You CAN Further Your Education and Stay Healthy

Whether your car still has your high school graduation tassel hanging from the rearview mirror, or a bumper sticker on the back reading “Soccer Mom,” entering the world of higher education is exciting. In other words, you’re in for a ride regardless of your age or how long it’s been since you sat behind a desk other than the one in your office or cracked open a textbook other than your oldest son’s three-pound pre-calculus tome.

Unfortunately, higher education brings more than just excitement – it can also bring financial stress. Classes at colleges and universities these days are expensive, and an entire semester of them? Plus textbooks and other materials? Well, most students must rely on scholarships, grants, and loans to get by, especially if they plan to go the whole nine yards – the two to four years it takes to get a degree.

As if that weren’t enough, the cost of higher education isn’t the only thing that can bring financial stress. Regardless of your age, you need health insurance, and since many college and university students either work part-time jobs that don’t offer health insurance, or don’t work at all due to school schedules, finding affordable health insurance isn’t an easy task. But, it can be done.

Believe it or not, most colleges and universities care about their students’ health. Many of them offer low cost or free on-campus medical services. Some universities even provide health insurance plans for students working beyond the standard four-year bachelor’s degree.

However, these services may not be the solution if you have a family to insure, as well. One option is to use your school’s health services or insurance for yourself, and purchase health insurance for your family. This is cheaper than the next option, which is to just buy health insurance for the entire family.

Higher education is important to you; so is your health. Luckily, it’s possible to have both.

Is Critical Thinking Overrated or Under-Utilized in Higher Education?

Critical thinking is listed as a desired skill or preferred outcome within many higher education courses. It is something that students are expected to demonstrate through their involvement in the class and learning activities. It may be listed in a rubric and/or stated in the course syllabus, depending upon the requirements of the program or the school itself. There may be varying degrees as to how it is demonstrated and then evaluated, ranging from occasionally to always within a rubric description. It is a common practice to provide students with the course rubrics at the start of class; however, the question becomes: Do students usually know what critical thinking means? Do instructors or schools provide a standard definition?

Additional questions that arise include: Do instructors understand the meaning of critical thinking and are they provided with an explanation by the school? These are questions that I sought to answer and I spent over two years talking to instructors and students about this topic. There is information that is readily available, such as websites devoted to critical thinking and a few books about this topic, and there are classes that spend an entire term examining it; however, what does the average student and instructor know about this topic? How is it utilized in classes if it is stated in a rubric? What I wanted to learn is whether or not critical thinking is overrated (which means it is not actively utilized in classes and is only a catchphrase) or is it underutilized (which means it holds greater potential than is recognized now) in higher education classes.

Instructor Perspective

My perspective is primarily based on my work in the field of distance-learning as an online educator and faculty development specialist, which has included the role of online faculty peer reviewer. I have reviewed hundreds of online classes and discussed critical thinking with hundreds of online faculty. What I’ve learned is that the average instructor may have a general knowledge about critical thinking and what it means; however, faculty generally do not provide an explanation for students beyond what is stated in the course rubric. I did not observe it as an active discussion or explained through additional instructional posts or supplemental information, and I also didn’t observe detailed notes about it within the feedback provided.

What do instructors generally know about critical thinking? For those who have conducted some research they will find definitions that are related to logic and reasoning. However, the usual go-to definition or explanation is Bloom’s taxonomy and this provides levels of cognition that can help instructors recognize when a state of critical thinking has been attained. What is unclear is whether or not a one-time occurrence indicates that students know how to use the skill on a regular basis. What are instructors taught by the schools? They are usually told to use questioning techniques and specifically Socratic questioning by a few schools. What I’ve observed is that even when questions are used that doesn’t necessarily mean a follow-up reply by students will demonstrate use of this skill.

Student Perspective

When students were asked to define what critical thinking means, the following is a list of the most common answers:

  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Thinking harder about the topic
  • Problem-solving
  • An ability to think independently
  • Weighing options, the pros and cons
  • Being rational and avoiding emotions
  • Making decisions, such as going to the grocery store and deciding on meal options
  • Becoming curious, creative, and open-minded
  • Learning through trial and error
  • Knowing what to do in life threatening situations
  • Making intelligent decisions
  • Collaborating with others to reach a consensus

This is only a partial list of the responses from students, and these were undergraduate and graduate students. After reviewing this list becomes clear that without a standard definition of critical thinking, students may not fully understand what is expected when they see it listed in a course rubric. It can also explain why it is difficult to evaluate this as a skill for an instructor and why students may come up short in their evaluation. What I’ve found is that students rarely conducted their own research about this subject and if they did they still weren’t sure if their definition was matched to their instructor’s definition, how it applies to their class and learning activities, or how to meet the requirement as listed in the rubric.

Logical Perspective

I’ve reviewed many of the available online resources to ascertain what instructors and students might read about critical thinking and it was often related to the use of logic and reasoning. The same is true for an online class I’ve taught that was six weeks in length and combined critical thinking with creative thinking. The logical perspective explained in the course materials involved looking for facts instead of opinions, evaluating arguments, examining premises, developing a logical or rational conclusion, and learning about potential fallacies. What this did was to take a subject that students were already unclear about and make it even more complex and challenging to apply directly to their classwork. Students generally struggled throughout the entire course and by the time it concluded there was little improvement in their ability to demonstrate the use of this skill.

Cognitive Perspective

Bloom’s taxonomy is referenced frequently by faculty and this taxonomy provides a range of cognitive or mental functions that begin with lower order thinking and progress to higher order thinking. On the lower end is the ability to recall information, which is usually held in short term memory and quickly discarded. As higher cognitive functions are engaged a student may be able to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information. There are action verbs that are generally associated with each level and this is helpful for the development of course objectives. The challenge for instructors is making a determination of how to explain cognitive functions to students so that they understand what it means to demonstrate critical thinking. For example, how does a student know when to analyze or synthesize information in a discussion post or written assignment? Do they know when they have achieved development of this skill? Does answering an instructor’s question ensure they have reached a higher cognitive state? How many times do they need to demonstrate use of this skill to believe they have mastered its use? This is the challenge for educators; the uncertainty of the use of this skill and how to accurately assess it.

A New Perspective

What I propose is the use of a simpler model that explains how the mind functions or operates, which can provide a uniform description for instructors and students. As a starting point, the mind is always active and thinking is a natural process. A helpful way to understand how the mind performs is to separate thinking into three specific types, which will explain why critical thinking requires practice to learn before it can be actively used as a skill. The most basic type is simply called thinking or the automatic thought processes. This occurs naturally and includes thoughts about the current environment, along with thoughts that are based upon physical needs, emotions, or external stimuli. It also consists of self-talk, internalized dialogue, superficial thoughts, established thought patterns, habits of thinking, and existing mental structures. Automatic thinking also occurs as data is acquired through the five senses, when the mind relies upon perceptual filters to interpret the information received.

The next type is active thinking and this occurs when a person become consciously aware of their thought processes or while the mind is intentionally processing information. As an example, consider advertising messages. If an advertisement is noticed the mind would transition from automatic thinking to active or conscious thinking and awareness. Active thinking also includes reading, writing, speaking, stating opinions, and problem solving through the use of informal logic. For example, if a financial analysis is needed it would require taking numbers and putting them into a format or equation to be calculated, categorized, manipulated, or any other form of computation. Active thinking is often what students believe critical thinking consists of when they state it is a matter of “thinking hard” about a topic or subject. They are consciously aware of the topic and recalling the knowledge they currently possess about it.

The third type of thinking is critical thinking, which is not automatic and must be activated. It can be activated for a specific purpose and learned to be utilized as a skill. Students can trigger it when they need to work with more than their existing knowledge, beliefs, and opinions. It can also be activated through something unexpected, unknown, or unique. More importantly, critical thinking is done with a purpose. For example, when a student needs to research a topic and the subject is presently unknown to them. Instead of filling their paper with direct quotes they can question the information received in an attempt to find answers. It can also enhance problem-solving when a student needs an answer they cannot arrive at on their own. When students write papers they can provide more of their analysis and less from their sources because they have examined evidence and re-examined their beliefs or assumptions.

Transformative Perspective

Critical thinking has the potential to transform every aspects of a student’s performance, from discussion question responses to written assignments. Students first learn to work with their accumulated knowledge, beliefs, and opinions. That is how they develop an initial response and for many students that also becomes their final answer. But educators want students to move beyond this active form of thinking and demonstrate that learning has occurred. It is easy to ask students to demonstrate critical thinking but even more challenging to develop a mental model for them to follow and that means it must be prompted so that students watch it in action and can then emulate the process. Thinking becomes critical when students provide more than a superficial or cursory response, and in place of opinions they develop well-documented and well-research position statements and analyses.

Critical thinking is not a natural process although there are times when it is possible for adults to have a period of reflection when they are prompted by unplanned or unexpected changes. Thinking also becomes critical when students no longer rely upon perceptual filters to determine what is accepted as true and correct, with a willingness to evaluate beliefs and change when they find compelling evidence. Critical thinking can be most effectively taught through the use of a detailed explanation, time to practice what is being learned, and direct application of the skill to issues and problems, which means that any time this skill is listed as a requirement for a course, students need a standard definition and an opportunity to practice it. I do not believe that critical thinking is overrated as it is transformative in nature; however, what I’ve observed in the field of distance learning is that it is under-utilized because of a lack of a uniform method of explaining it and this results in a missed opportunity for learning in higher education classes.

Tips To Choose Students For Direct Entry Into Schools Of Higher Education

This is a common situation that you have to face. Every year, you have to select from a large group of 16-year olds, a few who automatically qualify to join institutions of higher education even before the final examinations.

This poses a big dilemma when these students have almost identical academic results and extra-curricular activities.

Are there other ways of trying to separate these teenage students and choose the most suitable to enter into the respective educational faculties?

Here are some tips that you should seriously consider.

Philosophical Questions

Firstly, you can create some philosophical or ethical questions to slowly see their own personal stand and bias. The coming new workplace will have a big portion of robotics and automation. Thus it is crucial to see if your candidates are not merely book-smart but am also ready to face the new realities of life.

Video Resume

You can instruct them to make a minute presentation describing their strengths and why they fit a particular faculty. This one-minute presentation can follow the style of a video resume and should have clear dialogue and accurate subtitles to allow the assessor to get a first impression.

Referees

You can also contact the referees of these candidates and find out why they want to recommend these students to direct-entry into higher education. It is up to your own experience to discover if these referees merely associate themselves with these candidates just to give blind support but may not know have enough reasons for their support

Extra-curricular Activities

You may have to create an internal system of grading your potential candidates in terms of the results of their chosen extra-curricular activities. For example, a higher grading can be assigned if the candidates have proven leadership responsibilities.

Open-ended Questions

You can give all final-round candidates some open-ended questions and ask them to provide their best replies and analysis to the given case studies. Do ensure that you allocate sufficient time for these activities.

Future Thoughts

Pose a question about where their chosen industries will be headed to in the next few years. This is crucial because you do not want a chosen candidate to switch faculties on a whim. Normally, a good candidate will make an effort to read more about the new chosen path.

Lego

The truth of the matter is this. Lego blocks are very good for any candidate to highlight what is in his mind. The Lego pieces are of different colours and sizes and are only constrained by the deep recesses of the candidate’s imagination.

Team building exercise and observation

You can also follow-up by allowing each final candidate to join a team of senior students who are already in the higher educational institutions. Break them into different groups and give them group projects to do. Remember to delegate the group presentation to be done by each candidate and then allow the other group members to evaluate them. This is very crucial because their peers are very good judges of competency and maturity.

Best of luck for your search.

Accredited Online Education Vs Fake Diploma Mills

There is just about everything you can do online: from playing games to reading news and from buying your daily grocery to earning an online education degree. Online education is a popular option, which makes you available various choices. It is not restricted to a specific age group or type of people; everyone can take advantage of the wide choices available online.

You can earn just about any degree whether it’s an online career education degree, a certificate or a higher degree like PhD. Everything about online education appears to be rosy except for one thing – establishing the credibility of the online education degree, you want to pursue. This point is of fundamental importance and supreme value. Your online education degree will be worth nothing if you have not earned it from an accredited online university or accredited online college.

Nevertheless, there are numerous ways of confirming and further reconfirming the authenticity of an online university and online college thus earning accredited online education degrees:

• US Department of Education -You can check with the US Department of Education to confirm if the university or college you have chosen is offering accredited online education degrees or not. [http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.asp]

• Council for Higher Education Accreditation – Verify the accreditation of online universities or online colleges at Council for Higher Education Accreditation. This will help you ascertain the legitimacy of accredited online education degree, you plan to pursue.

• Diploma Mill Police- It will also help you with authenticating accredited online universities and accredited online colleges. http://www.geteducated.com/services/diplomamillpolice.asp

Having an accredited online education degree is far better than having no degree at-all. It is an excellent way of moving your career forward. However, where you will be deemed qualified and fit for jobs by many hiring managers, some may confuse your accredited online degree with fake diploma mills. One of the many ways through which you can establish yourself as accredited online degree holder is by showing how current you are on the subject. As one of the features of accredited online universities and accredited online colleges is there up-to-date online coursework. Your grasp of the subject in which you hold a degree, will speak volumes in favor of your eligibility for the job.

Majority of online degree seekers desire either career advancement or career shift. For that, according to Vault.com- a career information website, an online education degree earned through an established university would be preferred by 77% of employers over an online education degree received through an internet only university. Fake diploma industries will soon be eliminated and accredited online education will in next to no time become widely accepted.

Why Should We Seek a College Education in Today’s Economy?

Can you break the poverty cycle by getting a college degree?

Whatever education you get beyond high school will help you break the poverty cycle. There is no reason for anyone to live in poverty in this country. It is only a matter of one making good choices every day of one’s life. Not everyone will attain a 4-year degree, but everyone with an average ability can attain some form of education beyond high school, be it on the job training, a certificate program or an associate degree. It all depends on your interest, commitment and discipline. The more education you have, the larger your social and economic circle will be. In most cases, the higher is your level of education, the more successful you will be.

Once you have broken this poverty cycle, not only does it benefit you, but also it benefits your children, your grandchildren and for generations to come. The tendency will be that each generation will do better than what you did. You can only claim with pride that you have achieved success in life when all of your children are doing well. This is a philosophy that we all should live by. There will always be an exception because we are human beings and we are not perfect.

The value of the connections that one makes as a result of having a college degree: Conquering college education

A college degree allows you to get a job that can afford you a comfortable living with a potential for a comfortable retirement. Even though most young adults don’t think about the importance of investing in a comfortable retirement, your most important goal is to make sure that you do everything that you can to retire early and comfortable. This all has to be done while you take care of your family. As parents, you will have a good idea of what type of schools/colleges that your children should attend to make good friendships and connections that can be very helpful in their professional aspirations. Most young people are not aware of the value that these friendships will have in their lives. Our society is a political arena in reality and each one of us needs to be conscientious of our friendships and connections, which will impact our professional goals. If you look at most of the successful and well-to-do young professionals, you will notice that they are all doing well because of the connections they made while they were in college or as a result of family connections. In most cases, it is not what you know but whom you know.

The college degree is fundamental in your success in life but the political contacts and connections are key to you landing that job with great potential to earn a great income. Don’t get me wrong, money is not the most important thing in this life, but it can make your life less stressful and your retirement more pleasurable.

College degree allows you the opportunity to expand your social circle, which can lead to great opportunities in life: Conquering a college degree

There are some people who will disagree with what I am about to say but it is a reality that without a college degree, one’s social circle is limited, which leads to limited opportunities. The more education you have, the greater are your opportunities to expand your social circle. Your social circle can be very helpful to your professional career. Education is not the only factor in play here, but your personality along with your ability to genuinely connect with people will determine how far you will advance in your career. If you allow your heart to guide every step of your life, you will always attain success and be happy. It will be very difficult to attain success and be happy if you are self-centered and egotistical. We make connections and friendships that will last when we operate from the heart. Your social circle will for the most part depend on the level of education that you have and the type of income that you earn.

How does all of this relate to your retirement (the golden years)? Conquering your retirement

Everything that you do in your lifetime has a lot to do with your retirement. The amount of money that you make and the amount of money that you invest in your retirement will determine whether you will have comfortable golden years. Most young people will procrastinate to invest in their retirement because retirement for young people is an after thought. It is a matter of inexperience and the knowledge of how important a good income is to a retired person. Whatever life style you are accustom to in the latter part of your life, you will need to have a retirement income that will allow you to maintain that current life style. To think that you are going be comfortable with an income that is less than 80% of your salary prior to retirement, you are in for a big surprise. You will need more money than you think because when you retire, you will have more time to do the things that you want to do and this will cost you more money. I would recommend that you invest as much as you can into your retirement because you will need the money and because after retirement your earning potential decreases dramatically.

This is why I strongly recommend that you get as much education as possible to guarantee you a comfortable life and happy golden years.