Formal-Operational vs. Post-Formal Thinking: Brains Grow Up

Here is a reblogged essay from the Classroom as Microcosm Blog written by irrepressible and indomitable college teacher, “Siobhan Curious.”   It explores one aspect of early adult development: the growth of postformal thought.

Formal-Operational vs. Post-Formal Thinking: Brains Grow Up « Classroom as Microcosm.

I have written about emerging adulthood (and academic versus authentic writing) in another post.  If you are looking for additional reading on this topic, scroll down to references at the end of my first “Diary of an Ed Prof” essay.   — Ed Prof

Journalists on the Edge of Truth – NYTimes.com

In this re-blogged post (8/19/12), David Carr offers a number of interesting observations on pressures facing journalists.  I was especially struck by his observations on changes in the nature of professional socialization in journalism.  He notes a shift from how journalists who came up the ranks by working in old media (“legacy media”) to a new situation in which media stars rise to prominence without the requisite experiences necessary to foster conformity to conventionally understood professional ideals.   I wonder if there are not parallel problems in other fields as well?   — EdProf

Journalists on the Edge of Truth – NYTimes.com.

The Psychological Contract

In 1952, Rutgers University Professor Selman Waksman won the Nobel Prize for developing Streptomycin, a powerful antibiotic that cured tuberculosis.  His 23-year old graduate student, Albert Schatz, claimed to have been the first to isolate the bacterium that produced this drug in August, 1943.  Schatz and Waksman applied for a patent, but the royalties all went to Waksman.  Schatz sued and won a share of the royalties, but Waksman never acknowledged the part he played in the discovery.   Waksman had a distinguished career until his death in 1973.  Twenty years later, and fifty years after the discovery of Streptoymycin, Schatz published the second of two articles describing his role in the discovery (Schatz, 1993). This year, Schatz’ claim was confirmed by the discovery of his detailed 1943 lab notes in a box of Waksman’s papers (Pringle, 2012). The notes show that Schatz was the first to isolate the bacterium.

From a professional studies point of view, this story provides rich terrain for analysis.   It is a reminder that professional communities, while said to be self-policing, are not always or perhaps ever what novices imagine them to be. The disparity between students’ idealism and reality constitutes  a violation of the psychological contract implicit in the relationship between student and mentor as it is enacted within the structure of the research university.  When institutions violate the psychological contract, those who work within them experience adverse psychological effects.  This is not by any means limited to universities and science laboratories, but a more general phenomenon experienced by teachers, physicians, nurses, social workers, professors, and others who find themselves grappling with shifting institutional priorities, ominous new power structures, and heartbreaking barriers to best practice.  What this suggests to me is that those who train professionals need to try to understand students’ images of professional life and conceptions about the field as a whole.  They also need to be reflexive — able to model honest self-appraisal, self-criticism, awareness of the field’s potentially problematic effects, weaknesses and shortcomings, as well as its achievements and technical demands.  There is a vital role for the humanities and the social sciences in this enterprise.

To return to the case at hand, the “system” (and the individual scientists working within it) produced a great societal benefit, yet also permitted, and may have promoted, inequity and injustice.  And it is noteworthy that all this contention emerged concurrent with what one journalist described as “the birth of big Pharma.”  Today, scientific discoveries are made by large, complex groups of people, yet when we teach about science, we still employ a curriculum that spotlights the work of “heroic” individual scientists who are the stars of the scientific show — immortal symbols of the quest for understanding.  The media promote public conceptions of the solitary, successful, charismatic scientist (and teacher, and physician…) that no longer align well with professional life as most of us ordinary beings experience it.

Recognition remains the gold standard in the political economy of academic life — publications, citations,  grants, prizes, awards, tweets, followers!  Schatz never gave up his quest for recognition.  And as the “op ed” letter below suggests, Wacksman was a well regarded teacher and scientist who attended to the needs of the next generation (Erikson, 1950).  With respect to human lifespan development, I think this story demonstrates how scholarly priorities can change through the life course. In particular, the interests of senior scholars may move away from concerted efforts to acquire yet more intellectual knowledge toward articulation and reinterpretation of one’s life and its meaning.

Sources and Further Reading

Conway, N. & Briner, R. (2006). Understanding Psychological Contracts at Work: A Critical Evaluation of Theory and Research. Oxford University.

Erikson, E. (1950). Eight Stages of Man (Chapter 7), Childhood and Society, New York: W.W. Norton.

Forbes, P.  (2012).Experiment Eleven: Deceit and Betrayal in the Discovery of the Cure for Tuberculosis by Peter Pringle – review . The Guardian, June 29.

Pringle, P. (2012). Notebooks Shed Light on and Antibiotic’s Contested Discovery. New York Times, June 11.

Rousseau, Denise M. (1996). Psychological Contracts in Organizations: Understanding Written and Unwritten Agreements. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Schatz, A. (1993). The true story of the discovery of Streptomycin.  Actinomycetes, Vol. IV, Part 2: 27-39

The Condition of Education

 

Protesting Against Education Budget Cuts
Protesting Against Education Budget Cuts (Photo credit: infomatique)

My previous post noted that tuition pays only a small portion of the cost of higher education in public colleges and universities.  According to this year’s Condition of Education report, in 2009 – 2010, tuition accounted for about 16 – 18 percent of the total revenue of  public postsecondary institutions (and 90% of private, for-profit post-secondary institutions).  The Condition of Education is a report mandated by the United States federal government and published each year by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).  The report is available for download at no charge and contains a wealth of information about educational institutions at all levels, including elementary and secondary, postsecondary, public, private non-profit and private, for-profit institutions.  This is a rich, detailed, well-organized and trustworthy analysis of massive amounts of data that can be very useful for academic research and writing projects.

Here are a few direct quotes that reflect current conditions and changing trends in higher education (from the 2012 Condition of Education Overview).  A useful and informative resource:

In 2009–10, more than half of the 1.7 million bachelor’s degrees awarded were in five fields: business, management, marketing, and personal and culinary services (22 percent); social sciences and history (10 percent); health professions and related programs (8 percent); education (6 percent); and psychology (6 percent) (indicator 38).

Approximately 56 percent of male and 61 percent of female first-time, full-time students who sought a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2004 completed their degree at that institution within 6 years (indicator 45).

In 2011, some 32 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. From 1980 to 2011, the gap in the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher between Whites and Hispanics widened from 17 to 26 percentage points, and the gap between Whites and Blacks widened from 13 to 19 percentage points (indicator 48).

In 2010, young adults ages 25–34 with a bachelor’s degree earned 114 percent more than young adults without a high school diploma or its equivalent, 50 percent more than young adult high school completers, and 22 percent more than young adults with an associate’s degree (indicator 49).

Sources

The Condition of Education — Index  — http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/  [The 2012 report and related information can be downloaded from this site.  An ebook of the report is also available.]

The Condition of Education — Overview, Section 3 – Postsecondary Education and Outcomes — http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/overview.asp

The Condition of Education — Postsecondary Revenueshttp://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_prs.asp

Caring (Against the Odds)

Ponderosa pine treeAs the end of the semester drew near, I fretted about a student or two who had done quite well for most of the semester, then drifted off course, and finally disappeared without a trace.  As I tried to work this problem — figure out how to get my lost students to talk to me, two people asked me (with unveiled cynicism):  “Why should you care more about students’ grades than they do?”

That’s a good question, though it is based on somewhat faulty premises.  Most students do care about the grades that they get, and they also care about what they have learned in a course — or so it seems to me.  When otherwise capable students disappear, there is usually some explanation.  For some reason, though, given the strains of early adulthood and the fact that many first-generation students do not know how the system works, students just “log off” instead of asking their professors for help.  They assume that nothing can be done and there are no options, and no one cares anyway, so (as one of my students put it) “I thought I might as well just take the F and deal with it later.”

As a professor, one of my responsibilities is to evaluate student performance. Disappearing students, by academic convention, get an “F” (failing) grade for the course.  Alternatively, though, they could receive a “W, WP, WF” (withdrawal) or in some cases, or an “I” (incomplete, with the option of completing work within an agreed-upon time period).  From my vantage point as a college teacher, getting an “F” might have long range consequences that should only be borne if the grade is really warranted and there are no other alternatives.  So, in answer to the question above, here is another question: Why let talented students “give up” and “take their punishment” without at least trying to persuade them otherwise?  Will students be “wrecked for life” because someone inside the Machine cared about their long-term best interests?  And from a public resource perspective, courses retaken must be paid for again, and society always pays part of the bill.  As high as they are, tuition fees cover only part of the cost of higher education.  This means that re-taking courses always requires expenditure of public resources we cannot afford to waste.   –EdProf

Diary of an Ed Prof (2)

Well, the semester is drawing to a close.  Last week of classes with final exams next week.  Last chance for professors to highlight key principles and ideas, address omissions, demystify our teaching strategies (perhaps), and offer an apologia for the inevitable gaps between teaching aspirations and learning outcomes.  In my experience, professors really do care about students and they share the hope that their students will benefit from their labors.

It seems to me that the credit for university courses that go really well must be shared, as this is always a product of group effort.  A “good” course is one that students choose to create by investing energy, preparing well, taking risks, sharing thoughts and life experiences with one another, going beyond the surface level of understanding.  Professors can try to create conditions that foster these desirable pedagogical ends, but it is always the students who make it happen!

Professions Education Research

The great migration to this year’s American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting in Vancouver is about to begin.  And this is as good a reason as any to highlight some resources of interest to those who are interested in educating (future or practicing) professionals.  AERA Division I (Education in the Professions)  will sponsor a series of scientific paper presentations, symposia and discussions this year focusing primarily on research on the education of professionals in a variety of fields (law, healthcare, engineering, teaching, social work, military, ministry…). The Division I newsletter, Professionals Education Research Quarterly (PERQ), is available online.

Here is how Division I describes itself:

The purpose of this Division is to further educational research, development, and evaluation in the professions by supporting scholarly presentations and publications; providing opportunities for professional growth and recognition; enhancing communication, outreach, and networking among members; and improving the capacity of the educational research profession to inform practice and policy as it relates to education in the professions.

Division I has brought together experts to produce a series of books focusing on education in the professions: Innovation and Change in Professional Education.

There are several other AERA Divisions and Special Interest Groups (SIGs) of potential interest to people interested in professional studies.   Right now, the best route to this information is through the main AERA home page (then to “about AERA” — “member constituents” — “Divisions“).  For example, Divisions J and K focus on Postsecondary Education and Teaching and Teacher Education, respectively.

For all those heading to Vancouver — have a safe journey!  For those who won’t be attending this year — a good chance to catch up on reading about the professions and professional life.  — EdProf