Top Ten

April 23, 2014

McMaster music lab to unlock neuroscience of sound and performance

A new lab at the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind will allow researchers to better understand how performers and audience members experience music. The Large Interactive Virtual Environment (LIVE) lab will biometrically measure the physiological reactions of up to 30 audience members as they react to performances. The lab is capable of capturing brain activity, heart rate, respiration, and skin responses, as well as movements as subtle as a pianist’s fingers moving across a key. The facility, which is described as unique in the world, is capable of replicating an extensive variety of audio environments. In addition to performance studies, the lab will enable scholars to conduct research into movement disorders and discover the effects of sound on conditions such as autism or Parkinson’s disease. It may also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of advertising and teaching methods. The LIVE Lab will officially open in September. Hamilton Spectator

peerScholar software licensed and ready to go to market

A University of Toronto Scarborough professor’s online grading software has been licensed by Pearson Canada and is ready to go to market. Steve Joorden developed an online service he calls peerScholar, a tool that facilitates anonymous peer grading of assignments. The software distributes submitted student work to a number of peers, each of whom provides a grade as well as feedback. Students are also able to grade the quality of the feedback they receive, a feature that Joorden says will help students develop their ability to provide constructive criticism. The software has already been implemented at the University of British Columbia and Queen’s University in Canada, as well as several American colleges. Pearson will also market a K-12 version of the software under the name Cogneeto. Joordens recently used the software successfully to grade a 65,000-student MOOC. The Globe and Mail

Ontario universities strengthen partnerships with Chinese universities

University of Waterloo President Feridun Hamdullahpur is in China meeting with representatives from 5 universities as well as members of China’s Ministry of Education. Among those Hamdullahpur will meet with is Chen Jining, President of Tsinghua University. Tsinghua University will begin offering a one-year pre-bachelor level course that will enable its continuing education students to study at uWaterloo, strengthening existing ties between the 2 institutions. The University of Toronto, meanwhile, has reached an agreement with China’s Fudan University to enhance each other’s capacity in primary health care and public health, including an exchange of faculty members. “We are thrilled to expand our cooperation with Fudan University across several activities and continue finding collaborative ways to solve health care issues in both countries,” said Cynthia Whitehead, acting chair of uToronto’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. These agreements follow Canada’s U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities joining China’s C9 Group as signatories to the Hefei Statement. uWaterloo News Release | uToronto News Release

HEQCO releases results of CLA/CCLA examination pilot

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) has concluded its multi-year pilot of the Council for Aid to Education’s Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) and Community College Learning Assessment (CCLA) exams, with mixed results. The CLA examination is meant to assess critical thinking and problem solving skills of graduating students, accounting for factors including socio-economic status or prior education achievement. 8 Ontario colleges and universities participated in the pilot; however, within those universities participation rates were very low. The study’s authors also noted that participants expressed concerns over self-selection bias. In spite of these shortcomings, some institutions suggested that the data may help with institutional benchmarking or comparing the effectiveness of teaching strategies. The report also notes that some of the known issues with the CLA/CCLA have been addressed in the latest incarnation of the examination, CLA+, which can be used as a “reflective learning tool” for incoming and first-year students. HEQCO Summary | Full Report

Manitoba Court of Appeals upholds decision to reimburse international students

The Manitoba Court of Appeals has thrown out the case of a former international student recruiter, who must reimburse 3 University of Winnipeg students nearly $40,000 after they endured what they described as “intolerable” living conditions. The students pre-paid the recruiter for tutoring, meals, transportation, and lodging in a basement bedroom. However, they alleged that they were constantly monitored on video, fed leftovers rather than fresh meals, and given only limited access to their rooms or electricity. The recruiter countered that the agreement signed by the students stated that prepayments would not be returned and that he had offered them meals and lodging for free as a “cultural service.” The Manitoba Residential Tenancy Board (MRTB) found for the students and has ordered the recruiter to return rent pre-paid by the students for the period after they vacated the premises; the recruiter had appealed the MRTB’s decision in December. Winnipeg Free Press

US politicians focus on campus sexual violence

Several US politicians have turned their attention to the issue of sexual violence on campus, calling for reforms and visiting campuses to gather information on best practices for prevention and raising awareness. In the next few weeks, officials from the US Department of Justice will visit 11 colleges—recipients of the DOJ Office on Violence Against Women’s grant program—to hear how prevention training, education campaigns, and efforts to coordinate responses to reports of sexual violence on campus are working. Similarly, 7 US senators recently called on the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to adopt 3 reforms: designate one employee to coordinate enforcement of the Clery Act (the federal campus-crime-reporting law) and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal gender-equity law; require colleges to conduct an anonymous, standardized survey of sexual assaults; and create a searchable database with information on investigations and enforcement actions under Title IX and the Clery Act. The task force is expected to issue a report with findings and recommendations in the near future. Inside Higher Ed | The Chronicle of Higher Education

Postscript: April 30, 2014

The White House on Tuesday released a new set of guidelines intended to combat sexual violence on US campuses. In a report entitled “Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault,” the Obama administration calls on colleges to assess the prevalence of sexual assault on campuses, as well as students’ attitudes toward it; to train campus officials on effective responses to sexual assault; to provide victims with more options to communicate privately with campus officials; and to adapt existing disciplinary policies to comply with directives from the Department of Education. The Department of Education has also issued new policy guidelines around how colleges should conduct disciplinary hearings. A website,, has also been created, to provide resources, data, and documents related to sexual assault. The Chronicle of Higher Education | Inside Higher Ed | Full Report |

US Supreme Court upholds Michigan affirmative action ban

The US Supreme Court has upheld a 2006 Michigan measure that bars public colleges and universities from considering race in admissions. The plurality opinion emphasized that the ruling does not affect the constitutionality of “race-conscious admissions policies” but that it preserves the right of voters in individual states to choose to prohibit such considerations. The opinion, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito, argues that “the decision by Michigan voters [to overturn affirmative action] reflects the ongoing national dialogue about such practices.” Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg provided a dissenting opinion, arguing that the Michigan measure was a case of “democratically approved legislation … oppress[ing] minority groups.” While this ruling specifically applied to the Michigan measure, it could have far-reaching policy implications for other states that have had similar legislative debates around affirmative action in PSE, including California and Washington State. Inside Higher Ed | Supreme Court Decision

Business students cheating at increasing rates

A survey of business school students at US and Canadian institutions is currently underway, and the study’s lead investigator expects the results to show that business school students are cheating at higher rates than they were in 2002–2004. Donald McCabe, a management and global business professor at Rutgers University, is working on a follow-up to an earlier study, “Academic Dishonesty in Graduate Business Programs,” and says that initial student comments and personal observations have led him to believe that cheating is on the rise. Julia Christensen Hughes, Dean at the University of Guelph’s College of Business and Economics, agrees that cheating seems to be increasing. The researchers think that business students may be more prone to cheating because of the profit-driven attitudes prevalent in business school. “It’s the bottom line that matters. It’s not how you get there,” McCabe says. A study conducted by CBC earlier this year found that less than 1% of the total student body in Canada had been punished for cheating in 2011–2012, with plagiarism the biggest offense. Globe and Mail

College attainment in US sees incremental increase

According to the newest annual report released by the US-based Lumina Foundation, the percentage of American adults (aged 25–64) with a PSE credential increased 0.7% from 2011–2012, to 39.4%. However, the increase falls short of Lumina’s 2012 benchmarking, and suggests that the foundation’s goal of 60% attainment by 2025 may be difficult without “significant changes in higher education.” "We’re seeing momentum, but we don’t want to be complacent or overstate it," said Jamie P Merisotis, Lumina’s President. "The possibility of getting to the goal is more likely than it was a few years ago." The report also reveals that young adults (aged 25–34) now have a college-attainment rate of 41%, an increase of 3% from 2008. Merisotis noted that with a declining youth demographic, it is necessary to turn the focus to mature learners and other non-traditional students, such as minorities. The Chronicle of Higher Education | Lumina News Release

Private student loan vendors’ default practices questioned

The US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has released its Mid-year Update on Student Loan Complaints. The report details difficulties faced by borrowers who have used a co-signer to obtain a loan from a private lender. Among the issues cited in the report are mechanisms that allow lenders to demand the balance of the loan upon the death or bankruptcy of a co-signer. Some lenders have automatically placed such loans in default, even when agreed-upon payments are being made by the borrower. The report also suggests that many borrowers have difficulties when attempting to release a co-signer, citing opaque lender policies. The report considers 2,300 reported private student loan complaints. 60% involved repayment or dealing with the lender or service provider. 28% of those involved communication tactics and 27% were about continued attempts to collect debt not owed. Only 36% of the 2,300 complaints were issues related to inability to pay the loan. The Chronicle of Higher Education | Inside Higher Ed | Full Report