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Posted by on in Matt's Corner
Social media has evolved into a major communication tool with tweets and posts linking students in seconds. Social media supporters believe that the rise in its use by students beyond social relations is helpful, while others argue the opposite. So the question to explore is: Does social media help students?
 
Studies done by researchers at Michigan State University have concluded that students who have almost little to no experience with the college application process have shown to uncover the information they need through social media. The results of the study also concluded that the students who were applying to college who needed help with the process found most of their answers by looking them up on social media venues. Students also used Facebook to contact current students at the colleges they were applying to in order to get a better understanding of what the life of a student is like. With social media chiming in at moments like these, it shows how useful it has become beyond the point of entertainment and that it is also becoming an important part of our lives.
 
What can be learned from the social media explosion is that it is important that whenever a new phenomenon sweeps through our society, we consider it from all sides. Since social media rooted itself in our society we have acknowledged its downsides. However, over recent years, society as a whole has found ways to incorporate social media so that it is more useful and beneficial, rather than distracting and distasteful.
 
So, if social media can help students attain more information on the college application process as shown in the Michigan State study, then it stands to reason that it can continue to help students throughout the college years. Do you agree with this? How else have you seen social media exhibit positive outcomes in college or university life?

Posted by on in President's Blog

Ten days ago, the world read with fascination and interest the interview conducted with Pope Francis six months into his papacy. For Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Pope Francis has been interesting to listen to and observe as he reveals more and more his approach to leading the Church.

Many, who are often uncomfortable with the grandeur of the hierarchy in contrast to the message of the Gospels, are energized by Pope Francis’ choices to live in community and in a more simple lifestyle. His spontaneous and never-ending pastoral approach and his smile are infectious.

But what is more important is to listen … to really listen to his words. While clearly conservative in his theology, Pope Francis seems determined to reframe the world’s understanding of the message and meaning of the Church rooted in hospitality to all and a spirit of hope.

The headlines ten days ago focused on the Pope’s concern that the focus of the Church in recent years has been too limited to teachings related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraception. While clearly affirming these teachings the day after his interview was released, Pope Francis called for “a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

As one would expect, the news reports simply highlight only the most surprising comments made by the Pope in this interview. I would strongly urge those seriously interested in Pope Francis and his leadership to read the entire interview, readily available online. It helps us to understand better the depth and spirituality of this man. It also helps to understand Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s life (For Italian opera fans like me, it was wonderful to read the Pope’s reference to Puccini’s great work, Turandot, in his response regarding the importance of hope!).

Over the past two weeks, the reactions to the Pope’s statements have been relatively few from within the Church. Hopefully, his vision of the Church will be embraced in word and deed by dioceses all over the world. But I wonder?

On the same day that the Pope’s interview was released, the House of Representatives in Washington voted to cut $40 billion dollars from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as the Food Stamps program. The rationale for this draconian decision was the improving economy and the waste in the program.

If waste was the primary criterion for reducing government programs, they should all be cut immediately. Administering federal programs of this magnitude have an inherent element of mismanagement and abuse. The fact is that a high number of Americans still cannot afford food and basic sustenance. The percentage of families in Worcester County who qualify for food stamps is 20%. There may be signs of an improving economy, but not among the poorest of our neighbors.

In light of Pope Francis’ speech, I have been waiting to hear the American Catholic Church speak out against this potential cut in a critical program in this country. I scan the web and news reports regularly, but have yet to find any statements from Church leaders. I was hopeful when I found an article entitled, “Food Stamp Cuts a Cruel Proposal.” But this well written critique of this potential congressional decision was authored by political strategist Donna Brazile.

Maybe Church leaders have been silent because they assume this legislation will not pass the Senate. But maybe they are silent because it does not relate to the limited moral issues so prevalent in the rhetoric today. Maybe it would help if they would read the interview with Pope Francis. Because I wonder … if Pope Francis was an American Cardinal … what would he say? Actually, I think I know!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

A brief introduction
 
It's a normal afternoon for college students. They sit down at a lunch table with their friends after class to get something to eat and catch up with each other. Given that it is 2013, their conversation could go anywhere. However, chances are that at some point or another, some aspect of social media will be brought up. Whether it's "Oh, did you see who Tweeted this?" or "Hey, did you see what she wrote on Facebook?". The truth is, this is the new norm.
 
In this day and age social media has become a part of our culture, so much so, that it's considered a social norm, used by anyone for any reason. With the growth of technology, even over the past few years, social media has found countless platforms to allow its users to immerse themselves in a vast network of online news, blogs, social interactions, and countless other venues. Since the dawn of social media, it has evolved into a primary method of communicating, getting our news, and promoting a culture dominated by technology and the Internet. When considering these facts, one can't help but stop and think how this might be affecting higher education and what impact it has had on students and the institution itself?
 
From my perspective, social media has taken over higher education in many ways, none of which I would say is negative, as social media is now being used by faculty and staff just as frequently as students. All across college campuses throughout the country, social media is becoming an integral part of day-today life for the entire campus community. . Just in the past three years that I have been in college, I have seen social media everywhere I go. Nearly every club and organization at Anna Maria College uses some form of social media to market their club, communicate between club members, and reach out to other students, as well as advertise for their events. Social media is even evident on the professional level just as much as it is on the student level. The admissionteam relies on the benefits of social media to help them connect with prospective students, as well as share the wealth of information about the School. Just on the admission page alone incoming freshmen can find links to pages on the Anna Maria website that directly brings them to their point of interest, whetherr one is looking for residence life, student activities, how to deposit, or even how to find email addresses to talk to admission councilors or faculty members. Students can also find Anna Maria on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and Instagram, as well as Linkedin.
 
This is just a small example of how social media has found itself at the center of higher education. I hope to discuss more about this in my next blog...

Posted by on in President's Blog

A couple of weeks ago, my blog included an op ed piece I wrote for the local newspaper. The focus of the editorial was a critique of the proposed federal government scorecard for colleges. My main argument was that not all colleges are the same and not all college students are the same. Therefore, a unitary system is neither fair nor accurate when determining an institution’s success.

Most readers agreed with my perspective. But many readers objected to one of my contentions that all students deserve a college education. Some argued that not every child in America deserves or is qualified to attend college. I had been thinking about this issue when I came across a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Whether or not every high school graduate should attend college, no one I know believes that disadvantaged students of ability should be denied access and opportunity. And this research study affirmed strategies that seem to be extraordinarily effective with this population.

For the past 22 years, a non-profit organization called College for Every Student (CFES) has focused on “raising the academic aspirations and performance of underserved youth so that they can prepare for, gain access to, and succeed in college.”  CFES currently works with 20,000 students in 200 rural and urban schools and districts in 24 states.

A team of researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a study to assess the effectiveness of CFES and its programs. Using a sample of 1,100 middle school students from 21 schools in 10 states, they found that 75% of the participants in the CFES program planned on attending a four-year college compared to only 5% of the students in their control group.

What are the strategies used by CFES? The three key elements of the program are early exposure to college, mentoring, and community service leadership. Participants in the program are selected by the individual school and are named CFES scholars. At the young age of middle school (or even elementary school), CFES scholars learn about the possibility of attending college and are encouraged to begin planning for this important step in their educational lives.

Over the course of several years, CFES scholars interact with mentors both in their schools and on college campus visits to receive guidance and to become familiar with the world and life of a college student. CFES scholars are also provided with the opportunity to exercise leadership in the community in order to develop both skills and confidence.

What is clear from studying the programs and services of CFES and the corroborating data from this research study is that the result is a student who gains confidence in his or her ability to succeed in college, and an inherent expectation that this is the logical and necessary next step after high school. In addition to the ultimate benefit of significantly more CFES scholars attending college, there is also ample evidence that while in the program, these students improve their academic performance, improve their behavior and improve their attendance.

For many disadvantaged young people in this country, a college degree is only a dream. While there will always remain challenges to earning a college degree, programs like CFES are helping us to better understand how to make some dreams become a reality.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

Higher education has its fair share of myths, biases and stereotypes. Last week, for example, I provided some evidence to address the bias against the value of online degrees and the myths about on-ground (face to face) instruction.

There are also many myths, biases and stereotypes related to classroom instruction. For example, most people inside and outside of higher education tend to believe that the quality of instruction is better with full-time (tenure track) faculty rather than adjunct or part-time faculty. But the results of a recent research study conducted at Northwestern University challenges this preconception.

Last week, the National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper entitled, “Are Tenure-Track Professors Better Teachers?”  The study was based on data drawn from over 15,000 students who attended Northwestern University from 2001-2008. It focused primarily on instructional quality in introductory courses, the courses every student is required to take.

According to the authors of the study, there was “strong and consistent evidence that Northwestern faculty outside of the tenure system outperform tenure track/tenured professors in introductory undergraduate classrooms.”  These qualitative differences were consistently found across disciplines and subject areas. The differences were even more pronounced for students of “average” ability and those “less qualified.”

The data also revealed other interesting trends. Students who took an introductory course taught by an untenured instructor were more likely to take a second course in that same discipline than those instructed initially by a tenure-track/tenured faculty member. Students taught by untenured faculty tended to earn higher grades as well.

Critics of the study point to the facts that it was conducted at a single institution and one that attracts students who are not necessarily reflective of the entire college-bound student population. However, while the authors accept these limitations, they state, “Our results provide evidence that the rise of full-time designated teachers at U.S. colleges and universities may be less of a cause for alarm than some people think, and indeed, may actually be educationally beneficial.”

From my perspective, this study’s greatest benefit is to help break down the myth or stereotype about adjunct faculty. I doubt that any college or university will use this study to dismantle its full-time, tenure-track faculty. But many institutions utilize many part-time faculty and this study corroborates what some of us already know.

Good teachers are good teachers. Whether full-time or part-time … tenure-track/tenured or adjunct, colleges and universities have great instructors and those who are less inspiring. The common element is not the type of contract or employment status. Rather it’s the knowledge and understanding of the material, the creativity and dedication to effective pedagogy, and the abiding commitment to serving the educational and learning needs of the students.

College students are fortunate to have so many wonderful instructors who enter the noble profession of teaching for all of the right reasons. Some pursue their teaching careers full-time … others part-time … but they all share a love for teaching and a dedication to student learning.  

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)