Monday, March 31, 2014

Relaxing Zero Tolerance in Schools Could be Obama’s Boldest Civil Rights Reform

President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama...
President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a public charter school in Washington, DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Paul Thomas, Furman University

“Hope and change” may have driven the first presidential campaign for Barack Obama, but many educators and public education advocates have been discouraged by Obama’s education policy.

While the US secretary of education, Arne Duncan, often claims Obama addresses education reform as the civil rights issue of our time, that rhetoric has often been contradicted by policy.

However, the recent government initiative on discipline in schools could salvage the hope that education reform can turn in the direction of better equity for all students.

Based on data from the US Department of Education on civil rights, the Obama administration is calling for an end to harsh discipline policies, such as zero tolerance, that “disproportionately affect minorities”.

This introduced policies such as discipline codes that mandate expulsion or suspension for first-time offences (such as bringing a knife to school).

Two trends with disturbing parallels began in the early 1980s during the Reagan presidency: the era of mass incarceration, labelled the New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and an era of public education reform that introduced high-stakes exams and accountability measures for schools and teachers.

Mass incarceration and school discipline patterns over the past three decades have disproportionately impacted African American men. African Americans are arrested and incarcerated for drug use at rates much higher than whites, even though African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates.

White men outnumber African American men in the US about six to one, but per 100,000 people in each racial group, there are 2,207 African Americans for every 380 whites in the prison population - an inverse proportion of nearly six to one.

There are also more whites in poverty than African Americans (about 2 to 1, according to 2011-2012 data).

Incarceration inequity is a function of race, not class. As data from the Office for Civil Rights reveals, African-American students represent 18% of students in a representative sample of 85% of the US students. But they represent 35% of those suspended once, 46% of those suspended more than once, and 39% of students expelled.

Prison pipeline

As a policy that reinforces personal accountability, “zero-tolerance” resonates with the public in the US as part of a larger trust in cultural myths such as the rugged individual and meritocracy.

Kang-Brown, Trone, Fratello, and Daftary-Kapur have exposed the racially inequitable consequences of zero-tolerance policies:
There is abundant evidence that zero-tolerance policies disproportionately affect youth of colour. Nationally, black and Latino students are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white students … and because boys are twice as likely as girls to receive these punishments, the proportion of black and Latino boys who are suspended or expelled is especially large.
Based on her research in a high-poverty urban high school, Kathleen Nolan’s book Police in the Hallways forces readers to listen to the stories of young people who live under zero-tolerance policies.

“In a building full of struggling and alienated students, order-maintenance policing took precedence over educative aims and a culture of control permeated the building,” she wrote.

Zero-tolerance policies were introduced to address some of the social concerns about how public schools often serve as “school-to-prison pipelines” for impoverished minority students. But by placing police in the hallways, these same policies only worked to turn those schools into virtual prisons.

The parallel inequity in the criminal justice system and in schools is repeated, however, in the academic inequity experienced by impoverished and minority students in their classrooms.

Nolan details that in urban schools, there is often a predominance of high-pressure tests and controversial programs in reading and maths with “limited focus on other content areas and often none at all on art and other kinds of enrichment”.

Addressing inequity

The Office for Civil Rights highlights that gender, race and native language inequities also exist in access to advanced courses, grade retention, and teacher assignment.

So for the students who need public schools the most, academics and discipline policies are apt to fail those students in ways that are discriminatory.

Zero-tolerance policies, like mass incarceration, are creating failure and criminality specifically among high-poverty African American boys.

Just as many of the current education reform commitments - such as those related to high-stakes testing, grade retention, charter schools, and Teach for America - are failing to address, and often intensifying, educational inequity, the discipline policies in US schools represent patterns that must be corrected.

Although the Obama administration appears unwilling to change course on academic reform policies, a call for addressing discipline inequities could serve as a turning point that fulfils the claim that education reform in the 21st century is the civil rights issue of our time.

But that possibility must include a larger recognition that education reform needs to address systemic racial, class, and gender inequities in society as well as institutionalised inequities reflected in and perpetuated by public schools.
The Conversation

Paul Thomas does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Why Do Politicians Stand Back From the School Gates Only to Turn Up in the Classroom?

Photography of Estelle Morris, former british ...
Estelle Morris (Wikipedia)
by Peter Davies, University of Birmingham

Demonstrating her considerable skills as a teacher, in a recent lecture at the University of Birmingham, Estelle Morris posed a question that reminded her audience of the start of a children’s book.

“Where are the politicians now?” she asked.

“They’re in the classroom!” she answered, before asking “How did they get there?” and "Should they be there in the first place?”

Reflecting on her own time in government as well as current policies, the former Labour education minister concluded that it had all gone too far.

Politicians would do well to step out of the classroom.

Instead, they should set up a body for education that would do the same job that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) does for health: providing a judgement on proposals for changing education at arms-length from government and on the basis of the best available evidence.

Was 1979 a watershed?

Identifying 1979 as a pivotal year in politicians’ relationship with schooling, Morris contrasted political manifestos before and after this date.

Before Margaret Thatcher’s election, politicians were preoccupied with who should go to school together: are comprehensive schools good or bad?; should private schools be abolished?

She suggested that around 1979, politicians of all parties realised that changing the organisation of schooling was not the answer. The real difference was made in the classroom.

So after 1979, that’s where the politicians thought they should be. They re-designed the curriculum, they decided which books children should read and which bits of history they should learn, they decided how often children should be tested, they decided how teachers should organise their lessons and which was the best way to teach children to read.

But was 1979 really a watershed for politicians’ belief in their ability to improve the schools by reorganising them?

Since that time we have had city technology colleges, grant-maintained schools, foundation schools, specialist schools, academies and free schools. Secretaries of state have taken on more power to close schools they don’t want and to choose which new schools open.

On the day of Morris’s speech, the government announced “an ambitious new accountability system (that) will raise standards across the board”, including introducing new tests for four-year-olds.

These changes have been prefaced by politicians arguing that schools need freedom to do what they know is best. Many headteachers speak of relishing their freedom to run schools for the benefit of the children they teach.

So why have politicians promised to stand back from the school gates only to turn up later in the classroom? Why is it necessary for politicians to make such frequent adjustments to headteachers’ freedom of action?

The frequency and detail of politicians' interventions in education goes well beyond what used to be called “fine-tuning” in economic policy.

Pulled under the department’s control

By 1979, economic orthodoxy had dismissed the idea that governments knew enough or could act fast enough to manage the economy in any kind of fine-grained manner.

In 1998, the task of managing the country’s money was devolved to the Bank of England so that the professionals in the money markets could have confidence that the interests of the economy would not play second fiddle to the interests of politicians.

The reverse has happened in education. Between 2011 and 2012 the government closed its “arms-length” agencies and drew all of their work into the department for education under the more direct control of the secretary of state. Do politicians really know so much more about education than they do about the economy?

The proposal by Morris for an education version of NICE has its attractions. If “arms-length” works for the Bank of England, (though arguably not so cleanly for the NHS), why not for education? Surely an independent assessment of evidence on best practice for schools has to be welcomed?

But there are some problems. First, is there enough evidence to review? For example, the NHS currently spends over £1 billion a year on research through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Between 2010 and 2012, government spending on educational research at the Department for Education was cut by 59% in real terms from £32m to £13m. The cumulative effect of this kind of difference is that not only a much smaller volume of research on education but a much smaller and less secure knowledge base.

In addition, what is the incentive for politicians to get out of the classroom now they’re in? There is enormous scope for changes to teaching and testing which sound plausible enough to the electorate.

It is easier to talk with voters about requiring children to learn a modern foreign language than it is to explain what you are doing about quantitative easing and fiscal cliffs.

It is no accident that becoming secretary of state for education puts you on a ladder rather than a snake. Finding politicians in the classroom looks odd from the perspectives of “rolling back the state” or “public sector reform”.

But it would take a politician with a new sense of direction to allow NICE and NIHR equivalents to take centre stage in education.
The Conversation

Peter Davies receives funding from the Nuffield Foundation and the European Union.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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30 Tips for Successful Academic Research and Writing

Academic Publishing Wiki
Academic Publishing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Deborah Lupton, Impact of Social Sciences:

Choosing something that you are passionately interested in to research is a great first step on the road to successful academic writing but it can be difficult to keep the momentum going.

Deborah Lupton explains how old-fashioned whiteboards and online networking go hand-in-hand, and advices when it is time to just ‘make a start’ or go for a bike ride.

As part of preparing for a workshop on academic publishing for early career academics, I jotted down some ideas and tips to share with the group which I thought I would post here.

In the process of writing 12 books and over 110 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters over a career which has mostly been part-time because of juggling the demands of motherhood with academic work, I have developed some approaches that seem to work well for me.

These tips are in no particular order, apart from number 1, which I consider to be the most important of all. 

Planning your research schedule
  1. Choose something to research/write about that you are passionately interested in. I find that most of my research and writing tends to spring from wanting to find out more or understand more about a particular phenomenon that intrigues me. In explaining it to myself I end up explaining it to others, hopefully in a new and interesting way that is worthy of publication.
  2. Be organised - planning time use is essential when there are many demands on your time.
  3. Make sure that you set aside one or more periods of time each week when you devote yourself to research and don’t let other demands impinge on this time.
  4. So I can easily see what I need to do and by when, I use a white-board with a ‘to do’ list with tasks listed monthly and their deadlines. I rub off tasks as I complete them (usually with a great sense of accomplishment!). Very low tech, I know, but effective as a visual reminder.
  5. Plan your research in chunks: this morning, today, this week, this month, next few months, this year, next three years. Have a clear idea for what you want to achieve in these time periods and try to stick to this as much as you can.
  6. I don’t tend to think more than a year ahead when it comes to research outcomes I want to achieve, but I find it helpful to write up at least a one-year research plan at the beginning of each year. Some people may also want to prepare a 3- or 5-year research plan.
  7. Be strategic about every bit of research time available. Think about the best use of your time. Difficult cognitive tasks requiring intense thought often need a lengthy period of time, so plan to do these when this is available to you. Easy or less time-intensive tasks such as correcting proofs, editing or formatting a journal article or chapter for submission or reading some materials and taking notes can be fitted in smaller periods of time.
Making a start
  1. Use whatever research time you have to do something, however small the task.
  2. Make a start. Once you have an idea for a piece of writing, create a file for it on your computer and write down anything, however rough and however brief, even if it is just a provisional title and some notes about possible content. It can always be polished and developed later or even discarded if you decide eventually not to go ahead with the idea.
  3. Organise your writing into different computer files: articles in progress, submitted articles, accepted articles, conference papers, blog posts, book proposals, grant applications etc.
  4. Organise your PDF journal article collection under topics in files on your computer.
  5. If you are feeling unenthusiastic or have hit a wall - leave that piece of writing for a while and work on another piece of writing.
  6. If no external deadline has been set, set yourself deadlines and try to meet these as much as you can, so that you can then move on to the next piece of writing.
Getting the most out of your writing
  1. Use your writing in as many different ways as you can - conference papers, articles/ chapters, books, blog posts. Turn the small (unrefereed) pieces into bigger (refereed) pieces whenever you can and vice versa. What starts out as a blog post can be later developed into an article, for example. Conversely some of the main arguments of an article can be used in one or more blog posts.
  2. Never let a conference/ seminar paper stay a conference/ seminar paper - turn it into an article/ book chapter as soon as you can. If there is simply not enough substance for a piece that is the length of a journal article or book chapter, consider polishing and referencing the paper appropriately. Once it is at a standard where you consider it ready to be available to others, publish it on your university’s e-repository as a working paper. That way, anyone will be able to access the paper digitally and reference it.
  3. Decide on an appropriate journal as you are writing an article and tailor the argument/length to the journal’s requirements before you finish it.
  4. Once you think that you have finished a piece of writing and are ready to submit it, put it aside for a least a day and come back and read it again with fresh eyes. You will most probably notice something that could be improved upon. Once you have done this and are feeling happy with the piece, go ahead and submit. As another commentator has argued, you need to conquer your fear and send your writing off into the world: ‘we owe it to the words we have written to send them away’.
  5. Receiving feedback from academic referees on a writing piece or research proposal can sometimes be demoralising. Don’t let negative comments get you down for long. Grit your teeth and revise and resubmit as soon as you can, however tedious it feels. See this as an opportunity to make your piece the very best it can be. If the article has been rejected, take a good hard look at whether the referees’ comments are valid and if necessary, revise and then submit it to another journal. Remember that all successful academic writers have received negative feedback at times: that is simply part-and-parcel of academic writing and publishing.
  6. Rather than simply deleting material when you are editing a piece of writing, make ‘edits’ computer files into which to ‘paste’ this material when you cut it (I make several edits files under topics). You never know when you may be able to use this material somewhere else.
  7. Think about how one writing piece can lead to another as you are writing it.
  8. Make sure that your abstract is well-written and will lead others to your work (see here for guidelines on writing an effective abstract).
  9. Keep on top of the latest research published in the journals you use for your research. One easy way to do this is to sign up to email alerts with the publishers of the journals and you will be notified by them of the contents of each new issue.
Connect for inspiration
  1. Inspiration for research can come from many places. Attending conferences and seminars and reading the latest academic literature in your field are all extremely important, but so are other strategies. As a sociologist, I have generated many ideas from listening to good quality radio programs, reading newspapers and my favourite online sites and blogs regularly and engaging in social media such as Twitter and Facebook with people interested in the topics I research (see more on social media at no. 25).
  2. Connect, connect, connect. Publicise your research and make connections with other researchers as much as you can. Make contact with others working in areas related to your interests even if they are in different departments or in other universities. Join relevant research networks or start your own.
  3. Strengthen your online presence. Think about using social and other digital media to promote your research, engage with the community and make academic connections. Set up a profile on at the barest minimum. Make sure your university webpage is kept up-to-date with your latest publications and research projects. Write blog posts (if you don’t want to commit to your own blog, do guest posts for others’ blogs or for online discussion forums), sign up to Twitter and relevant Facebook pages, put your PowerPoints on SlideShare, make Pinterest boards (see here for my introduction to social media for academics).
  4. Use digital bookmarking sites such as, Pinterest, Delicious or Bundlr to save interesting material you have found on the web (see here for a discussion of using tools like these for academic work).
  5. Use a computerised online reference manager such as Endnote, Zotero or Mendeley. Get in the habit of loading citations straight into this each time as soon as you come across them.
  6. Think carefully about who you collaborate with on research before agreeing to do so. Good collaborators will add immensely to your own work: bad ones will make your life difficult and you won’t be happy with the outputs you produce.
  7. Seek out the advice or mentorship of more experienced academics whose research you respect.
  8. Take regular walks/ runs/ bike rides. This will not only keep you physically fit but will also provide a mental space to think through an argument or come up with new ideas. Some of my best ideas have come when I have been in motion and my thoughts are unencumbered.
Note: This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of the Impact of Social Sciences blog, nor of the London School of Economics.

This blog was originally published on Deborah’s blog, ‘This Sociological Life’ , and is reprinted here with permission.

About the author:
Deborah Lupton is a sociologist in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney. She is the author of 12 books and many research articles and chapters on topics including medicine and public health, the body, risk, parenting culture, childhood, the emotions, obesity politics, and digital cultures.
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

PhD Supervisor: The Perfect One Doesn't Exist, So Where Else Can You Find Help?

Exhausted Student Falling Asleep While Cramming
Photograph: Alamy
If you're struggling to get the support you need from your PhD supervisor, there are online communities that can help fill the gap, says Gwen Boyle. 
Overworked PhD students can struggle to get support - but online communities offer valuable help.
Supervisors are not superhuman. Some give brilliant writing guidance, but are ineffectual when a student reveals that they are depressed. Others become best friends with their students, but never motivate them to put words on the page.

I was fortunate to have a great PhD supervisor who was attentive, communicative and extremely helpful. However, supervisors are often as stressed as their students - disconnected and overwhelmed by their own work. In the rare, worst-case scenario, a supervisor dislikes and undermines a student.

If a supervisor can't help, where can a student find support?

Fellow students are an option, but online communities, blogs and forums are also increasingly popular (and anonymous) sources of advice. What can students gain from online resources that might be missing from the supervisor-student relationship? 

Unlimited practical advice

The ideal supervisor has infinite time and unparalleled knowledge. She is patient and always available; she is understanding and constantly supportive. Unfortunately, she doesn't exist.

Supervisors have classes to teach, assignments to mark and meetings to attend. They won't always have time to explain the mechanics of MLA citation … again. However, there are many online resources devoted to the practicalities of research and writing.

During my PhD, I collected and bookmarked advice from respected academic blogs such as Explorations of Style and The Thesis Whisperer (which boasts over 2m page views, and counting).

When I got stuck on a practical issue, such as how to structure my thesis introduction, these sites were my first port of call.

Twitter hashtags such as #phdchat and #ECRchat allow students to reach out for advice in a way that would have been impossible even a few years ago.

Twitter's egalitarian platform breaks down barriers between students and established academics, making it easier to seek informal help from experienced researchers. 

Emotional support

Recent discussions of mental health in academia revealed that many postgraduate students suffer in solitude and silence. The remarkable explosion of online comment about the issue indicates how much it touched a nerve.

Sadly, students cannot always turn to their supervisors or departments when facing mental health crises.

I personally know students who avoid mentioning these issues to a supervisor for fear of seeming lazy or uncommitted.

In anonymous forums such as PhinisheD and PhDStudent early career researchers can openly discuss depression and emotional barriers to work such as lack of motivation, impostor syndrome and fear of failure.

The ever-popular PhD Comics lampoons the postgrad under pressure: drowning in confusing advice, fighting off demanding undergraduates and surviving on noodles.

It's too close to the truth for some. Facing job market fears, low adjunct pay, crushing workloads, debt and uncertain futures, some PhD students are exhausted, poor and miserable. Even lurking on a forum where others express their academic worries can be cathartic. 

Honest discussion

In my final year, especially, I noticed friends who were also completing PhDs questioning aspects of academic life. Is this the best way to write my thesis? Do I have to do all this extra conference-organising to get ahead? Will I be able to get a job when I graduate?

Your supervisor won't necessarily be able to advise you on these issues. It might be decades since they personally encountered the job market, for instance.

Discussing your concerns with colleagues might precipitate awkward questions. Online communities express concerns that students dare not speak aloud.

This is evident in the burgeoning network of blogs and forums that explore life beyond academia. Honesty is king here, from the excoriating 100 Reasons not to go to graduate school to the more restrained How to leave academia and the practical VersatilePhD forum. These present alternative voices and viewpoints that are not often found within academic departments. 

Complementing, not replacing

Online communities are enlightening, but I don't believe that they can replace supervisors. Supervisors are the human link between the student and the university. They are personally invested in your progress and prepared to fight your corner - or at least, they should be!

A good supervisor is a guide and mentor, not an encyclopedia or a self-help book. Supervisors and online resources are very different entities, and can happily complement one another in a student's academic life.

Gwen Boyle is a freelance writer who recently graduated with a PhD in American literature from University College Cork, Ireland - follow her on Twitter @gwen_boyle.

Friday, March 28, 2014

7 Tips for Writing a Great Research Paper

tipsby Arjenne Louter, the Dutch PhD Coach:

A while ago, I received this great link from my colleague Annemarie Van der Zeeuw to a lecture of Professor Simon Peyton Jones on writing.

He gives seven simple suggestions to make sure you write a great research paper. His suggestions:
  1. don’t wait - write,
  2. identify your key idea,
  3. tell a story,
  4. nail your contributions,
  5. put related work at the end,
  6. put your readers first,
  7. listen to your readers.
How to apply them? Listen to the lecture, it takes a bit more than 30 minutes, but it is worthwhile!

Can't Our Teachers Even be Trusted to Dress Appropriately?

Teaching (Photo credit: DBduo Photography)
by Benjamin T. Jones, University of Western Sydney

Do the clothes make the teacher?

This certainly appears to be the attitude of NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli who released details of a new dress code starting in term two for the state’s 70,000 teachers.

While much in the report is little more than common sense, there is a strange inconsistency in a government that wants to give more power to principals yet does not trust them to manage the dress standards of their staff.

Whatever the intention, the decision is demeaning, laden with negative connotations about the profession and unnecessary micro-management with an undertone of sexism.

What do our clothes say?

The clothes we wear are undoubtedly imbued with social cues and cultural significance. Teachers understand this. At university they are taught that professional attire sends a powerful unspoken message and can increase what Robert Tauber calls “referent power”.

Educators require a range of different clothes for different settings, and a teacher of physical education, industrial design, woodwork, horticulture or dance would be inappropriately dressed in a suit and tie.

Similarly, primary teachers have to factor in that many hours of their day are spent on the floor. Teaching is a dynamic profession and this is reflected in clothing.

The dress code

Strategically released on Sunday afternoon, the NSW dress code is conspicuous for its very pointlessness. There has been no noted concern over the standard of teacher’s dress, so perhaps the move simply represents a minister eager to seem relevant and proactive. Piccoli has insisted that:
Employees must not wear inappropriate clothes such as singlets, T-shirts, tracksuits or rubber thongs, ripped or dirty clothes, or clothes with inappropriate slogans.
While the minister argues he is helping teachers “maintain respect and credibility”, he achieves the opposite with the inference that teachers are turning up to work in such a shabby state.

As one bemused tweeter put it, “I’ve worked as a teacher for over 30 years and I’ve yet to see a teacher in thongs.”

For anyone involved in education, it is very difficult to imagine a teacher turning up to work in clothes that display alcohol and cigarette branding; another new breach of the dress code.

If under some bizarre circumstance it did happen, it is certainly impossible to imagine the principal not stepping in. For others, however, the prospect must seem more plausible and the code has served the (presumably) unintended purpose of discrediting the profession.

Having addressed the clearly feared but as-yet-unsighted teacher who explains Pythagoras’ Theorem with a cigarette in his mouth while wearing thongs, footy shorts and a VB singlet, the dress code takes a disturbingly gendered detour.

While “male employees are required to wear a collared shirt”, female employees are warned not to “wear revealing clothes such as those exposing bare midriffs, strapless tops or dresses, or clothes that may be construed as suggestive and/or offensive”.

While the dress code simply requires male employees to dress neatly, female employees are implicitly told they are responsible for male reactions to their bodies and must not provoke a sexual response.

Seemingly this is not an issue for male teachers, who are not warned against wearing tight trousers or shirts. It is only the female staff who can be guilty of being “revealing" or “suggestive”.

The inference is that female bodies are the common property of the male gaze and must be regulated and suitably covered up.

In this regard, the dress code is not all that far removed from the teachers’ contract of Sacramento in 1915, which punished female staff who dyed their hair, adorned bright colours or failed to wear at least two petticoats.

If female teachers are trusted to guide our young people through to adulthood, they can probably be trusted to dress themselves.

Has Piccoli done more harm than good?

If Piccoli was attempting to raise the status of teachers, he may have achieved the opposite. When Linda Silmalis reported the new standards in the Daily Telegraph, many commentators clearly felt the dress code was in response to a legitimate problem.

“How can they command respect by looking like another student?” asked one outraged reader. “There’s no way in hell kids nowadays are going to respect teachers who turn up looking like they’re going to stop for nine holes on the way home,” offered another.

The comments did eventually diversify and some objected to the “teacher-bashing”, but the entire premise was laden with negative connotations. This has again placed teachers on the back foot, forced to defend their dedication and professionalism.

A lack of respect and social status is a problem teachers face, and one that requires a collaborative, community-focused approach.

Perhaps Adrian Piccoli had good intentions, but the former farmer and lawyer seems not to understand the major issues facing the teaching profession. Teachers already know how to dress themselves.

What they need from their minister is not a dress code but an attentive ear, professional support and a commitment to social justice.
The Conversation

Benjamin T. Jones is a former high school teacher and former member of the NSW Teachers Federation and NSW Institute of Teachers.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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How to Stay on Top of Online Education: Lessons From the New York Stock Exchange

DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
by Daniel Beunza, Impact of Social Sciences:

Daniel Beunza looks at how universities can continue to stay on top of technological change in the face of mounting start-up competition and debilitating institutional inertia. 

Drawing on his research on the transition to algorithmic trading at the New York Stock Exchange, Beunza argues that in order to have lasting success, online education and technology-mediated learning must be designed to complement rather than replace existing processes.

As a lecturer at the London School of Economics, I often find myself discussing the impact of online courses. What will happen to a leading institution such as the LSE as universities put professors on YouTube?

My research on a very different institution - the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) - suggests that leading universities need to be very careful in the adoption of technology (delaying it as much as necessary to get it right), building on rather than replacing the classrooms.

With the recent growth of free online courses, there is no shortage of pessimists about the future of the university. A recent article in the Financial Times by Luke Johnson, a columnist and technology entrepreneur, makes the point very clearly:
Oxford university, my alma mater, is a classic case of a complacent establishment that is refusing to reinvent itself. It will consequently find life much harder in the 21st century. Britain’s finest educational name has shunned the entire academy school movement, ignores the explosion in online learning and fails dismally to exploit its intellectual property commercially. It has been captured by insiders, too many of whom teach degree courses for the old world. It lives off past glories, and is doomed to fade unless it reforms vigorously. Start-ups, be they companies, charities or social enterprises, are cheaper and quicker to launch than ever before. I’m involved with fresh initiatives in banking, education, baking and pubs among others - often it is simpler than trying to transform the old oligopolies. Many of the latter are finding it hard to cope with a lack of trust and the end of deference. They will no doubt disappear or be merged, as the public desert them.
Complacent establishment. Backwardness. And past glory. The article’s pessimism - to the extent that is accurate - could apply as well to Oxford as to the LSE. Except that Mr. Johnson is not entirely correct in his fear.

The dilemma posed by him is one that I have tackled in my research. The arrival of new technology opens up new possibilities for a leading institution, but how can universities gain from electronics while staying unique?

I saw a similar case in the NYSE. I have been doing fieldwork at the NYSE for the past ten years, with more than seventy visits in total. In a recent paper with Yuval Millo, we have analyzed the lessons that can be extracted from its automation.

Before 2006, the Exchange strenuously resisted adopting algorithmic trading.

It was forced to do that by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2006, but the algorithms - designed in a rush and against the desires of the floor specialists and brokers - replaced rather than complemented the humans on the floor.

The NYSE’s market share dropped from 80 percent in 2003 to 25 percent in 2008.

Eventually, the NYSE managed to stem the drop in share in 2009 by turning to a blended form of automation. The new automation designed benefited from input from the floor community.

It preserved the human specialist and its trading floor by giving algorithms to the specialists, which they could carry around as they walked around with handheld computers that look like an ipad.

The NYSE also developed a system for toggling between manual and automated trading, just like commercial jets have with the autopilot.

This blended approach was a success. Keeping the building and the humans in them allowed the NYSE beat its electronic rivals during the Flash Crash of 2010: Nasdaq, BATS and DirectEdge.

With its successful initial public offering of Twitter in 2013, the NYSE beat Nasdaq’s algorithmic fiasco in the case of Facebooks IPO.

The lesson from the NYSE for LSE and other leading institutions in the UK and the US are clear: To preserve their distinctive traits, automation needs to allow for practices that preserve the original social order.

This means the material infrastructure such as the buildings (e.g., classrooms, libraries), as well as the social roles such as professors. Don’t rush to get into algos until you have a way to integrate them with the professors and the classrooms.

Daniel Beunza will be teaching on the Sociology of Finance: Networks, Culture and Performance as part of LSE’s Executive Summer School.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Author

Daniel Beunza is Assistant Professor in Management at the London School of Economics and editor of Socializing Finance, a blog on the sociology of finance.

Image credit home page slider: Rafael Matsunaga (CC BY)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Writing Retreats, aka Binge Writing: Pros and Cons

by Susan Carter, Doctoral Writing:

I am at a desk overlooking trees soaking up misty rain.

This post represents a spasm of procrastination from the article that I’m writing on what is for me a new area of research interest.

Beside me I have an ambitious stack of reading for the week; I need to get my head round recent literature. In front of me, the laptop, currently showing my resurrected Endnote library - somehow I have lost a more recent version so need to move on and recreate.

Around me, other women academics are also writing, including a couple of them finishing their PhD theses, and a couple who are newly graduated and now pumping out articles to meet their post-doc grants’ mandates.

It’s the third day of one of Barbara Grant’s writing retreats for academic women. I have read five articles and skimmed two journals - two books and another five journals sit waiting.

I have also written 3,749 words, a bit boring and disjointed, but first draft material certainly enough sitting in a document. I know that by the end of a fairly blissful week I will have accomplished a draft of an article to fine tune later, and may have almost caught up with this batch of reading.

Robert Boice (1987), who is foundational in research on research writing, suggests that what he calls ‘binge writing,’ in days given just to writing, actually handicaps academic writers, because it encourages procrastination. He recommends instead making space for short bursts daily.

I have to say that writing briefly and daily is how I usually meet my own publication deadlines. It works for me.

It also means avoiding fetishizing writing or making it like a sacred ritual requiring trappings, place, silence, atmosphere … instead, I find it helpful to see it as part of the ordinary pattern of each day.

Boice has been influential: other academics supporting dissertation writing propose sustained daily short bursts of writing to produce what Joan Bolker describes as the dissertation written in 15 minutes per day.

Alison Miller (2007), for example, produced a blog post citing Bolker and endorsing ‘the 15 minute rule.’ But there are many approaches to productivity, and it is maybe best to work across all of them.

So what do writing retreats give participants? The writing retreat offers a dimension I do not get in short snatches at my office desk. It’s the business-class luxury approach. Most conspicuously, it offers a quiet space allowing real thinking.

This is the oasis that I keep ahead of me through all the times I write at a desk cluttered with folders relating to committee work, teaching work, reviewing work.

I’m always able to write at my desk, but I cannot immerse myself in the same level of thinking. At the retreat, there is just a desk, my reading and laptop and no other demands.

And there is the social dimension of writing with others. Having others around working and obviously deep in thought is somehow energising, as though we mutually thrive on each other’s absorption in their writing.

Inger Mewburn’s ‘shut up and write’ taps into the energy of critical mass, an energy that is somehow prompted by writers working together in a shared congenial space.  The tapping of fingers on other people’s keyboards motivates Inger.

Encouraging doctoral students to write daily makes sense; if there are sometimes writing retreats established for them, they are likely to find clarity of thinking, energy from others - and likely to shift their writing forwards. Do you have experience or thoughts about writing retreats?


Boice, R. (1987) A Program for Facilitating Scholarly Writing, Higher Education Research and Development, 6:1, 9-20.

Bolker, J. (1998). Writing your dissertation in fifteen minutes a day : a guide to starting, revising, and finishing your doctoral thesis. New York: Henry Holt.

Grant, B. M. (2006). Writing in the company of other women:exceeding the boundaries, Studies in Higher Education, 31: 4, 483–495.

Attracting the Best and Brightest to Teaching

by Lawrence Ingvarson, ACER Research Developments:

Image © lightpoet, Shutterstock
Image © lightpoet, Shutterstock

Creating increasing demand for teacher education from high achieving students is an important step in improving outcomes in our schools, as Lawrence Ingvarson explains.

There is a growing body of evidence that the most important in-school influence on student achievement is teachers’ knowledge and skill.

To improve student outcomes in Australia we therefore need to increase quality in our supply of teaching graduates, by ensuring that our best and brightest students see teaching as an attractive long-term career, and that they graduate from university as high-quality teachers.

One way to increase demand for teacher education places from high achieving students is to improve the remuneration of highly accomplished teachers.

Recent research shows that what distinguishes countries with higher student achievement are the salaries of experienced teachers relative to other professions.

We know from several surveys that our ablest school graduates consider teaching a worthwhile profession, but most decide against it because of its perceived status and the fact that salaries plateau at a low level relative to other professions.

While Australia has maintained reasonably competitive salaries at the entry stage, the Productivity Commission noted in a major 2012 report:
‘increases in teachers’ pay do not appear to have kept pace with those in other professions.  Indeed, the evidence is that, since 1995, there has been no increase in the average real salaries of Australia’s more experienced teachers’.

Consequently, the ratio of Australian teachers’ salary to GDP per capita, 1.30, is now among the lowest in OECD countries, where the average is 1.65.

If we are to improve student outcomes we need to invest long term to make the teaching profession as strong and attractive as in countries like Finland and Singapore, where salaries for teachers compare favourably with those in other professions.

Another possible way to increase demand for teacher education places from high achieving students is to limit the supply, by mandating the minimum Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank or ATAR required for entry to a teacher education program.

This is an option currently being pursued in NSW, where Education Minister Adrian Piccoli is calling for universities to require applicants for teacher education places to have achieved at least 80 per cent in three Year 12 subjects, including English.

Of course, all students should have the opportunity to undertake tertiary study, but it would be both feasible and appropriate to direct students who want to teach, but have not attained the minimum ATAR for entry to teaching, into other degree programs that enable them to show what they can do, before being eligible to apply for a teacher education place.

Decisions about the quality of entrants to teaching courses affect the wider society and therefore should not belong to universities alone. Education systems, schools, teachers and the public must have a larger say in who enters this critical first stage of the profession.

Besides making teaching a more attractive profession, we also need to raise teaching standards. Other things being equal, teachers with deep understanding of, and confidence in, what they are teaching will be more successful than teachers lacking these qualities.

A teacher’s ability to provide innovative, interesting and intellectually challenging conditions for student learning depends on the depth and breadth of their knowledge about the subject they are teaching.

Universities are more likely to supply high-quality graduates if they take seriously the requirement by teacher registration or accreditation bodies that entrants should ‘successfully demonstrate their capacity to engage effectively with a rigorous higher education program and to carry out the intellectual demands of teaching itself’ supply high-quality graduates.

With improved remuneration and higher ATARs for entry we can improve the attractiveness of our teaching courses. With greater rigour in those courses we can increase the quality of teacher graduates - and then we will see improved student outcomes in our schools.
Further information

This article was published in the Australian Financial Review on 24 March 2013.

About the author

Dr Lawrence Ingvarson is a Principal Research Fellow in ACER's Teaching, Learning and Transitions research program. Read full bio.

School Comparison: The Haves and the Have Nots

by Kylie Hillman, ACER Research Developments:

Stark differences between the resourcing, safety and orderliness of ‘affluent’ and ‘disadvantaged’ schools contribute to large student achievement gaps, as Kylie Hillman explains.

Studies show that students from disadvantaged homes tend to perform lower, on average, in formal assessments of achievement than students from more affluent homes.

They also show that achievement in schools with higher proportions of students from disadvantaged backgrounds tends to be lower than in schools with more affluent students.

Studies supporting these claims include the most recent administrations of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), conducted nationally by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in 2011.

PIRLS and TIMSS show that, at Year 4 level in Australia, there is an average difference of 56 score points in reading, 58 points in mathematics and 56 points in science between ‘disadvantaged schools’, in which more than a quarter of students come from disadvantaged homes and less than a quarter come from affluent homes, and ‘affluent schools’, in which more than a quarter come from affluent homes and less than a quarter come from disadvantaged homes.

Analysis of the teacher and principal questionnaires that form part of PIRLS and TIMSS illustrates further differences between affluent and disadvantaged schools, and suggests reasons behind the achievement gap.


When asked to indicate the extent to which instruction was affected by a variety of resource shortages, 55% of students in affluent schools had principals who reported being ‘somewhat affected’ compared to 75% of students in disadvantaged schools.

Teachers are obviously a key resource when it comes to providing a high-quality education to all students. Along with issues such as qualifications and training, teachers’ confidence in their ability to teach can be an important factor to consider.

Just 27% of teachers in disadvantaged schools reported feeling ‘very confident’ teaching science compared to 51% of teachers in affluent schools, while 66% of teachers in disadvantaged schools were ‘very confident’ teaching maths compared to 81% in affluent schools.

Figure 1: Teacher confidence in teaching mathematics and science

Safety and orderliness

To investigate perceptions of safety and orderliness, principals were asked whether their schools had problems such as tardiness, absenteeism, classroom disturbances, cheating, profanity, vandalism, theft, intimidation or verbal abuse and physical fighting among students.

About half (51%) of students in disadvantaged schools had principals who reported minor problems in these areas, and a further eight per cent reported major problems.

In affluent schools, only 20% of students had principals who reported minor problems in these areas, and none reported major problems.

Notably, Australian students in schools with ‘hardly any problems’ scored higher on average in reading and science in TIMSS and PIRLS than students in schools with minor problems.

Towards equity

A key message from the most recent OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report released by ACER in December 2013 is that high-performing countries tend to allocate resources more equitably across socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged schools.

The finding from PIRLS and TIMSS that disadvantaged schools appear to be more affected by resourcing shortages than affluent schools, indicates that more needs to be done in Australia to address equity issues and raise academic achievement.
Read the full report
Snapshots Issue 3, February 2014, ‘Equity and effectiveness’ by Sue Thomson and Kylie Hillman.
Further information:

For further snapshots from PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, subscribe to ACER’s free series: Snapshots: Global assessment // local impact

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How To Be the Grad Student Your Advisor Brags About

Image representing Mendeley as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase
by , Impact Story blog:

Your advisor is ridiculously busy - so how do you get her to keep track of all the awesome research you are doing? Short answer: do great work that has such high online visibility, she can’t ignore it.

Easy, right? But if you’re like me, you actually might appreciate a primer on how to maximize and document your research’s impact. Here, I’ve compiled a guide to get you started.

1. Do great work

To begin with, you need to do work that’s worth bragging about. Self-promotion and great metrics don’t amount to much if your research isn’t sound.

2. Increase your work’s visibility

Assuming that you’ve got that under control, making your “hidden” work visible is an easy next step. Gather the conference posters, software code, data, and other research products that have been sitting on your hard drive.

Using Figshare, you can upload datasets and make them findable online. You can do the same for your software using GitHub, and for your slide decks using Slideshare.

Want to make your work popular? Consider licensing it openly. Open licenses like CC-BY allow others to reuse your work more easily, advancing science quickly while still giving you credit. Here are some guides to help you license your data, code, and papers.

Making your work openly available has the benefit of allowing others to reuse and repurpose your findings in new and unexpected ways - adding to the number of citations you could potentially receive.

These sites can also report metrics that allow you to see often they are viewed, downloaded, and used in other ways (more about that later).

3. Raise your own profile by joining the conversation

Informal exchanges are the heart of scientific communication, but formal “conversations” like written responses to journal articles are also important. Here are three steps to raising your profile.
  1. Engage others in formal forums. You may already participate in conversations in your field at conferences and in the literature. If you do not, you should. Presenting posters, in particular, can be a helpful way to get feedback on your work while at the same time getting to know others in your field in a professional context.
  2. Engage others more and often. Don’t be a wallflower, online nor off. Though it can be intimidating to chat up senior researchers in your field - or even other grad students, for that matter - it’s a necessary step to building a community of collaborators. An easy way to start is by joining the Web equivalent of a ‘water cooler’ conversation: Twitter. There are lots of great guides to help you get started (PDF). When you’ve gained some confidence and have longform insights to add, start a blog to share your thoughts. This post offers great tips on academic blogging for beginners, as does this article.
  3. Engage others in the open. Conversations that happen via email only serve those who are on the email chain. Two great places to have conversations that can benefit anyone who chooses to listen - while also getting you some name recognition–are disciplinary listservs and Twitter. Open engagement also lets others to join the debate.

4. Know your impact: track your work’s use online

Once you’ve made your contributions to your discipline more visible, track the ways that your work is being used and discussed by others online.

There are great tools that can help: the bookmarklet,’s visualization dashboard, Mendeley’s Social Statistics summaries, basic metrics on Figshare, Github, and Slideshare, and Impactstory profiles.

See the buzz around articles with the bookmarklet

The bookmarklet can help you understand the reach of a particular article. Where altmetrics aren’t already displayed on a journal’s website, you can use the bookmarklet.

Drag and drop the Altmetric bookmarklet (available here) into your browser toolbar, and then click it next time you’re looking at an article on a publisher’s website. You’ll get a summary of any buzz around your article - tweets, blog posts, mentions in the press, even Reddit discussions.

DIIQ7HX.pngTrack international impact with download map
One of our favorite altmetrics visualization suites can be found on

In addition to a tidy summary of pageviews and referral sources for your documents hosted on their site, they also offer a great map visualization, which can help you to easily see the international reach of your work.

This tool can be especially helpful for those in applied, internationally-focused research - for example, Swedish public health researchers studying the spread of disease in Venezuela - to understand the consumption of articles, white papers, and policy documents hosted on

One important limitation is that it doesn’t cover documents hosted elsewhere on the web.

Understand who’s reading your work with Mendeley Social Statistics

Mendeley’s Social Statistics summaries can also help you understand what type of scholars are reading your research, and where they are located. Are they faculty or graduate students? Do they consider themselves biologists, educators, or social scientists?

If you’re writing about quantum mechanics, your advisor will be thrilled to see you have many “Faculty” readers in the field of Physics. Like visualizations, Mendeley’s Social Statistics are only available for content hosted on

Go beyond the article: track impact for your data, slides, and code

The services above work well for research articles, but what about your data, slides, and code? Luckily, Figshare, Slideshare, and Github (which we discussed in Step 2) track impact in addition to hosting content.

To track your data’s impact, get to know Figshare’s basic social sharing statistics (Twitter, Google+, and Facebook), which are displayed alongside pageviews and cites.
Oy2LxYQ.jpg     IwENKY2.jpg

To understand how others are using your presentations, use Slideshare’s metrics for slide decks. Impact is broken down into three categories: Views, Actions, and Embeds.

For code, leverage Githubsocial functionalities. Stars indicate if others have bookmarked your projects, and Forks allow you to see if others are reusing your code.

Put it all together with Impactstory

So, there are many great places to discover your impact. Too many, in fact: it’s tough to visit all these individually, and tough to see and share an overall picture of your impact that way.

An Impactstory profile can help. Impactstory compiles information from across the Web on how often people view, cite, reuse, and share your journal articles, datasets, software code, and other research outputs.

Send your advisor a link to your Impactstory profile and include it in your annual review - she’ll be impressed when reminded of all the work you’ve done (that software package she had forgotten about!) and all the attention your work is getting online (who knew your code gets such buzz!).

Congrats! You’re on your way

You’re an awesome researcher who has lots of online visibility. Citations to your work have increased, now that you have name recognition and your work can more easily be found and reused.

You’re tracking your impact regularly, and have a better understanding of your audience to show for it. Most importantly, you’re officially brag-worthy.

Are there tips I didn’t cover here that you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments.
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