Archives for Education
Several years ago, I got into an online squabble with a friend who was in grad school, getting her MSW for a future career as a counselor. The whole thing unfolded in the comments section of my blog and concluded (along with the friendship) when she spluttered that I am “…WEAK! And I MOCK weak people!” Wow, I thought. Your future clients are in for a treat. This incident came to mind when a Twitter buddy sent me a note wondering if any research had been done into “potential damage done by therapists who tweet/blog judgmental, hurtful views, jokes...?” This person, a retired counselor, first noted a former mentee doing it. “I talked to her about it and she thanked me, stopped it.” But that young counselor was the exception. When my friend noticed a couple of others doing the same, “I gently pointed out to both of them the problems both career wise and client wise with some of their postings (fat put down jokes, sharing very personal info about their own issues, sarcastic misuse of words like crazy and psycho etc) Both ignored me; one posted to mind my own business. “All of this was done with their full names and locations and accessible to any of their clients with a quick google search,” my friend said. “I know how hard it is for most clients to trust and how vulnerable they are to being judged,” she continued. “I can just image how crushing it would be for a desperate, suicidal client to read something demeaning/too revealing written by the person they expect to be compassionate, stable and on their side.” The Internet strikes again.
This blog celebrated its first anniversary on January 1, so I am therefore compelled (it's the law) to reflect on the past year. Writing Real World Research has been fun and also a lot of work. I read a lot more research than I end up writing about. Academic writing is no easy read and I am eternally grateful to those researchers who manage to slip a little joke in here and there. Some papers are so dense that even if the topic is compelling, my eyes cross and I can’t hack my way through them. I have no one to blame but myself---I decided to focus this blog on research. Sometimes I hate myself for choosing a theme that so often forces me in way over my head. Still, one of the perks of being a writer is that I get paid for finding out stuff I want to know. Reading and writing about research has taught me all kinds of useful things which, as the blog title suggests, I can take into the real world. So to reflect on the past year, here is some of the stuff I learned writing Real World Research in 2011 that has been most useful to me.
The more I read and think about New Year's Resolutions, the less I think they accomplish a dingdang thing. I've made a lot of resolutions that have led me absolutely nowhere. Mostly, they make me feel bad because I tend not to follow-up. Oh sure, I'll get back on my eating/exercise program as soon as the holiday minefield of homemade pound cake and mint M&Ms is behind us, but that's more about returning to...
A friend learning her way around her new iPad wonders if learning really is different as we get older. And what’s the deal with that? The short answer is yes, our ability to learn does change as we age. We get slower. We have diminished capacity in our working memory as we age. That is, you can’t throw too much stuff at us at once. As a rule, it takes older people longer to learn things than it does young people. And older people might never get as good at new stuff as younger people can, no matter how long they study. Hm, yeah, that’s no fun. I read that in an article discussing evolutionary theory, which also gave me this cheering thought, about allocation of psychological resources: In childhood, the primary allocation is directed toward growth; during adulthood, the predominant allocation is toward maintenance and recovery (resilience). In old age, more and more resources are directed toward regulation or management of loss. The older you get, the more of a bummer evolutionary theory can be. So let us skip, instead, over to educational psychology, and an article titled “Age-related differences in the relation between motivation to learn and transfer of training in adult continuing education.” This article argues, through a literature review and a re-crunching of statistics, that motivation is key to learning, and that older adults are just as motivated to learn as younger ones.
Before I could even enroll in community college, at age 41, I had to take a couple of summer semesters of “developmental algebra”—which was called “remedial” back when nobody cared about self-esteem. Yes, I anticipated it with as much horror as you might imagine. Not only that, but it was a 7:30 a.m. class. Every morning, all summer. I figured if I could make it through that, college would be a snap. My grasp of numbers is terrible. Calculators can only help so much when you can’t recognize an incorrect answer. I have to do the same equation over and over and get the same answer four out of five times before I’ll trust it. Surprisingly, I did not stink up the joint in that algebra class. It moved slowly, I worked my ass off and made “A”s. Even hung one of my tests on the refrigerator--it had “Nice work” written across the top in red. Then I enrolled in college algebra, where everything sped up and went to hell. Setting up algebraic equations was easy. They are, essentially, sentences, and that’s my stock-in-trade. But then the arithmetic would get me. I'd set up a good, solid equation, and somewhere in the execution, I’d take a wrong turn, putting a negative instead of a positive, transposing numbers, adding wrong. Stupid stuff that made me pound my head on my desk. And then, quadratic equations pretty much did me in. I could barely set up the equations, much less solve them. If basic equations were simple sentences, quadratic equations were James Joyce. My brain hurts just thinking about them. Why am I such a fumbler with numbers? New research suggests math agility is an innate skill.
Sociologist Robert Crosnoe has written a book called Fitting In, Standing Out: Navigating the Social Challenges of High School to Get an Education. The book looks at kids who don’t fit in in high school and the effect that has on their later success. His research found that kids who feel they don't fit in are less likely to go to college. I heard Crosnoe on a local radio show recently (look for the podcast here). The whole interview is interesting, but what struck me in particular was that Crosnoe, who got his information through interviews and written surveys, said, “A small but significant minority of kids who really feel like they don’t fit in have lots of friends and are actually engaged in lots of social activities.” He goes on to say that their perception is more salient than reality in this matter, and that kids who feel like outsiders or harassed, even if they're not, have the same outcomes. Wow...don’t you wish you could give kids magical glasses that could show them reality?
Dilbert lives. The socially awkward engineer is turning up in research labs—and not only as the guy in the lab coat. Research out of Cornell University and published in the journal of the International Society for Autism Research found that in male university students, systemizing (the skills of math and science) and empathizing (including such social skills as reading nonverbal signals) are on one scale: if they’re good at systemizing they’re not so good at empathizing. (Standard disclaimer: This does not apply to all engineer/science-type men.) Women, on the other hand, could be good at both systematizing and empathizing; the two are on separate scales. Actually, the researchers also checked digit (finger) ratios, a way of measuring the amount of androgens, such as testosterone, people were exposed to in utero. They found that women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) were likely to have a masculine digit ratio. So Dilberta lives, too. (Dilbertina?)