Top Ten

July 10, 2014

Concordia selected to house UN Future Earth Project hub

Montreal has been chosen by the International Council for Science as one of 5 hubs for the United Nations Future Earth Project, a new program designed to support research into environmental issues and sustainability. Concordia University will house the initiative, which will be comprised of researchers from several Quebec universities. The 4 other global hubs selected for Future Earth are Tokyo, Paris, Stockholm, and Boulder (Colorado). Concordia President Alan Shepard stated, “Future Earth clearly recognizes Montreal’s research capacity and the valuable contribution we will make in developing solutions to global environmental challenges.” Future Earth has been given a 10-year mandate and will bring together 3 global environmental change programs: the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, the International Human Dimensions Programme and Diversitas. Montreal’s successful bid to house the hub is due to collaboration between representatives of Montreal International, the Quebec government and Montreal universities. Concordia News Release | Montreal Gazette

UoGuelph begins preliminary work on $45.4-million athletic facility expansion

The University of Guelph has begun construction on a $45.4-million expansion of its athletic facility. The project involves 2 stages, the first being the construction of a new, 120,000 square-foot facility that is expected to be completed in 2016. The second phase is the substantial renovation of the current athletic centre, to begin after the new facility is complete. The existing facility was built when the university had just 3,000 students, a fraction of its current enrolment of 22,000. The project is being funded in large part by the university’s students, who in 2010 agreed in a referendum to pay the capital fee for the building over 30 years. The Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Ticats, who called UoGuelph’s Alumni Stadium home last season, also contributed to the project. Guelph Mercury

Colleges Ontario reports increase in applications

Applications to Ontario’s public colleges are up this year, according to Colleges Ontario’s 2014 Environmental Scan, released this week. 197,433 distinct applications were received in 2012-13, up from 185,049 the previous year. Of the new fall 2013 applicants to Ontario’s PSE system, 58% applied to college programs. Applications from international students have also increased, with more than 23,000 received in 2013. Additionally, the report provides information on the pathways to college undertaken by students. 29% of students came directly from high school; 26% were delayed, meaning there was a gap between high school and PSE, but no prior PSE experience; and 43% had some prior PSE experience, 25% of whom had completed college/university credentials. Regarding graduation, more than 82,000 students graduated from college programs last year, and 83% of 2011–12 college graduates in the workforce were employed within 6 months of graduation. Colleges Ontario Report

UTSC offers students pre-orientation program

A program at the University of Toronto Scarborough is giving new students the chance to meet peers and get academic advice on topics such as online course selection well before orientation begins. UTSC’s Get Started program allows students and parents to attend targeted, day-long sessions on campus throughout the summer that introduce students to peers and upper-year students while learning skills for transitioning from high school into university life. Parents attend sessions on financial aid and the challenges that the transition can have on family life. Students also get information on career services and other opportunities such as mentoring and student government. “The program allows incoming students to assuage their anxieties about transitioning from high school to university,” said Rick Halpern, VP Academic. “It provides them with both specific skills and a broad sense of our expectations of them. It also allows them to meet many of their classmates and, thus, begin settling into a new and exciting setting.” UTSC News

PSE institutions must take care around CASL

Some may suggest that email is on its way out, but in the meantime PSE institutions must figure out how to navigate the new communications landscape that emerged after Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) went into effect on July 1. An article inInside Higher Ed outlines how institutions on both sides of the border are handling the new rules. Most universities in Canada have concluded that their electronic communications fall under the law’s exemptions for charities. However, some experts are urging caution, especially given the complexity of university communications. “If we are soliciting donations for the university, there is a specific provision to allow that to occur,” said Hubert Lai, University Counsel at the University of British Columbia. But, Lai said, “a counterexample would be our bookstore ... If they wanted to send out 10,000 emails to people in the local area saying we’ve got a sale, that clearly is a commercial electronic message.” Other potentially problematic cases might involve including an advertisement for a commercial sponsor in a university communication. Inside Higher Ed

AUCC President urges ministers to move beyond the rhetoric on skills

Paul Davidson, President of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, has contributed an op-ed to the Charlottetown Guardian to coincide with this week’s “Skills for the Future” symposium, which gathers provincial and territorial education and labour market ministers to discuss Canada’s education and training requirements. Davidson argues that “rhetoric has drowned out evidence, and anecdote has trumped data.” He urges the ministers to create a plan for more accurate labour market data, to devise an approach to skills development that includes all levels of PSE, and to foster stronger collaboration between government, educators, and business. He adds that recent moves to promote trades at the expense of university education are taking Canada in the wrong direction, and emphasizes the importance of planning for long-term rather than short-term needs. “Just because Canada may need more plumbers or welders doesn’t mean it needs fewer university grads,” he writes. Charlottetown Guardian

Data indicate that multi-tasking reduces test scores

A new study from Michigan State University shows that multi-tasking in class reduces test scores among students. Researchers surveyed approximately 500 students in an introductory psychology class about the frequency and duration of their use of electronic devices in the classroom. Students who had scored poorly on a standardized college readiness assessment and used the Internet in class for non-academic purposes fared worse than those who did not use the Internet in class; this trend was also observable among those who scored well on the readiness assessment. The researchers say that this finding should not encourage colleges and universities to ban electronic devices from classes, which they say would be “nearly impossible.” “Students of all intellectual abilities should be responsible for not letting themselves be distracted by use of the Internet,” said lead researcher Susan Ravizza. Instead, they hope that their data will contribute to strategies that will help limit distracting information in the classroom, the workplace, and in the car. The study confirms earlier research on student multitasking. Campus Technology | Study Abstract

US schools use technology to create a global classroom

Colleges and universities in the US are turning to technology to help them internationalize their students’ educational experience. At Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, for instance, students in a geography class videoconference with peers in Pakistan, exchanging findings about local physical and human geography in their respective regions. While students had to contend with technological and cultural challenges, the professor, Eric Pallant, says the difficulties can be the most instructive part of the experience. The implementation of similar programs, variously described as “collaborative online international learning,” “online intercultural exchange,” “virtual exchange,” or “tellecollaboration,” is increasing across the US, where they offer students a level of intercultural awareness that can be difficult to acquire without leaving the country. However, practitioners also reported that such programs could be difficult to implement, and that securing institutional support had proved to be a challenge. Inside Higher Ed

More US colleges questioning value of standardized tests for admissions

A growing number of US colleges are telling applicants that their SAT scores are not required for admissions. More than 900 schools now identify themselves as “test optional” schools; some, like Massachusetts’ Hampshire College, go even further. Hampshire says it is “test blind” and will reject any test scores it receives. While students appreciate losing the pressure associated with the test, Hampshire says it has good reason for not considering the scores. Meredith Twombly, Hampshire’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, says that they were a “very poor predictor of success.” She prefers to focus on extracurricular activities, GPAs, and writingsamples. Other proponents of test-blind approaches say that exams like the SAT typically disadvantage students from lower income backgrounds, who can’t afford costly prep courses or tutors. However, there are also risks for the university: Twombly says that US News will drop Hampshire from its rankings systems because of its decision. USA Today

Case study offers advice for engaging faculty in online and blended learning initiatives

A new study from researchers at Drexel University and Armstrong Atlantic State University offers guidance on improving faculty participation and retention in online and blended education formats. Taking Armstrong Atlantic State University as a case study, the paper notes that faculty with little distance education experience may have preconceived negative attitudes toward online and blended education. AASU faced low faculty interest and participation in its online learning initiative, and undertook 4 initiatives to help win them over. The university held open sessions to make a strong case for online and blended learning; it renamed the Office of Online Learning the Office of Online & Blended Learning; it rebranded its online learning bootcamp as a “teaching fellows program,” and spread its duration out from 4 weeks to 8–12 weeks; and it launched an institutional study to identify and address factors that motivated and inhibited faculty participation. The report offers 8 recommendations for institutions looking to win faculty support for online and blended learning initiatives.Full Report