Monday, March 29, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Promoting Students' Moral Development Is Devilishly Tricky, Studies Suggest
By PETER SCHMIDT
Chronicle of Higher Ed.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The room grew unbearably hot as researchers gathered to discuss the moral development of students. The blame fell on an air-conditioning glitch, but, based on what the presenters said, it seemed equally possible that Old Scratch himself was on hand, listening intently while cracking a knowing smile.
Several studies presented here Monday at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference—and one scheduled to be discussed later this week—suggest that the souls of America's youth will not be saved on its college campuses anytime soon. Although many colleges have committed themselves to promoting the moral and ethical development of their students, they generally have not proven very good at the task, their efforts being undermined by their own cultures and by a failure to adopt effective approaches.
Among the studies presented here Monday was one finding that many entering college students may be at a stage at which efforts to hone their moral-reasoning skills are likely to fall flat.
The studies' authors were Matthew J. Mayhew, an assistant professor of higher education at New York University; Ernest T. Pascarella, a professor of higher education at the University of Iowa; and Tricia A. Seifert, a postdoctoral research scholar at Iowa. They based their analysis on data on 1,470 students at 19 colleges that had gathered such information as part of the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, a long-term study of student learning.
The researchers divided the students in their study—all of whom entered college as freshmen in the fall of 2006—into one of two camps based on distinct phases of moral development identified by psychologists. Students were deemed to be in a "transitional" phase of their moral development if, in dealing with moral questions, they were flexible and made decisions based on context. They were deemed to be in a "consolidated" phased of their moral development if they consistently used the same strategies and patterns of thinking when dealing with moral dilemmas.
Those students who were in a transitional phase reported gains in their moral reasoning as a result of being exposed to diversity-related courses and other efforts to promote their moral development. But those in a consolidated phase were much less receptive to the content of such courses, and did not make nearly the same gains.
The researchers' paper says colleges make a mistake in assuming all freshmen are in a transitional phase. It recommends that colleges approach their efforts to promote moral development—and the sequencing and content of courses dealing with topics like diversity—much more strategically, paying attention to the phases that students are in.
A Tardy Lesson
A second study discussed Monday suggests that college may be late in the game to promote moral development. The authors were Muriel Bebeau, director of the Center for the Study of Ethical Development at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Yukiko Maeda, an assistant professor of educational psychology at Purdue University; and Stephen J. Thomas, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Alabama. They examined data collected from several dozen Minnesota students from 1972 through 1983, from the students' adolescence through young adulthood, and found that their moral trajectories varied greatly, but that the rate of their moral growth generally slowed over time.
In a third study discussed on Monday, George Lind, a professor of psychology at the University of Konstanz, in Germany, used as his subjects more than 3,000 students who had passed through his own classes in psychology or teacher education. He asked them to take a widely used test of moral judgment, which he developed himself, before and after various efforts by his university to promote their moral growth. He found that higher education, as a whole, had only a slight impact on their moral development. About the only approach that caused them to make substantial improvements in moral judgment was involving them in intensive discussions of moral dilemmas.
In a paper scheduled to be discussed on Thursday, Tricia L. Bertram Gallant, coordinator of the Academic Integrity Office at the University of California at San Diego, presents the results of case studies of two universities that adopted honor codes in the 1990s. One, a midsized private institution which she calls Elite University, adopted its code as part of a broader effort to shift its student body toward academic pursuits and shed its reputation as a school focused on parties and athletics. The other, which she calls Heartland University, adopted its honor code in response to a cheating scandal.
Based on student surveys and extensive interviews with students, faculty members, and administrators, Ms. Bertram Gallant found that the honor codes fit in well with what she calls the "horizontal dimension" of the universities, broadly involving undergraduate education, student life, campus governance, and the overall campus community. But the "vertical dimension" of the universities—the academic disciplines focused on research, graduate education, external support, and prestige—undermined the universities' efforts to promote academic integrity. Faculty members saw research, not teaching that would promote ethical development, as key to their advancement, and students saw grades, not the learning of ethical behavior, as key to theirs.
Neither institution substantially reduced cheating or seemed to bring about a substantial change in its culture as a result of its adoption of an honor code.
"The idyllic message of the honor code was thought to be ineffectual in the face of more powerful messages such as 'Success by any means acceptable' and 'Money and prestige are primary,'" her paper says.
Monday, February 22, 2010
For the second article, I turn to the front page of the New York Times this week, which surfaces the question of students' attitudes toward plagiarism, and the value of originality, within the context of contemporary youth culture. Here's the teaser, and you can find the entire article by clicking here.
BERLIN — It usually takes an author decades to win fawning reviews, march up the best-seller list and become a finalist for a major book prize. Helene Hegemann, just 17, did it with her first book, all in the space of a few weeks, and despite a savaging from critics over plagiarism. [...] Although Ms. Hegemann has apologized for not being more open about her sources, she has also defended herself as the representative of a different generation, one that freely mixes and matches from the whirring flood of information across new and old media, to create something new. “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” said Ms. Hegemann in a statement released by her publisher after the scandal broke.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Boredom is the common condition of schoolteachers, and anyone who has spent time in a teachers' lounge can vouch for the low energy, the whining, the dispirited attitudes, to be found there. When asked why they feel bored, the teachers tend to blame the kids, as you might expect. Who wouldn't get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in grades? If even that. Of course, teachers are themselves products of the same twelve-year compulsory school programs that so thoroughly bore their students, and as school personnel they are trapped inside structures even more rigid than those imposed upon the children. [. . . .]This to me seems a productive way of re-conceptualizing the problem. What kinds of student-subjects are these institutions mass-producing and why? Why are the student I deal with as college freshman not only completely ignorant of almost anything beyond the basic skills necessary to hold a service economy job and participate in a consumer economy, but (and far more disturbingly) so pathetically lacking in hope, curiosity, independence of mind, intellectual playfulness, moral imagination, and community spirit? Why, to put a fine point on it, are so many of them worn out and cynical at 18 or 19? Why have so many closed the door definitively to the spirit of growth, change, adventure, challenge, possibility itself?
By the time I finally retired in 1991, I had more than enough reason to think of our schools-with their long-term, cell-block-style, forced confinement of both students and teachers-as virtual factories of childishness. Yet I honestly could not see why they had to be that way. My own experience had revealed to me what many other teachers must learn along the way, too, yet keep to themselves for fear of reprisal: if we wanted to we could easily and inexpensively jettison the old, stupid structures and help kids take an education rather than merely receive a schooling. We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness-curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids to truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then.
But we don't do that. And the more I asked why not, and persisted in thinking about the "problem" of schooling as an engineer might, the more I missed the point: What if there is no "problem" with our schools? What if they are the way they are, so expensively flying in the face of common sense and long experience in how children learn things, not because they are doing something wrong but because they are doing something right? Is it possible that George W. Bush accidentally spoke the truth when he said we would "leave no child behind"? Could it be that our schools are designed to make sure not one of them ever really grows up?