Top Ten

January 31, 2014

uOttawa and ex-professor Rancourt receive arbitration decision

Denis Rancourt will not be returning to teach at the University of Ottawa after an arbitrator sided with the university in a January 27 ruling. Rancourt, previously a tenured physics professor at uOttawa, was dismissed for unconventional grading practices after being warned by the university. The Ottawa Citizen reports that “the arbitrator rejected arguments that Rancourt’s teaching methods were protected by academic freedom, freedom of expression and his tenure status.” uOttawa declined to comment further. Rancourt commented that uOttawa has “succeeded in punishing me for my public criticisms of the institution, and for my defiance in standing for what I believe is the best teaching that I can do.” Ottawa Citizen

UNC officials admit to oversight failure

Carol Folt, the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill‘s Chancellor, has publicly apologized for “a failure in academic oversight for years,” speaking of the scandal that arose at UNC in 2012 around athletes being awarded grades for fake classes. Officials at UNC have, until now, asserted that it was one professor’s actions responsible for the fake classes; James Dean, Executive Vice-Chancellor and Provost, now says, “We made mistakes. Horrible things happened that I’m ashamed of.” A UNC researcher revealed in 2012 that many student athletes could not read well enough to pass a college class, raising questions around admittance eligibility and special treatment. UNC is implementing a series of reforms aimed at improving student athlete performance and oversight, and has launched an internal investigation into the history of the department at the centre of the scandal. CNN News | Businessweek

CRÉPUQ to no longer represent universities

The Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CRÉPUQ) is reorganizing and changing its name, giving up its role as the official voice of university administrations in Quebec. Now called the Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire (BCI), the organization will continue to offer services to universities, such as joint purchasing for libraries, but will no longer represent the institutions in communications with the public, the media and government. In April 2013, Université Laval defected from CRÉPUQ, which spurred other universities to warn that they too would leave the group. A couple of months later, the 19 heads of Quebec universities announced that CRÉPUQ would no longer function as a political lobby group, and would concentrate on consensus-building activities and managing common services. BCI board Chair and Université de Sherbrooke Rector Luce Samoisette explains that CRÉPUQ could no longer represent all of the universities as they “want to have their own voice to talk about their own issues.” Samoisette continues, “Their experiences are not identical: some are single-discipline institutions, others have faculties of medicine, others are located in [different] regions...these differences can dilute our shared positions, something we saw fairly clearly during the student crisis when we were meeting regularly.” University Affairs

Concordia unveils transformative library plan

Concordia University has unveiled a plan to transform its libraries, reshaping “both physical spaces and current operations in line with an innovative vision of a learning environment for the 21st century.” The plan, which was presented to senate in December, will respond to an increasing demand for study space and to changes in information technology. “Libraries are places where critical thinking is encouraged to thrive,” says Concordia’s Interim University Librarian Guylaine Beaudry. “We’ll be creating new spaces to stimulate intellectual discourse by accommodating group interaction and more social forms of learning as well as better conditions for silent study.” In addition to such spaces, the plan proposes a “technology sandbox” where students will be able to explore cutting-edge equipment to support immersive learning and teaching experiences. Beaudry will in the coming weeks seek more input from members of the Concordia community—including students; the transformation project plan will then be submitted to the Board of Governors for approval in the fall. Concordia News Release

Sask PSE sector develops French-language MOU

The Saskatchewan government, the Assemblée Communautaire Fransaskoise (ACF), and Saskatchewan’s PSE institutions have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for a new strategy for French-language PSE in the province. ACF President Françoise Sigur-Cloutier says the new agreement will create a variety of new opportunities for francophone students. Goals supported by the MOU include providing French-language programs at PSE institutions based on student need and interest, and developing programs that form "an integral and unique component" of PSE in Saskatchewan, while “respecting the values and autonomy of each institution.” According to the Star Phoenix, the MOU provides a plan for 2013 to 2018 that could bring up to $15 million over the 5 years, which would be eligible for provincial matching. PSE institutions will receive $1.3 million each year for the next 5 years to help support the programs created. Star Phoenix

MPHEC launches contest to promote "the student experience"

The Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission (MPHEC) has launched a student photo and video contest to promote higher education in the Maritime provinces. The contest, which coincides with MPHEC’s 40th Anniversary, challenges students to submit photos or videos that illustrate life as a university student, for a chance to win cash prizes when the awards are announced in April. Winning entries will be featured on the MPHEC website and other event and promotional communications materials. MPHEC News Release

Canada launches new $25M mineral resources institute

The Canadian government has formally launched the Canadian International Institute for Resource Extraction and Development, and its first order of business is to pilot a project to train small-scale miners in improved techniques. The institute’s Executive Director, Bern Klein, says the project capitalizes on research done in the mining school at the University of British Columbia, one of 3 academic partners in the institute along with Simon Fraser University and École Polytechnique de Montréal. “The resource sector is a necessity,” said UBC VP Research John Hepburn. “So, unless you’re willing to give up your toys like [the iPhone], we do need the ores and minerals that we extract and that are in demand for all of our products.” In fall 2012, the 3 academic partners were given $25 million to create the institute. Vancouver Sun

Online learning in US grows faster than overall PSE enrolment

The number of US students enrolled in at least one online course has increased faster (at 283%) than has overall PSE enrolment between 2002 and 2010, reveals a report released by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability (OREA). The report also shows that nearly one-third of all PSE students took at least one course online in 2011. Studies reviewed by OREA indicate that students who take blended-learning courses—those that include both online and in-class work—may perform better than students who take only online or face-to-face courses. A recently-published Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) report came up with similar conclusions connecting blended learning and student success. | Report Summary

SJSU sees promising results from experimental course offerings

San Jose State University has been experimenting with the use of online video lectures in courses and has produced some promising results, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. In an introductory electrical engineering course in fall 2012, instructors used EdX to feature lectures by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors in one section, offered at the same time as 2 traditional sections. The pass rate for the experimental section was 95%, while the pass rates for the traditional sections were 57% and 74%, respectively. Results from a spring 2013 trial were similar, although SJSU professors warn against drawing too many conclusions, as the courses used different syllabi. Chronicle of Higher Education

Report compares Facebook to infectious disease, predicts its decline

A research paper by 2 Princeton University researchers compares social networks such as Facebook to an infectious disease, and abandonment of the platforms to recovery. The study also predicts that Facebook, which is “just beginning to show the onset of an abandonment phase” will lose 80% of its users by 2017. Facebook CFO David Ebersman recently announced that the social network has seen a decrease in daily usage among teens. However, many academics have weighed in on the study, finding the comparison between social networks and diseases odd. Globe and Mail writer David Milstead pointed out several flaws in the researchers’ methodology, including the fact that they used a Google search rather than Facebook’s public user data. Globe and Mail | Study Abstract