Benefits of receiving a Masters of Education online for a Teacher

Posted on November 03, 2010

An online Masters of education degree is a great choice for teachers who are looking to increase their knowledge, gain valuable skills and bring practical change to their teaching environments. The wealth of knowledge gained from an education undergraduate education, a few years of teaching experience and a Masters of Education degree has the potential to create a world class teacher. Many already established teachers will choose to pursue a Master’s Degree to add to their already great liberal arts bachelor’s degree. Others, who choose to purse an online Master’s Degree, have specialized in a specific field such as English, science, or history and have decided to bring their love of their particular field and teach it to others. Lastly, for those who are already teachers a master’s degree will accompany a nice increase in compensation from your current employer.

A Masters of Education degree is for those who have already obtained a Bachelor’s degree and wish to pursue further education. If you have not already received a bachelor’s degree there are many great choices through online universities in order to receive one in just a few years. Those wishing to pursue a Masters of Education can expect to complete the program in as little as one year and up to three years.

When pursuing a Masters of Education degree there are several different degree choices to choose from. The Master’s degree in Education (or MEd) is the most general of the options and includes training in education theory, leadership, policy and procedure for the teacher. The Masters in Teaching (or MAT) is a master’s degree for teachers in a specialized field looking for more training and growth in their area of study as well as a bump in their annual salary. Other teachers may consider enrolling in a fifth year master’s program that includes extra classes and an intensive student teaching program and grants them a master’s certificate. This is often the fastest route to receiving your masters.

No matter your choice of master’s degree you will gain the knowledge, skills and experience that will catapult your teaching career to the next level. All of these degrees are easily attainable through many online college and universities allowing teachers that already have established careers to continue their education.

Is Social Media Ruining Students?

Posted on April 21, 2011

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While people celebrate the fact that vast WiFi networks cover every college campus in America, many are concerned that much of the bandwidth is being hogged by students on Facebook and Twitter. That fact is that nearly every college student uses social media, but the effect this has had on them has been an issue of heated debate. Some argue that Facebook turns students into addicts too glued to their News Feeds to study. Others claim that it's a valuable resource that enriches the college experience. Is social media destroying students, or making their lives better? The answer is not so simple.

While the answer is not simple we can break it up into a few questions to better understand social media’s effects. The first question is “Does it affect student’s grades?” Well, that actually depends on the social media source and how it is used. Studies actually show that classes that use twitter typically have up to half a grade point higher scores. It is also directly tied to students collaborating online with 75% saying that they would engage in online collaboration. But unsurprisingly those that try and study while using Facebook are actually hurting their grades. In fact those that multitask between Facebook and studying have 20% lower grades. What is interesting is that 79% of students surveyed don’t believe this statistic.

The second questions we need to answer is “How will using social media effect your college life experience?” A couple data points yield some insight. One, we know that Facebook users make far less money while in college. Fully 85% of Facebook users worked less than 5hrs a week as compared to the 80% of non-Facebook users that worked over 16hrs a week. Money isn’t everything, but surviving on ramen noodles isn’t the best way to live! However, many people associate the quality of college life to the ways that they were involved with their schools. Studies show that Facebook users are twice as likely to be involved in campus activities. All work and no Facebook, just might make you a dull student. Which brings us to our next topic: Self-Esteem.

The third question we must answer is “What effect does social media have on the emotional health of students?” As it turns out social media really does make people feel connected with a 20% experiencing a feeling of social connectedness among Facebook users, furthermore they were twice as likely to feel “Popular”. But it is also true that 48% of students think they are sadder than their Facebook friends. This wouldn’t be troubling except that we know from other studies that 25% of college students show serious depression in their status updates.

Even after addressing some of the key questions about social media the results are mixed. Hopefully after reading this as a student you will be able to see the pros and cons of spending your hours using social media.

How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education

Posted on June 10, 2011

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Change is like water running over stones: give it enough time, and it will certainly sculpt and reform those stones into completely new objects. The Internet has swept the entire globe and has changed the way we think about social interaction, media, money, shopping... essentially, the way we think about life.

But most of all the Internet continues to change how we learn. It continues to reshape education just like water reshapes stones. Whereas once it was only possible to acquire niche knowledge by attending expensive universities lined with ivy, today more than 3 million people in the US alone get their education online. Today, millions and millions of people have access to free educational information that they can absorb at their own pace, on their own terms, and in ways that work best for them. The age of rote memorization, of learning “from the books”, is over. It's time to accept that the Internet has—and will continue—to change what education is.

Consider this: in 1971 the famous Open University (OU) in England opened its doors for enrollment. OU is especially well-known for their open admissions policy, which is blind to a prospective student's previous academic records. In other words, you aren't judged by your grades when considered for enrollment at OU—if you're hungry for knowledge, why should you be denied the opportunity to learn based on your academic history? You shouldn't, and now OU has approximately 250,000 students, effectively dwarfing all other colleges in the UK. And guess what? It offers most of its classes online.

67% of colleges today are unable to meet demand for online college courses, which says a lot about what students actually value when it comes to learning. More and more people are beginning to realize that learning at your own pace is the most effective way to retain information. Too often are students discouraged or crushed by institutional standards that force them to learn in ways that are uncomfortable and just not right for them. This is probably why the University of Phoenix, a for-profit online university, has over 500,000 students, making it the largest in the US.

Learning is a life-long endeavor and online education incarnates this age-old ideology quite flawlessly. Today nearly half of all online students are 26 years or older. But what about tomorrow?

The State of Education

Posted on July 07, 2011

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With the economy taking center stage in national discourse in the last several years, education has been cast out of the spotlight as one of our most pressing problems. But many believe that our economic woes have no chance of getting better unless our educational system is in tip-top shape. It is extremely disheartening, then, to discover that our primary and secondary school systems are some of the least effective in the industrialized world. We rank lower than dozens of countries in science and math proficiency, causing economic experts to argue that we'll have no chance for competitiveness in the future world economy that will be so heavily dictated by those fields. Further, though our teachers are some of the hardest and longest working, they're some of the worst paid- a devastating contradiction in which everyone loses. It's a system that is utterly backwards- and unless we do something to fix it, our country will be in desperate trouble.

Textbooks of Tomorrow

Posted on September 27, 2011

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If you ask any college student how they feel about textbooks, he or she is likely to groan. A constant annoyance for most students, largely because of their hugely inflated prices, textbooks have been under a great deal of scrutiny in the media lately. A recent survey of college students conducted by the Student PIRGs found that 7 in 10 college students have passed on buying a textbook for financial reasons. When the prohibitive cost of crucial supplies is directly keeping students from learning, there is a problem. And many are starting to think that traditional textbooks' time as paradigmatic features of the institutional learning experience is almost up.

Luckily, and right on time, technology has swooped in with a highly desirable alternative. Digital textbooks, largely dismissed as a novelty only a handful of years ago, are roaring to the forefront of discourse on education, coinciding with the staggering ascent of Apple's iPad. 53% cheaper, on average, than new textbooks, e-textbooks don't just offer a price advantage; the new range of student experiences opened up by a digital textbook is simply enormous. Imagine charts and diagrams that come alive on the page - or the screen, as it were - and offer fully interactive options for exploration. Every illustration in a biology textbook can now be a video, of a tiger bounding through the jungle or an eagle swooping down upon its prey. All textbooks' associations with being dull and boring are dashed instantly. And this isn't the future; this is right now.

Of course, though the possibilities exist in the present, it's going to take some time before digital textbooks fully penetrate mainstream education. Other countries have already begun their promotion through legislation; South Korea, for instance, invested $2 billion last year to fully convert all of the country's textbooks to digital by 2015. An equally bold bill is being advocated in Florida right now to do much the same thing. But it is going to take large national measures before we can envision students walking around college campuses with nothing more than an iPad in their backpacks. Still, the students have spoken: the current model of textbooks is no longer meeting their needs. And when an industry fails to meet the needs of its consumers, that industry is forced to change.

Textbook Shakedown

Posted on November 05, 2011

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Though the exorbitant cost of textbooks has become a staple of any discussion about the costs of college, it's a shame that this is now simply taken as a matter of course. "Yeah, textbooks are expensive," students say, "but there's nothing we can do about it." Unfortunately, that is exactly the position textbook companies want to keep students in - feeling that they're powerless to change the way the system works. For decades, students really have been in that position. Because of the way publishers have kept professors in the dark about prices, students were unable to exert any power of consumer choice - all while publishers jacked up prices (a staggering 186% since 1986). With plenty of new options, however, including e-books, book rentals, open books, and online book sellers, students are finally taking some of the power back. None of these solutions is perfect, but by using a combination of them - and with the helpful restructuring the government is imposing to keep publishers in check - students can shrewdly save a few hundred bucks each year. And in college, that's big.

Facebook and Grades

Posted on December 09, 2011

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Facebook has taken a beating in the media over the last few years for what three studies have found to be the dire toll it takes on the academic lives of students. The most frequently cited of these studies, from Ohio State University in 2009, found that Facebook users often had GPAs up to one full point lower than non-users. The publication of this study caused a brief media whirlwind, as outlets from MSNBC to Time published stories on the study with sensational headlines, drawing dramatic conclusions.

But it turns out that none of these studies of Facebook's impact on academics, including the OSU study, has been rigorous enough to draw the conclusions that the media has drawn. The OSU study, for instance, surveyed just 219 students - a relatively small sample size. The other two studies used comparable samples. Further, these studies used simplistic models of what it meant to actually 'visit Facebook,' usually just looking at overall time spent on the site per day. The results were significant, sure, and as the first studies in a very new field, they were doing the good work of breaking new ground. But the bad reputation with the media and educators that the studies lent to Facebook use was, in all likelihood, incommensurate with its actual effects on grades. And, worse, there has been no study that contradicts this data at all - until now.

Leading social media researcher Reynold Junco has published a new study on how Facebook affects grades, and it's the most thorough study to date on the topic. Using a sample size of more than two thousand university students, and employing a complex model of Facebook use which broke it down into the individual activities performed on the site, Dr. Junco found that the claim of Facebook's hampering of grades is partially true - but very, very, partially, and even insignificantly. If you use Facebook for many hours a day, a tiny drop in GPA can occur. But very few people can or will use it often enough to make that difference. The real story is that there are bigger effects depending on how you use Facebook - both for good, and for bad. Posting status updates, for example, predicts grades negatively. But checking up on friends and sharing links with others actually positively predicted grades. Yes, you heard that right - Facebook may actually be good for grades, depending on how you use it. Dr. Junco collaborated with us on this infographic, the very first to present this game-changing data.

Can Tech Save Education?

Posted on January 19, 2012

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Apple recently announced three new applications that will effectively revolutionize education around the world: iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and a new and updated iTunes U. For America, the world's largest economy, this means great things -- especially considering that the country's current educational practices are in deep water. Of 30 developed nations around the world, the United States ranks 25th in math and 21st in science: a disparity that has politicians and educators baffled. Every 26 seconds a student drops out of high school in the States, but there is hope.

Studies from places like Maine and Ohio have shown that technology can save education. Students who have access to iPads and laptops in their classrooms perform substantially better than their peers without this technology, and with Apple's new platform for spreading free education to its products the real question we should be all be asking is: Can Apple save education?

This graphic attempts to answer that question.

Why America's Education Isn't Worth the Money

Posted on March 02, 2012

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America spends a lot of money on education, and the announcement of the 2013 budget plan is no exception. With a projected $1.7 billion increase from last year’s education spending plan, the U.S. government will continue to have the priciest school spending on the globe, outranking every other country in price-per-student costs. From specialized classes for lagging students to sophisticated technology in kindergarten classes, the U.S. government is committed to spending whatever it takes to give kids a top-notch education.

But despite this spending, American students just don’t seem to be measuring up. Outscored by nations who spend far less, public school students in the U.S. don’t seem to be making any headway. Test scores, graduation rates, and general student achievement have all stagnated in America since the 1970s, and ACT scores have begun to decline. So when American students fail to achieve year after year, the question arises: Exactly what is that money doing for America’s education?

Educated America

Posted on June 12, 2012

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We’ve all been told of the importance of education and how education leads to a better life. But it’s not only our own lives that are impacted, but the lives of those around us change as well. As you continue to work hard to obtain your degree, it’ll be important during those late night cram sessions to know that your efforts are essentially going to make the world a better place for you, your family, and even your neighbors.

With the ability to reach virtually everyone on the entire planet, online education could be the key to everyone’s future and shape the world we live in. Education will change your life for the better. This infographic will show you the difference between those who have a college degree versus those who do not. It’s easy to see that gaining knowledge can make a world of difference.

The Evolution of Apple Computers

Posted on June 15, 2012

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The era of taking notes with a pencil and a spiral notebook is over. Classrooms around the world are filled with students typing everything their professor says on a laptop. Even just 15 years ago, this seemed improbable. And though most Apple laptops aren’t priced for the average college student, more and more of them are using Apple computers for academic purposes. If you take a peek inside a college library, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see quite a bit of Macbooks. The appeal to college students comes from the simplicity of Apple’s products and an awful lot of good marketing and publicity.

Apple does two things right. They make a product that works and easy to use. And they make a product that is cool to use. These two factors are the driving decision for college students to use a Macbook. But did you know that Apple’s first laptop was more than $12,000 dollars - way above most college students budgets. Not only that, but the thing weighed close 15 lbs, making it almost impossible to lug around from class to class. This infographic will show you the evolution of Apple’s computers and how they became the laptop of choice for many college students. From the first one built out of a garage by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to the new retina display toting Macbook pro, we’ll take you on a journey of the history of Apple computers.

10 Top Schools Endorsing Free Online Learning

Posted on January 11, 2013


While there has overall been an enormous surge in the number of students who are pursuing degree programs and coursework online, in recent years there has been an increased focus, perhaps spurred on by the economic crisis, on providing high quality online courses free of charge. While these courses often can't be used toward a degree, they do provide students all over the world with the opportunity to learn, grow, and potentially even prepare themselves for the working world. Surprisingly, some of the schools getting in on the popularity of free online courses (and in some cases even pioneering the practice) are among the best schools in the U.S., if not the world. Here are just a handful of the great schools that are now offering, and encouraging others to offer, free online courses that anyone can use.

  1. Harvard University :

    Harvard launched a much publicized collaborative program with MIT in 2012 called edX, offering online university-level courses in a wide range of fields for no charge. The non-profit project has attracted a lot of attention and in its first semester more than 100,000 students signed up for free online versions of its computer science and public health courses. Harvard Law has also gotten in on the free online course game, and just this year announced that it will be offering a free course on copyright law to 500 lucky students, complete with certificates of completion.

  2. MIT:

    When you think of free online courses, the first name that comes to mind is probably MIT. MIT was one of the first to offer free online course content through its Open Courseware project, and in its collaboration with Harvard via edX will likely offer much more in-depth material in the form of MOOCs. Currently, MIT professors are offering four courses students can take through edX, covering topics like global poverty, chemistry, electronics, and computer science. edX was an outgrowth of MITx, a similar project that offered courses through just MIT. While similar, edX covers a much broader spectrum, allowing students to take courses from not only MIT and Harvard but also UC Berkeley, Georgetown, Wellesley, and the University of Texas.

  3. Stanford University :

    MOOC was perhaps the biggest buzzword in online education in the past year, and innovators at this school are largely to thank for that. Stanford academics were behind two of the biggest names in MOOCs today: Coursera and Udacity. Coursera, now a collaborative effort between Stanford and more than 30 other top universities, offers courses in a wide range of topics. At present students cannot get college credit for the courses, but can get certification that they've completed them, which could help in looking for work. Coursera was founded by Stanford academics Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, who've been awed by the support it has received so far. Another big name coming from the school has been Udacity, an outgrowth of a free computer course offered at Stanford in 2011 by professor Sebastian Thrun. Launched in 2012, the MOOC provider has since helped thousands of students learn about tech-centered topics from AI to web development.

  4. Carnegie Mellon University:

    Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative has been in operation for over a decade, offering free course materials that any student or teacher can use. Currently, there are 17 free courses offered through OLI, but more are planned for the future. OLI resources aren't just used by individuals; many colleges have also been integrating the features offered by Carnegie Mellon into their own hybrid courses, capitalizing on data-driven programs that track and push students not to just memorize material but to truly learn it. The results look promising, with in-house and exterior studies showing that students using the OLI model perform better than those who take traditional courses.

  5. University of Pennsylvania:

    The University of Pennsylvania is one of dozens of schools to offer courses through the MOOC platform Coursera. The school isn't just offering courses through Coursera, however; it has also pledged millions in investments into the company, which may just give it a firm foundation for success in the future. Administrators at the school said that the school felt compelled to take part in the online program because it was a chance to play a role in shaping the future of online educational technology. Currently, Penn is offering three different courses through Coursera, but there are numerous others planned, some of which may even count for course credit at certain schools around the globe.

  6. Columbia University:

    Columbia is no stranger to free online education; it created its own online education portal in 2000 called Fathom, that, while earning some major collaborators (the London School of Economics, Cambridge University Press to name a few), never took off, folding in 2003. Despite this previous failure, as well as other early initiatives that didn't pan out (Columbia Interactive is another now defunct experiment in online education), the school didn't hesitate to join Coursera when the chance arose and pledged to begin offering online courses through the site in early 2013. Currently, the school has three courses listed on the Coursera site, ranging in topic from financial engineering to natural language processing.

  7. Johns Hopkins:

    Johns Hopkins has been offering open courseware through its Bloomberg School of Public Health for nearly a decade, but in just the past year has taken a major leap, now offering not only course materials but also lectures and evaluation through Coursera. While the content still focuses on public health topics, students can get a much more in-depth introduction to the courses regularly offered at Johns Hopkins, a leap that may just help many aspiring healthcare professionals become much more knowledgeable about serious public health concerns.

  8. University of Michigan:

    Another big-name school getting in on Coursera is the University of Michigan. In February of 2012, the University of Michigan offered its first free online course through the site. Called "Model Thinking" and focused on political science and economics, the course reached an impressive 50,000 students. Since then, the school has expanded its online offerings, now giving students the chance to participate in seven different courses from a wide range of departments on campus. Students can still take the "Model Thinking" course as well as those on Internet history, finance, science fiction, and computer vision.

  9. Princeton University:

    Along with Stanford, Michigan, and Penn, Princeton was one of the first big-name schools to sign on to work with Coursera. In September, the school delved into the world of free online education with three courses: "A History of the World Since 1300," "Networks: Friends, Money, and Bytes," and "Computer Architecture." Since then, Princeton has added four more courses that will take place in the Spring semester, as well as two more that have yet to be announced. Some of the professors participating have said that Coursera has not only allowed them to reach more students but to improve the educational outcomes of students on campus, as the flipped classroom model allows for more time to discuss topics and meet with guest speakers in class.

  10. Caltech:

    It makes sense that a school dedicated to the study of technology would wholeheartedly embrace online education, and that's just what Caltech is doing. The school has partnered with Coursera to offer a number of different courses. Last year, Caltech's Henry Lester taught a course on drugs and the brain and this semester students can sign up to learn about cosmology and economics. Before signing on with Coursera, Caltech offered a free "Machine Learning" course through its own website. With loads of students enrolled, it was an incredible success, which may have been a big part of the school's willingness to get on board with Coursera and experiment further with online education.

These are only a handful of the top universities that are endorsing free online courses. Others include Oxford, Brown, Emory, University of Virginia, Duke, John Hopkins, Berkeley, Rice, and Wesleyan, and the list is likely to grow further over the next year as MOOCs and other online courses become increasingly popular.

The Schools that Do the Most to Welcome Online Students

Posted on January 22, 2013


As an online student, it's easy to feel isolated and a little left out. After all, while students on campus are socializing in the dorms and going to football games, you're miles away and physically disconnected from what's happening on campus. Many schools recognize the need to offer additional support and outreach to online students, providing special perks and online services. These schools do a particularly good job of making online students feel welcome and taken care of.

  • Texas Woman's University:

    Texas Woman's University has lots of fun on-campus events that online students may miss out on seeing in person. But the school takes great care to make sure that online students can still take part in the action, offering live streaming, podcasts, and connections through social media. Plus, online students get access to Epsilon Omega Epsilon, an honor society reserved exclusively for online students.

  • Liberty University:

    On campus, students at Liberty University enjoy the benefits of a Flames Pass, which offers access to activities and services on and off-campus. Now, Liberty online students can get one too, with free ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, special student rates and discounts, public transit, and campus recreation.

  • University of Minnesota:

    The University of Minnesota has created a "Digital Campus" that offers access to online student resources. Digital Campus students can find technology tools, free email, a graduation planner, plus student services including academic advising, tutoring, and career planning. Unique resources include an online learning assessment and learning style inventory designed to help online students determine the best method of learning for their individual needs.

  • Ball State University:

    Ball State University has an extensive online orientation for new students, including a step-by-step getting-started guide, live webinar, and how-to videos for accessing online courses. Plus, online students get access to The Writing Center, which offers remote support and feedback for writing projects and presentation through tutoring sessions, email, and IM.

  • Santa Fe College:

    At Santa Fe College, online students are encouraged to become a part of the community. Many student organizations maintain an online presence so that members can participate online. The college provides an Evening Services Office for students who need services after the college's standard office hours, too. And online students get access to great resources like online health services and information, equipment loans, free financial literacy learning, and carpool registration.

  • Florida State University:

    Florida State University's Office of Distance Learning does a great job of making things clear and easy for online students. On their site, you'll find listings of degree programs and courses, frequently asked questions, and information about accessing resources as an online student. FSU online students can take advantage of the career resource center, IT services, technology training, and a virtual computer lab with remote access to campus computer lab software. Additionally, FSU offers specialized librarians who work exclusively with distance students for reference and research assistance, as well as subject specialists and research guides.

  • University of North Carolina Greensboro:

    Like Florida State University online students, UNC-Greensboro online health sciences students enjoy special perks at the online library. These students enjoy a dedicated library tutor to help via phone, email, or IM. If they're in need of a book, they can use their student ID to check out books from a library at another school, or, have library books shipped to them at no cost. Students can also search for e-books on health topics to use online.

  • Drexel University:

    Drexel University makes sure that its online students get access to services much like on-campus students do. Online students have access to instructors, academic advisers, and other educational services, as well as online electronic resources and specific library services for distance learners. They can schedule on-on-one appointments with tutors in the Drexel Writing Center and take advantage of the services offered by the Stainbright Career Development Center, making it easy to study and succeed as an online student at Drexel.

Noncognitive Measures: The Academic Trend That Could Change Everything

Posted on February 04, 2013


For decades, standardized test scores, GPAs, and graduation ranks have been the gold standard in college admissions and hiring. But in recent years, there's been a shift to consider not just these hard numbers but also the more nuanced factors known as noncognitive measures that give a glimpse into who you are as a person and how likely you are to succeed, regardless of your knowledge level. Schools like Boston College and Tufts University and employers like Google want to know more than your test scores: they want to know about your personality and potential for achievement.

What Are Noncognitive Skills?

Noncognitive skills are awkwardly named, but they're not a foreign concept. You're probably already familiar with them, as they're more commonly known as soft skills or social skills. They're grit, drive, and social intelligence — everything that makes us succeed but can't be tested on the SAT. Noncognitive skills demonstrate that you can be persistent, solve problems effectively, work well and communicate with others, and show integrity. They can help you succeed in school, work, and life, even if you weren't the "smartest" kid in your class. Demonstration of these skills can be a great indicator of future success, both in academics and in the workplace, and that's why they're increasingly becoming valued in academia and the workplace.

Why Are Noncognitive Skills So Important?

Your fast facts, including your GPA and SAT scores, are just a part of the story. Sure, earning top marks in high school or college is a good indicator that you're smart and willing to work hard for your achievements, but can you do well when presented with the varying challenges of college or the workplace? Individuals with a strong foundation of noncognitive skills are much more likely to persevere. On the flip side, students who are intimidated by the SAT may excel when it comes to teamwork, problem solving, and communication, and noncognitive assessments seek to reveal these skills, as well as the potential of the students who possess them. These measures are increasingly being used to identify students that have the best potential to stick through to graduation and high achievement.

Researchers believe that noncognitive skills have a major role in determining academic and long-term achievement. James Heckman, a world leader in the study of human capital policy, insists that promoting noncognitive skills is incredibly effective for supporting long-term success, noting, "Numerous instances can be cited of people with high IQs who fail to achieve success in life because they lacked self-discipline and of people with low IQs who succeeded by virtue of persistence, reliability, and self-discipline." Certain students may have a great deal of intelligence, but without the drive to follow through and use it, they can fail despite being gifted. Further, Harvard researchers emphasize the neuroscientific connection between emotional thought and knowledge: in order to apply school knowledge in real life, we need an "emotional rudder" that guides our judgement and action. Having knowledge is simply not enough. We also have to know how to use it.

Ultimately, employers have determined that noncognitive skills are valuable. A 2008 survey from the Education Testing Service indicates that nearly all employers rate skills like oral communications, collaboration, professionalism, problem-solving, and social responsibility as "very important." It's clear that the demand for these skills is there, and in some cases, it's actually higher than the demand for mastery of math and science, subjects that are commonly considered to be among the most important for 21st century education.

Do Test Scores Really Matter?

In a word, yes. Test scores do still count. A full 78% of schools consider test scores to be very important. They offer a simple way to measure achievement and potential. But — and this is what's important — they're not the only factor in decision-making now. Schools and employers care more about character, demonstrated achievement, meeting challenges, and showing consistent growth.

Although test scores are still very important for the most part, some schools are going test-optional. In 2011, DePaul University became the largest private university to make standardized test scores optional, allowing applicants to instead answer short essay questions designed to reveal noncognitive traits. Wake Forest University has also dropped its test score requirement, allowing applicants to participate in personal interviews instead.

For high-achieving students and applicants, noncognitive skills assessments may not make a huge difference, especially in non-competitive situations. But for borderline cases, such as students with a below-average GPA or job applicants who lack sufficient experience, noncognitive measures can help demonstrate their potential for success and put them over the edge. At Northeastern University, noncognitive assessment is used to identify candidates for the Torch Scholars Program, which admits students who show potential but wouldn't otherwise qualify for admission based on their GPA and test scores. President of the College Board David Coleman suggests that noncognitive assessments are most useful for evaluating applicants with high grades and low test scores, or low grades and high test scores, but the same is not true for students who demonstrate high/high or low/low.

In addition to test scores, schools and employers are now looking more closely at transcripts, essays, and interview questions. These allow them to explore a better view of the entire student. They're looking for students who rose to the challenge of AP-level courses, built teamwork skills in extracurricular activities, and consistently improved their grades, among other factors.

What You Can Expect from Noncognitive Assessments

Noncognitive assessments are typically conducted through self-evaluations, short essays, situational judgment tests, or interviews. You may also be measured by outside input including teacher ratings and letters of recommendation. A popular assessment tool is the Educational Testing Service's Person Potential Index, which offers a standardized rating of a graduate school applicant's potential for success in factors including creativity, resilience, communication, organization, teamwork, and integrity. The ACT's ENGAGE is designed to improve retention rates and predict GPAs with 108 questions measuring motivation, skills, social engagement, and self-discipline. Questions found in noncognitive assessments or interviews may include:

  • Describe a goal you have set for yourself and how you plan to accomplish it. (DePaul University)
  • How would you compare your educational interests and goals with other students in your high school? (DePaul University)
  • Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you took to address it. (Oregon State University's Insight Resume)
  • Describe an experience facing or witnessing discrimination and how you responded. (Oregon State University's Insight Resume)
  • Yes or no: If I were offered a good job, I would leave college. (University of Utah)
  • The human narrative is replete with memorable characters like America’s Paul Revere, ancient Greece’s Perseus or the Fox Spirits of East Asia. Imagine one of humanity’s storied figures is alive and working in the world today. Why does Joan of Arc have a desk job? Would Shiva be a general or a diplomat? Is Chewbacca trapped in a zoo? In short, connect your chosen figure to the contemporary world and imagine the life he/she/it might lead. (Tufts University)
  • Explain a database in three sentences to your eight-year-old nephew. (Google, many more questions and answers here)

How to Improve Your Own Skill Set

Compared to noncognitive assessments, acing the SAT is a piece of cake. It's something you can work hard and study for. There's no end to the test prep options available for standardized testing. But when it comes to noncognitive measures, the only way to improve your test score is to improve your character:

  • Take on challenges, including difficult courses or leadership positions. Follow opportunities, such as pilot programs or lifelong learning resources.
  • Push through difficult situations. Schools greatly admire students who demonstrate resilience and grit, who find ways to rise above less-than-optimal conditions to achieve.
  • Join extracurricular activities. Social and team activities can help you develop social intelligence skills that are valuable in today's learning environment and workplace. Teamwork, collaboration, and communication can all be fine-tuned in these activities.
  • Set measurable, positive goals and follow through on them. Every achievement, even a small one, is an achievement that demonstrates your ability to stick with it.
  • Become a decent person. Show fairness to others, be trustworthy, and understand how to handle social situations.

The Future of Noncognitive Skills

Noncognitive skills are typically those that can't be easily measured. This, of course, presents a problem for admissions officers sorting through potentially tens of thousands of applications. It takes a lot of manpower to go through essays and letters of recommendation, and even further time and effort to design and conduct noncognitive assessments and interviews.

Noncognitive measures aren't just time-consuming, they're a whole new ball game, and with this new field comes a lack of consistency and even occasional failure. Oregon State University's "Insight Resume" has been considered one of the leading resources in college admissions noncognitive measurement, as it effectively identified students with the highest potential for graduation in the incoming class of 2004. But as it failed to reproduce the same spot-on identification in subsequent classes, the system was scaled back to have a smaller influence on admissions decisions.

Schools are still working out how they can best measure noncognitive skills, and though the field is still developing, there's already the potential for coaching. Noncognitive assessments are still, ultimately, tests, and as Educational Testing Service senior research director Patrick Kyllonen notes, where tests go, test prep will follow.

There's still a long way to go when it comes to widespread implementation of noncognitive measures. Although schools and employers are increasingly turning to noncognitive assessments as a supplement to cognitive measures, few organizations employ them as more than a novelty, still largely relying on cognitive assessments for decisions. Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, believes that we need to change the incentive structure of school policies like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top in order to provide teachers, schools, and school systems the incentives they need to teach noncognitive skills that have a long term impact. This is the first step in breaking down barriers that will allow for more organizations to effectively teach and utilize noncognitive skills.

The Fundamentals of Feedback for Online Students

Posted on April 03, 2013

Of all the massive open online courses out there, what are the odds that the one to devolve into a massive mess in its first week would be called "Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application"?

On January 28, the Coursera class went live, and instructor Fatimah Wirth of Georgia Tech kicked things off by inviting her 41,000 pupils — many of them educators themselves — to form themselves into groups via a shared spreadsheet in Google Drive. Two hours and a crashed Google server later, students were voicing their confusion and consternation in hundreds of threads on the class forum. The group situation was not their only concern; many had trouble understanding class requirements or getting videos to play. By February 2, Coursera had announced it was suspending the course.

It's a tribute to MOOCs that this is the first major story of a massive open course falling on its face. Many educators have praised Professor Wirth for her willingness to even tackle the subject, much less push the envelope of the world of online education. And even though it didn't come off as planned, the class managed to teach us all about an important aspect of online learning: the impact of student feedback.

Whether they're reaching out for help, expressing gratitude for a particularly exceptional lesson, complaining about a shortcoming, or just proving that they're out there and they're listening, both for- and not-for-credit online students maximize their learning experience when they give their professors feedback.

Courses For Credit

In general, online classes taken for credit are much closer to the traditional classroom experience. Because they're much smaller (and paid for), professors can be expected to respond to feedback in a timely manner. Of course, the reverse is also true: one student of 30 has much less room to hide than one student of 30,000.

Participation in for-credit classes is even more vital in an online environment than a traditional one because the teacher is not able to see confusion written on a student's face as he lectures to know he needs to go back and review. If the professor hears silence from the student quarter, he has to assume everyone is up to speed in their learning. This participation applies not only to how much a student is learning but how well a professor is communicating.

Debbie Morrison is an online curriculum developer for The Master's College, who has taken both for-credit classes and MOOCs. (She was one of the 41,000 students of "Fundamentals of Online Education" and wrote about her experience on her blog.) She said she always tries to incorporate student comments with the closed, for-credit courses she designs.

"I like to analyze student feedback at two points in a newly developed course: first, halfway through, which serves as formative feedback that allows the instructor to make any adjustments to the course before it ends by reviewing the student responses," she said. "The best method is an anonymous survey with three or four open-ended questions that students can freely expand.

"The other point, which I recommend for all online courses, is the end-of-course feedback survey. This provides summative feedback for the professor, course designer, and institution administrators. This feedback is helpful for identifying the course from several perspectives: the technical experience (problems with videos, logging on, etc.), the instruction, the course interface, etc."

Since online schools are on the forefront of educational technology, students have an important role to play in shaping what works and what doesn't. For example, student feedback has helped educators develop some good practices for instructional blogging. Most online schools continually seek out feedback through permanent web forms, while others, as Morrison mentioned, employ surveys either before or after a course begins.

Some of the tips for for-credit classes can also apply to open courses, but they're especially advisable when you're enrolled in an online school where you'll be taking more courses in the future.

Read the syllabus first.Teachers of online courses — for-credit and otherwise — are no different than those in traditional classrooms in that they don't much appreciate questions that are plainly answered in the syllabus, introductory video, in the first forum thread, or somewhere else on a course's web page. Before you add a question (or worse, negative feedback) to a forum or email the professor, make sure your criticism does not qualify you for one of online students' most annoying complaints.

Be tactful. That being said, legitimate suggestions for improving a course's user-friendliness can be effective, if delivered appropriately. After all, teachers are people like the rest of us, and they're apt to respond much better to a polite private email than a snarky forum post that the entire class can see.

To clear up what would be a legitimate criticism, Morrison said online students should be able to find information on the site about how to participate, a schedule of topics for the weeks, a place to access content, and resources for help (i.e. YouTube videos, Q& A page, etc.). This information should be easy to locate. If it isn't, you've got the ammunition for an email.

Keep up with the course. Many classes will make participation on discussion boards and forums a mandatory exercise, e.g., a certain number of posts and a certain number of replies. Know that professors can spot in a heartbeat the people that copy and pasting from elsewhere, just as they can spot the people writing just to write, with nothing real to add. You will be tempted to fall into one of those groups unless you're studying, keeping up with the material, and developing your own insights.

Go above and beyond. As an online student, it's more difficult to stand out and make your presence known to professors because you're not meeting in the same room. So you have to develop another way to show them you're absorbing what they're teaching. Strike up a conversation via email with them about a news item that's relevant to your coursework. Create a forum thread asking your classmates' thoughts on a book you read to help you in class that wasn't required. You could even write your prof a snail-mail letter once the class has concluded, thanking them for a good semester — you can bet they would remember that!

Open Courses

Open courses, especially MOOCs, can be a different ballgame from for-credit courses because of their potential size and the fact that instructors are volunteers. However, as we've already shown, students in these online classes can have as much or more sway on how they're developed and implemented by sharing their thoughts with their professors, the vast majority of who welcome such discussions.

John Owens is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Davis. His first experience with MOOCs, Udacity's "Introduction to Parallel Programming," is available now.

"I feel like the time I spend answering questions and discussing topics with students is one of the most gratifying teaching experiences I've ever had, and my understanding is it adds an enormous amount to the experience of the students as well," Owens said. "I think the ability for students to give feedback and ask questions during the class is critical to the success of the MOOC in terms of clearing up particular parts of lectures, extending what they learn into more advanced areas, bringing the external experience of students into discussions between students and staff, and keeping them excited about the material and how it might be useful to them."

Owens added that because his course makes use of pre-recorded videos (as the vast majority of MOOCs currently do), it's not possible to make changes once the course has started ("unless something has gone horribly wrong"). However, open courseware (OCW) professors can and do take student feedback into consideration after a course has ended and factor it into the updates they make. Follow these pointers for using feedback to its maximum efficacy.

Use the forum. Hands down, the heart of open course student feedback is the forum. It's here that students discuss anything and everything with their teachers and with each other. It was forum posts, not blogs or articles, that spurred Coursera to action on "Fundamentals of Online Education." Feedback posted here has the added benefit of helping anyone else taking the course who might have the same question.

Needless to say, different sites handle their forums in different ways. Udacity's Discussions page for a course lumps all threads together, though they can be sorted by activity status, newest, "hottest," most voted, and unanswered. Students can see how many views and answers a question has, and students may posts up or down based on their level of helpfulness. Udacity also has a full-fledged Feedback Program that seeks out input from current, former, and prospective students.

Coursera's class discussion boards are a bit better thought out. Forums are divided into sub-forums that, in addition to course-specific threads, usually include areas for questions and comments about the lectures themselves, clarification for assignments, general discussion, course material feedback, and technical feedback that Coursera staff members monitor. As with Udacity, students can see a post's views, votes, and replies at a glance, but unlike Udacity staff replies are clearly delineated with a gray icon saying so.

Bear in mind that most OCW professors are volunteers. Speaking of staff replies, teacher response times in a MOOC will vary widely from minutes to days to weeks, depending on the amount of students, the individual teacher's schedule, and other factors. But as a presumably self-directed learner, the MOOC student's expectations of a professor should be low; very low, according to Morrison.

"Quite honestly, I don't expect the professor to answer student questions," Morrison said. "A MOOC is completely different than a closed, for-credit online course, with 30 or 40 students maximum. A MOOC has thousands. I would not expect feedback, and it is unrealistic to think that the instructor reads every discussion board and can answer every question."

Depending on the size of the class, a professor may have one or more assistants who handle questions and comments for him or her. Of course, all that isn't to say MOOC professors simply post their videos and check back in three months. Many spend hours of their own time responding to forum posts. Morrison said that a Coursera course she's currently taking on e-learning and digital cultures has offered two Google Hangouts with the instructors where they shared some of the student feedback and posts from the previous week. In her Introduction to Sociology course, Professor Mitchell Duneier reads letters and specific forum posts students have sent and left.

Take it outside. Because access to class forums is usually restricted to enrolled students, prospective students have no way of viewing them to learn about the course. For general reviews of open courses and their instructors, Coursetalk is an excellent tool. Courses offered by eight MOOC open courseware providers — including lesser-knowns like Venture Lab and Canvas Network — can be sorted by rating, subject, or university. Former students give their thoughts on how interesting the material was, how entertaining the professor, how helpful the tools were, and more. Knollop is a similar MOOC review site that includes offerings from MIT's OpenCourseWare, Harvard OLI, and Open Yale Courses.

Just days before this writing, another Coursera MOOC made news in the education world for its professor quitting the course, requiring the course's suspension. Though the details are still murky, the professor had apparently spent time arguing with students over the course workload, insisting he "will not give in on standards." In other words, he seems to have gotten fed up with all the negative feedback and thrown in the towel.

The moral of the story is that feedback can be powerful stuff. "Fundamentals of Online Education" proved that not once, but twice: thanks to feedback from students who wanted the course to continue, Coursera lifted its suspension the next day.

The At-Risk Students' Guide to Finishing an Online Degree, Part 2

Posted on April 17, 2013


In the first part, we laid out some of the risks facing online students with heavy time demands from work and family. This time, we're looking at a related group of at-risk online learners: those with financial constraints. Although working students may be short on time, their paycheck can help them avoid some of the pitfalls that face students struggling with the economics of education.

While college attendance has gone for both affluent college students and their poorer counterparts, the gap between them in completing bachelor's degrees has increased from a 31% difference in 1972 to 45% in 2012. In the bottom 25% of incomes for the U.S., fewer than a third even enroll in a four-year college, and less than half of those go on to graduate.

However, the good news is that low-income students are high achievers at a rate much higher than was previously thought. The Brookings Institution recently published findings from data on millions of American students that the rate of high-achieving, high-income students only outnumber high-achieving, low-income students two to one (a rate 8-15 times higher than some college admissions offices had estimated).

So the data proves what low-income students hopefully already knew: they can achieve great heights in their education. It just takes the right approach.

Risk 1: You don't have adequate access to necessary equipment.

It's easy for those with ample access to high-speed Internet — including college professors and administrators — to forget that not all Americans enjoy the same luxury. According to the Economics and Statistics Administration, an estimated 100 million citizens cannot access the Internet from home. And the lower the income level for the household, the lower the rate of both computer and broadband use. While a quarter of households at incomes $25,000-$50,000 have no computer, that number jumps to almost half of households (46%) with incomes below $25,000.

How you can overcome it:

  • Use it where you find it: The most common places students without home Internet access get online are at their jobs, their school, public libraries, or a friend's house. Many college campuses offer free wifi for students, so if you have your own Internet-equipped device you don't have to be tied to a computer lab. Sites like Wi-Fi-Freespot are good resources for finding businesses like Panera Bread and McDonald's that offer free wifi to customers.
  • Take advantage of discounts: Students in low-income households may not be aware that they qualify for discounts on things like broadband Internet service. For example, Comcast provides a plan called Internet Essentials where families with children who are eligible for reduced-price lunches at school can receive Internet at home for $9.95 a month. (But just 100,000 of the 2.3 million eligible families have signed up). There's even a new startup called FreedomPop that allows users in certain areas to get broadband access for free (with data limits), or for as little as $10 a month.

Tools to use:

  • Tablets: Many people from poorer households site the high initial cost of buying a computer as a barrier to getting broadband Internet access at home. One way to cut the cost is to purchase a comparatively inexpensive netbook or tablet that would allow you to access Blackboard, watch lectures, take notes, and keep track of assignments. Google's Nexus 7 sports a fast processor, vivid 7-inch display, and easy connectivity with other Google products like Gmail and Drive. At $200, it costs about 10% of a Macbook Pro.
  • Netbooks: You may find you need the full range of computing features a laptop provides, like a built-in keyboard. If that is the case, you still have some cheap options. On the low end of the computing power and price scale, there are Chromebooks starting at $199. Netbooks represent a nice middle ground, giving you solid computing ability for $300-$400. Keep an eye on sites like Microcenter.com or Tiger Direct for deals on refurbished laptops, or check the sales at local electronics stores like Fry's.

Risk 2: Your family doesn't support you.

In about 80% of cases, being a low-income college student means also being a first-generation college student, and the risks of this group are well-documented. As of late 2010, the rate that low-income first-gens left college in six years without a degree was an astounding 89%. Financial troubles are frequently part of the problem, but for many, they drop out or fail out because they simply weren't prepared, and because they did not get the moral support of their friends and family.

Parents who did not go to college themselves can be misunderstanding and even critical when their children choose to pursue a degree. Even those who are supportive usually cannot offer any advice on selecting a major, managing time and finances, or other skills critical to success in college. Moreover, according to the American Psychological Association, students who self-identify as low-income often report feelings of not belonging in school and an intention of dropping out before graduation.

How you can overcome it:

  • Lean on others: Even more than other students, first-gen and low-income students need to seek out their online academic advisors or go see them in person on campus. A good counselor will be able to answer your questions about counseling services, special programs for first-gen students, mentor and tutoring services, and financial aid.
    As we said in Part 1, making connections with other online learners is crucial to staying motivated. It will also have the added benefit of giving you a sense of belonging that may be lacking as a first-gen student. So taking part in class discussions and attending on-campus events to meet your fellow learners is highly advisable.
  • Take the wheel: Joel P. Spiess, academic advisor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said he also emphasizes the importance of each student being his or her own advocate. "I often remind students that they are in the driver's seat when it comes to their education," he said, "and they are the ones to decided when to hit the gas, when to slow things down, and when to turn and change directions. For so many students, this is a big adjustment from high school, where much of their education was dictated for them."
  • Brush up on your study skills: There's no shame in admitting you need help preparing to be a college student; earning your degree online will be every bit as difficult, if not more so, than earning it on a traditional campus. Many first-gen students begin their classes without understanding how to maximize their study time or how to interact online with professors. Somewhere on their websites, most schools include a section of study tips, often tying it into student orientation. Be sure to read them over thoroughly.

Tools to use:

  • Mentors: While college counselors are a good place to start, they're often overloaded with a high volume of students. So before even settling on an online college, you might want to inquire as to whether it offers a mentoring program of some kind, like the student mentoring program at Western Governors University. At WGU, the student mentor works with the enrollment counselor to develop a "personalized degree plan." Such a system is an excellent way to set yourself up to complete a degree.
  • Online resources: Some schools offer special programs for first-generation students to help them get acclimated and succeed, so be sure to ask your advisor about them. But even if yours doesn't, you're already online — use the Web. Online resources from other schools' programs like MIT's First Generation Project or .orgs like First in the Family offer some helpful resources. The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies also features useful info for adult and distance learners on its site, as does the Illinois Online Network.

Risk 3: The stress of dealing with finances causes your grades to drop and/or your graduation to be postponed.

According to a 2012 survey by Inceptia, a branch of the National Student Loan Program, the stress of finances has negatively affected one-third of college students. An additional 20% said finances had created a need to reduce their course load to deal with the problem. The researchers were convinced of a direct link between financial stress — whether the worry over college borrowing, the need to repay loans, or the pressure to find a job after graduation — and academic performance.

Rather than drop out, some students even take the reverse route. Spiess said has had numerous students tell him they want to stay in school as long as possible so they can delay the start of payments on their loans. He said this "avoidance mentality" is common among students who don't understand the nature of financial aid, particularly loans.

How you can overcome it:

  • Get a scholarship or loan: Hopefully you weren't under the false impression that online students can't get scholarships. With all the grants and scholarships at individual universities, plus private scholarships, there is money to be had. There are even scholarships strictly for first-generation students, like the Mercedes-Benz "Drive Your Future" scholarship and the Coca-Cola Foundation First Generation Scholarships. The low-interest federal Stafford loan is also available to online students.
  • Get a job: We don't mean to imply you don't already have a job, or that you're sitting around with all kinds of free time. This is mainly for students who want to make a little extra cash when they have time, close to where they live, doing something they already know how to do or that can also be done while studying. Thanks to the Web, it's never been easier to find these jobs.
    Although only currently available in nine cities, Taskrabbit is a fast-growing network of people that need a task like furniture assembly or pet sitting completed, and the "task rabbits" who sign up for work. Fiverr works in a similar manner and includes hundreds of small jobs that don't even require moving away from your computer. If you want to sell your services as a tutor, Thumbtack is another good option.

Tools to use:

  • Financial aid counselor: Spiess says this is the appointment he encourages his students to make "first and foremost," because in a school as big as UWM, it's not possible for an academic advisor to stay up-to-date on all the intricacies of financial assistance. A financial aid advisor can tell you what scholarships are available to you as an online student and guide you through the process of dealing with your loans after you graduate, even if such exit counseling is not required by law. Spiess said the information they give you may seem overwhelming or irrelevant to you now, but he urges students to power through all the same.
  • Mint.com: Getting your finances under control now is the smartest way to give yourself the confidence that you can live within your means once you graduate. A good, free financial planning program like Mint can help you track where you're spending too much, set goals for saving, and receive mobile alerts when you're in danger of going over budget.

It's not just online students who are feeling the sting of economic troubles; the student debt didn't get to $1 trillion on distance learners alone. Across the country, college students and graduates of all kinds are dealing with high unemployment and underemployment. If there is a silver lining to facing these financial concerns, it's that you won't be as unprepared for life in this economy as many of your fellow graduates from brick-and-mortar campuses will be. Consider this time your financial training period, just another lesson to be learned.

Learn Faster, Learn Better: What Style Fits You Best?

Posted on May 28, 2013
Would you rather have 20/20 vision, better hearing than a dog or twice the amount of nerve endings in your fingers? The answer could be telling into your learning world. Neil Fleming, an experienced New Zealand teacher, started a system to better suit the preferences of students based on neuro-linguistic programming that is widely used in schools today. Fleming divided learners into three types: visual learners, auditory learners and tactile/kinesthetic learners. That 5th grader who can remember the page numbers of test questions: visual learner. The sophomore who checks out audio books instead of paperbacks: auditory learner. How about the middle schooler who’s boss in a science lab or shop class: tactile all the way. When it comes to your own personal learning style, you might already have a hunch but we’ve designed this quiz to help determine what fits you best. Don’t be surprised if you can relate to pieces of all three; it’s not uncommon to have a mix of preferences. With this knowledge under your belt, you can conquer the world! Well, you might not conquer the world (right away) but you might be able to study for that history exam in record time.

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