It seems not a day goes by without someone proclaiming the value of liberal arts. Ahhh, Viva les Artistes!

 

 

The picture may be comic, but the topic is certainly not. As fate would have it, one of my colleagues here at Welch, Julie Adamo, and I were having a discussion on the value of an MFA degree just this morning. She mentioned how there seemed to be a correlation between liberal arts skills and the current job market. Recently, this topic has popped up online----popped up enough for me to say "My Dear Dr. Watson, something's AFOOT".

At the Symposium I attended last week, one of the reasons given for the high attrition rate among math/science majors was the lack of "critical thinking skills" in terms of translating and understanding complex results. Math and science rely heavily on the interpretation of facts, not the regurgitation of facts. As I heard repeatedly at the Symposium----institutions are trying to move away from the strict memorization of ideas (goodbye: traditional lecture/listen classes) and embrace the concept of getting students to become more active participants (hello: peer-to-peer & group learning).

Yet, our current perception of the liberal arts places them firmly within the abstract. They're a whimsical world of wonder that have precious little to do with the real world, and more specifically the real job world. I myself, am guilty as charged of this jaded stereotype. I've cracked my fair share of "MICA students needing to take Barista classes," jokes. Or perhaps I've commented a wee too much about Baltimore School for the Arts students arriving in pricey Volvos with purple hair and army boots, resembling the current touring company of "Rent". (Perhaps there IS a class in "creative angst 101" and I just don't know about it). And all of this from someone who has---gulp---a degree in liberal arts.

Ahhh, but there's the rub. It seems as though students with some background in liberal arts transition well into other careers. But putting aside personal anecdotes on why liberal arts students do well as they move into other fields, there's an even stronger recommendation that comes from one of the bastions of SERIOUS career-land. By now you're perhaps familiar with Steve Jobs' and his model for APPLE ("the intersection between liberal arts and technology"), he frames the discussion in simple terms at the very bottom of this link.

As the debate moves forward, and as the concept of inter-disciplinary studies rises like a phoenix, combining the value of liberal arts with the dutiful rigors of math/science, presents the golden opportunity for both academic cultures to harmoniously co-habit each other's space. Ah, sweet bliss.

 

Alonzo LaMont

alonzo@jhmi.edu

 

 


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The Gateway Science Initiative Symposium at Hopkins Homewood campus Friday (1/20/12) presented ideas large and small related to the re-invention of teaching in thesciences. The larger questions focused on a single issue: keeping the attrition rate of college students who want to study science and math from suffering a continuous fall. The STEM fields (science, technology , engineering and math) offer the highest growth rate for jobs, however there are  numerous academic pitfalls that pose a number of concerns.

 

Dr. Jo Handelsman (pictured above) , Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and Director of the Center for Scientific Teaching at Yale University, specifically addressed issues that lead to student regression and failure:

1)      STEM majors  are unable to engage in critical thinking (emphasis on facts, rather than inquiry)

2)      Poor retention of lecture content

3)      60% of students abandon STEM majors (“weed out” mentality that exists in most STEM departments)

4)      The greater loss (80%) of African American students

         Dr. Handelsman came armed with an assessment for the future. She suggested that scientific teaching should be evidenced-based learning that includes a toolbox of  “active learning” components (writing a paragraph in the middle of the lecture on what you’ve just heard) and she put forth a new synthesis that would improve undergraduate science teaching. Her focus was on a classroom experience that requires a) self -correction through feedback, c) peer-mentoring and c) classroom diversity. 

The big gun that was repeatedly fired throughout the symposium was that scientific teaching should entail not only the material itself, but also include how we engage students. Specifically, the “standard-lecture technique,” vs. “engaged learning”. In too many situations students plop down in class, and as the lecture unfolds they go into autopilot. The standard look from the Professor’s POV is a large classroom full of students with laptops raised who may be tuned into the lecture material----or----more concerned with the Facebook status of the cutie next to them. This may well be a general educational conundrum, but the numbers suggest it’s a crisis within STEM courses. Dr. Handelsman, as well as the break-out session I attended, raised the question of how to move science from “knowledge hoarding to knowledge sharing”. Can students and scientists achieve more through collaborative efforts? Indeed, they can----but then, on every level we all want to take credit, do we not? Don’t we love the idea of presenting the Nobel Prize Winner with a little WORSHIP (and glory!)----much more than we would giving praise to a prize-winning committee?

   

  

 Dr. David Botstein (above), Director of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University fired a few more salvos at the traditional classroom experience. His Institute promotes the study of science that “perceives, measures and models the way things work in the real world”.  His motto is “we all teach together”. Dr. Botstein is an advocate for deleting the overloaded agenda of required courses, and for doing away with pre-med curriculum altogether. He believes the scholastic life of scientists or scholars shouldn’t have to start in their mid-30’s or early 40’s. Dr. Botstein presented his Institute as “promoting the entire integrative approach towards chemistry, math, science, genetics and physics”.  While he realizes it may be overwhelming to incorporate such a full spectrum, the true aim of the Institute is “to give students a SAMPLE of what’s available moving forward”.

Dr. Eric Mazur, Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University, believes in total information transfer.  He wants students to take more responsibility for their education and to this end stresses:

1)      A significant reliance on pre-class reading

2)      Depth – Not coverage

3)      Concept Tests

4)      Peer Instruction ("out of chaos comes a clarity of discussion")

Dr. Mazur utilizes class clickers as a resource tool, and supports any and all electronic gadgetry within the classroom. He asks questions, then has students use clickers to announce their answers----as the answer poll starts, the debate begins. He advocates re-making the atmosphere for academia, in essence, combining the traditional lecture approach,  bundled up with active engagement thus creating “a different architecture for learning”.  

You may have read the Interview I did with Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland Baltimore-County, and his address affirmed some of his major points in that interview. Dr. Hrabowski has taken very bold steps with his Meyerhoff Scholars program, steps taken with the intention of creating a classroom that’s tailored for redesigned learning. The statistics behind Dr. Hrabowski’s math and science program are eye-popping to be sure, especially for traditionally under-represented populations. However, behind the numbers is a clarion call for innovative classroom thinking. Taking Dr. Mazur’s concepts a step further, UMBC now has modified (starting on a small scale) the architecture in classrooms and turned them into learning modules. These feature a circular design of one unified desk, allowing for much more of interactive peer-to-peer learning. Dr. Hrabowski went on to say that "the library is the 20th Century, students want to have spaces where they can study, eat pizza, chat and network". (I know I've heard that someplace, but can't quite recall where...")

As the symposium concluded, I was struck by the idea that the day was spent seeking solutions that were all perhaps still "out there" in the great beyond of the future. As teaching evolves and methodology changes, looking forward will ultimately require a new set of eyes. It was a pleasure to be in such a marketplace of ideas.   

 

Alonzo LaMont

alonzo@jhmi.edu

    

 

 


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      U.S News asked academic experts to identify institutions that are making the most promising and innovative changes in the areas of academics, faculty and student life. The 2012 U.S. News Best Colleges “Up-and-Coming National Universities” ranked the University of Maryland—Baltimore County 1st. UMBC was also ranked 4th (tied with Yale) in the Best Undergraduate Teaching category. There can be little doubt who’s made these rankings possible, and who’s also made UMBC such a nationally known player: Dr. Freeman Hrabowski. Recently interviewed for a “60 Minutes” segment, Dr. Hrabowski has become a prominent voice who’s transcended the world of academia and has elevated the cultural dialogue regarding the future of education. Dr. Hrabowski managed to squeeze in some time with yours truly Alonzo to discuss his keynote address tomorrow for the “Symposium on Teaching Excellence in the Sciences” (Friday, January 20th ) on the Homewood campus .

 

Q: What excites you about the upcoming symposium on teaching excellence in the math and sciences?

 

A: I’m excited that Hopkins is giving serious consideration to the fundamental question of how to improve science teaching and learning. Too often with universities around the country---we’ve been doing the same things, the same way for too long a time. Many people are simply satisfied that everything is ok. I had the privilege of being the Chair for the National Academy’s Committee of Under-Representation in Science, and the most stunning finding was that very few Americans who begin with a major in science actually graduate. Only 20% of black and Hispanics who major in science actually graduate. Only 32% of whites who major in science, actually graduate with a major in science. and only 42% of Asian Americans. The larger issue is that even when students are well-prepared they often don’t do well in the first year or two in science. We tend to call the first year of science “weed our courses” because science isn’t for most people. Only 6% of 24 yr. olds have degrees in science and engineering. In Europe it’s about 11%. I’m excited about the seminar because it’s showing that one of America’s leading universities, known chiefly for Medicine, understands that it needs to look at the quality of teaching and learning for science.

 

Q: Explain to those not familiar with your work with the Meyerhoff Scholars, how the Symposium and the tremendous success of the Scholars are connected?

 

A)    We’ve been experimenting with different approaches to increase the number of minority students in the math and sciences for over 20 years. Some of the practices have been so effective, we decided to utilize them for all students. We’ve focused on 1) the importance of group work, 2) the use of technology in collaboration, and 3) the emphasis on “active learning” --- these are all strategies we’ve been using with the Meyerhoff Scholars, and now we’re utilizing them with all students. This has led to a redesign of first year courses such as chemistry, mathematics, biology and beyond. We’ve had amazing success and we’ve seen significant achievement in students of all races having success in science. With the Meyerhoffs Scholars, let’s say there’s a scenario where there are 11 of them in a class. 10 get A’s, one gets a D---our thinking is they should all feel bad. And we’ve seen where this is alos THEIR THINKING. This is why we encourage collaboration, this is why we want students to be engaged with their classmates. And what we’ve seen happen is that other Scholars will sit down and say (to the student with the D), “Ok, so what happened?” And in a sense, they become teachers to each other. We want to bring all races, and all groups of students together with the focus being purely on the goal of excellence in science.

 

Q)   How do you see the process of students’ learning evolving?

 

A) We know that students in many universities and even starting at K-12 are bored. They’re very passive and sit back expecting the professor, the teacher, to tell them what they need to know. 21st Century learning HAS to involve active engagement, and giving students more responsibility for their own education. Give them all the support they need----but teach them how to ask the right questions, teach them how to become empowered. Have them work among themselves to solve problems, use research methologies----and create theories and approaches that can be tested. The learning paradigm has shifted dramatically from the traditional lecture and taking notes to smaller groups, problem solving, dialogue----and learning how to present, how to probe, discuss, analyze and finally how to evaluate effectively.

 

Q) What do you see as the immediate challenges in education?

 

A) Institutions have to find the resources to support faculty in re-thinking how do we go about business. Changing courses, redesigning courses, experimenting, revising courses, look at best practices----all these activities require resources. Many institutions would say, “well we just don’t have the money” I would argue that in the long run institutions save money, when they save students. When students have to drop out, or re-take courses it’s expensive. But to the extent that we can help students succeed THE FIRST TIME, we end up generating revenues that can help continue the drive towards excellence. That would be the challenge. Helping people develop creative ways to re-distribute money in order to invest in more innovative approaches to teaching. Using grant writing, and other methods to partner with companies, national agencies, foundations and institutions-----when we can create this----then we can become even more determined to give faculty and staff the opportunity to reflect on how they do, what they do.

 

Alonzo LaMont

alonzo@jhmi.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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I think this article communicates the entirety of the SOPA (stop online piracy act) "war" currently underway. As the article states, online devotees and websites seized on the sympathetic approach that came from the White House statement about SOPA that said "the legislation must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity". 

This is indeed most curious. The bill was designed to prevent online piracy from foreign interests. Hollywood and the music industry have been in a legitimately justified snit about intellectual property being hijacked right under their noses for quite some time. However most recently, Hollywood and the White House have NOT been strange bedfellows, in fact they're practically cuddle bunnies. Perhaps Hollywood anticipated less caustic reaction to language about censorship, perhaps the language was meant only as a pre-caution, not the knock-out punch it seems to have delivered. Because as we've seen, "pre-caution" has turned into "YIKES-----online censorship!" You judge for yourself. What's clearly in play is that new media has turned into a TRANSFORMER. Big, powerful and able to change/edit/revise and re-invent itself to whatever the cause may be.

Alonzo LaMont

alonzo@jhmi.edu


Posted in: Hopkins Community  Tags:
CommComm posted on January 17, 2012 22:13

           There was an article I posted to facebook the other day that had the audaciousness to storm the fortress of "how science information comes to life". In this sense, coming to life being the normal "due process" by which journal articles are submitted and published. A broadside was fired and it's the latest in what are sure to be various assaults on the standard scientific community protocol, juxtaposed around the influence of social networking as a formidable alternative.  Here's a quote:

"For centuries, this is how science has operated through research done in private, then submitted to science and medical journals to be reviewed by peers and published for the benefit of other researchers and the public at large. But to many scientists, the longevity of that process is nothing to celebrate.......The system is hidebound, expensive and elitist, they say. Peer review can take months, journal subscriptions can be prohibitively costly, and a handful of gatekeepers limit the flow of information. It is an ideal system for sharing knowledge, said the quantum physicist Michael Nielsen, only “if you’re stuck with 17th-century technology..”

        If you have a moment the full text is equally as bodacious. 

       

       Switching subjects.........(I also mentioned this in the latest news, but just in case you missed it)

 

          Many thanks to the Hopkins Center for American Indian Health for allowing yours truly to come in and lecture on social media. It was part of their "Using Mass Media for Health Promotion in American Indian Communities," winter institute seminar. They were a wonderful audience, and I hope I passed along an idea or two.

 

 

 

Special thanks to the folks who made it possible: Kristen Speakman, Faculty Instructor, Nicole Pare & Danielle Tsingine, Course Coordinators.

 

Alonzo LaMont

alonzo@jhmi.edu


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This article has some great quotes and observations which show up more and more in the debate over the future of libraries. Here's one of them:

"..........Part of it is that the library's focus has changed, and I think in some ways the library is reverting back to the library as it should have always been — as a service point rather than a great collector," said Mike DiCarlo, Louisiana Tech's Dean of Library Services.

"In the 19th and 20th centuries, collecting was important. Now the library becomes more of a service organization helping the researcher find and navigate material in the electronic age."

 

Alonzo LaMont

alonzo@jhmi.edu


CommComm posted on January 5, 2012 21:50

          I stumbled across this novel idea that seeks to replace medications such as valium, or any other feelgood pill with----self-help books. The fairly recent program doles out books that deal with anxiety or depression that may not specifically fall within the realm of self-help, but perhaps offer stories that tackle issues of the human condition related to a behavior patrons may be experiencing. And the juicy big reveal is that the books are distributed by your local general practitioner. In Ireland, a new program has taken off using gp's as librarians.         

 

 

(Above: Elaine Martin, Senior Psychologist, who piloted the North Inner

City Partnership in Primary Care (in Dublin) in collaboration with the

Dublin City Public Libraries to create the state's first Bibliotherapy Scheme.

Other bibliotherapy or healthy reading schemes, have been started around the State

including "Mind Yourself" in Wexford and in October of this year, the "Your Good Self"

 programme in North Cork)

 

Alonzo LaMont

alonzo@jhmi.edu


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CommComm posted on December 29, 2011 19:12

 

          I managed to catch some hard-working little Welch Elves in preparation for our Christmas party. They thought they could slip away unnoticed, but they couldn't escape the glare of the library paparazzi (me---Alonzo). And just who are these busy Helpers......

 

 

          Christopher Henry revs up the keyboard. Chris is an established musician who knows music and movies like you wouldn't believe. As I caught his picture I overheard him say he was "gonna tear the roof off this sucka". Honest.

 

 

 

 

          Martha Traub and Lavinia Wiggs stand guard over the incoming goodies. Martha has a blackbelt in food protection and Lavinia helped the Lucky Charms Leprachaun get into a Witness Protection Program.

 

          Diane McLaughlin was giving me the "we're not ready" look. Diane looks all warm and fuzzy but rumor has it she taught the GEICO gekko the ancient Art of Himalayan "Bazutto" which is Himakayan mind-control. She also does this for all the FORBES Top 100 Executives.

 

          Marie Esch is an international cake/pie thief. She does it in stages. Usually the cake/pie crust goes first, and then the filling. She has her reasons for not stealing the whole cake/pie, but as yet no one's asked her what they are. Usually, she just gives a wave and like Keyser Soze from "The Usual Suspects"----she's gone. In the background is Kim Thornton who's impersonating Kim Thornton who works at the Welch Library. Kim's impersonation is so down-pat that you never know which Kim is Kim. Don't believe me? Next time you see her yell, "Kim". Bet she responds. 

 

          Many other folks helped make our party a wonderful event, but I wanted to catch a few people who helped set things up, since we often take all their good party deeds for granted. Apologies to the others I didn't catch. And, there is no such thing as "Bazutto".

 

Alonzo LaMont

alonzo@jhmi.edu


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CommComm posted on December 28, 2011 19:58

I posted this infectious little diddy on Facebook, but I had to pass it along. I don't need to add much more, the first few seconds will tell the story. --- Alonzo LaMont


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CommComm posted on December 14, 2011 20:42
Thanks to my Communications Partner in Crime, Katie Lobner, for sending this my way. PubMed just never stops ticking. Here's a Video with some advanced search goodies. ---Alonzo LaMont.

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