Faculty News


September 27, Thursday, Dr. Richard Arum, New York University Professor and co-author of Academically Adrift, will be the CTFD guest speaker. You can download it to an e-reader for under $10. The Launch Event will be a lot more compelling if you have read Arum's work beforehand!

Are Undergraduates Actually Learning Anything?

By Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa

Drawing on survey responses, transcript data, and results from the Collegiate Learning Assessment (a standardized test taken by students in their first semester and at the end of their second year), Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa concluded that a significant percentage of undergraduates are failing to develop the broad-based skills and knowledge they should be expected to master. Here is an excerpt from Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press), their new book based on those findings.


"With regard to the quality of research, we tend to evaluate faculty the way the Michelin guide evaluates restaurants," Lee Shulman, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, recently noted. "We ask, 'How high is the quality of this cuisine relative to the genre of food? How excellent is it?' With regard to teaching, the evaluation is done more in the style of the Board of Health. The question is, 'Is it safe to eat here?'" Our research suggests that for many students currently enrolled in higher education, the answer is: not particularly. Growing numbers of students are sent to college at increasingly higher costs, but for a large proportion of them the gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication are either exceedingly small or empirically nonexistent. At least 45 percent of students in our sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in Collegiate Learning Assessment [CLA] performance during the first two years of college. [Further study has indicated that 36 percent of students did not show any significant improvement over four years.] While these students may have developed subject-specific skills that were not tested for by the CLA, in terms of general analytical competencies assessed, large numbers of U.S. college students can be accurately described as academically adrift. They might graduate, but they are failing to develop the higher-order cognitive skills that it is widely assumed college students should master. These findings are sobering and should be a cause for concern.

'ACADEMICALLY ADRIFT': Read an Excerpt From the New Book

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COMMENTARY: 'Trust Us' Won't Cut It Anymore

While higher education is expected to accomplish many tasks—and contemporary colleges and universities have indeed contributed to society in ways as diverse as producing pharmaceutical patents as well as prime-time athletic games—existing organizational cultures and practices too often do not put a high priority on undergraduate learning. Faculty and administrators, working to meet multiple and at times competing demands, too rarely focus on either improving instruction or demonstrating gains in student learning.

More troubling still, the limited learning we have observed in terms of the absence of growth in CLA performance is largely consistent with the accounts of many students, who report that they spend increasing numbers of hours on nonacademic activities, including working, rather than on studying. They enroll in courses that do not require substantial reading or writing assignments; they interact with their professors outside of classrooms rarely, if ever; and they define and understand their college experiences as being focused more on social than on academic development.

Moreover, we find that learning in higher education is characterized by persistent and/or growing inequality. There are significant differences in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills when comparing groups of students from different family backgrounds and racial/ethnic groups. More important, not only do students enter college with unequal demonstrated abilities, but those inequalities tend to persist—or, in the case of African-American students relative to white students, increase—while they are enrolled in higher education.

Despite the low average levels of learning and persistent inequality, we have also observed notable variation in student experiences and outcomes, both across and within institutions. While the average level of performance indicates that students in general are embedded in higher-education institutions where only very modest academic demands are placed on them, exceptional students, who have demonstrated impressive growth over time on CLA performance, exist in all the settings we examined. In addition, students attending certain high-performing institutions had more-beneficial college experiences in terms of experiencing rigorous reading/writing requirements and spending more hours studying. Students attending these institutions demonstrated significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than did students enrolled elsewhere.

The Implications of Limited Learning

Notwithstanding the variation and the positive experiences in certain contexts, the prevalence of limited learning on today's college campuses is troubling indeed. While the historian Helen Horowitz's work reminds us that the phenomenon of limited learning in higher education has a long and venerable tradition in this country—in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, "college discipline conflicted with the genteel upbringing of the elite sons of Southern gentry and Northern merchants"—this outcome today occurs in a fundamentally different context. Contemporary college graduates generally do not leave school with the assumption that they will ultimately inherit the plantations or businesses of their fathers. Occupational destinations in modern economies are increasingly dependent on an individual's academic achievements. The attainment of long-term occupational success in the economy requires not only academic credentials, but very likely also academic skills. As report after blue-ribbon report has reminded us, today's jobs require "knowledge, learning, information, and skilled intelligence." These are cognitive abilities that, unlike Herrnstein and Murray's immutable IQ construct, can be learned and developed at school.

Something else has also changed. After World War II, the United States dramatically expanded its higher-education system and led the world for decades, often by a wide margin, in the percentage of young people it graduated from college. Over the past two decades, while the U.S. higher-education system has grown only marginally, the rest of the world has not been standing still. As Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, has observed: "In the 1990s, however, as the importance of a college-educated work force in a global economy became clear, other nations began making the kinds of dramatic gains that had characterized American higher education earlier. In contrast, by the early 1990s, the progress the United States had made in increasing college participation had come to a virtual halt. For most of the 1990s, the United States ranked last among 14 nations in raising college-participation rates, with almost no increase during the decade."

For the first time in recent history, many countries today graduate higher percentages of their youth from college than does the United States. While the United States still ranks second among Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in terms of adult workers' bachelor-level-degree attainment, it has dropped to sixth when higher-education attainment of only the most recent cohort of young adults is considered. "We may still have more than our share of the world's best universities. But a lot of other countries have followed our lead, and they are now educating more of their citizens to more advanced levels than we are," the recent federal report "A Test of Leadership" observed. "Worse, they are passing us by at a time when education is more important to our collective prosperity than ever."

The U.S. higher-education system has in recent years arguably been living off its reputation as being the best in the world. The findings in our study, however, should remind us that the system's international reputation—largely derived from graduate programs at a handful of elite public and private universities—serves as no guarantee that undergraduate students are being appropriately challenged or exposed to educational experiences that will lead to academic growth throughout the wide range of diverse U.S. colleges and universities. While the U.S. higher-education system still enjoys the competitive advantage of a sterling international reputation, in recent decades it has been increasingly surpassed in terms of quantity (i.e., the percentage of young adults it graduates), and its quality is coming under increasing scrutiny. The U.S. government's recent decision to participate in international efforts led by the OECD to measure higher-education academic performance on a comparative basis cross-nationally, following the less-than-stellar comparative results observed in international comparisons of adult literacy, provides little reassurance that the system's reputation will not become increasingly challenged and debated. In an increasingly globalized and competitive world system, the quality and quantity of outcomes of a country's education system is arguably related to a nation's future trajectory and international economic position.

The changing economic and global context facing contemporary college graduates convinces us that the limited learning that exists on U.S. campuses—even if it has been a part of the higher-education landscape since the system's inception—qualifies today as a significant social problem and should be the subject of concern of policy makers, practitioners, parents, and citizens alike. While the phenomenon can accurately be described as a social problem, the situation that exists on today's college campuses in no way qualifies as a crisis, and we have consciously avoided the use of rhetoric here that would point to "a crisis in higher education."

Limited learning in the U.S. higher-education system cannot be defined as a crisis, because institutional and system-level organizational survival is not being threatened in any significant way. Parents—although somewhat disgruntled about increasing costs—want colleges to provide a safe environment where their children can mature, gain independence, and attain a credential that will help them be successful as adults. Students in general seek to enjoy the benefits of a full collegiate experience that is focused as much on social life as on academic pursuits, while earning high marks in their courses with relatively little investment of effort. Professors are eager to find time to concentrate on their scholarship and professional interests. Administrators have been asked to focus largely on external institutional rankings and the financial bottom line. Government funding agencies are primarily interested in the development of new scientific knowledge. In short, the system works. No actors in the system are primarily interested in undergraduates' academic growth, although many are interested in student retention and persistence. Limited learning on college campuses is not a crisis, because the institutional actors implicated in the system are receiving the organizational outcomes that they seek, and therefore neither the institutions themselves nor the system as a whole is in any way challenged or threatened.

Richard Arum is a professor of sociology and education at New York University and director of the Education Research Program of the Social Science Research Council. Josipa Roksa is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. Their book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, is being published this month by the University of Chicago Press.

Also visit Dr. Arum's project website at http://highered.ssrc.org

Dr. Jones Suggests Article on Social Media for Classroom Use

Dr. Jason Jones (English) wants to form a Learning Community Group that centers on Extending the Classroom with Social Media. Read the following article from the Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/article/Using-Twitter-to-Talk-About/131442/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en to find out more.


Dr. Russell Suggests They Say/I Say for Writing Templates

Dr. Kara Russell (English) uses They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff, Cathy Berkenstein and Russell Durst (WW Norton, 2009) because she feels the writing templates they provide offer structure and direction for students without being formulaic.



Trends in Academic Publishing



What are Trends in Scholarly Publishing?

By Gary Dunham, PhD, ASHA's Director of Publications

Ours is a maddening and dazzling age of communication revolution; a time of wholesale, unceasing transformations in the ways that we share, receive, and store information; an era of profound, still-unfolding changes in how we as professionals, friends, and family connect and keep in touch with one other. Was it merely a decade or so ago when print journals and books still housed the bulk of scholarly discourse? When mobility in accessing information meant the porting and reading of a physical book or sheaf of copied articles on a train, at home, or at a conference?

Fueled by investor enthusiasm, competition, and continuing technological advances, the communication revolution shows no sign of exhaustion. How then can the authors, readers, and publishers of research chart and react meaningfully to such rapid change? Stepping back and taking a breather from the onslaught of hyped devices and adroit acronyms, let's look briefly at six key trends impacting the development of scholarly publishing at present. It is helpful to keep in mind that, cumulatively, these six trends have impacted positively on the dissemination of research, regardless of the discipline, by making content more accessible, visible, and sustainable.

1. Digital forms of publishing. As of 2011, digital bytes convey and store formal discourse among researchers more than printed words. Scientific, technical, and medical (STM) journals, monographs, and reports are disseminated primarily online in electronic form; the increasing excellence and affordability of print-on-demand technologies also allow printed versions of such publications to remain an option for most readers. The four ASHA journals are all published today chiefly in digital form online, with all back issues available electronically; on-demand printed editions of ASHA's journals are also available for purchase. Although publishers, authors, and readers in the humanities and social sciences have notoriously lagged behind their STM counterparts in capitalizing on digital publishing, this transition is escalating in those fields as well.

Such an immense, foundational transformation in how we communicate research demands further interrogation: Why publish electronically?

It's usually more affordable (though keep in mind that the development and maintenance costs of electronic publications are not free, especially for multimedia applications). Digital publishing eliminates extensive upfront costs such as printing and shipping. Readers across the globe thus have equally affordable access to research online; also, some traditionally expensive types of print publications such as those of inordinate length, steeped in color, and/or laid out on glossy paper stock can be disseminated digitally in a more cost-effective manner.

It's faster, for publishers, authors, and readers. Obviating the physical manufacturing phase of publishing enables journals and books to reach their market more quickly; once a work has been digitally typeset (preferably in XML, or extensible markup language) and proofread, it's ready to be released to the world and accessed instantaneously, everywhere. In some cases, such as the journal articles published by ASHA, as a publication is making its way through the digital production process, earlier working versions will be made instantly available online as they materialize. Readers no longer need to wait for a publication to be shipped to them; instead, through any number of electronic portals they can readily access the desired content on the actual day it is made available.

It's so much more robust and versatile than the printed page. By incorporating multimedia components and/or by seamlessly pulling in and linking readers through a text to additional research content and data elsewhere, electronic journals and books encourage more potent and more interesting types of scholarly dissemination. For example, it's clear that embedded or linked video and audio files can augment and vivify evidence-based research in audiology and speech-language pathology in ways just not possible through a two-dimensional print medium.

It's more durable. It's easy to overstress this advantage since changes in technology make problematic long-term digital archiving. As electronic platforms evolve, archivists and publishers need to remain vigilant and upgrade constantly the digital encoding and means of access for all of their publications, past and present. Assuming such curatorial attention and the survival of civilization as we know it, a library of digital content, including ASHA's journals, should endure for the ages.

And it's greener. Digital publishing isn't completely green, since the devices needed to access and store information need to be manufactured and shipped to users. Nonetheless, it can be agreed that no trees are harmed in the making of a digital publication itself and no fossil fuels are expended in transporting its content repeatedly to readers.

2. Parsing and leveraging content. An increasingly prevalent trend among journals publishers, particularly in STM, is to maximize the availability (and profitability) of publications by enabling readers to access (and purchase) discrete units and bundles of content beyond a journal issue or subscription. Like the listeners using iTunes, researchers today are empowered increasingly to gain access to the precise configuration of content they desire—an individual article, a handful of articles within a journal issue, or a bundle of content across journal issues, different journals, or, for some publishers, across a range of topically related books and journals. Such fracturing of the print-bound journal issue and book is not new—faculty and graduate researchers have been selectively picking and assembling content for themselves since the long-ago days of the Kinko's-printed course packets. ASHA's journals similarly can now be accessed as discrete articles or bundles of content. Such versatile leveraging of content in no way signals the demise of journals, but rather their redefinition. Instead of being limited to a series of discrete printed events, journals are now increasingly regarded as prestige brands identified with a certain type of continually unfolding scholarly content, whenever the date of availability. The journal is dead—long live the journal!

3. Connecting with associated content environments. One of the great perceptual shifts accompanying the communication revolution is the acknowledgment that, upon release, each digital publication—book, journal issue, journal article, research report, and whatnot—does not stand alone but is intrinsically embedded within a greater semantic world, a dynamic, relational landscape of content resonance and searchability. Through metatagging and linking, scholarship disseminated digitally emerges not in a vacuum but as part of a research or discovery pathway interconnected with discourse and content elsewhere online: a host of robust commercial and library search engines, data repositories, and information commons; related blogs, Listservs, forums, e-mail blasts, Facebook pages, YouTube content, and Tweets. Likewise, readers conducting research online can be directed seamlessly to any of the ASHA journals through a variety of resonant sites and search engines.

4. Increasing receptivity to multimedia components. As noted above, the digital medium possesses great potential to accommodate multimedia components, most notably video and audio streams. Working within the constraints of cost and familiarity with new technologies, researchers across many disciplines are increasingly capitalizing on this potential of electronic publications to communicate their findings. The promise of multimedia for disseminating research in audiology and speech-language pathology is considerable; the ASHA journals thus encourage such deeply textured and dynamic articles from contributors by supporting publication of electronic supplemental materials. Text and data files can be included as supplemental material containing, for example, clinical and experimental procedures, discourse transcripts, data from individual participants, and other content that previously was considered too impractical, or even impossible, to print. Inclusion of video and audio files in scientific writing enhances both the translation and replication of research. The ability to include multimedia files as an integral part of research dissemination is redefining the nature of scientific writing (see JoVE to experience a visual journal). It is likely that this revolution will not only affect how research is reported but also how clinicians, and other consumers, use the information.

5. Growing interactivity and dialogue. Scholars and students today are increasingly comfortable using Web 2.0 social media sites such as wikis, blogs, MySpace, Second Life, and Facebook, where they participate in virtual communities through collaboration and interaction. In 2011, the impact of such interactivity and community-building on researchers has chiefly occurred around their content—through forums, Listservs, and blogs—rather than affecting directly the form or process of dissemination itself. However, as evinced by such dynamic media as Sophie and Commentpress digital publications themselves can potentially house and facilitate interactive discussions of content between authors and readers, and—most notably for SLPs and audiologists—between evidence-based researchers and clinicians. Although largely unexplored at present, such interactivity holds considerable promise for engaging practitioners more fully in the process of research.

6. Moving to mobile. Perhaps the most profound recent consequence of the communication revolution has been a gradually accelerating shift from a web-based to a mobile-based method of accessing online information. Such mobile devices as the Kindle, Nook, iPad, Droid, and iPhone are increasingly becoming the preferred way for both casual users as well as researchers to read and retrieve. The increasing individualization and mobility of researchers places a special burden on scholarly publishers to anticipate such portals and pathways to their content and respond accordingly. Online journals need to be refitted for cross-platform mobile viewing; downloadable applications for the most popular mobile devices need to be made available to readers. Both initiatives are currently in development by ASHA to maximize access to our journals.

These six trends are revolutionizing the world of scholarly publishing. Though change is happening quickly, the publication industry appears to be adapting. For example, in 2010, publishers launched new journals at a higher rate than in 2005 (see the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers). Also included in the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers' report, more than 96% of STM publishers now support online access to their titles. In conclusion, the perspective of Kate Wittenberg, Director of the Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia University, is shared below, as it aptly captures the approach to this changing landscape that ASHA has taken.

"Scholarly presses should continue to publish the best work being produced. That is our job. We need, however, to deliver that scholarship to our readers in the format they find most useful, most supportive of their own work, while maintaining a workable financial model to support its publication. That means exploring new formats when they become available. New technology, used intelligently and effectively, offers the opportunity to provide scholars and their students with the material they need in a useful form, and it offers scholarly publishers one way to maintain their role as creative and skilled disseminators of that work. It is our job to figure out what is intelligent and effective in the digital/online format." (see CIAO: A New Model for Scholarly Publishing.)

This article first appeared in the February 2011 issue of Access Academics and Research.