5 stories you should read this August

Read about the majors students choose in hard times, ideas for revamping student evaluations and final exams, a call for academic freedom for adjuncts, and a ban on smartphones in class.

August 11, 2015

From a proposal for revamping teaching evaluations to new ways of thinking about the final exam, here are a few things to read while you prepare for the fall semester to start.
More students major in accounting when employment is down
A new study lends credence to conventional wisdom that students tend to choose more career-oriented majors in difficult economic times. Researchers tracked the major choices of American students over the years 1960 to 2011, and found that men are more likely to major in engineering, accounting, business, and computer science during times of high unemployment. Meanwhile, women are more likely to choose business, nursing, accounting, and computer-related fields during downturns. Both sexes major in education, the humanities, and the social sciences less often when times are tough.
Inside Higher Ed, July 27

Why teaching evaluations don’t work, and how to fix them
University of Richmond accounting professor Joe Hoyle shares his thoughts on what’s wrong with teaching evaluations—students don’t give them much thought, they depend on reductive numbers that aren’t actually insightful—and offers a two-part proposal for improving them. First, he suggests asking “A” students what they did to get their high grades. Those students’ answers will help you understand what you do and don’t need to change. Then, he recommends having students tell administrators specifically how a class increased their critical thinking skills.
Joe Hoyle: Teaching—Getting the Most from Your Students, July 6

Reinventing the final exam
Tired of ending each semester with a traditional final exam, Elon University professor Anthony Crider decided to cap off each class with an “epic finale” instead. (Students still underwent a major exam; Crider simply held it earlier in the semester.) These “finales,” always kept a mystery to students until the day of the exam, included having students complete a condensed research project on new material, hosting a debate, or asking them to answer a philosophical question in teams. (Accounting faculty could try brief cases.) According to Crider, the finales kept the students engaged with the material long after the semester ended.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 27

What’s missing from the tenure debate
Cathy Sandeen, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin–Extension, stands at the center of the debate over tenure. However, she notes, two-thirds of U.S. faculty do not enjoy the protections of tenure—because they’re adjuncts. In the sometimes heated discussions over whether faculty should have employment protection, the issue of academic freedom is often overlooked. But all faculty, she writes, whether contingent or full-time, should have academic freedom.
Quartz, July 1

Can a tech ban make your classes more serene?
Tired of seeing her students constantly distracted by their smartphones in class, Rochester Institute of Technology professor Hinda Mandell banned the devices outright. (She tried persuading students to use technology responsibly, with no luck.) After all, she argues, the classroom is not a microcosm of the “real world, but a “cocoon” where learning should be privileged above all else. The phone ban, she thinks, made her classroom much calmer, though she notes it might not work in afternoon classes when students are expecting lots of texts.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 6

Courtney L. Vien is an associate editor with the magazines and newsletters team at the AICPA.