump became President Trump. Laurence Tribe, a professor of law at Harvard University, once discussed former student Barack Obama in a National Public Radio interview, but probably not in a way that Obama would have minded. “He wanted to make a difference,” Tribe said of Obama. “He wanted to learn how the system worked.” Mitt Romney also might have approved what Detlev Vagts, professor of business at Harvard, said about his time there in a parallel NPR interview, in 2012: “He had a very strong business school record, and a good but not outstanding law school record." Biographers and reporters love to delve into politicians’ pasts, but they almost always quote fellow students from the time, not professors -- and probably not for a lack of trying. It was a fellow Baylor University swim team member who once told The New Yorker that Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky got high on laughing gas, via a scuba mask and nitrous oxide tanks procured from a dentistry classmate, for example. In any case, it remains the exception that professors publicly discuss their past students. But that appears to be a matter of ethics, not law or policy. Law Versus Ethics In an interview this week with Inside Higher Ed, Martin said he was within his rights in talking about Moore and ethically clear, if not obligated, to do so -- in the public interest. “He’s a public figure,” Martin said of Moore. “If he’d stayed private, I would have strayed away from this. But several people asked me to speak out, and this is a matter of his fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution.” (Moore, a Christian, has argued that “God’s law” supersedes state and federal law; he was removed from his position as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court twice, first for refusing a federal court’s order to remove a Ten Commandments monument he’d installed in the Alabama Judicial Building, in 2003, and again in 2016 for telling state probate judges to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality.) But to what extent does someone’s decades-old student performance inform their current abilities? In Moore’s case, very much so, Martin said, asserting that his former student has demonstrated time and again -- including as former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court -- that he hasn’t changed. “He demonstrated the same inability to hear the other side, taking extreme positions and not listening to reason,” even when his court seat was at risk, Martin said. “Had he been a changed person, that would have been different.” The American Association of University Professors takes a somewhat different view in its “Statement on Professional Ethics.” The document says, in part, that professors “respect the confidential nature of the relationship between professor and student.” Greg Scholtz, director of academic freedom, tenure and governance for the association, said it “seems obvious” that that obligation would “discourage” teachers from disclosing information about the classroom performance of their students. Yet it’s doubtful that such a responsibility applies 30 or 40 years after a student has graduated, he said. (Moore is 70.) Sokolow, of NCHERM, said he thought that professors and administrators each have to decide for themselves whether it’s appropriate to comment on a student who’s achieved some level of “notoriety.” Sometimes, he said, “doing so is providing a public service, and sometimes it is just gossip. It’s more ethical when it's a public service.” Editorial Tags: FacultyTeachingImage Source: Getty ImagesImage Caption: Roy MooreIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 
House GOP pushes innovation and deregulation with Higher Education Act overhaul December 14 2017
The Republican-led Congress's early attempt at rewriting the federal Higher Education Act uses incentives and deregulation to encourage new twists on college, including competency-based education, short-term programs and nonaccredited providers. Experts continue to absorb details about the complex bill from Republican leaders on the U.S. House of Representatives’ education committee, which on Tuesday voted to pass a 590-page version. Some applauded the innovation push but worry about the bill’s lack of “guardrails” that seek to keep low-quality offerings in check. “We’re trying to not look at all the negatives, but rather be heartened by the fact that they’re having the right conversations,” said Lexi Barrett, senior director for national education policy at Jobs for the Future. Likewise, the Business Roundtable, a CEO-led group that has the ear of the majority party in Congress and the White House, praised the bill. “It wisely shifts policy to focus on the skills the American work force needs, reduces federal regulations and paperwork, and aligns closely with the CEOs’ priorities,” the group said this week in a written statement. Relatively few colleges had given competency-based education a whirl in 2008, when the Higher Education Act got its last overhaul. But the bill attempts to give a boost to both the hundreds of institutions now at least mulling the creation of a competency-based program as well as to Western Governors University, the most established and largest institution in the space. Perhaps most notably on this front, the House GOP’s plan would drop the law’s definition of a credit-hour standard. This move would give competency-based programs that are self-paced and untethered from seat-time requirements access to federal financial aid programs. In recent years, a handful of these so-called direct-assessment programs have earned approval from the U.S. Department of Education and regional accreditors, but only after a laborious process. Likewise, the bill would distribute Pell Grant funds more often, on a weekly or monthly basis, which would be particularly helpful given the flexible scheduling used by many competency-based programs. Several experts said they appreciate the committee’s attempt to move beyond the credit hour and to create room within federal rules for competency-based education, which could encourage more colleges to offer the credentials. But they also said the bill, as currently written, could allow low-quality programs to cash in with federal aid. For example, New America’s education policy program said in a written statement that the bill may be “too much, too fast.” The group instead praised the approach of a bipartisan House proposal to create a “demonstration project” that would serve as a sort of laboratory for what works in competency-based education while also protecting students and taxpayers. That bill would require colleges to evaluate their competencies and translate them to credit hours. “While competency-based education has significant potential to help students complete their degrees on their own (faster or slower) schedules,” New America said, “opening the floodgates too quickly presents a huge risk, to students and to the field.” Faculty Interaction Requirements The bill would drop the law’s definition of distance education, leaving only its current counterpoint definition, for correspondence-course providers. It also would remove federal rules that, beginning next year, would have required online providers to get authorization from each state in which they enroll students. Likewise, the GOP’s proposal would no longer include the distance education provision’s definition of “regular and substantive interaction” between faculty members and students. That requirement has caused headaches for Western Governors University because of a critical audit report released this year by the department’s Office of Inspector General (although experts have said no administration would act on the office’s recommendation that the popular university be labeled a correspondence-course provider). Tweaked wording for regular-and-substantive interaction appears in the bill’s revision to the definition of competency-based education. It would require that such a program “provides the educational content, activities and resources, including substantive instructional interaction, including by faculty, and regular support by the institution, necessary to enable students to learn or develop what is required to demonstrate and attain mastery of such competencies, as assessed by the accrediting agency or association of the institution of higher education.” The new phrasing appears to subtly address the inspector general’s line of critique of WGU and competency-based education more broadly, said Russ Poulin, director of policy and analysis at WCET, which is a division of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. One reason, he said in a written statement, is because the bill does not necessarily limit instructional interaction to a faculty member. Over all, Poulin said, he likes the bill’s support for competency-based education and its move to drop the distance-education requirement. “It’s time to come up with updated safeguards,” he said, that don’t “keep us from innovating.” But Deb Bushway, who has worked on competency-based education as a former administrator at Capella University, the University of Wisconsin Extension and as a senior policy adviser to the department during the Obama administration, and others worried about how far the shift goes on regular-and-substantive interaction. “Right now faculty interaction, as I read it, is completely optional,” she said. “I’m not sure that’s a quality program.” Alternative and Short-Term Programs The bill would reduce the amount of time an academic program must last in order to qualify for federal financial aid, extending aid eligibility to more short-term certificates and subdegree credentials. Currently, federal aid cannot be used for programs that are shorter than 600 clock hours or 15 weeks in length. The GOP’s proposal would drop that requirement to a minimum of 300 hours or 10 weeks. A bipartisan U.S. Senate bill also seeks a shorter time requirement for Pell. Such a change could be good news for community colleges, many of which offer short-term credentials. “Providing federal aid to students enrolled in shorter programs has been one of our top reauthorization priorities,” the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees said in a joint letter distributed this week. “If enacted, this will dramatically enhance the ability of students who are focused on specific work-force and related aptitudes to take advantage of program offerings.” Work-force-oriented groups and experts generally applauded the proposal. However, some worried about the bill’s lack of an attempt to ensure that short-term credentials have value in the job market. For example, the bill does not include the terms “stackable” or “career pathway,” said Kermit Kaleba, federal policy director for the National Skills Coalition. “The fact that those terms show up nowhere is disappointing,” he said. New America also criticized the bill’s lack of quality-assurance measures for short-term programs, such as minimum floors for student completion and job placement. That could be problematic, the group said, given data that shows many short-term credentials fail to lead to well-paying jobs. “This provision will undoubtedly lead to more students taking on debt for credentials of little to no value,” New America wrote. Another somewhat controversial piece of the House bill would allow colleges to tap alternative education providers -- meaning nonaccredited ones that are unable to access federal aid programs -- to offer all educational and instructional content of programs and courses. Currently, colleges can only outsource half of the academic side of a program or course, except through the limited EQUIP experiment started by the Obama administration, which features eight partnerships between colleges and nonaccredited providers. Poulin said he generally supports the move to drop the 50 percent requirement, but only with “more guardrails” than the current language includes. Going farther was Barrett from Jobs for the Future. While she said EQUIP and nontraditional providers, including those that offer competency-based credentials, show plenty of promise, they also pose challenges to regulators and accreditors. “Because these sorts of players are new … that makes the risks that much greater,” said Barrett. “We don’t want the door opened too wide.” Editorial Tags: Adult educationCompetency-based learningDistance educationFederal policyOnline learningImage Caption: Representative Virginia Foxx (right) during a House education committee hearing this yearIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: