Archive for July, 2011

July 29, 2011

Wikipedia co-founder says we need to memorize things, not just ‘Google it’

by Grace

Joanne Jacobs posted about a recent study that suggests “there is less need to remember” because people are outsourcing memory to the Internet.  This reminded me of the irony in Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger’s disagreement with this notion that “the instant availability of information online makes the memorization of facts unnecessary or less necessary“.  In writing this, Sanger appears to be channeling Daniel Willingham, William Klemm and other scientists who support the idea that a rich base of knowledge is the foundation for critical thinking and creative problem solving.

I like the way Jacobs explained it.

The more you know, the easier it is to seek out new information, evaluate it and do something with it.  And remember it.

Here is Sanger’s take.

Whenever I encounter yet another instance of educationists’ arguments against “memorizing,” the following rather abstract yet simple thought springs to my philosopher’s mind: Surely the only way to know something is to have memorized it. How can I be said to know something that I do not remember? So being opposed to memorizing has always sounded to me like being opposed to knowledge. I realize this argument likely seems glib. The thing educationists object to, of course, is not the remembering or even the memorizing but rather the memorizing by rote — that is, by dull repetition and often without experience or understanding.

In a December 2008 interview, Don Tapscott, a popular writer on the subject of the Internet and society, argued that the Internet is now “the fountain of knowledge” and that students need not memorize particular facts such as historical dates. …This view is common enough among the Wikipedia users I have come across; they sometimes declare that since the free online encyclopedia is so huge and easy to use, they feel less pressure to commit “trivia” to memory….

But to claim that the Internet allows us to learn less, or that it makes memorizing less important, is to belie any profound grasp of the nature of knowledge. Finding out a fact about a topic with a search in Wolfram Alpha, for example, is very different indeed from knowing about and understanding the topic. Having a well-understood fact ready to recall is far different from merely getting an unfamiliar answer to a question. Reading a few sentences in Wikipedia about some theories on the causes of the Great Depression does not mean that one thereby knows or understands this topic. Being able to read (or view) anything quickly on a topic can provide one with information, but actually having a knowledge of or understanding about the topic will always require critical study. The Internet will never change that.

Moreover, if you read an answer to a question, you usually need fairly substantial background knowledge to interpret the answer….

To possess a substantial understanding of a field requires not just memorizing the facts and figures that are used by everyone in the field but also practicing, using, and internalizing those basics. To return to my “glib” argument, surely the only way to begin to know something is to have memorized it.

(This is an update of a previous post:  Wikipedia co-founder argues for the importance of ‘memorizing facts’)

July 29, 2011

Knowing how to spell can save you time and money

by Grace

We received this card in the mail recently.

Such a great deal!

Someone in my household, a young person, was captivated and wanted to find out more about this “complementary” cruise.  My explanation that there is no such thing as a free lunch did not deter this young person from investigating further, before sadly learning it was not really a “complementary” cruise.

Being older and wiser, I knew this offer was not worth pursuing.  However, even a younger person might have figured out that any card with such an atrocious misspelling should be dumped in the trash right away.

Knowing how to spell can save you time and money.

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July 28, 2011

University of Alabama scholarships – Roll Tide!

by Grace

The University of Alabama awards merit scholarships to about 25% of its incoming freshman class, including the full-ride offered to National Merit and National Achievement finalists.  It’s a sweet deal that pays full tuition, housing, a laptop computer, $1,000 per year cash and a $2,000 allowance for research or international study.  Other generous scholarships pay full and partial tuition to students with high SAT and ACT scores.

For many students from the Northeast and other parts of the country, the thought of attending school in the Deep South is a strong disincentive for even initial consideration of these generous scholarships.  Beyond the location, a high-achieving student may have other objections to UA.  Concerns about size, intellectual climate, diversity, conservative atmosphere, strong Greek presence,  and heavy football culture are often mentioned.

Most students cannot be “talked into” a particular college, certainly not by their parents.  But if parents want (or need) their children to consider colleges that offer significant merit aid, they should investigate UA more closely and even think about visiting.  There are many stories of previously unenthusiastic students won over by the positive experience of visiting UA.  Keep in mind that students who are part of the UA Honors College benefit from  close association with hundreds of NMFs and other high-achieving scholars.  It’s clear that a rigorous intellectual experience for its top students is a priority for this school.

I’m not trying to push Bama as the perfect college for all students.  But I know that the alternative of paying $100,000 or more to attend a full pay school would be a hardship for many families.

Some quick facts from the school website:

The University of Alabama ranked 6th in the nation among public universities in the enrollment of National Merit Scholars in the 2010 freshman class.

The University of Alabama ranked among the top 50 public universities in the nation for the 10th consecutive year in U.S. News and World Report’s annual college rankings, fall 2010.

Of the 30,232 undergraduate, professional, and graduate students enrolled at UA in the fall semester of 2010,

  • 67% come from Alabama
  • 31% come from elsewhere in the United States
  • 3% are international students from 72 countries
  • 27% of our undergraduates belong to sororities or fraternities
  • 53% are women
  • 12% are African-American
  • 2% are Hispanic-American
  • 1% are Asian-American
July 27, 2011

Teachers unions overwhelmingly contribute to Democrats

by Grace

I suppose this is not a surprise to most people.

The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA), was the heaviest contributor to U.S. political campaigns in 2007-08, according to the Center for Responsive Politics….

The teachers unions give mostly to Democrats and in national elections nearly exclusively so. Their legislative agenda for education continues to focus on increasing spending, loosening accountability for results, avoiding the use of test scores in teacher evaluations and thwarting parental choice that could derail the public education monopoly….

So teachers unions are spending millions in dues revenues on legal fees suing to block charter schools and other parental-choice reforms. Charter schools have emerged as primary targets for the wrath of teacher-union leadership largely because charter teachers rarely belong to unions.

SOIFER: The coming teacher-union offensive – Washington Times

Graph from opensecrets

Found at Instapundit

July 26, 2011

SAT scores matter, even for test-optional colleges

by Grace

Do SAT scores matter in college applications?  Although students often hear that admissions officers place a relatively low priority on test scores and that the trend is toward “test-optional” admissions, it’s clear that performance on standardized tests remains important.   Inside Higher Ed had this recent report.

Many of the same colleges that have ended SAT requirements, noting that wealthy students tend to do well on the exam and that many black and Latino students succeed in college while not doing well on it, may trust the SAT in other ways. These colleges buy the names of high-scoring students from the College Board (and from the ACT) and use those names to recruit prospective studentsBloomberg reported. Leon Botstein, president of Bard College (which neither requires the SAT nor buys names), criticized the practice. “They take a stance that looks principled but is strategic,” Botstein told Bloomberg. “They say ‘I’m going to show myself to be open,’ but in reality they’re completely buying into the definition of a good student that is guided by the test.”

From Bloomberg:

Students are being duped by some schools into thinking that test scores don’t matter, when they matter a great deal for marketing outreach and prestige…. Test-optional colleges that buy names of high-scoring students are hypocritical….

Another benefit to test-optional colleges of recruiting students with high test results is that it can help raise their average entrance-exam scores, a metric used in determining some national rankings and a measure of prestige. Since students who don’t test well may refrain from submitting scores, that leaves high performers, or those who can afford prep courses and pay fees to retake the test several times, to bolster a school’s average scores….

In 2004, Pitzer President Laura Trombley wrote that the SAT “doesn’t really make any sense anymore.” The school, one of seven institutions comprising the Claremont Colleges inCalifornia, ranked 70th in the 2002 U.S. News & World Report list of liberal arts colleges. That year, the school’s average SAT score for verbal and math combined was 1,234, according to Pitzer data. In 2004, after it went test optional, its ranking climbed to 59, while the average score rose to 1,246. By 2010, it ranked 46th, while the score reached 1,293.

“It helped certainly to improve our rankings,” Trombley said. “That’s going to have a positive effect if our SAT scores improved.”

The College of the Holy Cross, which went test-optional in 2006, does not buy names of high-scoring students.

“If we were buying the names of students who scored very high on the SATs, to buy those names would be somewhat contrary to the message we would send about the importance of standardized testing,” McDermott said.

Many merit scholarships require SAT test scores, even at test-optional schools like Wake Forest.  The criteria for several of their merit awards, including the Nancy Susan Reynolds Scholarship, are described on their website.

Successful applicants have pursued the most challenging curriculum available to them and have achieved grade point averages and SAT scores that place them in the top few percentage points in comparison to their peers (often in the top 1 percent of their class, with SAT-1 scores above 1500).

Some test optional colleges that buy student names from testing companies:
American University  —  Bowdoin College  —  Denison University  —  Dickinson College  —  Mount Holyoke College  —  Pitzer College  —  Sewanee: University of the South  —  Smith College  —  Union College  —  University of Arizona  —  Wake Forest University

A response by Laura Skandera Trombley, president of Pitzer College.

July 25, 2011

‘paper value of an MBA might be overstated’

by Grace

“I think the paper value of an MBA might be overstated,” said Taft. “For it to be useful, it needs to form part of a wider package of skills and attributes, and more than a mere credential next to your name.”

John Taft is the Chairman of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) and the CEO of RBC U.S. Wealth Management.  He is predicting more layoffs in the financial services industry next quarter, affecting even employees with expensive MBA degrees and years of experience.

Taft said on the job experience in the capacity to perform in the workplace is more important than whether or not you have your MBA.

His thoughts come as enrollment at the nation’s top business schools is growing—as well as online MBA programs that cost tends of thousands of dollars. In fact, Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina began its first ever online MBA program this month. Students have been shelling out $89,000 in tuition for it.

Even though an MBA degree will not necessarily protect your job or revitalize your salary, Taft acknowledges there is an argument supporting the usefulness of MBA degrees. He said they are often best used to reposition yourself and redirect your career.

July 23, 2011

National Merit Scholar introverts

by Grace

Susan Cain writes about the gifts and power of introverts.

Introverts, who tend to digest information thoroughly, stay on task, and work accurately, earn disproportionate numbers of National Merit Scholarship finalist positions and Phi Beta Kappa keys, according to the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, a research arm for the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator — even though their I.Q. scores are no higher than those of extroverts.

I agre with Cain that introversion is an “undervalued status” in today’s schools.

… Children’s classroom desks are now often arranged in pods, because group participation supposedly leads to better learning; in one school I visited, a sign announcing “Rules for Group Work” included, “You can’t ask a teacher for help unless everyone in your group has the same question.” 

A commenter at Kitchen Table Math, makes a good point.

It’s a mistake to refer to “shyness and introversion” in the same breath.

Katherine Beals writes a lot on this topic on Out in Left Field

July 22, 2011

Sobering student loan stories

by Grace

Like a rubbernecker driving past a horrific accident, I can’t help but slow down and read when I run across sobering college debt stories like these.

Erik Solecki
Student debt: $185,000
Degree: Bachelor’s in industrial engineering from Kettering University
Was my college degree worth it? Hell no….

Saniquah Robinson
Student debt: $82,000
Degrees: Master’s in Health Science from Chatham University; Bachelor’s in psychology from Temple University
After holding my Master’s for three years, I’m still fighting to find a Master’s level position….

Shane Dixon
Student debt: $72,800
Degrees: Master’s in public health from University of South Carolina; Bachelor’s in biology from Clemson University
In my early years after high school, I wavered between trade school and college, but eventually opted for college and earned a Bachelor’s in biology.

Michelle Shipley
Student debt: $140,000
Degree: Bachelor’s in political science and international development from Tulane University
Like many, I had no idea what money meant when I was 17. My family is not wealthy. I simply didn’t have the information or knowledge to know what it would be like now.

July 22, 2011

‘Six in 10 internships lead to jobs’

by Grace

Six in 10 internships lead to jobs, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, an employment research group also known as NACE.

More details from the NACE website:

April 28, 2011 For students looking to get their foot in the door with an employer, there’s more evidence that taking part in an internship could be the answer, according to results of a new survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Employers responding to NACE’s 2011 Internship & Co-op Survey reported that an average 39.1 percent of their entry-level hires from the Class of 2010 came from their own internship programs. In addition, the responding organizations reported converting, on average, nearly 58 percent of their interns into full-time hires.

“That’s the highest conversion rate we’ve seen since we started tracking this on an annual basis in 2001,” says Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director.

Accounting, at least in part, for the highest-ever conversion rate: “Students accepted job offers from organizations at which they interned at the highest rate we’ve ever seen,” says Mackes.

In 2010, 86.5 percent of interns offered a full-time job accepted it, up from 83.9 percent in 2009—the previous “high-water” mark.

“This suggests that students were somewhat wary about the job market and opted to take the offer rather than gamble that something better would come along,” says Mackes. “As the job market improves, it’s likely that we’ll see that change as students have more opportunities available to them.”

Latest reports do not indicate that the job market will improve soon, all the more reason to start working now on next summer’s internship.

July 21, 2011

Start working now on next summer’s internship

by Grace

Regardless of your major, or what kind of job you eventually want to end up in, you probably would love to land the internship of your dreams next summer. Whether this means an unpaid internship at one of the hot startups of the week or a glamorous investment banking internship on Wall Street, it takes some work to stand out from the crowd. As is often the case, this work takes time to do well – and can be done exceptionally well if you start earlier.

Here are three tips for college students from Vishrut Srivastava at CollegeInfoGeek.

  1. Start thinking of how you’ll market this summer’s experience, whether you’re flipping burgers, working on a personal project to read the complete works of Ayn Rand or just watching every episode of all the ‘60s sitcoms featured on Hulu.  (Although, I hope you’re not spending all your time this summer watching TV!)  What have you learned that will be of value to a future employer?
  2. Update your resume so you’ll be ready for the fall application season.
  3. Keep up the networking.  Take advantage of this summer’s opportunities to meet new people and let them know you’ll be seeking an internship for next summer.

A rising college sophomore I know tells me his grueling job this summer has motivated him to be more aggressive about pursuing an internship for next year.  I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

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