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Wednesday Micro Hits
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Is it worth getting an education?
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It Gets Better
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My first experience with science writing (Part 1 of 2)
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This is why we get vaccinated
Thursday, May 5, 2011

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Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, April 23, 2011

So long, farewell ...
Friday, April 1, 2011
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Stay Tuned ...
Thursday, March 31, 2011

From the Union of Concerned Scientists
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Week 23 - Hockey Pool
Monday, March 14, 2011

March Madness
Monday, March 14, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, March 12, 2011

What a bargain!
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Technique Overload
Monday, March 7, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
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Et tu FDA?
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
February (10)

Saturday Morning Serenade - A Hip Edition
Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits (on Thursday!)
Thursday, February 17, 2011

HR1
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day
Monday, February 14, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, February 12, 2011

The GOP War on Science
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

People, how about some ...
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, February 5, 2011
January (21)

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sacrifice
Friday, January 28, 2011

Are you married to your reagents?
Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Common Sense Tip #1
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, January 22, 2011

From the Baby Boomers, a Big "Screw You"
Friday, January 21, 2011

Student Worker - More Student or More Worker?
Friday, January 21, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, January 15, 2011

Holy moly!
Friday, January 14, 2011

Thursday Pondering
Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Electronic Office
Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Plug - January Edition
Friday, January 7, 2011

Bits 'N Pieces
Thursday, January 6, 2011

Latest Manuscript Review
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The $4 gallon of gas
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Our slowly shrinking (and dying) planet
Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's 2011 already? For reals?
Monday, January 3, 2011
2010 (46)
December (9)

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, December 11, 2010

The State of Microbiology
Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2010 blogging meme
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Environmental Impact of the Christmas Season
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Music Snobbery
Thursday, December 2, 2010

Phantom Power
Thursday, December 2, 2010

What's Your Name?
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
November (8)

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, November 27, 2010

Awakening from the food coma ...
Friday, November 26, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Donor's Choose Final Followup (Recipes #3 and #4)
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Monday Mess
Monday, November 22, 2010

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits (Peer-Review Edition)
Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 2 of the ASA-CSSA-SSSA Meeting (#ACSMtg)
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
October (29)

ASA-CSSA-SSSA Meeting - Day 1
Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stayin' Alive
Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits (Vol. 4)
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

ASA-CSSA-SSSA Early Career Program
Monday, October 25, 2010

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits (Vol. 3)
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Donor's Choose - Family Recipe Number 1
Sunday, October 17, 2010

Making Good on Donor's Choose Bribe - Comfort Food Recipe 1
Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday Wrap-Up and Random Thoughts (Vol. 2)
Friday, October 15, 2010

First I Begged, Now I Bribe
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finding Out Things The Hard Way(TM)
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits (Vol 2)
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Here's where I start begging ...
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

#UnK3rn3d: Life Outside the Lab?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First fleas, now frogs?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No Fleas Please
Monday, October 11, 2010

My next Research Blogging article has been chosen ...
Sunday, October 10, 2010

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, October 9, 2010

Donor's Choose
Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday Wrap-up and Random Thoughts
Friday, October 8, 2010

RB: Waste Not, Want Not.
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Research Blogging
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What if I were not a microbiologist ...
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

TJ's Tips on Manuscript Review
Monday, October 4, 2010

Chinese plagiarism and the death of English-language journals
Friday, October 1, 2010

Allow Me a Formal Introduction
Friday, October 1, 2010
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Thomas Joseph

It's a Micro World after all is a blog dedicated to discussing pretty much whatever I feel like. When I delve into scientific matters it will primarily be discussing microbiology (agricultural, bioenergy, and environmental focus). Otherwise, I'll probably ramble on about sports and life.

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Awesome Stuff
Thursday, July 7, 2011

So maybe I'm not the best person to ponder this question, given that I already have several college degrees.

Or, perhaps, that makes me emminently qualified to answer this question.

Either way, the following article by John Stossel got me thinking (which is always a dangerous thing).

Now, we're not talking about refusing to teach children. Rather, the question revolves around the importance and worth of a college education. Stossel is right when he states that professors at universities, most universities at any rate, care more about research than teaching. After all, it is what their career is measured by, and they'd be foolish to ignore it. However, I believe that there are any number of colleges and universities where the teachers are more dedicated to the task of teaching the next generation, than performing research.

I just never attended one.

My education is the product of two state schools, which both have extremely well-funded federal research programs. Did I get a good education? I think I did, but I'd say that came more from my graduate coursework. My undergraduate education revolved around rote memorization and regurgitation of meaningless facts. Perhaps some of that is my fault, for not taking the initiative and going further below the surface of my classes. However, am I alone to blame for being a product of the system? I did very well in school, which seems to indicate to me that I did what I was supposed to do.

At what point are children and young adults taught to be critical thinkers? For me, I don't believe that skill (as ashamed as I am to admit it) was taught to me until I was already in graduate school. There, class after class taught me to be skeptical, to not take the data at face value but to try to poke holes in it, look at it from every angle, see if it was capable of withstanding criticism. Then, over time, I was forced/taught/learned to mature that skill ... stepping back from the idea that all published research (with the exception of my own, naturally) was utter crap.

Thing is, this skill, while critical for research, is also useful in other phases of life.

Yet it is almost, as far as I can see, entirely absent from education, and for me, an education without critical thinking, is worthless.

Thoughts?

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Dr. Girlfriend
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I think there is too much emphasis on teaching facts and insufficient training in how to learn. I believe that higher education should be largely self-directed learning with professors being just another useful resource available to students. In the UK it used to be referred to as “reading for a degree” and lectures were optional.
Now it is growing into an industry just like it is in the US, where I don’t think students get value for money.

Higher education should not be a mere extension of high school, unfortunately it is and as a consequence an alarming number of graduate students asking “will this be on the test?” This is partly the failure of pre-university education to prepare students for adult learning and partly due to the nanny culture of modern
societies. By 16 yrs a person can and should be able to think critically and study somewhat independently, but sadly few are encouraged to do so.

I don’t believe professors should teach in the same way as school teachers do, or that they are responsible for making their students study and learn. Professors should be there to lecture to and open to discuss the course material with students, but they should not be chasing students down or taking a register.

Essays, presentations, and open ended exam questions are the only way to test for critical thinking and ensure students are processing information rather than mindlessly memorising stuff. Multiple choice exams really have no place in higher education, and I would rather see grades being based on just one essay/report or final exam than quizzes given throughout the semester. However, when education is an industry it is not about developing critical thinking or learning skills, but about providing certificates. In a world that values certificates over true
knowledge and understanding, a university education is increasingly becoming a necessity. This is a shame I think, because for me higher education was about the simple joy of studying a subject in depth.


yannisguerra
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I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that

Ben Goldacre

While your post rings true, the problem is even worse than that.

First of all, what and who defines critical thinking? There is a large current of thinkers that consider critical thinking dominion based, while others think that there is a generalized mechanism (http://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Educ/EducBail.htm). This simple factor will affect completely how you decide to teach "critical thinking". Also it can explain why there are a lot of smart people, that believe dumb stuff (http://www.skeptically.org/logicalthreads/id15.html)

The problems is that most smart people realize how much critical thinking helps them, and they suppose that because they acquired those skill (by whatever means) then that means that it can be taught to people easily.

Most research i've read shows that that is simply not true, and that most critical thinking teaching is very hard to transfer from one realm of reality to the other ( Enhancing college students' critical thinking: A review of studies Research in Higher education Vol 26 #1, 3-29,  and also Critical Thinking: Literature Review and Needed Research Mellen Kennedy Pages 1-40 of Educational Values and Cognitive Instruction: Implications for Reform), even if you are able to measure critical thinking, which probably you can't or can't in a very broad sense (again the same chapter by Mellen Kennedy).

So is the solution trying to teach critical thinking? My view is that we are not even there. We have to define what parts of critical thinking are teachable, what parts of it have to be induced/forced by structures of society, and what parts of it can't be taught so they have to be controlled by placing people in groups so everybody's specific failures are compensated by other member's skills.

If we don't do this part which is applying critical thinking to the teaching of critical thinking, we will continue to fail because of the fallacy of thinking that everything that "I" have learned can be taught.

 

 

 


becca
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As an aside, and I only mention this because it's near to becomming a pet peeve of mine... Most higher education is at institutions that are teaching-oriented.

As far as the main thrust of the article- I would actually agree that college educations that require significant student loans ARE a scam for people whose goal is making a living as a journalist (or for artists, orbartenders, or many other things). Just putting that out there. I'll be eager to see how Darren Zhu faces starting up a biotech without college.

 

As far as your point... would you say critical thinkers are better standardized test takers? Do they do their homework more diligently? Are they easier to have in class? I'm not sure K-12 education has any incentives to encourage high levels of critical thinking.

Formal schooling tends to omit critical thinking for the simple reason that if you apply critical thinking to educational institutions, you come to the inescapable conclusions that many of the things they do are not evidenced based, and that different people have distinct goals for education, many of which are at cross purposes.

 

"I think there is too much emphasis on teaching facts and insufficient training in how to learn. I believe that higher education should be largely self-directed learning with professors being just another useful resource available to students. In the UK it used to be referred to as “reading for a degree” and lectures were optional."

I agree with this, as far as it goes, except I think it's so much more broadly applicable than you seem to think. I'm not sure "training people how to learn" is necessary- small children love to learn and they are pretty much preprogrammed for it. There may be specific types of things you need to be trained to learn efficiently, but then there is also much to be said for inefficient wandering processes when it comes to education. I believe that *all* education should be largely self-directed learning. From preschool on.


Genomic Repairman
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Yeah I definitely didn't get too much critical thinking education until I was well into my college career and I would have been better served by having it way way earlier.


Thomas Joseph
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As an aside, and I only mention this because it's near to becomming a pet peeve of mine... Most higher education is at institutions that are teaching-oriented.

Well, I know I didn't present any evidence to support my comment (it was purely anecdotal), but I would still disagree with you. Do you have any numbers?  Also, when you look at the number of students at each set of institutions (research vs. teaching), I would bet that more students go to research-oriented institutions.

As far as your point... would you say critical thinkers are better standardized test takers? Do they do their homework more diligently? Are they easier to have in class? I'm not sure K-12 education has any incentives to encourage high levels of critical thinking.

I would not say that critical thinking skills would automatically translate into being better able to answer standardized tests. I do not think that they would be more apt to do their homework either. To a degree, they may even be more difficult to have in class since they may be less likely to accept having things stuffed down their throats.

I agree that K-12 educators (and the system) has no incentive to encourage high level thinking. It would make their life more difficult, it would make things harder to track, which in turn makes getting money more difficult as well. I'd go so far as to contend that critical thinking threatens the current K-12 educational status quo.

I believe that if society is to not just survive, but thrive, we need a paradigm shift in just about every aspect of society. Such a shift cannot occur successfully IMO, unless the populace is truly educated and informed.

 


becca
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I didn't have the numbers, so I looked some up. I was thinking in terms of *number of institutions* not *number of students*. I think the principle would hold for number of students, but quite possibly less so (although there are some surprisingly huge community colleges and the private for-profits are hulking giants).

Carnigie classifications include:

*296 institutions of higher ed which grant doctoral degrees, and 53 stand-alone medical schools. These are your research-intensive places, usually by defintion (the doctoral degrees includes 96 institutions that are 'just' doctoral-granting, like "Barry University", and not 'heavy research', like "Ball State Univeristy" or 'very heavy research', like "University of Alabama-Huntsville")

In contrast, there are:

*727 institutions of higher ed which grant master's degrees as their highest degree

While there are certainly many research-based master's programs, I would think that the majority of these schools are more teaching-oriented. In fact all of the ones at this level that I am personally familiar with distinctly emphasize teaching (a sampling of the ones I'm familar with: many of the Cal states; CUNYs; Eastern Illinois Uni; Penn State-Harrisburg; Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania; SUNYs; University of Illinois at Springfield; Govenor's State; Dominican University; Alcorn State University... as well as the private for-profits DeVry and University of Phoenix. The only one I *might* have seen a paper out of recently was Rochester Institute of Technology, though I'm sure there are pockets of research strength in this category of institution)

*417 institutions which grant bachelor degrees

the vast majority of these are teaching-oriented

*A whopping 1,920 associates-degree type institutions

It was the community-colleges that meant I was reasonably sure of my statement.

 

There are also about 300 seminar type schools; 165 assorted health schools (such as schools of nursing, acupuncture, and psychoanalysis); 38 stand alone law schools; 57 "specialty tech" (e.g. IIT, which is always advertising on late night tv around here); 128 schools of art and design; 78 schools of business (heavily dominated by University of Pheonix), and 22 otherwise unclassifiable instutions (including culinary schools). I don't know so much about these type of schools, but I get the impression that, in general, they are more teaching-oriented than research-oriented (with the possible exception of law schools).

 

Leaving aside most of those in the last category, if we assume that only ~20% of the Master's institutions would consider themselves 'research focused' (even though I can't find a single one I'd know a priori is 'research focused'), that leaves on the order of 3000 institutions that are likely teaching-focused, compared to perhaps 500 research-focused.

 

Source: classifications.carnigiefoundation.org

 


Alchemystress
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Great post lots to think over. I agree critical thinking is not encouraged. I have had straight A college students in my lab/class that when asked to apply the knowledge they learned in lecture to lab could not do it. Not saying that there aren't students that couldn't but majority of good regurge students fail in critical thinking. Its not stressed. I almost quite college a few times because of this mentality then again i just never did well in classroom settings. Thanks for posting


old timer
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I understand your point about critical thinking and I also believe that it is not stressed enough in higher education.  However, I have had students (first year graduate) who lacked the building blocks upon which to grow.  Critical thinking required a thorough understanding of the basics.  You cannot build a house without a good foundation.

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