Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Bilingual Brain

By Karen Parkman, Intern, Spring 2012

Like most people I know, I studied a foreign language in high school, but I have had so little opportunity to speak it since then that I’ve forgotten most of what I learned. I feel a little guilty about this, especially since bilingualism is such a valued skill today. Whenever I hear policy makers or media personalities talk about the benefits of learning a second language in school, they often cite the need to produce adults that can compete in an increasingly globalized economy. As it turns out, learning a second language does more than fulfill this economic necessity; it has a profound effect on the brain that extends from early childhood to old age.
The New York Times gathers the results of a number of recent studies on the cognitive skills of bilinguals and monolinguals to reveal some surprising discoveries. Bilinguals consistently perform better than monolinguals at mental puzzles and tasks that require concentration, planning, and quickly switching attention from one thing to another. Not only does it take bilinguals less time to complete these mental challenges, they use less of their brain while doing so—indicating that their brains are more efficient. I was also surprised to learn that knowing two languages produces long-term effects as well. A recent study has revealed that the bilingual brain is considerably more resistant to the onset of dementia in old age.
Knowing a second language has more than practical value—it contributes to academic and intellectual development in significant, long-lasting ways. This means it is important that foreign language classes and materials are available for students of all ages.
I still have my Spanish dictionary and am hoping to take another foreign language class in the near future. Until then I’ll just have to hope that I retained some of those cognitive abilities from my high school Spanish class.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nanotech: Exploring a New Science in High School

By Alyssa Guarino, Editorial Assistant

Believe it or not, one of the coolest jobs right now is using building blocks. Although it may sound like what a child is doing in elementary school, this activity hardly has the connotation of playing with LEGOs. Instead, building blocks have captured interest on a much smaller level: the nanometer, or the measure of one billionth of a meter. To put a billionth of a meter in perspective, a nanometer is about the width of three or four atoms.
While in high school four years ago, I had the opportunity to delve into a newer, still expanding science: Genetics and Microbiology. I didn’t realize that these subjects are nothing without their technology, and because of this, have a lot more in common with what students at Farmington High School and Burnesville High School are learning. These students in Minnesota have the ability to work at Dakota County Technical College with the newest science on the block: nanotechnology.
The science of nanotechnology has emerged as a hybrid technology. It utilizes mechanics to create machinery that operates on both the atomic and molecular levels. If you remember your chemistry, you’ll recall the tiniest of the tiny: atoms, which cannot be broken down any further. Molecules are just groups of a few atoms. Essentially, scientists working in nanotech can manipulate atoms to create particles with a specified, desired structure. These particles often have subtly different structures from their original form with the addition of new or enhanced properties. For instance, by using nanotechnology, you could manipulate a certain metal to better withstand wind damage, which would allow you to build a more efficient airplane.
The students at Dakota County are using nanotech to build gold nanoparticles; at 100,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair, these particles are used in medicine to identify specific cancers or deliver treatment for arthritis. Although Dakota started its high school program just last year, and has had its Nanotech program for only eight years, it is now seen as a model for teaching nanotech and offers students the chance to use about $1 million worth of equipment. Dakota also represents the ability for high schools to ratchet up the complexity of academics offered.
This type of program allows students not only a chance to impress college admissions offices but also the opportunity to practice working in the college environment. Dakota gives high school students an authentic college setting, with classes meeting three days a week for lectures and two days a week for lab time. Although the students require an adjustment period to transition to the college environment, they are doing well, proving that although nanotech is a new science, it is by no means inaccessible.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Satellite Campuses for Colleges

By Hilary Kody, Intern, Spring 2012

As a student at Emerson College, I have heard a lot about satellite campuses recently. On March 8th, Emerson broke ground on a new facility in Los Angeles. This project is meant to provide the college with a more permanent base for its existing L.A. internship program. The Los Angeles Center, which is expected to open in fall 2014, will add to Emerson’s presence outside of Boston.
I was surprised to find out that Emerson is not alone in this pursuit. Many universities are establishing satellite campuses both in the United States and abroad. Until recently, schools looking to expand have gone oversees, starting branches in regions where American-style higher education has great appeal—such as NYU Abu Dhabi, New York University’s branch in the United Arab Emirates. Other colleges have established bases around Asia and Europe; for example, Emerson’s campus at Kasteel Well in The Netherlands.
While international development is still prevalent, many colleges and universities are looking to expand closer to home. Northeastern University has an ambitious plan for such growth. Having opened a campus in Charlotte, North Carolina, in fall 2011, Northeastern has decided to launch a second site in Seattle next year. Plans for outposts in Texas, Minnesota, and California are also under discussion. Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania have also opened satellites in Sacramento and San Francisco, respectively.
Locations for satellite campuses are not chosen on a whim. Before finalizing plans in Charlotte, Northeastern did two years of analysis and research. They found that the city, with its growing economy and strong alumni base, possessed a smaller percentage of people with graduate degrees than Boston or New York. The school is hoping that by licensing eight master’s programs including business administration, project management, and sports leadership, it will be able to tap into a new crop of potential students.
Satellite campuses are also motivated by a desire to expose students to areas of the country that give them hands-on experience in their industry of choice. For example, Emerson’s L.A. program exposes students to a film industry that is much more established and robust than the one in Boston, while the University of Connecticut offers classes based in oceanography at their campus in Groton, located on the coast.
But this expansion has raised questions about the future of colleges and universities. Some observers believe that colleges and universities are currently in a transitional phase, shifting away from the traditional single campus status. As a result, these institutions will develop more of a national or international identity. Is Emerson’s L.A. Center the prototype for a new look in higher education? Will most colleges and universities operate on multiple campuses in the near future? As many of these projects are still in their infancy, it is difficult to figure out if they will catch on. The next few years will be crucial in determining their success and the future of satellite campuses at the higher education level.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Redefining Art Education

By Karen Parkman, Intern, Spring 2012

I had no idea I had a passion for art until I offhandedly signed up for an introductory class on it, but now I have taken every art history class I can fit into my college schedule. I’ve also visited most of Boston’s museums enough times that I feel at home in them. I’m lucky to have had this opportunity because art museums sometimes have an exclusive, even elitist quality. Whether they are marble-columned houses of revered works, or hip, converted warehouses full of contemporary art, museums can make a tentative explorer of art feel out of place. In the hallowed halls of a museum, art seems sectioned off from society—something for collectors, curators, and art students to look at and understand. I can’t imagine a better remedy to this than the integration of art museums into the education process.
American universities have started to do just this, and not only for art history majors. Museums are opening up on campuses all across the country so professors in a wide range of programs can integrate art into the learning process in unexpected ways. Now students in sustainability and forestry programs at Michigan State University study landscape photography; while at Duke University, geology students examine the aging process of artwork carved from stone; and graduate students in the social work program at the University of North Carolina write detailed descriptions of artworks to evaluate how they describe and perceive things. This exposes students to the art world in new ways and makes the works relevant to every field of study.
It also shows how art can be instructive and teach the artists’ audience a great deal about how they perceive the world. The study of art also involves the study of visual communication, creative thinking, and interpretation. Alison Doernberg, a student at University of North Carolina, says of her experience learning in a museum: “The lesson is that it’s not just what I am seeing in a piece of art or a client. It’s also thinking about why I perceive things the way I do. Are they coming from things in front of me or from other sources in my life? It feels very transferable to me.”
If this trend continues to grow, it could change the role museums play in society and the role art plays in education. I may be a little envious that I’ll graduate before it reaches every campus, but I’m also excited to see art used in college classrooms in such creative and integrative ways.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Linking Social Media and Academic Performance

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

Is social networking harming students’ grades? The quick answer might be yes, because it distracts students from studying. And in fact, a 2009 study at The Ohio State University found that students who admitted logging onto Facebook several times a day to check status updates, correspond with friends and relatives, or join common-interest groups, had a GPA as much as a grade lower than non-users.
But a recent study at the University of New Hampshire tracked the site usage and grades of students using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn and found “no correlation between the amount of time students spend using social media and their grades.” This study seemed to support similar findings from another study done at Northwestern University. Chuck Martin, an adjunct professor at UNH contends that social media is being integrated with rather than interfering with students’ academic lives. Could it be that college students who have grown up with Facebook have become accustomed to taking short spurts to the site without derailing concentration on other tasks?
What are the affects—positive or negative—of social media sites like Facebook? Users contend it connects them with friends and family. Companies, groups, and charities with established pages say it brings in more customers, members, and donations. And we’ve seen in recent news reports that Facebook and Twitter have been used by citizens in countries with repressive governments to organize protests and spread news of government repression to the outside world.
Whatever your feelings about the popularity of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, all must agree that these technologies are becoming part of the everyday tools of our students in all levels of our education system.
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