Tag: tuition

Photo courtesy of Scouting NY

As I discussed in the last column in this series, Columbia’s heavy reliance on the lecture is a disservice to its students– the ‘learning’ happening in a traditional lecture isn’t translating to long-term memory. Evidence going back over a hundred years tells us that the typical memorize-and-regurgitate approach most students employ to get through a lecture course is an astonishingly bad way to learn – when tested six months after completing a typical lecture course, students have reliably forgotten ~95% of the information they learned.1

While completely replacing lectures with core-sized classes is the obvious suggestion, it’s likely too expensive to execute, even for a well-endowed school like Columbia. Instead, I’m going to focus on easy, relatively cheap, and scientifically effective ways to improve the lecture-based classroom by using what we know about how humans form memories.

While there are few different kinds of memory, the type most relevant to higher education is declarative memory – that which can be consciously accessed. This long-lasting memory we’re going after involves four steps: encoding new information, storage, retrieval, and forgetting. Over the next four columns, we’ll be exploring each of these areas in detail, starting with how we initially process new information.

The standard Columbia lecture requires you to pay attention to the lecturer speaking for 75 minutes straight, often followed by short break and yet another 75-minute information deluge if you, like me, have the misfortune of back-to-back lectures. Empirical research into attention span during lecture courses suggests that students pay attention for less and less time in ever-shortening cycles. The longer a lecture goes on, the less students pay attention, and the bigger each lapse in attention gets.2

Here’s a common story that plays out in lectures across Columbia. You walk into a lecture ready to learn, pay attention for fifteen minutes…and then spend a minute checking Facebook. You tune back in, maybe for only ten minutes this time, only to be distracted for a three-minute stretch by your group chat. By the end of the lecture, you’re only spending two or three out of every ten minutes actually listening, and the rest of it distracted and hoping the lecture ends.

The neurological reason for these lapses comes from the ‘top-down’ way your conscious brain focuses on a single thing for an extended period of time. Your prefrontal cortex, which is physically located on top of the rest of your brain tells the lower, more primitive parts of your brain to shut up and allow you to focus on a specific task. That’s what lets you listen to your professor while tuning out all irrelevant stimuli, like your phone buzzing in your pocket, your stomach rumbling, or that siren wailing past on Broadway.  

This kind of conscious selection is necessary to even hearing new information in the first place – if you’re not paying attention, you won’t be able to recall the information later. But forcing your brain to do this for an extended period of time comes at a steep neurological cost. Overuse of these suppression mechanisms leads to mental fatigue – effectively preventing your brain from focusing any more. Any further attempt to focus only makes it worse, and you’re prone to completely tuning out and giving up on paying attention at all.3 The 75-minute lecture is excellent at causing just this sort of dangerous mental fatigue,4 and far from being the best, it’s possibly one of the worst ways of introducing information.

Instead of using time in-class to relay new information, students would benefit most from having control of their initial information encoding. Students could choose the type of input they prefer, whether that be pre-recorded lectures, readings, compellingly explained visuals, interactive formats, or a combination different methods. Imagine if you could take a pause when your attention slips, going back over difficult concepts a few times, and skim quickly those you already understand. The idea of doing this sort of learning as ‘homework’ has a number of other benefits.

The idea of doing initial learning before class is called flipping the classroom, and it’s one of the most scientifically-supported ideas for improving lecture courses.5 To solve our lecture attention problem, the best idea may be to trust the intelligent and motivated Columbia students to learn at their own pace and think about the material first, before even walking into a classroom.

By flipping the classroom, we’ll be able to better pay attention to new information, and therefore be better prepared for the next stage of memory formation. Importantly, it frees up valuable in-class time to use more interactive teaching techniques, which is necessary if we want to improve the storage and recall phases of memory.  

Stay tuned for the next column, where we’ll talk about how to most effectively use time spent physically in the classroom to help Columbia students actually learn from their lecture classes.

Uniquely Human runs alternative Mondays. To submit a comment or a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com.

References:

  1. Deslauriers, L. & Wieman, C. (2011). Learning and retention of quantum concepts with different teaching methods. Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research, 7.
  2.  Bunce, D., Flens, E., & Neiles, K. (2010). How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class? A Study of Student Attention Decline Using Clickers. J. Chem. Educ., 87(12), 1438-1443.
  3. Ishii, A., Tanaka, M., & Watanabe, Y. (2014). Neural mechanisms of mental fatigue. Reviews In The Neurosciences, 0(0).
  4. Aron, A. (2007). The Neural Basis of Inhibition in Cognitive Control. The Neuroscientist, 13(3), 214-228.
  5. Roehl, A., Reddy, S., & Shannon, G. (2013). The Flipped Classroom: An Opportunity To Engage Millennial Students Through Active Learning Strategies. Journal Of Family & Consumer Sciences, 105(2), 44-49. http://dx.doi.org/10.14307/jfcs105.2.12

 

Courtesy of Barnard Dining

In an email sent to students earlier today, Dean Hinkson announced some major policy changes.

Here’s a basic overview of new changes:

  • Barnard Students will have swipe access to JJ’s Place
  • Tuition is increasing
  • Housing prices are also increasing
  • Students will be able to swipe into Diana’s Second Floor Dining Room
  • Hewitt will be hiring a new Executive Chef
  • Barnard Housing to Open 6 Days before start of Spring Classes

The full email can be found below.

Dear Students,

We are writing to let you know that the Barnard Board of Trustees has approved the 2016-17 rates for tuition, fees, room, and board.  We know that any increase can be difficult for many of our families, so we wanted to take a moment to explain the details and our approach. We also want to make an exciting announcement about changes to the meal plan, and tell you about several key changes to our policy for winter break housing.

Tuition and Fees for 2016-2017

For the upcoming academic year, the total rate for tuition, fees, room and board will be $65,992—an increase of $3,251 from this year’s rates. This rise is directly related to societal increases in the cost of living and, for Barnard, reflects the growing costs associated with recruiting and retaining our faculty and staff, fully funding financial aid to maintain need blind admissions, implementing the new curriculum, and expanding a variety of services in response to student requests.

The breakdown of the total cost are as follows:

•       Tuition and the comprehensive fee will cost $50,394, including $48,614 for tuition and $1,780 for the comprehensive fee.

•       The price for multiple rooms will be $9,230 per year.  Rates for single rooms will be $10,712, and the rate for studio apartments will be $16,000.

•       The price for the Platinum plan (19 meals per week) is $6,368.

Meal Plan Changes

We are pleased to announce some exciting changes to the meal plan.  Over the past year or so, students have raised a number of concerns regarding access to dining facilities at Columbia, food quality, and operations during school breaks.  This past fall, SGA hosted a town hall focused on food services that identified, in a very constructive way, potential areas of improvement.  In response, we recently renegotiated our long-standing agreement with Aramark.  Under the new arrangement that will begin in fall of 2016:

•       The Diana Second Floor Dining Room will be open for meal swipes during dinner.

•       Barnard students will continue to have meal swipe access at John Jay and Ferris Booth.

•       For the first time, Barnard students will also have meal swipe access to JJ’s Place, adding a third Columbia location to our meal plan options.

•       This means that, in total, Barnard students will have meal swipe access at five locations on the Barnard and Columbia campuses: Hewitt, Diana, Ferris Booth, John Jay and JJ’s Place.

•       In addition, there will be a full-time, on-site Executive Chef at Hewitt who will be responsible for ensuring overall food quality and handling specific dietary needs of students as they arise.

We also know that some of our students deal with issues of food insecurity each and every day, which is unacceptable in a small and supportive community like ours. This is a difficult issue and together we need to be vigilant and proactive in understanding the magnitude of the problem on our campus and finding ways to fix it.  Currently, we plan to do the following:

•       Make meal services available whenever residence halls are open. Beginning this fall, students will have access to meal services on campus, either in Hewitt or Diana, during fall break, Thanksgiving break, spring break, and when residence halls open for the spring semester.
•       Change the structure of the convenience meal plan option by offering different combinations of meals and points that we encourage students living outside the quad to seriously consider.  Students will still be able to add meals and points in small increments throughout the year.

•       Work with Aramark, SGA, and other groups on campus to find additional ways of enhancing ongoing meal donation programs.

Winter Break Housing

Finally, we know that last year’s winter break housing policy was a cause of confusion and concern. We appreciate the thoughtful suggestions that SGA has made regarding how best to assist students during the holiday season.  Please know that while the College will continue to remain officially closed during the winter holiday season, we will make some important changes for next winter to accommodate student needs.

First, we will continue to keep Plimpton Hall open and available to students requiring housing during the break. Campus tour guides, varsity athletes, students with unsafe home situations, international students on Barnard financial aid, and students with academic responsibilities that must be completed on campus will all be eligible to stay in Plimpton during the break. The Office of Residential Life will implement an application process to review and respond to any requests for winter break housing, and will help students who do not already live in Plimpton to find an available room there.

Second, we will be opening the College’s residence halls earlier than we have in the past.  All residence halls will open to students on Wednesday, January 11, 2017 (six days before the start of classes), along with dining facilities, either at Hewitt or Diana Second Floor.  We will also open Health Services, in order to ensure that all students have access to services upon their return to campus after winter break.

We are confident that the combination of these measures—easier access to Plimpton for those who need it, and an earlier return for all students—will go a long way towards addressing the issues of food and housing insecurity among members of our community.

We hope that this gives you a clearer sense of the College’s plans for the coming year.  The costs of providing the best possible education for our students continue to rise, but we are committed to doing our best to keep the increase as modest as possible, to expand services in the areas of greatest need and, as always, to maintain Barnard’s long-standing devotion to excellence.

Sincerely,

Rob Goldberg, Chief Operating Officer
Avis Hinkson, Dean of the College